Friday, prominent Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers – who was murdered in 1963 in his own driveway after meeting with NAACP lawyers – was honored with the naming of a Navy Supply Ship after him.  This follows a Navy tradition of giving ships in the support fleet names of honored pioneers, explorers, and other notables.

Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist and Honoree

Medgar Evers, Civil Rights Activist and Honoree

The announcement was made during  former Mississippi governor and current Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’s speech at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.

Evers, who was the NAACP’s first field secretary for the state of Mississippi, was integral during the Civil Rights Movement in MS, in organizing nonviolent protests, voter registration drives, and boycotts.  And, his tragic death was the impetus that prompted President John F. Kennedy to ask Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill.

An administration statement that was released in conjunction with the Navy’s announcement said the following of Evers:

“At a time when our country was wrestling with finally ending segregation and racial injustice, Evers lead civil rights efforts to secure the right to vote for all African-Americans and to integrate public facilities, schools and restaurants.”

Medgar Evers was thirty-seven years old when he was shot, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Sojourn to the Past remembers, recognizes, and honors Civil Rights activists who came before us like Mr. Evers.  We hope to continue his legacy of nonviolent, educated actions in the fight for equality for all.

Thomas Perez

Thomas Perez

Earlier today, the Senate voted 72-22 to confirm President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department.  Civil Rights attorney Thomas E. Perez was named Assistant Attorney General, Head of the Civil Rights Division.  Once announced as the nominee, confirmation hearings were held back in April; however, debate between party lines kept him in the holding pattern until recently.

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, had the following to say about the confirmation:

“There are no questions about the qualifications of Tom Perez. During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Perez made clear his commitment that the Justice Department would enforce the law. In the arena of civil rights, living up to those assurances is particularly important. Given that Tom Perez has a distinguished record of public service and a long career advancing civil rights, I have full confidence that he is the right person to restore the Civil Rights Division to its finest traditions of independent law enforcement.”

To learn more about Thomas Perez, visit his page in Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, where he served as Secretary of the Department.

How World Peace Starts, by Getty Images

How World Peace Starts, by Getty Images

Truman Capote once said, “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.”  Dialogue – by definition – is an exchange of ideas or opinions between two or more persons.  However, as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, writer, and activist points out, “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”  It makes one stop and think: How often are people, specifically Americans, having true discussions about anything at all – let alone in the context of the topic of race.

There was no shortage of people, who, when Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States proclaimed that the benchmark of selecting a non-white President meant that we were living in a ‘post-racial era’.  What we’ve seen in the months since – from the commentary surrounding a Newsweek cover asking ‘Is Your Baby Racist?’ to the sentiments that former President Jimmy Carter shared about much of the country not being ready for an African-American President – is that the nation is not living in a post-racial anything.  For better or for worse, racially-rooted issues are now just as prevalent as ever.  What more realistically has arrived through ushering in the Obama administration is that with the amount of coverage our media-savvy President receives, the idea of race weaves itself into more and more conversations.  It allows race (and racism) to be addressed, rather than something many people would prefer not to talk about.  It challenges parents and companies alike to answer questions they avoided before.  And it stirs minds – both young and old – to perhaps consider something they hadn’t before.

In introducing these fresh dialogues, Slate magazine online provides an interest-piquing commentary about racism – and how its meaning has been diluted by its somewhat over-use this year.  It has become a convenient political insult [from both sides of the aisle], instead of describing intentional disparities in equality that are race-based.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that true racism and racial discrimination still exist in a country that was founded on the freedoms that are the polar opposite of those hateful sentiments.  The answer is not simple, and won’t happen over-night because of any political or cultural event.  But, organizations like Sojourn to the Past and others who share our vision, know that inciting intelligent, non-threatening conversation and education – especially among young people – are a big step in the process.  We believe strongly that empowering America’s youth to understand the past, and to inspire others to positive action for the future is our best chance and biggest influence in the fight to equality for all.

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation announced this year’s recipients for the highly-sought-after designations of MacArthur Fellows.  Among the award-winners of this coveted fellowship was Jerry Mitchell, a long-time reporter for the Jackson, Mississippi-based paper The Clarion-Ledger.  Mitchell – who was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2006 – has been with that newspaper since 1986.  His work is being lauded because of his in-depth and unrelenting investigative reporting of tracking civil rights crimes.

Reporter Jerry Mitchell, selected recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship

Reporter Jerry Mitchell, selected recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship

As an NPR announcemnent stated, he “spent the past two decades reporting on unpunished violence during the civil rights movement in Mississippi and the South, beginning with the 1963 killing of civil rights leader Medgar Evers”, and is planning on taking occasional breaks from the newspaper to put forth even more time into this work post-award.

Accompanying the affectionately-dubbed “genius grants” is a $500,000 fellowship fund.

An audio clip (and corresponding transcript) of the September 28th interview by National Public Radio are available for listening and viewing online.

Sojourn to the Past commends Mr. Mitchell for his noble actions, and congratulates him on the recent honor.

This week, The 14th Dalai Lama is in Memphis, Tennessee to receive the 2009 International Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum.  The Freedom Awards is an annual event, which serves as the Museum’s largest fundraiser, and that honors individuals who have made significant contributions in civil rights and who have laid the foundation for present and future leaders in the battle for human rights.  Presenting the Dalai Lama with the key to the city and a proclamation making him an official citizen of Memphis for his devotion to civil rights, were Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, Jr. and Memphis Mayor Myron Lowery.

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama

The National Civil Rights Museum is located in the Lorraine Motel, which is known because it is the assassination site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  “I never met him, but I admire him very much,” he said.  According to a Huffington Post article by Tamara Conniff, the Dalai Lama became quiet and pensive at the mention of Dr. King’s name, as paying homage to the influential Civil Rights leader is what prompted His Holiness to make the trek to Memphis.

Though living what seems like decades and worlds apart, the Dalai Lama and Dr. King have a distinguishing fact in common: in the face of adversity, the common thread in each of their fights wasn’t a fight at all – it was more powerful than that – it was an unyielding strong-hold to the ideals of non-violent action.  In the Civil Rights era in the United States, King was the face of peaceful protest of all that was unjust about the law; in modern day China, the exiled religious leader infuses all of his Free Tibet messages with stresses of this same notion.

Sojourn to the Past salutes the 2009 winners of the Freedom Awards, and their committment to conquering inequality without violent confrontation or conflict.  Sojourn to the Past’s vision promotes social justice through non-violence and inspired action.

It’s not even been a month yet since Senator Ted Kennedy passed away, having unfortunately lost his battle with cancer, in the form of a malignant brain tumor.  Already, as the debate rages on about who will step into his role as a Senator from Massachusetts, it becomes blatantly apparent that it will be a long time before anyone truly fills his shoes; the absence of this man’s presence in Washington has not gone unnoticed by those living or working in the District and across the Nation.

Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy

Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy

Anyone who viewed any of the myriad of coverage of his memorial services, funeral, tributes, other dedications, or celebrations of the man’s life could see that it was made clear what an influential, passionate, and respected politician he was – as people on all sides of the political spectrum took a time out to share stories of their experiences with Senator Kennedy as the world watched and grieved at our collective loss.

As the third-longest-serving senator in United States history, the list of essential bills that Senator Kennedy was involved in or responsible for passing is more than most Presidents can boast.  However, one undeniable theme is present among so much of the legislation he pushed for – and that is his unwavering support, stubborn dedication, and relentless progressive action for equal rights for all Americans.  Senator Kennedy maintained a steadfast presence in reform regarding an array of causes from disability discrimination and mental health benefits, to children’s health insurance and cancer research, and of course – civil rights.

Senator Ted Kenney, the "Lion of the Senate", gives one of his famous rousing speeches.

Senator Ted Kenney, the "Lion of the Senate", gives one of his famous rousing speeches.

Kennedy’s campaign appearance in support of then-Democratic-Presidential-contender Barack Obama on the day before Super Tuesday is largely viewed as a major factor in Obama’s successes that day.  Once elected, President Obama made a statement thanking Senator Kennedy, crediting key legislation the he had pushed over the years as being part of the reason he was even able to run for President in 2008.  USA RiseUp posted a great piece last month about Senator Kennedy’s impact on race relations during his Senate tenure.

Like Senator Kennedy inspired goodwill action in so many Americans, with the hope to create a better country for all to live in, Sojourn to the Past seeks to inspire young people, who may one day end up in influential political, civil, or social positions.  Sojourn educates young people about the history of the fight for civil rights in the United States, and prepares them to have the knowledge and experience to draw from when called upon to lead others in the constant movement towards equal rights – among all people.

For more information on Senator Ted Kennedy, and his life and legacy, visit his Senate page on the web.

Myrlie Evers-Williams

May 25, 2009

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Civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams is perhaps best remembered as the widow of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi state field secretary for the NAACP who in 1963 was gunned down in the driveway of his home in Jackson. In the years since the assassination and two hung juries that left the accused gunman, white supremacist Byron De la Beckwith, a free man, Mrs. Evers has continued to wage a lonely war to keep her husband’s memory and dreams alive and to bring his killer to justice. Her diligence eventually paid off when Beckwith was brought to trial for a third time and finally, in 1994, found guilty of the murder of Medgar Evers, more than 30 years after the crime.

Ms. Evers-Williams is a phenomenal woman of great strength and courage. Her dedication to civil rights and equality is exemplified by her activist role, linking together business, government, and social issues to further human rights and equality. On February 18, 1995, she was elected to the position of Chairman of the National Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With the support of a strong member base of the NAACP, she is credited with spearheading the operations that restored the Association to its original status as the premier civil rights organization.

Evers-Williams says that she “greets today and the future with open arms.” This credo has carried her through years of struggle and success. Her children and six grandchildren remain her strongest supporters in her continued fight to secure equal rights for all people, and to preserve those rights for future generations.

We feel both proud and grateful to have someone such as Ms. Evers-Williams practicing Sojourn Living and fighting for equal rights for all.

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We just spotted someone living out the Sojourn values! Not only does he believe in equality, but he fights for equal rights for students every day of his life. Read on to find out who he is.

There are many problems children face today as far as their education is concerned. Mark Dann, a pro bono attorney, is an individual standing up for these children’s rights. Dann is passionate about making sure that all students have equal opportunities in school, today.

When he was young, Dann’s parents faced financial difficulties during an economic downturn. They thought about moving to the South where the cost of living was much cheaper and jobs were more readily available. Instead they decided to live more frugally  in order for their son to continue recieing the kind of education they valued so much.

Today Dann tries cases that challenge educational disparities among schools – the kind of inequalities that kept his family on a tight budget when he was growing up in New York.

viola-liuzzo-b-1-01212009-216pxIn 1965, a group of klansmen from Birmingham were sent to Selma, Alabama, with orders to keep the marchers under surveillance. At a stoplight, they noticed a green Oldsmobile with Michigan license plates driven by a white woman with a young, black male passenger. For the klansmen, the car and the passengers symbolized the two most despised aspects for the Civil Rights Movement: outsiders and race mixing.

Viola Liuzzo was a white mother from Detroit who had been shuttling marchers between Montgomery and Selma for three days. She had become known as a tireless and cheerful worker. By all descriptions, Viola was an extraordinary woman. At age 36, with five children at home, she had gone back to school to become a medical lab technician. She worked only for a few months and then quit in protest over the way female secretaries were treated. With the encouragement of her friend, she became one of the few white members of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People. On March 7, 1965, Viola and her husband were watching the news when they saw the first clips of state troopers attacking Selma marchers. Tears rolled down Mrs. Liuzzo’s face and she brooded over the scene for days. Despite her husband’s concern, she got in her car and headed for Selma alone.

After the klansmen had spotted her and her young, black passenger they began to follow them. Surprisingly, Mrs. Liuzzo didn’t seem too concerned, and soon both cars were racing down the highway at 100 miles per hour. About 20 miles outside of Selma, the klansmen pulled up beside the car and one aimed his pistol out the window and shot Mrs. Liuzzo, shattering her skull. LeRoy Moton, her passenger, grabed the wheel and hit the brakes, and the car crashed into an embankment. When the klansmen walked over to inspect their work, Moton faked his death while they shone a light in the car. As soon as they left, Moton flagged down a truck carrying more civil rights workers, and although he was terrified, he was uninjured. Viola Liuzzo was dead.

After two trials (one being a hung jury where the klansmen were found not guilty), the three klansmen were eventually found guilty and each sentenced to 10 years in prison. This was the first conviction of murder in a civil rights case and was a landmark in southern racial history. It was also the first time the federal government successfully prosecuted a case of civil rights conspiracy.

 As intense a story as this is, we can look at it as a learning opportunity. It’s important that every day, in every way possble, we experience history in order to inspire the future.

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Innocents Lost

May 5, 2009

4littlegirls1In the basement of the ladies’ lounge of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, four young girls waited nervously for the worship service to begin. Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Denise McNair, 11, were in the choir. Carole Rosamond Robertson and Cynthia Diane Morris Wesley, both 14, had been chosen to serve as ushers. On the outside wall of the church, beneath a stone staircase, a dynamite  bomb had been planted eight hours earlier. It exploded at 10:22 a.m.shaking the whole church and killing the four young girls instantly. In the end, more than 20 people were hospitalized with injuries.

There had many bombings in Birmingham designed to stop the black struggle for equality, but nothing had been as evil as the dynamiting of children during Sunday School. The news spread quickly, and it sickened people of all races and all political allegiances throughout the world.

The FBI immediately investigated the bombing and discovered Klansmen planned it in response to the new school desegregation order. An eyewitness saw four white men plant the bomb, but inexplicably, no one was charged with the crime at that time. Two decades passed with no further action in the case. Then, in the mid 1990’s, it was reopened, and the U.S. Attorney, Doug Jones, successfully prosecuted Thomas Blanton in May 2001 and Bobby Cherry in May 2002. Both were sentenced to life in prison.

The Sixteenth Street bombing brought national attention to the evils of racism. More importantly, it made whites, who would never experience it themselves, feel the pain of racism. The day after the bombing a white lawyer named Charles Morgan gave a speech in Birmingham. He asked his audience: “Who did it?” and gave his own anguished answer: “We all did it…every person in this community who has in any way contributed…to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty…as the demented fool who set that bomb.”

 At Sojourn Project, we use these stories from the past as learning experiences of the impact that hatred can have. We encourage you to embrace the differences you discover in your community. Differences are what make the world such a beautiful place.

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