Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Medgar Evers & James Chaney

It will be really hard to top today's visit to Medgar Evers' house. I'm so grateful for the fine folks at Tougaloo College who give private tours and pay for the upkeep of this important landmark. For those of you who don't know much about Medgar Evers, he was an NAACP field secretary in Jackson who was tragically assassinated on June 12, 1963. His killer, Byron De La Beckwith, actually admitted to the crime (and later recanted), but didn't go to prison until 1994. Evers was arriving home late one evening when Beckwith killed him with a high-powered rifle. He died an hour later at a local hospital.
I felt a wave of emotions at Evers' house. I was taken back by the simplicity of his home and the beauty of his family. Today is my 3rd wedding anniversary, so I immediately had thoughts of my own wife & children. Medgar Evers & his wife knew the danger of being a public leader in a city where heinous crimes against African-Americans were commonplace. Is there a more appropriate definition of a hero than Medgar Evers? No, because Evers put his own life on the line for a cause greater than himself It may sound like a cliche, but it really is people like Medgar Evers who have made the USA the greatest country in the world.
After leaving Jackson, I headed East towards Alabama and stopped in Meridian, MS along the way. Neshoba County (which includes Meridian and Philadelphia) is where civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were killed while participating in the events of Freedom Summer. Critically-acclaimed (but historically horrible) Mississippi Burning depicts these killings and the subsequent search for those responsible. 21 year-old James Chaney was one of the few Freedom Summer leaders who were natives of Mississippi. Like most others, Schwerner and Goodman were college students from the Northeast. Schwerner's parents wanted their son to be buried beside Chaney in Meridian, but they were forbidden by local authorities, so Chaney's gravesite is the only one of the three in MS.
Visiting James Chaney's final resting place was as moving as visiting Medgar Evers' house. Its another example of an ordinary person doing something extraordinarily courageous. He was a true foot soldier of the CRM. You'll notice in the photo that Chaney's headstone is reinforced by steel bars. This was done to prevent further desecration of his burial place because his grave has been destroyed numerous times. Sickening!
I arrived in Selma late this afternoon, and I'll visit both the National Voting Rights Museum and the Edmund Pettus Bridge tomorrow. I'll discuss the amazing story of Selma in more detail after the visit.

A few notes on my Civil Rights tour. To date, I've traveled over 1500 miles through 5 states. The trip has been informative, exhilarating, physically tiring, and emotionally draining. It's one thing to study history, but its quite another to experience it so intimately. I am so thankful to the Eichenbrenner family for this wonderful gift...nothing in my professional career and few things in my personal life have been as impactful as this special trip. Thank you!!


  1. so proud of you for embarking on this journey. I have also been enjoying the daily updates. I feel like i'm traveling with you, Sam, and the "traveling circus"..

    Love to all of you, safe travels, Kelli

  2. Mike. What can I say? this blog has become ritual with my morning coffee and I don't knwo what I will do when your fantastic trip comes to a conclusion! Your passion for the Civil Rights Movement and emotional posts accounting your experiences and feelings day in and day out, I can honestly say have on a few occasions given me chills. People follow the path of the settlers west and the timeline for the Revolutionary War and the Civil War - of normal people doing heroic things to give their furture generations a better like - yet....the CRM - the most recent uprising in our history gets lost. As someone who has visited some of these places and felt the heartache and frustration of normal people breaking out of their boundaries to make a better life for the future of their race, I am so proud of you for documenting this and taking such a personal journey with your family to bring it to all of our computers every morning.

    Looking back and thinking about my trip south, I have to agree with you about Nashville and Memphis - Nashville has a nice size statue of the Parthenon but where are the civil rights monuments and landmarks? Standing on the street in Little Rock and looking at the school where children took a stand for future generations was definitely a moment I will always remember. I'm extremely jealous you go to see the Medgar Evans landmark and James Chaney's burial spot - just as I look forward to your experiences in Selma and in Birmingham! I wish I was with you and I am thinking of you!

  3. Dear Kelli & Julie,
    Thanks so much for following along. You honestly made my day. Its wonderful to know that you are enjoying this journey with us. It is definately an experience that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. Thanks.
    With Love,

  4. Mike,
    I have been reading your blog to Momma Linda and we are so impressed. Sounds like your journey is everything you were hoping for and more. Can't wait until we get to see you next week. Much love to you and the rest of the "traveling circus".


  5. Thanks so much, Stacey. It means so much to know that you & Momma Linda are following the journey of the traveling circus. Thank you. We are enjoying every minute, but looking forward to getting home, too.