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!!