Progress becomes personal
A local minister remembers what it took to help desegregate Mississippi
By Inman Moore 06/26/2013
On June 9, United Methodists from all over the state of Mississippi gathered for their annual conference in Jackson, the state capital. Among other things, they gave their racial justice award to 28 ministers who 50 years ago signed a statement titled "Born of Conviction." It said three things:
1. It opposed racial discrimination of any kind.
2. It opposed the use of state funds to finance private academies designed to continue segregation in schools.
3. It was opposed to communism. This was part of the statement in order to answer the prevailing charge that anyone supporting integration was a communist.
The statement in 1963 was immediately picked up by The Associated Press and made headlines all over America. All hell broke loose in Mississippi. A number of the 28 ministers were immediately locked out of their churches by their congregations. Some of the ministers had physical property destroyed or vandalized. A contract was put out by the Ku Klux Klan to kill Rev. Jerry Trigg, one of the 28. All received tons of negative mail and threats. I was one of the 28. At the time, I was serving as pastor of the Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church in Biloxi, Miss. The document turned out to be a very "moving document" in that it moved most of the 28 right out of Mississippi. My wife, Nellie, and I moved to a pastorate in California in June of 1963. Twelve other Mississippi Methodist ministers also moved to California. Others moved to pastorates all over America.
At the time of the statement, Mississippi was totally segregated, and the state was controlled by the White Citizens Council, which had elected one of its own, Ross Barnett, as governor. Schools, churches and public facilities, such as restrooms and drinking fountains, were all segregated. Blacks could not eat in the restaurants or stay in hotels. Public swimming pools and the entire beach on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were off limits to blacks. For a period of years, Mississippi was a closed society.
But, time marches on, and today in Mississippi it is a different story due to the efforts of many people. Dr. James W. Silver, a distinguished Southern historian of that time, credits the 28 as being one of the reasons for change in the South. From being chased out of the state in 1963, the 28 this year have now been honored in Mississippi as agents of change. This is a great indicator of what has happened in the South.
Today, blacks have access to all public facilities including schools, churches, restaurants and hotels. Blacks no longer ride in the back of the bus. Today, the mayor of Jackson, the capital city, is black, and recently, Meridian, one of the larger towns in Mississippi, elected a black mayor. There are many black people serving in elective positions all over the state. Indeed, progress is being made in all walks of our public life. We continue to open doors to many racial groups. Women are in more leadership roles than ever before. Gays are gradually establishing their rightful place in society, and the beat goes on.
My point for this column is this. We can and do make progress, but it is not inevitable. Change for the best is always a struggle, and it only happens by a concerned citizenry. My question is, "What have you and I done lately?" Good luck to all of us as we continue the struggle for a better and more caring and loving society.
Anyone interested in pursuing the Mississippi dilemma will find these two books helpful:
"Mississippi: The Closed Society," by James W. Silver (found in the local library); "Sandersville," by Ned Kellar (may be found on Amazon). n
Inman Moore is a retired Methodist minister living in Pasadena. This column first appeared in The Phoenix, the newsletter of the local political action group ACT.