Well another political season is winding down in Mississippi, but history was made in the process. Nearly 45 years ago, Philadelphia, Mississippi was a city on the national map, unfortunately though, it was a tragic symbol of how America, specifically the South, was getting it wrong.
Three young men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared on the night of June 21, 1964. The three men were part of a group that were registering Blacks to vote in Neshoba County in an effort called "Freedom Summer." The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the bloodiest regiment of America's original terrorist group, had hatched a plan to violently subvert the actions of these individuals. With cooperation from local authorities, aided by an atmosphere of staunch segregation, the White Knights carried out their plan. 44 days later, the bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were found buried in an earthen dam.
Now fast forward to May 19, 2009. James Young, a former county supervisor, who is now a minister and paramedic, became the first African-American to be elected mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi. By a slim 1021-975 margin, Young broke through a barrier many outside of Philadelphia did not think was possible.
Young cited his work in the health care field as being the factor that earned him the trust that lead to him defeat a three-term incumbent mayor. Young also campaigned on changing city government, which is a winning strategy it seems in the 21st Century.
But the credit has to go back to the sacrifice of those young men who gave their lives on a dark road in Neshoba County for the possibility of this occasion. There is a saying that is bandied about that states freedom is not free. Well neither is empowerment.
Because of the work of those young people who came from all over the nation to build a coalition with native Black Mississippians to fight one of the greatest injustices in our history, May 19, 2009 would not have been possible. It was their courage and their commitment to a just cause, as well as the tragic loss of life of their comrades, that led to the events that culminated on last Tuesday.
When I see joyous occasions such as the election of James Young, it makes me appreciate history even more. If you know where you came from, you will know where you are going, and you will cherish the journey even more when you reach your destination. This day has been a long time coming, but as the old folks would say, the sun will come up tomorrow, signaling a new day and more work that needs to be done.
Our next battle will be the election of an African-American to a statewide position. The next year that can happen will be in 2011, nearly fifty years after the deaths of Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Wouldn't it be something if that day will come on a cold November Tuesday two years from now?
Until then, the struggle continues.