With June 21 marking 50 years since the Ku Klux Klan killed three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss. in 1964, a number of historical leaders, families of the victims and friends gathered Sunday to pay tribute and discuss continued race relations efforts.
The crowd lit candles in the trio’s memory within the rebuilt Mount Zion United Methodist Church, a site the Klansmen burned to the ground just days before the murders. The three were slain during the Freedom Summer campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.
The event also acted as a precursor to the 4th National Civil Rights Conference taking place this week in Meridian. The cities of Meridian and Philadelphia co-sponsor the conference focusing on civil rights, social justice and human dignity.
With great distinction, Delta State University was also recognized Sunday for its recent efforts dedicated to race relations. The university was honored with the 2014 Civil Rights and Social Justice award, thanks in large part to the institution’s inaugural Winning the Race (WTR) conference hosted on campus in March.
The annual award is presented to individuals or community-based organizations who promote human dignity, civil rights and social justice through actions characterized by great personal initiative, selflessness, fearlessness, compassion, imagination, and achievement or compelling personal stories that encourage and inspire creative and effective action in support of human dignity, civil rights and social justice.
Nominating Delta State for the award was Georgene Clark, chair of the WTR conference.
“I’m honored and thrilled that Delta State received the award,” said Clark. “The institution needs to be recognized for its efforts. We have a strong diversity awareness campaign going on, we have a program on cultural awareness and we also have the Winning the Race conference.
“Delta State is setting the vibe — acting as a forerunner for the kind of dialogue that should be going on everywhere, but especially in the Delta.”
Being a university attempting to break the mold of racial discussions, Clark said these foundational efforts show that Delta State is on the right path.
“This means that the university is doing something right and taking a leadership role by actually promoting the type of education that should be promoted at college campuses, institutions of higher learning and within communities,” Clark added. “We can not fly, we can not achieve, we can not move forward without it. We need to know what has happened in the past to keep it from happening again.”
President William N. LaForge, who accepted the award on the university’s behalf, could not be more pleased with the recognition — especially at an event attended by some of America’s civil rights icons. In the audience was U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga; Mississippi civil rights leader Bob Moses; former Gov. William Winter; Freedom Summer veteran Roscoe Jones; Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers; and more.
“It’s a great honor for Delta State to be recognized for its efforts in continuing the dialogue and improving understanding of race relations, especially in the Delta,” said LaForge. “In the context of the National Civil Rights Conference and the memorial service where this award was presented, it was especially humbling for me to accept this on behalf of Delta State. The credit goes to all of those on campus who organized and participated in the Winning the Race conference, and I accepted the award on their behalf.
“Now with the moniker award-winning conference, we have a wonderful foundation and additional inspiration on which to build future conference programs.”
Also in the audience were members of Delta State’s Delta Music Institute. Director Tricia Walker and students Mic Hargrove and Jarrick Finkley are facilitating a youth workshop today at the conference. The workshop is operating under the envelope of “Healing With A Groove,” a DMI platform with the mission of promoting racial healing through the creation and production of original songs and recordings.
For more information on the National Civil Rights Conference, visit www.civilrightsconference.com.