The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently hosted an open house session for the National Park Service's Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study. One of six open house sessions held throughout the state – including another Delta region open house at Tallahatchie County Courthouse – the meeting provided a space for Mississippi Delta residents to share information about significant civil rights landmarks, people, and events in their communities.
NPS has encouraged those who were not able to attend the open house sessions to register their comments on the resource study website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/. The Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study is listed with the Southeast Regional Office and a review ending date of June 1, 2018. According to the website, all public comments are due by that date.
"As Congressman Bennie Thompson has stated, the National Park Service has a wonderful opportunity to preserve and honor the history of civil rights and the struggle for freedom here in Mississippi,” said Keilah Spann, NPS Southeast Regional Office cultural resources historian. “We can accomplish this in part by connecting with the communities and the people here. So much of the history of the civil rights movement is still within the people who were active in it and are living. We have a unique opportunity yet a limited window of time to capture and preserve this history."
Of the approximately 40 attendees at the Delta State open house, several were community and civil rights leaders including:
- Mr. Charles McLaurin of Indianola who worked with Fannie Lou Hamer;
- Ms. Jessie Williams, a retired history and American government educator who initiated the integration of Shaw High School as its first African American teacher;
- Dr. Matthew Holden, a Mound Bayou native and retired political science professor researching the life of Mound Bayou founder Isaiah T. Montgomery; and
- Senator David Jordan of Greenwood who attended the Emmett Till trial at Tallahatchie County Courthouse in 1955.
"We are pleased that the National Park Service resource study team asked to host their first civil rights open house session at Delta State," said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and executive director of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. "This conversation started during the team's initial visit to the Mississippi Delta in February through Mississippi Department of Archives and History. To have two civil rights open house sessions here in our region sends a strong message that the Mississippi Delta is a national civil rights heritage treasure. This is an historic opportunity for residents and entire communities to proudly share their civil rights stories."
Later that day, a second NPS open house session also was held at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner. The session was hosted by the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.
“The National Park Service study helps to solidify the importance of the many Civil Rights Movement sites in Mississippi,” said Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. “We look forward toworking with them, and we were proud to host them in Sumner where over fifty community members came out to voice their opinions.”
In 2017, U.S. Congress passed a law directing NPS to conduct a special resource study of Mississippi's nationally significant civil rights sites. Initial Mississippi Delta sites include key landmarks of the Emmett Till murder such as Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, MS, and Bryant's Grocery Store in Money, MS.
The open house sessions are part of NPS' efforts to gather information about additional civil rights sites in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the state. They will report their findings to Congress when the study has been completed.