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Don’t forget lessons from 50 years ago

Fifty years ago this week, things in the South got ugly, and our area was no exception.

Freedom Summer as it was dubbed was a several-week period in the summer of 1964 during which volunteers — many from the north who joined forces with thousands of black Mississippians — made a concerted effort to register black voters.

At the time, less than 10 percent of eligible black voters were registered. Freedom Summer aimed to change that in one, rapid sweep.

The movement ran headlong into Mississippi’s nearly impenetrable wall of institutional racism.

Violence resulted all across the state, most famously in Philadelphia where three civil rights workers disappeared and were presumed to be dead.

The search for their bodies ultimately turned up evidence of two Southwest Mississippi murders.

The badly decomposed bodies of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee may have been lost forever. The men had been reported missing. Only later did authorities piece together that they’d been kidnapped and beaten and thrown into a backwater of the Mississippi River alive, chained to heavy weights.

Their deaths were among several murders whose victims’ only “wrongdoing” was being born black.

As Mississippi remembers 50 years since the violent summer, lest we not forget the horrors committed against black Mississippians, but let’s also not simply dwell on the violent history, but also add context to it.

Today, in 2014, Mississippi is a far greater, more diverse and understanding place than it was 50 years ago. It’s certainly not perfect, but Freedom Summer’s legacy has been to make the state much more free.

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