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Students explore civil rights history

Students, from left, Brittney Meija, Nichols, Kaydrianne Young, and Randi Gill-Sadler interview Green, center, as a part the university’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.  (Sam Gause / Natchez Democrat)

Students, from left, Brittney Meija, Nichols, Kaydrianne Young, and Randi Gill-Sadler interview Green, center, as a part the university’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. (Sam Gause / Natchez Democrat)

By Mary Kathryn Carpenter

NATCHEZ— For eight years, University of Florida students have been gathering oral histories of the Civil Rights Movement and how it affected Mississippians.

This summer, the students visited Natchez for the second time to gather more information in order to tell the civil rights stories that may otherwise not been heard.

Thursday night, three oral history students from Florida presented their findings in a panel called “Unfinished Business, Race Democracy and the Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights” at the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture.

Under the guidance of Paul Ortiz, the director and associate professor of the Samuel Proctor Oral History program at Florida, Randi Gill-Sadler, Justin Hosbey and Justin Dunnavant put together presentations about events that occurred before, during and after the civil rights movement and how they are affecting people today.

To begin the evening, Dunnavant, a Florida anthropology Ph.D. candidate, gave a presentation entitled, “Veterans of SNCC’: Mental Trauma and the War for Equality” in which he likened the civil rights movement to a war fought by those who participated.

Dunnavant explained preparations to participate in Freedom Summer in 1964 were much like preparing for a war.

He explained the recruitment process, stating that many participants were recruited from their colleges and universities.

The participants then went through a “boot camp” where they learned the social and political training required to protest peacefully.

After going through their training, the protesters were then sent out to “war” to fight for the cause of equality.

Dunnavant went on to explain the long-term effects being a part of the sometimes violent movement had on many of its participants.

“(Post traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder that arises from exposure to a traumatic event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury,” Dunnavant said. “This is the hidden cost of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Dunnavant proposed a plan to offer civil rights “veterans” the benefits offered to military veterans, specifically healthcare benefits.

Hosbey began his presentation shortly after Dunnavant wrapped up, introducing it as a talk on “Race Citizenship and Justice in American Democracy.”

Hosbey, a cultural anthropologist and Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Florida, centered his talk on the parallels between the case of George Stinney, a 14-year-old who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death with little evidence, and Anthony Ray Hinton, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death only on the grounds that his mother owned a gun that could shoot the same bullets that were used in the alleged murder.

Hosbey said Stinney allegedly killed two girls that were around his age and was convicted by an all white jury.

Hosbey said Hinton allegedly murdered two white men and was convicted by a majority white jury. He had a white judge, he had a white lawyer and the victims were white.

Hinton was imprisoned on death row for 30 years before being acquitted and released.

“For 30 years, he was on the edge of life and death,” Hosbey said.

Following Hosbey’s presentation, Sadler began her talk on the lost and overlooked speeches by women during the Civil Rights Movement.

“Many women in the Civil Rights Movement were denied leadership positions and speaking opportunities,” Sadler said. “They have been overlooked and understudied.”

Sadler went on to describe the lives and experiences of women like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was put in a cell with two black males during the movement. The men were instructed to beat her by a white prison guard.

Sadler said events like this, where women are harmed, are still regularly seen today.

She said in what has become known as the “McKinney Pool Incident,” a widely publicized video in which a young black woman in a swimsuit was forced to the ground by a white police, the woman’s name has become almost lost in the void. While wrestling her to the ground, several of her friends approach the situation and try to help her and the police officer brandishes a gun at them.

Sadler said the victim’s name is Dajerria Becton, and that in response to her web-wide namelessness, many women have started using #sayhername to raise awareness of the fact that while black women’s bodies have been used as symbols of abuse, their names are frequently forgotten.

After Sadler concluded her presentation, audience members were given time to ask questions, however most simply thanked the presenters for their work.

On Friday, those presenting as well as other classmates spent the day interviewing locals who participated in the Civil Rights Movement so they could continue to add to their growing catalogue of transcribed oral histories.

Members of the program are currently working on ways to share the project digitally, but for now the focus of this project is to gather the stories of those who lived through the Civil Rights Era.

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