Thursday, August 21, 2008

Movement underway to restore Bryant Store and Meat Market

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports a movement is underway to restore the Bryant Store and Meat Market building, the place where the incident occurred that led to the brutal murder of Emmett Till:

By Jerry Mitchell

A push is under way to preserve a crumbling symbol of where the civil rights movement began.

Decades of neglect have almost destroyed the Bryant Grocery and Meat Market in Money, but few have forgotten the events during the summer of 1955 that started in the Leflore County store with a wolf-whistle and ended with the slaying of an African-American teenager from Chicago named Emmett Till.

"This was the Alamo, not just for blacks, but for everybody," said Greenwood insurance agent Billy Walker, who is raising money in hopes of buying the building, restoring it and turning it into a museum.

Walker said the Tribble family of Greenwood, who owns the property, asked him not to reveal the purchase price, but he acknowledged it's in the six figures.

That a 61-year-old white businessman from the Mississippi Delta should take on such a project is the latest evidence of the expanding effort to preserve key sites from the civil rights movement across Mississippi and the United States.

Charles Reagan Wilson, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, compared what's happening now to what happened several decades after the Civil War when veterans and others moved to preserve battlefields and historical memories.

Now soldiers from the movement for racial equality are joining with others to preserve these civil rights battlefields, said Charles Cobb Jr., a veteran of the struggle. "People who are in movements don't think about them until decades later."

Many civil rights sites are being lost because little effort has been made to preserve them, said Leslie Burl McLemore, a movement veteran and professor of political science at Jackson State University.

In Clarksdale, the drugstore run by longtime Mississippi NAACP President Aaron Henry, which served as a regular meeting place for those in the movement, is now just a vacant lot, McLemore said. "They should at least have a marker."

A fire gutted Henry's historic home, McLemore said. "Nothing has been done to restore it or board it up."

Many of Jackson's historic sites are crumbling, he said. "We have people coming here from all over the world, and they're coming to a place that looks like it's dying. It's unfair to people who fought the struggle."

Change had to take place for people to recognize those in the movement as heroes, Cobb said. "It's hard for me to see (Mississippi Gov.) Ross Barnett arguing for the preservation of civil rights sites."

In January, Cobb released On the Road to the Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, which details 400 historic sites from the movement.

While some cities have had civil rights museums for years, smaller communities are beginning to wake up and document their past, he said, including St. Augustine, Fla., where the movement was met by the Ku Klux Klan and violence.

Selma, Ala., recognized the possibility of capitalizing on its past about a decade after Bloody Sunday, he said. "I can see a light bulb going off, 'Well, if we're going to have Civil War sites, why not have civil rights sites?' "

Diane Nash to receive National Freedom Award

Diane Nash, one of the heroes of the civil rights movement, will receive the National Freedom Award Oct. 20:

In April 1960 Nash helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in 1961, she took over responsibility for the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Nash also designed the strategy used by the SNCC in the Selma, Alabama "Right to Vote" campaign, and was an important organizer for the 1963 campaign in Birmingham. She spent 30 days in a South Carolina jail after protesting segregation in Rock Hill in February 1961. President John F. Kennedy, appointed her to a national committee that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.