(Trice Edney Wire) – In a year with a string of civil rights anniversaries – including the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer – one of the highest ranking African-Americans in the U. S. Congress, is warning commemorators to go far beyond simply recalling the pain and suffering.
U. S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who also serves as assistant House Democratic Leader, told a Washington, D.C. congregation that with the 70th anniversary of the signing of the GI bill (veterans’ educational benefits) June 22; the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling March 17, and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law on July 2, there is much opportunity for a civil rights revival of sorts.
“Whether you celebrate the 70th anniversary of a change in your life, the 60th anniversary of a change in your life or the 50th anniversary of a change in your life – whatever you celebrate – just remember that this year as we celebrate, let’s rededicate ourselves to the proposition that we will not allow those who lost their lives…and were beaten…Let’s rededicate ourselves to the proposition that we will not allow those lives to have gone down in vain.”
Clyburn was giving remarks at the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in North East D.C. as he prepared for a signing of his new memoir, Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black. He told the mega-church congregation, led by Bishop Alfred Owens, that even his worst moments being jailed during civil rights battles in the 60s have come to be blessings and lessons to be passed on.
“I had experiences, and as I said in this book, all of them were not pleasant, but all of them were blessings,” he said. “Sometimes it required that I look back to see the blessings because many times when I was experiencing it, it felt like a curse.”
Clyburn’s remarks came as civil rights enthusiasts across America prepared to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of “Mississippi Freedom Summer” this week. It was during this summer in 1964 that three civil rights workers went missing as hundreds of volunteers – mostly young White northerners defying Jim Crow laws – converged on Mississippi to register Black voters.On June 21, 1964, it was discovered that the three men, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, had been arrested, released and then beaten and killed by a Ku Klux Klan lynch mob.
According to the NAACP, the murders led to the first successful federal prosecution of a civil rights case in Mississippi that had been investigated by the FBI. In sync with the same sentiments expressed by Clyburn, NAACP President Lorraine C. Miller issued a statement saying the best way to commemorate this horrific tragedy of Freedom Summer is to take action for voting rights in 2014 by pledging to vote this November “to honor the sacrifices made by Freedom Summer activists for our right to vote.”
A string of speakers and a gala will take place during the Mississippi Freedom Summer commemoration June 25-29.
Miller concluded, “The circumstances under which we fight may have changed, but our values remain constant. All Americans, regardless of income or the color of their skin, must be able to freely exercise their constitutional right to vote…The work of civil rights activists to protect this right did not stop when Freedom Summer ended, or even with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As long as there are legislators fighting to keep our most vulnerable populations away from the polls, our work and our struggle continues.”