Change Happens on the Margins: Moses Wright and the Dawn of the Civil Rights Movement

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

"I think that change comes about at the margins. I’ve always believed that. People in the center are not going to be the big change makers. You’ve got to put yourself at the margins and be willing to risk in order to make change."
—Frances Kissling

Today, on Martin Luther King Day, we’re wrapping up a new show with Frances Kissling, a vocal leader in the public conversation about abortion for over three decades. Her belief that change comes about at the margins reminds me of Moses (Mose) Wright, a Mississippi minister and sharecropper whose personal act of bravery sowed the roots of what would become a burgeoning civil rights struggle in the South.

Wright is best-remembered as the great uncle of Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy from Chicago who was viciously beaten and murdered in Mississippi during the summer of 1955 by two white men for allegedly talking to a white woman. Wright testified in court and publicly identified the defendants, with two simple words “Dar he.” (“There he is.”) At that time, Wright assumed great personal risk by bucking social conventions codified by segregation. Newspaper accounts of the day took note of remarkable actions. His life was threatened but he did not back down.

After the trial (the two men were acquitted and later admitted to the murder), Wright left Mississippi for Chicago, vowing never to return. While his personal act of dignified bravery didn’t affect the trial’s final outcome, he demonstrated that the tacit rules of segregation could be questioned.

To commemorate Martin Luther King Day and learn more about Mose Wright’s heroism and the role of Emmett Till’s murder in galvanizing what was then a civil rights movement still in its infancy, watch this excerpt from the award-winning series, Eyes on the Prize.

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