Encountering “God” on an Icelandic Mountaintop
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Jim Gates recites a short story at “Toil and Trouble: Stories of Experiments Gone Wrong” at the World Science Festival held at The Moth at Symphony Space on May 29, 2008 in New York City. (photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)
There are times in our worst hour when we discover that what will save us is just the thing we’ve been doing our whole lives. String theorist Jim Gates had one such epiphany, hearing an unembodied voice telling him to make his own trail while alone on a mountaintop in Iceland, clinging to his mortality. Check out this story from The Moth.
The Struggle for Change and the Struggle to Resist Change: Untold Stories from Mississippi
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
“I saw them in the deep South. People who were considered backward, unable to do anything became the creators of a new possibility for the whole nation. When I think about Tienanmen Square and Prague, I realize that those folks in Mississippi and Alabama who were considered useless, were able to speak to the world.”
— Vincent Harding, theologian and civil rights activist
Ordinary heroes of the civil rights movement who emerged out of Mississippi — people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, and James Meredith — risked their lives to break the back of racial injustice. Their inspiring stories are the stuff of history books. These were regular people who accomplished extraordinary things in extraordinary times.
What’s less known are the stories of ordinary white Mississippians who tried to preserve segregation. Segregationists weren’t limited to the stereotyped “fat potbellied sheriff who kind of walks around with a gun, and chews tobacco, and throws the N-word around everywhere he goes,” explains Mississippi historian Robby Luckett in American RadioWorks’ latest documentary, “State of Siege: Mississippi Whites and the Civil Rights Movement.”
Pro-segregation organizing was entrenched and complex. Government agencies and civic groups formed to thwart integration. Those who resisted risked retribution in different forms, from job loss to social ostracism to physical violence.
Segregationists, says Robby Luckett “came in all shapes and and forms, and were quite savvy. And when you understand that those are the people that the civil rights movement was up against, you understand the kind of challenge they had.”
“State of Siege” untangles the knots of this untold history. It’s useful history to revisit in this moment when citizens are pressuring entrenched regimes to change in the Middle East. Mississippi is arguably the state where segregation was hardest to break. And yet as “State of Siege” concludes, “It is sometimes said that civil-rights activists accomplished more in Mississippi than in any other southern state, because white resistance there was so incredibly fierce, and the road to freedom so very long.”
About the image: University of Mississippi students protest against integration on October 1, 1962. (photo: Flip Schulke/Corbis)
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.”
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.