PROGRAMS SCHEDULED TO COMMEMORATE INTEGRATION OF JACKSON CHURCHES
A week before the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opens, local religious, educational and civic leaders will commemorate another milestone in the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi - the Kneel-In Movement.
Programs are slated from December 2 to December 4 to commemorate and discuss the kneel-in movement, an effort to integrate Jackson churches in the 1960s.
The programs are the result of months of planning that stemmed from discussions at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral.
The downtown congregation was the first protestant church to open its doors to the kneelers, a group that included black students from Tougaloo College as well as in-state and out-of-state activists.
Ellen Bourdeaux and Henderson Hall co-chaired the event, as part of the Jackson Interfaith Civil Rights Committee.
For the two, helping organize the events has had a personal meaning.
Bourdeaux’s father, Tom Bourdeaux, was an attorney in Meridian who worked behind the scenes to support the Civil Rights movement.
Her mother served on the federal grand jury that indicted the klansmen who killed James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers in Neshoba County.
“The klan targeted my family. There were some nights we couldn’t go home because police were staked out in our driveway,” she said. “They heard a cross was supposed to be burned in our yard.”
Hall, a high schooler at the time, remembers when kneelers visited his church at the time, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
“One of the most vivid memories I have … (was) seeing the delegation of black students coming to the front of the church and a sign going out declining to admit them.
“It’s one of the reasons I was so interested in participating in this effort,” he said.
He said St. Andrew’s decision to desegregate is something parishioners should be proud of. “St. Andrew’s had, at the time, the senior warden, the late Sherwood Wise, who was a splendid attorney and partner of my law firm. When the group of visitors came to the front door, one of the ushers asked him what they should do, and he said, ‘admit them.’ It’s a part of history and something we’re very proud of.”
Other groups involved in the effort include Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, All Saints Episcopal Church, Fondren Presbyterian Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Tougaloo College. The program is being funded, in part, by a grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council. Other resources and in-kind services have been provided by other groups, Bourdeaux said.
Programs start on December 2, with a panel discussion on the history of the movement, at Tougaloo College’s Woodworth Chapel.
Panelists will include civil rights veteran Rims Barber and Kneel-In participants Camille McKey and Ida Hannah Sanders, Kneel-In leader Rev. Ed King and Joe Reiff, author of Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society.
The program will be moderated by Carter Dalton Lyon, author of Sanctuaries of Segregation: The Story of the Jackson Church Visit Campaign.
McKey, who was a sociology major at Tougaloo during the Civil Rights Movement, was one of a handful of students who were at St. Andrew’s when the church opened its doors.
“Rev. King said we should be working through the churches because it was (not Christian) to discriminate,” she said.
She was surprised when St. Andrew’s allowed the Kneelers to enter because previous visits to other churches had been unsuccessful. She believes the Kneelers’ efforts have made a difference. “As an Episcopalian, I can go to an Episcopal church and know I’m not going to be ostracized,” she said.
Programs will also be held at 2 p.m., on Sunday, December 3 at the Old Capitol Museum and at noon, on Monday, December 4 at the Smith Robertson Museum. That event will be followed by a 6 p.m. ecumenical service at Galloway United Methodist Church.
In a separate but related event, on Thursday, November 30, the Beth Israel Congregation and the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP will present “Civil Rights and Jews: Continuing the Special Relationship.” That event will be at 7 p.m., at Temple Beth Israel.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Mississippi History Museum are expected to open on December 9, to coincide with the state’s bicentennial.