Mississippi Burning

March 18, 2008

Our first stop in Mississippi was Mt. Zion Baptist Church, in Philadelphia. It’s a tiny little town, but the site of some very important civil rights events. In 1962, members of the church were leaving an evening financial meeting when they were attacked and beaten by local Klan members who had been waiting outside. The Klan mistakenly thought that the gathering was a “mass meeting” of civil rights activists. Soon afterwards they burned the church to the ground.

Three young civil rights workers- two white, one black- came to the church to investigate the arson, and were all arrested. The police, also members of the Klan, held them until they had gathered a lynch mob. Upon their release, the three young men drove a few miles out of town, where they were attacked. The two white men, Goodman and Schwerner, were shot point-blank in the back of the head; the one black man, James Chaney, was beaten and shot.

We visited the church and met Jewel MacDonald, who was a member of Mt. Zion during that time. Her mother and brother were among those beaten that night on their way home from the meeting. Hearing her tell speak was a very moving experience. She was crying the whole time she was speaking, but didn’t even notice it. She said that she was sorry, but it was a reaction she just couldn’t help. She spoke about how she was about to leave town and get married when these things started happening, and so she hid all of her nice things in the chicken coop so that they wouldn’t get ruined if their house was torched by the Klan. Amazing.

The church itself is, of course, small. The preacher said they may get up to 85 people on any given Sunday morning. There is a graveyard adjacent to the church, as with all of the small country churches we’ve seen so far. It has become one of my favorite sights- a humble church building, old and proud, alone along the highway, with all of it’s members from over the years resting right there, between the church and the trees. Very moving, the sight of it.

One special thing about this church’s story is the old white church bell, which survived the fire and stands in front of the church to this day. It is the only thing left from the time when Mississippi, and Mt. Zion burned.

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One Response to “Mississippi Burning”

  1. fajerwerki said

    I just want to tell you that your blog is very interesting, bookmarked

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