Reigniting the Fight for Freedom Southern Poverty Law Center and SNCC Legacy Project present Mississippi’s Got Now: The Road to 60

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Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement passed the baton to SPLC and more than 40 other civic, non-profit organizations during SPLC’s The Mississippi’s Got Now: Road to 60 Passing the Baton Ceremony. (Photos: Courtesy of Southern Poverty Law Center)

On May 3rd, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Legacy Project presented Mississippi’s Got Now: The Road to 60 to Reignite the Fight for Freedom at the Two Mississippi Museums.

SPLC and the SNCC Legacy Project hosted an elaborate “Lunch with Legends” in the museum’s Neilsen Auditorium.

The program began with a press conference attended by more than 40 partnering organizations that are working with SPLC to champion The Road to 60. This is a campaign to Reignite the Fight for Freedom by registering and mobilizing 60,000 new and/or inactive voters and increasing voter turnout by 44% in Mississippi. This is symbolic of what happened in 1964 when SNCC deployed its membership to rural Mississippi to help African Americans register to vote during a time when Jim Crow tactics were disenfranchising African Americans by utilizing literacy tests and poll taxes. The press conference was led by members of the partnering organizations’ leadership from around the state expressing why they are committed to work with The Road to 60 campaign. 

Lynda Hasberry, media specialist with SPLC’s Mississippi State Office, served as the Mistress of Ceremony. Lolita Bolden, organizing manager with SPLC’s Mississippi State Office, welcomed all guests. Cherry Gamble, interim chief of staff for SPLC, along with Rev. Wendell Paris of SNCC, offered greetings. As an added bonus, Latrice Rogers, the Road to 60 Ambassador and owner of Goddess Lengths, provided insights to her business journey as an African American female entrepreneur. Goddess Lengths is a Jackson-based beauty store and hair products business that is leading the industry in hair vending machines. 

A moderated panel discussion was conducted by Waikinya J.S. Clanton (Mississippi State Director, SPLC) and Sydnee Thompson (president, 92nd SGA Tougaloo College) with the legends of The Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. These legends included Dr. Flonzie Brown Wright (1st Black Election Commissioner 1968), Mrs. Mamie Cunningham (Freedom Rider), Rev. Wendell Paris (Freedom Rider), and Mr. Frank Figgers (COFO Worker/Mississippi One Voice). 

Clanton and Thompson asked the panelists to comment on their involvement in Freedom Summer and their journey fighting for freedom. Each panelist gave personal accounts of struggle and the motivations propelling him or her to continue the fight and to tell the stories so younger people understand the intestinal fortitude and personal sacrifice required to do the work to ensure people are able to exercise their right to vote.

Among the panelist comments were:

Wendell Paris: “I will fight as long as I live. I was inspired by Fannie Lou Hamer and her personal fight to get people registered to vote. We must take the baton and run with it, run as fast as we can. You young folks have to learn from my mistakes. We must fight for Black Power!”

Flonzie Brown Wright: “I didn’t choose to be involved, I was told by Mrs. Annie Devine that I was going to run for election commissioner. The death of Medgar Evers was the turning point for me. His death was my motivation to get involved. In 1963, I helped integrate the beaches in Biloxi. Every 10th registered voter is chosen to serve on juries. Therefore, we need to be registered voters. Freedom is not free, and freedom does not come fast. If your space is no better than when you found it, then you need to change your journey.”

Mamie Cunningham: “I was asleep about the movement because I was raised out in the rural on a farm and we were out of the loop until I went to Rust College and learned what was going on and that’s when I knew I had to get involved. Votes can and are being bought.”

Frank Figgers: “In 1960-61 I was a kid, but I saw the big boys like Hezekiah Watkins and Martin Luther King Jr. doing their thing. I saw them as heroes, and I knew I wanted to do what they were doing. I got my chance to get involved at Rust College and The Poor People’s Campaign. I was nurtured by the big boys and the relationships that I formed. We must develop leaders, not just wanting to be the leaders. In a democracy we can elect a tyrant but we can also inform people and destroy tyranny.”

A special tribute from the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement was given by Cynthia Goodloe Palmer to Dorie Ladner and Dave Dennis. Frank Figgers paid homage and tribute to Dorie Ladner and Hollis Watkins stating, “We were born for a time such as this.”

The event concluded with a Passing the Baton Ceremony to recognize the living legends of the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. The living legends present were Dr. Flonzie Brown Wright, Mr. Frank Figgers, Rev. Wendell Paris, Mr. Fred Clark, Ms. Dolores Williams Lynch, and Mrs. Mamie Cunningham. Mr. Dave Dennis Sr. and Mr. Hezekiah Watkins were unable to attend. 

The legends were presented with batons that were engraved with their names and serving capacity in the Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964. The legends then passed their batons as a symbolic gesture to signify that the Mississippi Got Now mantra is to be upheld and carried on by younger committed African Americans working through their partnering organizations to get 60,000 new and/or inactive voters registered throughout the state Mississippi.

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Reigniting the Fight for Freedom Southern Poverty Law Center and SNCC Legacy Project present Mississippi’s Got Now: The Road to 60

By Brinda Fuller Willis
May 20, 2024