CANTON, Miss.–It was the same era when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington that he came to Mississippi to help register blacks to vote. He spoke of the Magnolia State in that famous address as a state “sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression”. Wednesday, on the 50th anniversary of that march and speech, Mississippi was again in focus.
It was in focus when Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree took to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“If someone would have told me that this little country boy who grew up in a shotgun house on a dirt road in Hattiesburg Mississippi would become a mayor, I would have told them they fell off a truck,” he said.
DuPree serves as the secretary for the National Congress of Black mayors.
President Obama talked of Mississippi in his address, given at 3 p.m., the same time Dr. King addressed the audience.
“To dismiss the magnitude of this progress, to suggest as some sometimes do, that little has changed, that dishonors the courage and sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” he said.
“Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King,Jr., did not die in vain. Their victory was great, but we would dishonor those heroes as well to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete.”
There were celebrations all over Mississippi Wednesday. One where Dr. King actually marched was in Canton. Judge Mamie Chinn marched with King on the square there.
“Dr. King had picked up the Meredith march,” she said. “James Meredith was shot and Dr. King picked up his march.”
Chinn said she wanted school children to ask questions about the Civil Rights era. She said children might find unbelievable that registering to vote could mean death. She said she faced a gun when she went into the courthouse to register.
“Pointed toward my face was a great big gun, a .45, and he asked me what was I doing there,” she said. Chinn said the registrar demanded she pay a poll tax and interpret a section of the Constitution, and she complied with both.
“I was allowed to register to vote. Many people were not allowed to register that day.”
Chinn said she believed voter ID was a barrier that should be overcome.
The canton celebration ended with a bell ringing at 2 p.m.