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Wally on Wheels:  Wabash College Immersion Trip 2017

Meridian and Jackson, MS

Eli Shadwick, Patrick Jahnke, Charles Frey, Brian Parks

On Thanksgiving Day, our group traveled to Meridian and Jackson, Mississippi. Despite the holiday, we explored the towns by following the Civil Rights and Blues Trail in Meridian and riding a bus tour of Jackson.

While walking in Meridian, we stopped at historic markers placed throughout the city. These plaques provided information about both the civil rights movement and African-American music. Our group was particularly struck by the overgrown brush suffocating historic buildings on the fringe of town, while just a few blocks away were marble buildings with green grass out front. Buildings which held Civil Rights meetings sat empty while the center of town thrived. While Meridian was moving forward, we saw traces of an important past being neglected by the community.

We saw similar scenes of overgrowth in Jackson, stopping briefly by a now closed Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel—a hotel locked in time, colored with a faded 70s aesthetic of décor. We stopped at the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Central Offices, which helped coordinate the efforts of the various Civil Rights parties of the time. SNCC, NAACP, CORE, and SCLC were just a few of the groups that utilized the guidance of COFO. The final stop before heading to the hotel was Medgar Evers’ home, a prominent figure of the Mississippi.

To celebrate Thanksgiving in the evening, we ate. We shared a meal with alumni who gave their time to be with us, away from their families. They lived in or near the area and held titles ranging from lawyer to community planner. The night was filled with discussion, storytelling, debating, and everything else that a family dinner should consist of, and that’s what the night was—one big Wabash family dinner.

Meridian storefront

Usually Thanksgiving Day is a day full of life and joviality, yet those emotions were absent as we traversed through the destitute town of Meridian, Mississippi. The dilapidated state of storefronts and buildings did not reflect the bustling city and culture hub that Meridian once was, but it did reflect that the Civil Rights Movement was much more than a social and political movement. It was obvious that the Civil Rights Movement had a positive economic effect on pivotal towns such as Meridian, but when there was nothing left to profit on the city seemed to fade into history.

Meridian horse

While visiting Meridian we noticed a plentiful amount of carousel horses around the city and we wondered what they meant. We found that there are a total of 16 carousel ponies in the heart of historic downtown area and many more across the city. The ponies are used as a fundraising project in support of Hope Village for Children in Meridian. Hope Village houses local children who were abused and neglected. Each carousel horse displayed is a representation of a child’s everlasting imaginative spirit.

Jackson State Tragedy

In the afternoon, the group stopped by Jackson State and learned about the Jackson State tragedy. On May 15, 1970 students at this historically black university were protesting harassment from white individuals in the community and local police. The protest resulted in Jackson police and Mississippi Patrol officers firing several bullets, killing two students and injuring twelve. The shooting is not widely known due to its proximity to the Kent State Shooting that took place on May 4th, just over a week earlier.

Medgar Evers home

As we continued our trek through Mississippi and towards Thanksgiving dinner, we stopped at the historical home of Medgar Evers, a black man who was shot and killed while trying to enter his home. It was heart wrenching to see the site that reaffirmed our knowledge that black citizens in the 1960’s were not safe anywhere during these dark times. Out of this fear and hate blossomed a stronger community. A couple of neighbors from the surrounding houses joined our group photo, and it is remarkable to see that such a strong black presence surrounded a place known for hatred.

Thanksgiving dinner

Our courses enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving meal in Jackson with a group of Wabash alumni, including Lee Cline (pictured). The students and professors were able to have conversations with the alumni about their Wabash days and insights gained so far. Since the alumni live in the area, we were also able to learn more about life in Jackson. The meal was put on by donations to the Wally on Wheels Affinity challenge during the Wabash Day of Giving. We would like to thank all who donated to the challenge.