Taken from reflections I found today from my time at Jackson State University. I had been going through some college papers in our basement and found several pages of thoughts and experiences I had during that time at JSU. Below is from the fall of 1997, my first semester there. It was election time and we had just had a student rally.
It was a phrase I had become very accustomed to hearing. “They are always welcome here.” When it came to bridging the gap between the races, it seemed my white friends appeared willing to receive those who came into their own culture, but never were willing to cross into another… This and more led me to my time at Jackson State University- a historically black college in Jackson, Mississippi.
In October of my first semester at Jackson State, we had a special student gathering in the middle of campus. During the fall, student organizations on campus had been encouraging students to register to vote. The month of November was bringing a mayoral election for the city of Jackson. The excitement surrounding the vote was the fact that Jackson had never had a black mayor before and it looked like that was going to change with this election. (and it did!) This particular student rally had brought Martin Luther King III to speak to the campus body about the importance of every vote.
We were let out of classes early and all directed toward the gathering. I sat with the group of us who had just left health class together. We waited with everyone else until Martin Luther King III emerged from his bus and walked to the podium. His speech was short- but powerful. He urged us to be active in the politics of the city and spoke directly to the fact that every vote counts. He reminded the students that their ancestors had worked hard to gain the right to vote. Over and over he brought up how African Americans had been oppressed by white folks. He highlighted the importance of our generation rising up and leading the way to a just society.
The emotions of the crowd steadily rose as MLK III preached of the injustice of the past and the importance of the African American vote today. it was a brief talk, but the crowd soaked in his words. He gave his final push to remember to get out and vote ,t hen just like that, the assembly was over.
So many things raced through my mind, during and after this experience.
The right to vote was something that had been withheld for so many years from the families of the majority of this crowd. The sickening feeling that had been washing over me was the realization that it was MY ancestors who had fought hard to keep them from this right. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced. There I had been, the only white face I could see, and we were talking about all these injustices that my own race had been responsible for. I thought- these people must be angry. But the truth was, I wasn’t threatened by my classmates, I was threatened by the deep guilt that I began to feel…
This isn’t the end of the reflections, just a snippet from one of them. Will share more in the days to come.