CCC Forum Explores Climate of Civil Rights Era in Clarksdale
CLARKSDALE – The “Civil Rights through Local Eyes” Forum at Coahoma Community College conveyed an aura of Black History reality television to a standing-room-only audience of students and faculty inside Whiteside Hall.
“We lived in fear; we lived two blocks from Dr. Aaron Henry (civil rights leader); his house was bombed and neighbors took turns guarding it and his family,” said teacher Brenda Luckett, recalling her childhood in Clarksdale.
Three other panelists asked to describe the climate of the civil rights era in Clarksdale were Earl Gooden, retired academic dean at Coahoma; Dr. Jimmy Wiley, retired CCC teacher and president of the NAACP; and farmer Andy Carr, white civil rights activitist who helped found Coahoma Opportunities.
“I’ve been part of the civil rights struggle all my life,” said Gooden, who named Dr. P. W. Hill, Dr. Henry, and Vera Pigee as outstanding African American local leaders who organized protests including the integration of Clarksdale’s Greyhound Bus Station
“My primary concern now is looking back on whose shoulders we are standing, and not taking them for granted,” said Dr. Wiley.
“The NAACP was born in 1953 with Dr. Aaron Henry,” continued Wiley who recalled people peeping through the doors as they marched down Issaquena to integrate the bus station.
“People put their lives on the line,” said Wiley. “We may have become too complacent; we have not arrived.”
Praising Luckett as a hard act to follow, Andy Carr agreed about the climate of Clarksdale’s civil rights era including the death of Emmett Till and farm laborers being paid $3 a day to chop cotton.
“I was aware things were awful,” said Carr who built brick houses to replace two-room shacks for workers and accepted Dr. Henry’s request to help with the civil rights struggle by helping organize Coahoma Opportunities.
“I felt strong about social justice then, and still do,” he said.
Luckett said, “Dr. Henry was like our Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; we did what he told us to do; we have followed one person.”
Dr. Wiley said, “We need inspiration because one day history is going to write and ask Aabout us: ‘What did you do?’ “
Luckett urged students to read history, “to open up your brains, to speak for yourself so nobody can fool you.”
CCC English and political science instructor Emmitt Riley moderated the panel that was sponsored by the Academic Division.