Commemorating our past, celebrating the present and inspiring the future: Intergenerational exchanges ignited by 50th anniversary of Burglund High School Walkout.”
“We have to make a recommitment to move and make a difference. The young men [and women] in our society can make a difference. This event has sparked something in us.” Joe Lewis, a participant in the 1961 Burglund High School Walkout felt reenergized as a civil rights activist 50 years after he first walked out of school with one hundred other classmates. Back then, Mr. Lewis and his classmates protested the expulsion of their friend Brenda Travis, a 15 year old student who joined the sit-ins at Woolworth’s and the Greyhound Bus terminal to fight for desegregation in McComb, Mississippi.
On October 8th, 2011, approximately 140 students, local and national civil rights elders, community leaders, McCombresidents, and volunteers came together in solidarity to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Burglund High School Student Walkout. The commemoration is the first in a series of events that will focus on local civil rights actions that were instrumental in shaping our lives as Americans today.
Youth organizers from the Young People’s Project of McComb along with their Youth Leadership Director Lisa Deer spent several months conducting research and facilitating meetings with local civil rights veterans, community leaders and students. This work led to the October 8th commemoration which included workshops such as a McComb Civil Rights Driving Tour, youth organizing workshop led by civil rights veteran Curtis Muhammad and his son Saad, an oral history interviewing workshop by Rhondalyn Peairs from the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, oral history interviews with veterans and former Burglund students, and a Burglund High School Walkout discussion panel. An art display and photo gallery were also on exhibit, and youth recited inspirational poems and sang freedom songs with veterans.
“Veterans really want to hear from the youth what skills, workshops, or ideas they want the veterans to transfer at the organizing conference in March,” said Saad Muhammad, Youth Committee member for the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement annual conference. Indeed, during the workshop, youth were engaged in brainstorming and planning that led to valuable intergenerational dialogue about the needs of minority youth today.
Priceless lessons about local history were also shared during the recording of the oral history interviews with Bob Moses, 1961 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary, MacArthur Cotton, SNCC veteran, and Henry Eubanks, 1961 Burglund student.
The Burglund High School Walkout Discussion Panel was a special highlight. Brenda Travis, Ann Harris, Shirley Bates, Joe Lewis, Earnestine Ridley Weatherspoon (1961 Burglund High School students) served as panel discussants and shared remarkable stories about their experiences as student activists leading up to the Walk Out.
Another special attraction was the McComb Civil Rights Driving Tour. These tours were led by Tazwell Bowsky, who serves as Pike County’s District 1 Supervisor. The tour bus, donated by Walker Chapel Freewill Baptist Church, included stops at Society Hill Church, the Masonic Temple, civil rights leader C.C. Bryant’s house, the Black History Gallery, and McComb City Hall. Participants also went on an exclusive tour of the jail under the McComb City Hall which is normally closed to the public.
The day closed with a wonderful remembrance by civil rights veteran Earnestine Weatherspoon of Campbell College, where expelled Burglund students went to school after the Walkout. Memorably, a tearful presentation of an honorary high school diploma was awarded to Brenda Travis by Therese Palmertree, McComb School District Superintendent and Bettye Nunnery, president of the McComb School District Board of Trustees.
Immediately following the closing ceremony several of the attendees came together to share in more song and prayer as part of a symbolic freedom march to the Masonic Temple. The commemoration, according to Mrs. Weatherspoon, “was a hit.”
Additional information: Enterprise Journal.