Yesterday, I passed by the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in downtown Jackson and saw that demolition of the Agriculture Building, one of the pair of barrel-vaulted buildings at the west side of the fairgrounds, was well underway. As you might recall from a couple of posts last month (“Balancing Industry With Agriculture” and “A Mystery: Which Building(s) Were the ‘Fairgrounds Motel’“?, there was some debate about whether these were the buildings used to house the many civil rights protesters arrested after Medgar Evers’ assassination and funeral in 1963. This debate was mostly put to rest when new MissPres reader Catherine took it upon herself to call the State Fair Commission and ask. They themselves verified that in fact it was the A&I Buildings that had been used as a jail during that long summer of discontent.
It’s odd to me that at the same time that the state is officially going out of its way to remember and even celebrate the Civil Rights Movement–especially the Freedom Riders who began coming into town 50 years ago this month–one of its entities is at the same time demolishing one of the few sites that tangibly shows the struggles of the mostly local people who brought down the system of Jim Crow. And ironically, this demolition occurs in plain view of the site of the future Civil Rights Museum, up on the bluff north of the Archives and History Building.
As John Dittmer argued in his ground-breaking history of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Local People, more than in any other state, Mississippi’s civil rights struggle was primarily waged by local people, rather than the more famous national figures such as Martin Luther King. Local people were the ones who had the extreme courage to stand up and be counted, knowing that they might be killed in their driveways like Medgar Evers, firebombed in their houses like Vernon Dahmer, beaten, or fired from their jobs by their white employers. Without these acts of courage, the kind of courage that got many of them thrown into the “Fairgrounds Motel” in the A&I Buildings, Jim Crow would not have been overthrown in this state. But while we celebrate the courage of the mostly outsider Freedom Riders, somehow all we can tell the local folks is, “Sorry, your history is so uninteresting to us that we’ll just tear it down without any public notice or debate.”
Shame on the State Fair Commission for this abrogation of their public responsibility. And I’ll throw a shame toward the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for not at least raising a stink about this demolition happening in its own backyard.
While on the topic of demolition, shame and the lack thereof, shame or something stronger on Columbus’ First Baptist Church for their demolition of the Friendship House in the early morning hours yesterday, for their smug bait-and-switch game in the months leading up to it, and for putting business decisions ahead of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t have the energy to go into the whole nefarious story–if you don’t know about it, you can read a good article in the Columbus Dispatch). I assume that Baptists will be segregated into their own suburb in heaven, where the mansions will be clad in Dryvet with hollow, metal white columned porticos and they can demolish it all on a whim or as a “good business move” if they want to. But if on the off chance I meet First Baptist’s business administrator Thomas Southerland, I hope God will give me leave to punch his lights out.