A few weeks back, I attended an exploratory conversation regarding the potential development of a Truth Commission in Mississippi. The purpose the organizers (Susan Glisson, among others, from the Winter Institute at Ole Miss) stated is to “provide an historic forum for the people of the state to understand a divisive and violent history. From this beginning, we can create effective organizing strategies and public policy initiatives to confront structural racism.”
This opportunity to explore and understand our past is important for this state to be able to move beyond the racism that is incidiously intertwined in our governmental policies from the state level to the most benign local level. Many people were impacted by Mississippi’s Sovereignty Commission created by State Legislature in 1956. This was a spy organization created to spy and squelch civil rights activities in the state. This state mandated commission supported the violent efforts of the white supremacist groups. It is time for us to look at the full scope of its reach. It is time to hear the stories of the lives impacted and destroyed by this arm of the law in Mississippi.
The potential of mandating a Truth Commission to look at our painful past is also vital to Unitarian Universalists in this state. Many Unitarians and Universalists were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. We suffered for our stance. Here in Jackson Mississippi our minister received death threats and were critically wounded. The current building of Jackson’s congregation was built to reduce the risk of firebombing and sniper shooting. It was built in the early 1970’s when the Synagogue in Jackson was firebombed and leveled by that event. At Our Home in Ellisville, trucks would pull up during Sunday services and yell out threatening words to the worshippers within. African American Churches across Mississippi burned in those days. Fear was part of waking up in the morning.
Healing can only begin when we allow ourselves to look at the wounds that continue to define us and understand how those wounds impact our decisions and actions today. Understanding how our past has shaped our present can empower us to make different choices. Choices where justice, compassion, and equity can be enhanced in our state.
I look forward to the conversation, understanding that such a conversation will be painful to hear but also understanding that hearing it 30, 40, 50 years after its occurance is not as painful as it was for those individuals living it the first time. May our hearts be ready to embrace the truth and may that truth truly set us free to reach our full potential as people of faith.
Rev. Fred L Hammond