TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI) – It was the mid 1950s and a young singer from Tupelo was taking the country by storm.
At the same time, a young preacher was making headlines as the spokesman for the civil rights movement.
Throughout Northeast Mississippi, black families knew about Martin Luther King Jr., but most were busy just trying to survive.
“Hard times, I grew up in a time when I could look up in the ceiling and rain would fall in , or you could look down through a crack in the floor and if you had chickens maybe you would see one of them , so it was difficult times.,” said Allene Jackson.
“We all worked in fields, picked cotton, choppe cotton, milked cows by hand, come was hard work, but was a way of life during period of time,” recalled James Beene.
Allene Jackson and James Beene have spent virtually all their lives in Northeast Mississippi. When they were teenagers, life for African American families was tough, with few opportunities for advancement.
They were also treated as second class citizens.
“W e knew if you wanted a hamburger, you went to the back, bought a hamburger, or you went on without a hamburger, we knew our money spent as good as a white person’s , it was the way it was,” Beene said.
As a young man growing up in the Shakerag community, Robert Jamison recalls there was an undercurrent of division and racism in the late 1950s and early 60s in the area.
“You could go out, people didn’t want to be around you, call you nigger, people hollering, get out of here nigger, blacks in Tupelo knew we had a problem,” Rev. Jamison said.
Even some white business and civic leaders knew there was a problem that had to be addressed. In the late 1950s Jack Reed Senior was busy running the store his dad started. He had served his country during world war II. Many of the young men serving valiantly with him, were African Americans. As he recalls, they were treated with respect and dignity, until they came back home.
“Blacks and whites came home together on the boat, next Monday was in front of store, two of my black friends waved across the street, at that time they couldn’t go sit with us in picture show, could not go to library in Tupelo, somethings seemed to be wrong and some things are wrong,” Reed said.
Jack Reed Sr was about to be in the forefront of a movement calling for real and radical change. It would impact virtually all areas of life in Northeast Mississippi and would see leaders develop in the African American community who would help mobilize others in the struggle for equality and dignity.