Black history events honor past, examine present

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 1, 2015

WARMING UP: Linda Fondren leads a warmup Saturday morning before the fifth Annual Get Healthy Black History Walk/Run at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

WARMING UP: Linda Fondren leads a warmup Saturday morning before the fifth Annual Get Healthy Black History Walk/Run at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

February’s final weekend of Black History Month featured a look back, a run in the park and a look ahead.

A program on the life of Reconstruction-era community activist William H. Tillmon Jones kicked off Vicksburg African American Heritage Day a day early on Friday.

Born a free man in Ohio in 1846, Jones moved to Vicksburg after his service in the Civil War and assisted blacks in the community as Grand Chancellor of a local chapter of the international benevolent group Knights of Pythias. He was instrumental in helping blacks pay for burial expenses, raise money for cemeteries, purchase insurance, and supported black-owned business enterprises.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Patricia Lee, author of “Bond of Friendship”, a book on Jones’ life with research culled from old family photos, explained the importance of Jones’ work with the fraternal order to Vicksburg Junior High School history students with her husband, Darryl, who is Jones’ great-great grandson.

“If someone died in your family, you knew there’d be monies there to bury your loved ones,” she said, adding her own family tree has roots in Vicksburg. Her aunt, Marie Hureston, and father, Louis Hureston, lived in the Waltersville community, according to records from the 1940 U.S. Census made public by the National Archives and Records Administration in 2012.

Inspiration to write the book came from heritage day organizer Karen Frederick, she said, who called the Lees, both college professors in St. Louis, to research the man whose grave in Beulah Cemetery is marked by a towering stone spire.

“I never really thought about it until we were contacted by Miss Frederick,” Darryl Lee said. “I didn’t know he had a headstone there. It was like detective work, because all the people I could ask questions of are dead.”

Jones, who died in 1910, also co-founded Campbell College in the years after his arrival in Vicksburg, Darryl Lee said.

“They started a college in the basement of Bethel AME Church,” he said. “As time went on, they decided to have Campbell become part of Jackson State.”

A heritage run Saturday through Vicksburg National Military Park and Beulah Cemetery drew about 25 runners to Jones’ grave marker and others in the 131-year-old cemetery.

Friday night, a panel discussion on pressing issues facing the black community filled about half the pews of King Solomon Baptist Church. Titled “Where Do We Go From Here? A Discussion of Race, Religion and Politics from the African American Perspective”, the forum was emceed by radio personality Marty Hart. Questions touched tender nerves on race relations and priorities since President Barack Obama’s election, effects of various eras in the Civil Rights Movement, the high school graduation rate among black males and attitudes toward law enforcement.

Dr. Freda McKissic Bush, an OB/GYN at East Lakeland Medical Associates, said her feelings toward the president have soured since his inauguration in 2009.

“He has done more to champion gay rights than civil rights,” Bush said, adding her pro-life stance is at odds with increased funding in the past few years for Planned Parenthood.

Bill Marcy, a retired Chicago police officer and candidate for state Senate in Vicksburg and Warren County, drew on his work experience to comment on attitudes in the black community toward police in the aftermath of civil unrest after the fatal shooting last August of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

“We need to make sure (our children) understand when dealing with law enforcement or anyone of authority, there is a time and there’s a place,” he said. “Sometimes, the best advice is what they give you. It’s called the Miranda rights — you have the right to remain silent.”

The Rev. C. Edward Rhodes, director of religious life at Alcorn State University, urged parents and authority figures to emphasize the difference between thoughtful questioning and breaking the law.

“We need to respect authority but question authoritarianism,” Rhodes said.

Yolande Robbins, owner of Robbins Funeral Home, called on people in positions of authority in education to be better examples for children.

“I’m talking about people in the school system who don’t use the English language right,” she said, adding in her comments on graduation rates, that more of the black community should make appointments to visit the Jacqueline House museum on Main Street and emphasize reading printed books in the home.

“I’m talking about people who have their homes, wired for music, wired for dance, wired for every kind of sound there is, and principals of schools, parents of children do not have a single thing in their house for children to read,” Robbins said.