Walk and talk through history

Published 6:37 pm Saturday, February 24, 2018

Walkers of all ages and various races came together Saturday morning to stroll through downtown Vicksburg and learn the local history of African Americans in celebration of Black History Month.

The walk and talk was the eighth annual Black History Month walk organized by Shape up Vicksburg and the Vicksburg National Military Park. The walk started at the Jackson Street Community Center then made stops at Jefferson Funeral Home and Bethel A.M.E. Church before concluding at the Old Courthouse.

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“When we were starting out with the Shape Up Vicksburg Get Healthy Walking Club in 2010, I was surprised when the then superintendent of the park asked point blank,  ‘Why do so few African American Americans walk in the park,’” Shape of Vicksburg director Linda Fondren said. “I knew it was because the black community felt uncomfortable in areas that glorify the history of the Confederacy. I also told him exercise is at the bottom of a long list of priorities for many blacks and that’s what I was trying to change. So, we teamed up to hash out ideas about how to change black’s perception of our Civil War Park.”

Now eight years later, Fondren said she has seen the African American community in Vicksburg embrace the park more and begin to understand its place in the history of the community.

“I have seen more people who are able to talk about diversity and their feelings such as one lady told me her grandmother wouldn’t come to this park and neither would she,” Fondren said. “When she came on this walk and they were able to talk about it, it opened her eyes up more than just the history, but also a great place to exercise.”

The previous walks took place within the military park and discussed the history of African Americans in the Civil War. This year they made the decision to move the walk to downtown Vicksburg to highlight the new heritage walking trails and tell the diverse history of African Americans in Vicksburg.

The stories told included the founding of Jefferson Funeral Home, the history of Bethel A.M.E. and the legacy of a race riot that occurred at the Old Courthouse during Reconstruction.

“Not all parts of our history, culture and stories are positive,” VNMP Chief of Interpretation Scott Babinowich, who led the tour, said. “There are negative stories. My purpose in sharing them is to show the benefit of exploring those things. To embrace uncomfortness because out of that we start to develop this concept of how do we talk about difficult things.”

The walkers included kids from the CORE Sports group, who were brought to the walk by group leader James Dixon III.

“I felt like what Mrs. Linda has going on with the walks is part of the community and with it being Black History Month, my young guys need to understand their community,” Dixon said. “It is an effort for us to get out not just to exercise, but also to learn more about the community so they can reach for excellence.”

Fondren and Babinowich said they were both encouraged and impressed with the younger walkers’ interest in the event.

“When I showed up and saw 25 to 30 kids there, it was neat to see the younger generation getting excited and interested in their heritage and their history,” Babinowich said. “That is what the future of our community holds. If these young folks really understand what happened in the past, they are better versed for the future to handle what will come.”