Mt. Pilgrim Church and Cedars Head Start

Published 6:00 am Sunday, March 10, 2019

Yolande Robbins

Black History Month was very special this year because of invitations from two special places.

I was invited to come to Mt. Pilgrim to talk about Black Migration, the designated ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History) topic this year. I had both scholastic and personal reference for that one, first in The Jacqueline House’s well-worn copy of Nicholas Lemann’s “The Promised Land” who was himself here in Vicksburg a few years ago and spent time at The Jacqueline House, and in my own childhood memories of “migrating” to Chicago on the “City of New Orleans” every year.

But Mt. Pilgrim Church, down South 61, could well have been the topic for the talk. It is small and quite literally off the highway. You look “right” off the highway to see it, across the highway from where most of its members grew up.

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It’s fundamentally a family church, with family ties maintained and extended from six, seven decades ago. Most of the congregants still live there and talk of the days they walked miles to the mailbox.

Their music was thrilling.

They had grandmothers who’d told them how they had been treated in the “High Water” of ’27, and how they’d decided to leave or to stay. One had been a scrub nurse in Jackson who also went out on hunts with her family. When I asked her if she’d ever shot “Bambi”, she said no, but Bambi’s daddy was very fair game.

I told them my story of how my father would engage a porter on the train to look after me on my 800-mile journey there and paid him with a $5 bill when $5 was serious money.

We spoke of the migration vagaries, asserting its necessity then and questioning its necessity, even its value, now.

It had rained that Sunday, and members of the congregation gave me a ride home after my talk. And they also gave me $75 for coming, a hugely magnanimous gift, and one that I shared with my own church a week later when we celebrated Black History too.

Then there was “Head Start” at Cedars, a place I had never been. You literally had to turn right off the highway and go a fair distance to find it. You’d never believe that a school had been back there. And now it was there as “Head Start.”

One fact that’s not always remembered is that “Head Start” was a fought-for civil right too. Blacks had to fight for it. But on this day, I got to meet, talk, and read to 85 4- and 5-year olds who hugged me and called me “yoyo”.

I told them that the two greatest writers in the English language were Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss! I hope they’ll remember that.

And I brought them an old-fashioned orange-juice squeezing machine from The Jacqueline House and promised I’d be back with enough oranges for them to squeeze their own Orange Juice!

It’s been a beautiful month!

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Post. Email her at