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Column: Henry Hunter worked to help us change

Sometimes, it’s hard to acknowledge that times and things have changed; that once, they were very different, but now all that has changed. Still, once we were a very different place and people. And Henry Hunter made us change.

As we bring him to his rest Saturday, what we need to remember is he was in that house the night it was bombed, on a street we all know, in a place we call home, amid the horrors of hate. It happened other places too. But this night, it happened here.

What we prefer to remember is his presence in a moment of glory and in the fervor of celebration when Dr. King was here.

But Henry Hunter almost lost his life in Vicksburg, here, among us, and those we knew.

Our racial past is so impersonal at times because we cannot bear to believe that anyone we knew would do that; could do anything like that. But a lot of “someones” did.

And Henry changed that.

Henry Hunter was active during Freedom Summer in 1964 when he was part of many forays like the one when he was stopped by a cop at what is now the intersection of Highway 80 and 27; that brightly-lit and developed place that was then all darkness and trees.

At only 20, he had been so ardently active in the student movement of the 60s. And many years after that, in his own late 60s, he was still doing the work of the movement, still preserving its history when he came to bring me a copy he had kept of “The Vicksburg Citizens’ Appeal,” the free press created in Vicksburg by blacks to meet our needs in that time — and told me I could post it on our website so everyone would know and not forget. It was the June 1965 issue and is dated on our website on February 8, 2013. You can see it there.

“I am so proud of my father,” his son, Marvin, wrote to say.

When Shel Stromquist, now Dr. Shelton Stromquist, his fellow student-comrade of 50 years ago, returned to Vicksburg, one of the first things he sought to know was “Where is Henry and how is he?” Now, I’ll have to let him know.

Henry too is in the Smithsonian and the Civil Rights Museum in Washington where he has a permanent place and can be heard recalling the struggles of the 1960s and the part he played in them. He too was part of that history-making “Storycorps” at the Smithsonian.

Henry was a humble man. I last saw him nearly a year ago when he sang at the festivities honoring the 100th anniversary of Vicksburg’s NAACP. What he cherished, he cherished to the end. Now, we’ll cherish him.

I hope that all who read this will go Saturday to the Vicksburg City Auditorium where Henry Hunter lay in repose, offer comfort to his family, and say to Henry in their hearts, “We’ve changed.”

We really have.

 

Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.