Column: We are able to change the future

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2023

“A change is gonna come” by Sam Cooke played at the Brookhaven Waffle House Monday morning. Released in 1964, the song was a protest song written in support of the Civil Rights movement. I think the change he refers to in the song has come but I’m sure we still have more work to do. 

One of the earliest memories I have of learning about the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. was the movie “Our Friend Martin.” My first grade teacher wheeled in a giant box TV as we sat criss cross applesauce on the floor. 

It was an odd thing to learn about. Walker Elementary in Springdale, Arkansas was diverse with students from the Marshall Islands, El Salvador, Laos, Mexico, Guatemala and the US. All of us likely would not have been in the same classroom if it was not for Martin Luther King Jr. and the work he did. I think in our youth we just saw each other as different human beings. I’m sure some people from my class learned to hate later on. 

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One day while riding in a Walmart truck through rural Alabama, I worked up the courage to ask my papaw, who has tan olive skin, what it was like to grow up in the Civil Rights era. I had envisioned him marching in Selma and Birmingham as we learned about it in second grade. It turns out he just used a tanning bed a lot. 

In junior high, a history teacher explained how they had a drill at the junior high to evacuate in case race riots broke out. I learned in High School that Springdale was once a sundown town. It was shocking to say the least. Springdale is a place where people worked hard together whether it be at the chicken plants, distribution centers or athletics. It is just hard sometimes to wrap my mind around the fact this nation was once divided by color. Some people might argue it is still somewhat divided by color. 

One of the themes from “Our Friend Martin,” is how you can not change the past but you can still change the future. We can not change what happened in Mississippi’s past but we can still change the future. 

The hard work has already been done but we can continue to progress as a state. About three years ago, I watched our legislators vote to put a referendum on the ballot to change our old state flag, which bore the stars and bars from the Confederacy, to one which we could be proud of as a state with a splendid Magnolia in the center. My heart swelled with pride the first day I saw the Magnolia flag flying high above Mississippi State University. 

We still have more to do. Mississippi law still designates the third Monday of January as Robert E Lee’s day and Martin Luther King Jr. day. It is the year of our Lord 2023 and a man who sacrificed everything to fight racism has to share his day with a man who led the charge to preserve slavery. It is past time for things to change. 

In a couple of months our Governor Tate Reeves will likely declare April as Confederate Heritage Month in secrecy like he has in the past three years of his tenure. It is a move he will claim has been done by five different governors over the last 30 years and is required by state statute, which does not exist. Only Confederate Memorial Day is explicitly required to be designated as a holiday. 

Perhaps this year will be different. 

My suggestion is for Reeves to designate April as Civil War History Month. Afterall, the war was fought over the span of “Five Aprils,” and has greatly impacted our state and nation. It should be something we read about and learn about in order to avoid the same mistakes our state leaders made all those years ago. 

We can not change the past but we can change the future. I think one of the best things we can do each year on this day is reflect on MLK Jr’s work and continue to show love to others. I’m sure there are still people out there who harbor feelings of hate towards their fellow mankind. Hopefully love will turn them around.