march freedom tour

The March to Freedom – Tour

If American civil rights was a journey of a thousand steps, those first steps were taken here by some remarkable people. People like Ida B. Wells, who was born a slave and became a hero to millions as a crusading journalist and activist; and James Meredith, an Air Force veteran who’d answered his country’s call with honor and saw no reason for America to give a deferment to his own dream.

Following in the footsteps of leaders like these takes you through historic cities and welcoming communities proud of their African American heritage and pleased to share it with you. And it is a journey that offers not only a revealing glimpse of the past, but also a hopeful view of the future in a nation now led by President Barack Obama, who in a sense added the last word to the Lincoln-Douglas debate with his own superior performance here in the 2008 Presidential debate.

While there are other notable African-American stories in the Hills—including Oprah in Koscuisko, diva and Rust College alumnus Ruby Elzy in Pontotoc, Howlin’ Wolf in West Point—this is a trek that promises a wealth of information for your own inspiration, and it begins, appropriately enough, at a crossroads.

 

Day 1

 CORINTH

A lot of roads led to Corinth, known as the “Crossroads of the Western Confederacy” during the Civil War, and on those roads came escaped slaves by the thousands. Not yet legally free, they were declared “contraband” by the Union army to prevent their seizure by Southern planters. These “contraband” humans were put into a camp, but like a rose in the desert, the camp bloomed, miraculously, into a model community, self-sustaining in every sense.

Today, what you’ll find blooming in Corinth is a communal spirit and a pride of place that turns an ordinary visit into a sociable event, with a menu that includes plenty of friendly people and maybe an old-fashioned cherry soda and a slugburger or two. (Don’t worry, they’re named for the nickel—the so-called slug—they used to cost.)

HOLLY SPRINGS

There are plenty of grand historic mansions in Holly Springs, but what is even more impressive are the stories of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a vocal anti-lynching advocate and early Civil Rights heroine, and Rust College, an historically-black institution of higher learning founded on the grounds of a former slave market. World-class accomplishment, whether civil rights or education, is a Holly Springs hallmark.

902 North Parkway, Corinth, Mississippi 38834, United States

Established by Union General Grenville M. Dodge to accommodate African-American refugees, the camp featured numerous homes, a church, school and hospital. The freedmen cultivated and sold cotton and vegetables in a progressive cooperative farm program. By August 1863, over 1,000 African American children and adults gained the ability to read through the efforts of various benevolent organizations. Although the camp had a modest beginning, it became a model and allowed for approximately 6,000 ex-slaves to establish their own individual identities.

1501 W. Linden Street, Corinth, Mississippi 38834, United States

The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center is operated by the National Park Service as part of Shiloh National Military Park. The 12,000-square-foot facility interprets the key role of Corinth in the Civil War’s western theater. The rail crossing at Corinth ranked second only to the Confederate capital at Richmond in terms of strategic importance for more than a six-month period of 1862. During the war, Corinth was fortified heavily by both Federal and Confederate forces. The Interpretive Center is located near the site of Battery Robinett, a Union fortification that was witness to some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War.

200 North Randolph Street, Holly Springs, Mississippi 38635, United States

Located in the Spires Bolling/Gatewood House and named for Civil Rights heroine Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the museum shares the contributions of African Americans in the fields of history, art and culture.

150 Rust Avenue, Holly Springs, Mississippi 38635, United States

Rust College is a historically-black, coeducational, senior liberal arts college founded in 1866 by the Freedman’s Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

 

Day 2

 OXFORD

The world will and should long remember both the courage and carnage of those groundbreaking days at the University of Mississippi in 1962, but you may want to forget all the preconceived notions you may have about the “ole” in Ole Miss and Oxford, which today is a progressive university community thriving in its 21st century paradoxes. It was really only fitting that Barack Obama make history here in the 2008 presidential debate. Oxford today is a place where Southern culture is a deep and all-inclusive experience and where historic homes share the stage with happening clubs and restaurants.

COLUMBUS

Columbus made its own special strides in creating a rich and vibrant African-American community from the earliest days of settlement. Today, while the bustling mecca of Catfish Alley exists only as marked memories, several historic homes built by African Americans and some of the churches that began life as brush arbors still stand to inspire.

University of Mississippi, 1806 University Circle, Oxford, Mississippi 38655, United States

Completed in 1848, the Lyceum was the first building constructed on campus, and visitors can still see the bullet holes in the building’s Ionic columns from the riots surrounding James Meredith’s historic 1962 enrollment.  The Civil Rights Monument was dedicated in 2006 to commemorate the the efforts of James Meredith and others who strove to create educational opportunities for all.