Many of you have received a letter signed by Congressman Bennie Thompson and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. The letter invites you to an event in Jackson, beginning May 22, 2011 (18 days after our reunion in Washington, D.C.) in which they propose to “honor and celebrate” the Freedom Riders.
Our names were used in this letter without our permission. The letter says, “We have already been in touch with the Riders organizing for the anniversary — Diane Nash, John Lewis, Hank Thomas, Ralph Fertig, C.T. Vivian and Rev. James Lawson.” It is true that they wrote letters to the signatories of this letter, inviting us and all Freedom Riders to attend the Mississippi event. However, they did not tell you that Diane Nash responded to their letter on our behalf and said that in keeping with how we did things in the 1960s, we would consult with the Freedom Riders so that we could formulate a collective response to their invitation. She said that we would reply when we completed checking with all the Freedom Riders. The sponsors of the proposed Mississippi event proceeded to contact and invite Freedom Riders individually. The way our names were used seemed to imply that we approve of and/or endorse the Mississippi event.
We do not approve of and in no way endorse the event that is proposed for Mississippi. We oppose it and will not be in attendance.
Reverend C.T. Vivian and Diane Nash have been working with a project in Neshoba County, MS for the last five years, so we have had an opportunity to learn, to some extent, what is going on in that state.
Mississippi white racists have discovered the millions of dollars that can be derived from tourism pertaining to the legacy of the civil rights movement. They are in the process of stealing the legacy of the civil rights movement. They have concluded that they can make more tourism money if the State of Mississippi takes on a more liberal image, so they are making efforts to change their image without changing their racism. If nothing is done, descendants of the Mississippi terrorists who burned homes and churches, lynched martyrs and persecuted activists of the civil rights movement, will benefit financially from the legacy of the Movement, while descendants of the black people who made the Movement will remain in poverty and in prison. There is every reason to believe that the monies unjustly derived from the legacy of the Movement will be used to further oppress black people in Mississippi.
Rather than honoring and celebrating the Freedom Riders, the proposed occasion will mock us by causing the Freedom Riders to appear to give credibility to this state that does not deserve credibility in the area of race relations. The assumption is being made that the Freedom Riders do not understand what the State of Mississippi is really doing.
A lot has changed in the state, but be assured, racism is alive and well in Mississippi.