The Trail to Freedom
While Mississippi is home to a vibrant, rich cultural heritage, we don’t shy away from our dark past that placed us at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement that swept the nation in the middle of the 20th century.
When Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, Mississippi became center stage for the struggle for civil rights. Tragic events, pivotal turning points, and progress happened right here in Jackson – and it’s a legacy we won’t soon forget.
Here, we honor those who paved the way, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for equal rights, and those still in the fight. In 2011, the Mississippi Freedom Trail was established to commemorate Mississippi’s people and places vital to the movement. Visit these critical Jackson spots along the Freedom Trail to learn more about the Mississippi movement that changed the world.
Jackson Freedom Trail Markers
Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument
The Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument is located at 2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Drive. In 1955, the house became home to Medgar and Myrlie Evers and their young children, Darrell and Reena. At the height of the movement, Medgar was a well-known Civil Rights leader and NAACP field secretary who actively worked to ensure voting rights and opportunities for African Americans. He was instrumental in ending segregation at the University of Mississippi.
On June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated in his driveway by Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the local chapter of the White Citizen’s Council. His wife, Myrlie, was the first to find him outside her front door. After his death, the family deeded the home to Tougaloo College as a historic house museum.
Greyhound Bus Station
In the heart of downtown Jackson, you’ll find the Greyhound Bus Station (seen above), where nine Freedom Riders arrived in May 1961. That summer, over 300 people were arrested for integrating the public transportation system in Jackson. Most refused bail in protest and were sent to the state penitentiary. This show of solidarity helped spur the federal government to mandate an end to interstate transportation segregation four months later.
Mississippi State Capitol/Capitol Rally Site
In the summer of 1966, Jacksonian James Meredith held his “March Against Fear.” Meredith was the first African American to enroll at the University of Mississippi, causing a firestorm that would spur the movement along. The March Against Fear was an effort, from Memphis to Jackson, to encourage black Mississippians to vote, despite the pressure they faced.
Just south of Hernando in North Mississippi, Meredith was shot and wounded by a white man. Prominent Civil Rights leaders, including Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King Jr., showed unity and support, then convened to finish the march. On June 26, Meredith was recovered enough to join the rally at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, where he addressed the largest crowd assembled for the cause in the state’s history.
The Jackson Civil Rights movement was largely powered by the students, faculty, and staff of Tougaloo College. Inspired by Medgar Evers, a group from Tougaloo set out to integrate Jackson’s central public library, restaurants, and churches through sit-ins and demonstrations. They were met with rage and resentment but pressed on. Many faced beatings and arrests.
Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, Tougaloo served as a safe haven for activists fighting for equality.
Jackson State University
Tragedy unfolded on the campus of Jackson State College in May 1970 when local police and Mississippi State Highway Patrol officers met student unrest with gunfire. Many students were injured, and Phillip Lafayette Gibbs and James Earl Green were killed when law enforcement intervened to quell student protestors. The students were protesting harassment from whites driving through campus, police intimidation and the killing of four student protestors at Kent State University.
On Capitol Street in downtown Jackson, you’ll find the marker commemorating the infamous Woolworth’s Sit-In, a key event in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. On May 28, 1963, three black Tougaloo students calmly sat down at the all-white lunch counter. They were met by an angry mob, media, and the FBI. An integrated group of supporters soon joined the students, and chaos ensued. The crowd threw food and items from the store’s shelves at the group for three hours before management closed the store.
WLBT – TV
Local news station WLBT Channel 3 was at the center of controversy in 1964, when a local group joined forces with the United Church of Christ to challenge the Lamar Life Insurance Company’s application for renewal of the station’s license, claiming discrimination. Years later, the FCC put a bi-racial community board in place to operate the station, and William Dilday became the first African American TV station manager in the South.
Jackson Municipal Library Sit-In
Located at the corner of State and Yazoo streets downtown, this marker celebrates the 1961 sit-in at the Jackson Municipal Library. Here, nine African American Tougaloo students quietly sat in the whites-only library. Law enforcement ordered them to the “colored” library, and the students were arrested upon their refusal. This sit-in inspired black youth throughout Mississippi to get involved in the movement through peaceful protests.
Bombings in the Jewish Community
In the mid-1950s, Rabbi Perry Nussbaum came to Beth Israel Synagogue and served as an important voice for racial justice in the community. He helped establish the Committee of Concern, an organization that raised funds for black churches burned by the KKK. In 1967, Klan members bombed Beth Israel’s newly built synagogue and the Nussbaum home. Fortunately, no one was harmed, and Nussbaum continued his fight for justice.
Additional Sites for Civil Rights in Jackson
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum | Smith Robertson Museum & Cultural Center | Farish Street Historic District | Alamo Theatre | Big Apple Inn | Margaret Walker Center | Medgar Evers Statue & Library | Freedom Corner