Nine students and two teachers piled into the IMS mini-bus for the 11 hour trek to Jackson, Mississippi. On the way to Jackson, the group stopped in Memphis, Tennessee to see the National Civil
Rights Museum, and the Lorraine Hotel (site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination) and adjacent buildings. The following morning the group finished the trip to Jackson, Mississippi where we stayed in the Open Door Mennonite Church, one of the few integrated churches in Jackson.
More learning continued as we visited the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, a well-designed museum highlighting Mississippi’s troubled racial past. The displays were impactful and thought provoking, but what remains vivid in the minds of many students were the stories of the docents who shared their personal memories of the Civil Rights Movement. One man pointed to the wall displaying mugshots of arrested Freedom Rider and identified himself, adding that he was a teenager at the time, and not fully aware of what he was getting himself into.
Later in the week we were given a Jackson Civil Rights tour highlighting where important events occurred. This included a visit to the Medger Evers home where the guide shared her personal memories of meeting Evers and the impact it had on her life.
Much of our time was spent with Hugh Hollowell, a Mississippi native, who recently moved to Jackson after living in North Carolina for years. Hollowell shared about the systemic racism evident in Jackson and about the “food desert “ that Jackson has become. Hollowell described his vision to meet some of the food needs of Jackson residents by taking advantage of Mississippi’s climate and the land available in the city. Hollowell started a group called Jackson City Farm, planning to grow and raise vegetables for the people of Jackson. The first plot of ground is called “Hannah’s Garden” in honor of Hannah Hochstetler, a Jackson Service Adventure Unit leader who died in an auto accident just over two years ago. Abandoned by another group several years ago, the plot of land was overgrown with weeds. Our group cleaned the weeds and other debris, leaving the asparagus shoots, so that future planting and cultivation can be done.
Members of Open Door invited us into their homes for evening meals, often sharing samples of local cuisine. At Warren (Kalona native) and Rhoda Yoder’s we dined on red beans, rice and Andouille Sausage. Hugh Hollowell introduced us to collard greens, black-eyed peas, ham, and cornbread, a dish he described as eating at least three to four times a week as a child. We also ate in the home of pastor Horace McMillan and enjoyed the stories of the Service Adventure workers when we spent time in their home.
On the trip home we stayed overnight at the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship where we were greeted with pizza and friendly conversation, including a description of some of the racial issues facing the St. Louis area.