When Emmett Till was murdered in Money in 1955, Mississippians found themselves at the forefront of one of the most pivotal periods of American history. As this tragic event is widely considered the beginning of the modern civil rights movement, it joins other sites in Mississippi as part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Here is your three-day itinerary to exploring the sites that shaped a state and changed the world.
Begin your exploration of Mississippi’s civil rights history in Philadelphia, about 80 miles east of Jackson, the state’s capital city.
On June 16, 1964, Klansmen committed senseless acts of aggression at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in the hopes of ambushing Michael Schwerner, a member of the Congress of Racial Equality that was actively involved in the area. They assaulted three church officers and later burned the church to the ground. Schwerner and two other CORE members, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, returned to Philadelphia to secure affidavits about the crimes committed at the church. While driving to the CORE office in nearby Meridian, the three men were unlawfully arrested, taken to the Neshoba County jail, released, pursued once more and then mercilessly shot at close range.
Pay reverence to this pivotal moment in civil rights history by visiting the murder site, Mt. Zion Methodist Church and the old Neshoba County Jail.
Depart Philadelphia and drive west to Jackson.
Mississippi’s capital city was a mecca for civil rights activism. These moments are immortalized with Mississippi Freedom Trail markers and also explored further at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The entire nation was focused on Mississippi during the grand opening of this world-class facility at the conclusion of the state’s bicentennial year in 2017. The facility invites visitors to delve deeper into the state’s civil rights history and its heroes, such as Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer and Vernon Dahmer.
Depart the museum for the home of Medgar and Myrlie Evers, a designated National Monument. Medgar Evers became the NAACP’s first full-time state field secretary in 1954. He was gunned down in the driveway of his home in June of 1963. Pay your respects to the civil rights crusader as you take in the view of his home.
Overnight in Jackson.
Before you dive into the tumultuous history of the Mississippi Delta, explore the life of one of its most famous sons in Indianola at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. The life of B.B. King provides the backdrop for the museum as well as the rich cultural heritage of the Mississippi Delta. The museum honors its namesake through an authentic presentation of music, art, artifacts and educational programming. Born the son of a sharecropper, King overcame all obstacles to achieve international stardom as “King of the Blues.”
Travel about 25 miles north to Ruleville and discover another Mississippian who ascended from sharecropper beginnings to worldwide recognition – Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer is considered one of the most influential voices of the civil and voting rights movements. A leader beyond her time, Hamer spent her life fighting for greater opportunities for African Americans. Visit her memorial in Ruleville and discover how she progressed from sharecropping on Sunflower Plantation to leading the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Continue your Mississippi Delta civil rights exploration and travel to Cleveland. Here you can visit the home of Amzie Moore, an underappreciated champion of civil rights in Mississippi. Further explore the state’s musical legacy by visiting the supposed Birthplace of the Blues at Dockery Plantation and the state-of-the-art GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, the only GRAMMY museum outside of Los Angeles. Overnight in Cleveland.
When Emmett Till stepped across the threshold of Bryant’s Grocery on an August afternoon in 1955, he set in motion an explosion of terror and retribution that would rock the nation and mark one of the darkest chapters in American history. The civil rights movement traces its birth to that sagging store halfway up Money Road, where only crumbling walls remain.
The Emmett Till Interpretive Center implores all visitors to discover and never forget Till’s tragic murder. The center uses art and storytelling to process past pain and imagine new ways of moving toward racial healing. While in Sumner, visit the Tallahatchie County Courthouse where the murder trial took place.
Travel from Sumner to Oxford, about 75 miles away.
On September 30, 1962, riots erupted on the campus of the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Locals, students and committed segregationists had gathered to protest the enrollment of James Meredith, an African-American Air Force veteran attempting to integrate the all-white school. Despite the presence of more than 120 federal marshals who were on hand to protect Meredith from harm, the crowd turned violent after nightfall, and authorities struggled to maintain order. After spending the night of September 30 under federal protection, Meredith was allowed to register for classes the following morning. In August 1963, he became the university’s first African-American graduate.
In 2006, the university unveiled a civil rights memorial honoring Meredith and those who fought to give all citizens equal educational opportunities. Visitors can view the monument on the picturesque campus, located behind the Lyceum.