7.1.05

About fucking time. In Meridian, Mississippi, we visited the grave of James Chaney, the African American civil rights activist who was murdered along with two white activists from the north. Chaney was actually from Meridian, but his family had a hard time finding a cemetery that would accept his grave, because they were all afraid of vandalism. Can you imagine? It's already bad enough to be beaten to death by the Klan, but then there's no place to be buried because everyone is afraid that those evil fuckers will still be coming after you, even in death?? Chaney was finally buried in a tiny church graveyard outside of town. Despite the green beauty of the trees & the singing birds, we felt kind of creeped out driving up the little side road, but the place turned out to have a very peaceful air about it. Chaney's grave is marked by a beautiful, large slab of dark stone (granite?) right by the side of the road, apart from the rest, which form a cluster farther back in the center of the clearing. I wonder about the placement; was it to make it easier for people like us to find it, or were they hoping that vandals would not bother to venture into the main part of the churchyard if their primary target was so easily accessible?

You know, it really came home to me, on this trip, in a way I'd never fully grasped before: the civil rights movement was an all-out bloody war. You always hear about it as a "movement" or a "struggle", but it was war. These people died for us. It's because of them that Donna & I felt as safe as we did, driving dark country roads at night in our rental car, staying at whatever motels we wanted, eating & shopping & peeing wherever we needed to. (Granted, we didn't dare ask the country club if we could swim in their pool.) We never had to pause & wonder, "in this town, should I use the white or the colored drinking fountain?" For Asian folks in the South, these things did vary from community to community. One restaurant owner told us about his first day at school, how the cafeteria was divided with Black on one side & white on the other, & he had no idea what to do so he just walked slowly down the middle until some white kids he knew waved him over to their side.

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