(Sasha Duttchoudhury, seen here with the hat, was a participant on the Spring 2020 Pilgrimage and they graciously agreed to write about their experience and what it has been like to process the past few months.)
“Hope is a discipline.”Mariame Kaba
I have thought about James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner every day since Mr. Leroy Clemons shared their story with us in Philadelphia, Mississippi. How could I not? The graphic nature in which Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were killed during Freedom Summer, the killer’s capacity for hatred and cruelty, and the injustice of their lives cut short are heart-wrenching at minimum. Their brutal murder is far beyond the scope of my racial equity context, where less threatening issues like microaggressions are the focus. As I stood in a forest, just down the road from the killer’s family home, the very spot where the men were killed, microaggressions feel inconsequential.
I have thought about the radiant smile of Mr. Clemons and I can’t imagine what it must take for him to retell the horrific story while the monsters lived in his very town. Mr. Clemons is disciplined hope embodied, creating the circumstances necessary for hope to be real every day. He not only takes people across Neshoba County to retrace Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner’s steps and tell their story, but Mr. Clemons was also a key part in convicting their killer. To hold pain and act is the most hopeful thing we can do.
To hold pain and act is the most hopeful thing we can do.
I’m not sure my heart has the capacity to hold what Mr. Clemons holds, let alone still smile and fight on without completely collapsing in a puddle of despair. The emotions my body has known around race hold a different kind of nuance than what a college-level liberal arts education has offered. While I’ve taken it upon myself to make healing, holding, pausing, and processing a core part of my anti-racist work, I still grieve Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Everyday. And tragically, they are in increasing company. I will never know all of the names of the lives lost to racism, white supremacy, and hatred, nor could I ever know all of their stories, but I feel compelled to learn, to increase my heart space, honor the dead and fight like hell for the living.
Despite Ms. Nina Simone’s great success around the world, not everyone knows the song Mississippi (Goddam!) Not everyone knows about Alabama (Goddam!). But now, under unprecedented lockdown, everyone knows about Minneapolis (Goddam!) and the unjust killing of Mr. George Floyd. Protests have been held across the country and across the globe in South Africa, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, Australia, and across Europe. The global solidarity and action from communities outside of the US to address anti-Blackness in their own global contexts is so moving. This truly is a global pain.
I have often thought about how the rising activists of our current moment are holding not just the names of Mr. George Floyd, Ms. Breonna Taylor, Mr. Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, but also the ache of lives lost, stories untold, potential unlived, and the survivors who carry on the memories of these people. The enormity of this grief should not be held by our Black siblings alone, this is grief we must share—that is healing.
(Appeared in the Summer 2020 Project Pilgrimage Newsletter.)
Riding on the bus during a Pilgrimage can be a unique experience. You often sit with a new person each day, as we switch up seat partners to promote conversation. On my first Pilgrimage, my initial assigned seat was next to civil rights hero, Bob Zellner. I remember asking him about his lifetime of activism and how it looked for him now as an elder. Even today, he still possesses the same fiery, optimistic, and sometimes radical outlook about nonviolent direct action as a means to achieving widespread racial equity. The idea of meeting the type of violence Bob Zellner experienced with a nonviolent approach and a belief that all people can change for the better is difficult to comprehend. To hear his stories firsthand is a gift worth treasuring.
I was recently speaking with Bob and he reflected on the pandemic and its impact on communities of color, as well as the change that has come from the protests across the country for Black Lives and against police brutality. We spoke about his role in the civil rights movement as the first white field secretary in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the connection to today’s social justice movements. Formerly complacent white folk are newly active in the Black Lives Matter movement and he acknowledged this encouraging shift. This is the moment that he and so many others in movements of the past worked hard for; the moment of change he hoped to see realized in his lifetime.
Bob Zellner has been an important partner and a fixture on our Pilgrimages since the early days. The Pilgrimage draws in aspiration from the freedom rides that he took with other leaders like Bernard Lafayette and John Lewis. Their lives are testaments to finding the good in people and as we remember the lives and honor the work of heroes like Lewis, CT Vivian and Joseph Lowery, I ask that every reader join me in dedicating this moment – this movement – to the heroes who paved the way for a better future.
Monuments and symbols of white supremacy are falling across the country, so let us recognize the real heroes of this nation. The women and men, like Bob Zellner and John Lewis who deserve to have statues erected in every city and their names emblazoned on the bridges that connect our past to our present. This is who we should be. This is at the core or our work at Project Pilgrimage. Changing the narrative and taking action.
Take care and hope to see you all soon!
One of Nashville’s most well-known historians, and a longtime administrator at Fisk University, has died at age 72. Dr. Reavis Mitchell was a civil rights advocate and dear friend of the Pilgrimage.
Starting in 2015, Dr. Mitchell was chairman of the Tennessee Historical Commission, which announced his passing this week. The commission describes Mitchell as a “consummate scholar, gentleman and proud Tennessean.”
A 1969 Fisk graduate, Dr. Mitchell joined the faculty in 1980 and served multiple administrative roles. He was most recently dean of the School of Humanities and Behavioral Social Sciences.
Dr. Mitchell helped propel a decades-long push to add more markers about Black history, as well as markers documenting racist incidents and institutions. In 2018, he spoke at the unveiling of a marker for Nashville’s slave market:
“Markers should not be simply to honor heroic individuals. Markers should not be to honor those who are famous or who want to be famous. Markers ought to reflect the true reality of history,” –
A Nashville native, he authored an authoritative history of Fisk University. He was widely published and quoted in local and national media, and a cherished member of the Pilgrimage community.
Executive Director of Project Pilgrimage, Felicia Ishino had this to say about Dr. Mitchell, “We visited Dr. Mitchell at Fisk on four Pilgrimages. Each time, it was abundantly clear to me that his commitment to history and the student experience at HBCU’s like Fisk was unmatched. We will miss his presence and will carry on his legacy.”
Dr. Mitchell was married to Nashville psychologist Patricia Mitchell and had four sons. Fisk University invites you to honor the legacy of Dr. Reavis Mitchell ’69 by supporting the Dr. Reavis L. Mitchell Jr. PeyBack Endowed Scholarship.
It is no coincidence that the United States has arrived at this moment in time. Amidst the surge in the continued struggle for Black liberation in America, it is vital that we understand how this country’s long history of racial injustice has shaped the system and narrative we find ourselves in today. Context matters.
Project Pilgrimage invites our community to join us for an evening with our resident historian, Dr. Terry Anne Scott on Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 at 5 p.m. (PST). RSVP here for the event link. This virtual lecture presentation will focus on the history of systemic racism and racial terrorism against Black people in America. We’ll explore how these same structures continue to reinforce modern oppression and racist systems.
Dr. Scott is an associate professor of American history and the Director of African American Studies at Hood College. Her interests focus largely on urban history, the intersection of sports and race, African American social and cultural history, and political and social movements. Dr. Scott recently completed a new work entitled Lynching and Leisure: Race and the Transformation of Mob Violence in Texas, currently under review. She is heavily involved in community service, social activism, and serves as our historian “on the bus” for Pilgrimage trips in the South.
A suggested donation of $5 is requested. RSVP here for the event link!