Susan M. Glisson, Director
© 2004 The University
|Southern Exposure Conference|
Click here to listen to Mississippi Public Broadcasting's story on the conference
to Repair Legacy of Racial Violence
... Effort involves community organizers,
national legal experts, scholars
OXFORD, Miss. Ų Racial justice and civic healing took center stage at the University of Mississippi during a recent gathering of representatives from Southern communities and beyond scarred by a legacy of lynchings and racial violence. The conference, „Southern Exposure: a Regional Summit on Racial Violence and Reconciliation,š formed a grass-roots alliance to promote an atmosphere of justice, dignity and respect across the region, said Susan Glisson, director of UM‚s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
Organizers, including former Gov. William Winter, shared strategies on truth and reconciliation commissions, prosecutions of „cold caseš civil rights murders, memorials to the slain, education initiatives and curriculum work, reparations and restitution.
„This is one of the most powerful meetings I have ever attended,š Winter said. „There is tremendous power in this room to transform our region and help create a united country and a united people.š
Co-sponsored by The Birmingham Pledge and Southern Truth and Reconciliation of Atlanta, and hosted by the Winter Institute, the event attracted representatives from more than 24 community organizations or university-based institutes from nine of the 11 former Confederate states. Attendees pledged to network together, create a regional umbrella organization for sharing resources and identifying common goals, and fashion a Southern response to decades of intellectual, psychological and economic racism, Glisson said.
A pledge drafted and signed by the members reads: „We, the undersigned representatives of our respective states, commit ourselves to the creation of a more perfect union in which justice, dignity and respect for all our fellow human beings is secured.š
Said Glisson, „We wish to form a new meaning for the Confederacy. We are calling for a őNew South‚ that will lead the nation away from racism, violence and poverty.š
Speakers noted other grass-roots efforts that are forming across the South and the nation to revisit racial atrocities and work for healing.
„What an honor to participate in this conference,š said Keith Beauchamp, who produced the documentary film „The Untold Story of Emmett Lewis Till.š The film led to reopening the Till murder case and also passage by the U.S. Senate of the „Till Bill,š a proposed Justice Department task force to reinvestigate cold case, civil rights murders, Glisson said, adding that a House version of the bill awaits passage.
Highlights of the March 17-19 meeting included a report on efforts in Greensboro, N.C., that seek justice and healing from an alleged Ku Klux Klan ambush on Nov. 3, 1979, which killed five demonstrators and wounded 10. After five Klansmen were acquitted, organizers formed the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2004, thought to be the first of its kind in the United States.
„Church bells rang in South Africa when news came that we had formed this commission,š said Ed Whitfield of Greensboro‚s non-profit organization The Beloved Community.
Offering further explanation, Whitfield said that in 1999, during a yearlong visit to Emory University, Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged his Emory colleagues to form a truth and reconciliation process for the United States, similar to South Africa‚s but tailored for conditions here. Greensboro‚s „first-everš commission, Atlanta‚s nonprofit STAR and the Ole Miss conference are direct results of Tutu‚s witness, Whitfield said.
Another conference highlight was a panel discussion featuring the Philadelphia Coalition‚s experiences with the trial and conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for orchestrating the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss.
Jury consultant Andrew Sheldon reported that since 1989, 22 of 29 „cold caseš civil rights murders that were reopened led to convictions.
„But this window is closing very rapidly (due to aging defendants),š Sheldon said. „Because of our huge debt to those killed, we need to push ahead with these prosecutions as quickly as possible.š
He also urged communities suffering from racial violence to move ahead with truth and reconciliation work outside the legal system, noting that legal remedy is not possible for most.
A „confederation of honorš is a phrase coined by Theophus „Theeš Smith, professor of religion at Emory University and director of STAR. The theme of a „new Confederacy,š which Smith developed further in a keynote address, has become a „playful ideaš among organizers of the new regional alliance, Glisson said.
„The prospect before us,š Smith said, „is the opportunity to reclaim our honor as an American people by seeking together to restore our highest ideals as a democratic nation.š
For further information about the Oxford conference, contact Glisson at 662-915-6734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.