In the summer of 1963, Medgar Evers, director of the Mississippi NAACP, was shot and killed in the driveway of his home in Jackson. It was not until 30 years later that Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council, was convicted of Evers’ murder.
In the summer of 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered near Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found 44 days later, but it was 40 years before the state of Mississippi brought charges against anyone in the killings, which were dramatized in the movie Mississippi Burning.
The site of some of the nation’s most deeply entrenched racial segregation, despair and violence, Mississippi today is home to a different legacy of the civil rights era: racial reconciliation.
This summer, nine Duke Divinity School students will journey there for a 10-week field education experience. Male and female, married and single, black, white and Asian, some from Mississippi and some who’ve never set foot there, they will serve with churches and communities committed to the ministry of racial reconciliation.
“Because of the violence associated with Mississippi’s civil rights struggle, the spotlight shines brightly there,” says Connie Shelton D’97, who with her husband Joey Shelton D’97 co-directs the office field education and church relations at Duke Divinity School.
“This reality has birthed intentionality among Mississippians to confront the sin of racism,” says Connie Shelton, a native of Picayune, Miss., and former executive director and preacher of The United Methodist Hour in Hattiesburg. “Congregations long for transformation. All over the state people are telling their stories of the despair of the ’50s and ’60s.
“Many of our students were born in the early ’80s, hundreds of miles from talk of the civil rights struggle and issues of race,” she said. “Going to Mississippi will afford them an up-close-and-personal experience, which will hopefully lead to conversations about justice, hope and healing.”
For Uiyeon Kim M.Div.’06, a native of Seoul, South Korea, Mississippi is on his path toward a ministry for reconciliation among divided peoples.
“I am very much aware of the tragic history of North and South Korea since 1950,” he says. “I would like to serve in some way the reconciliation between them.”
Kim’s family immigrated to Lubbock, Texas, when he was 10. There he encountered racism against minority populations, even among the minorities themselves.
“So I understood the depth of division in America from a very early age,” he says. “I’d like to learn more about ways that God’s people can bring about a peaceful kingdom.”
Kim and the other students are headed to churches and communities in Greenville, Hattiesburg and Jackson, the state capital.
“Each setting is a place or pocket where churches or faithful folks have begun work in racial reconciliation,” Connie Shelton says.
Married students Maureen Knudsen Langdoc MTS ’06 and Bryan Langdoc MCM ’06 grew up in the Midwest, where their understanding of diversity came from school textbooks. Maureen hails from Minnesota; Bryan is from Illinois.
“It wasn't until college that we began traveling and spending considerable amounts of time living in cultures unlike our own,” says Maureen. With interests in both international and social justice issues, the Langdocs anticipate involvement in “a ministry of reconciliation that will challenge us to confront our own ignorant involvement in the perpetuation of such sins.”
Lettye Smith M.Div. ’06 will work with Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson. Lettye is from South Carolina, but her mother, Elvenia, is originally from Sidon, a small town near Biloxi. Elvenia, now 68, and her family moved from Mississippi to Chicago when she was 11. She has never returned, but will drive with her daughter this summer and may stay to help. “She can help shed light on how things were,” says Lettye.
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