The morning began with a trip to Mound Bayou, a historic all-black settlement not far from Cleveland. Founded by ex-slaves in 1887, the town strove to embody the utopian ideals of Robert Owens by developing self-reliance and a high standard of living. Without racial divisions, residents could pursue their full potential relatively uninhibited by the tension that dominated the rest of Mississippi. At its peak, Mound Bayou was a thriving hub of black culture and business.
Participants stopped at the Taborian Hospital. In keeping with the principles of Mound Bayou, all of its employees were black, and the first chief surgeon, T.R.M. Howard, was a civil rights leader who mentored Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Howard was the focus of the next stop on the tour: a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker devoted to his life.
The traveling classroom then arrived at Po Monkey’s, a rural juke joint on the edge of a cotton field. For decades, locals and tourists alike flocked to the juke every Thursday for blues music and good company. Po Monkey’s has been closed since Po Monkey himself, Mr. Willie Seaberry, tragically passed away last July.
In the afternoon, the group boarded the traveling classroom again -- this time heading to the Sumner Courthouse, where Emmett Till's murderers were acquitted by an all-white jury. On the way, they watched The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, which documents the crime and its impact on the civil rights movement.
The film's director, Keith Beauchamp, served on a panel that also included Emmett's cousin, Reverend Parker Wheeler. Wheeler provided a harrowing firsthand account of the circumstances surrounding the murder. The panel also discussed Emmett's legacy and the community's path toward racial reconciliation.
Next came a stop at the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center in Glendora. The group encountered various scenes depicting the case, from Bryant's Grocery at one end to the funeral home at the other. These visual representations of Wheeler's story added to the emotional weight of the evening.
After several hours devoted to Emmett Till's story, the group traveled to where it all began: Bryant's Grocery, the site of the fatal wolf whistle. Although the building is crumbling, a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker identifies the site.
The opportunity to taste koolickles -- a popular southern snack made, as the name suggests, from kool-aid and pickles -- added a touch of levity to an otherwise somber evening.