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Remembering Freedom Summer
by Amanda Sexton Ferguson, Editor and Publisher
Jun 26, 2014 | 124 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Friday during the convention of the Mississippi Press Association in Biloxi, I experienced some of Mississippi’s darkest days through the eyes of two veteran newspaper men who were on the front lines of reporting during the Civil Rights era.

W.C. “Dub” Shoemaker and Charles Dunagin led a panel discussion in honor of the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, a federal campaign to register African Americans to vote. Civil rights workers from around the country came to Mississippi to enact change, and they were met with resentment, outrage, and violence from locals.

Shoemaker was one of the state’s leading reporters of the Civil Rights era, serving as a reporter at the Jackson Daily News from 1947 until 1965 when he became editor and publisher of The Star-Herald in Kosciusko, a paper he would eventually own.

Shoemaker was reporting from the scene the night Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers was murdered outside his Jackson home. He recalled witnessing the police discovering the weapon used in the murder in a vegetative area near the home as well as a bullet that had penetrated the outside wall of the house sitting on the kitchen cabinet. Evers’ wife and children were in the home when he was shot.

Shoemaker said the June 1963 assassination of Evers is what he considers the beginning of the Civil Rights era in Mississippi.

“If Medgar would have lived, there would have been a lot less confusion,” Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker also reported the murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County.

James Prince, III, publisher of the Neshoba Democrat, spoke briefly about the murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, which occurred 50 years ago Saturday.

“The murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney was the Pearl Harbor of the Civil Rights movement,” Prince said.

Six weeks after the three men disappeared, their bodies were discovered in an earthen dam of a lake just outside of Philadelphia.

Dunagin joined the Enterprise-Journal in McComb in 1963, becoming editor and later publisher of the newspaper.

In 1964, McComb was the site of numerous bombings of churches, homes and businesses, reportedly set by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“1964 was a watershed year for the Civil Rights Movement,” Dunagin said.

Dunagin remembered the late Enterprise Journal owner Oliver Emmerich being beaten for his beliefs, and in one instance, a cross was burned in front of his home. However, Emmerich was not intimidated and was soon joined by other business owners who stood their ground. Eventually, the violence waned.

Dunagin said Emmerich did not force the idea of change on his community. Instead, he took a gradual approach, and the community responded.

Emmerich’s grandson Wyatt Emmerich, president of Emmerich Newspapers commented, “[Oliver Emmerich] always said you can’t get too far ahead of the parade.”

The effects of the Civil Rights Movement can still be felt in America today. Shoemaker called it a “Lifestyle Revolution,“ and the events of that time literally altered the culture of Mississippi and the United States. Thanks to some brave journalists, the stories of the time were told.

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