Canton unveils latest Freedom Trail marker

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Citizens of Canton gathered around the courthouse on Thursday to unveil the Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker that honors the Madison County Movement of 1963.

The Mississippi Freedom Trail was first marked in Money, Miss., at Bryant’s Grocery where Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman, which led to his kidnapping and murder in one of the seminal moments of the Civil Rights movement.  The marker unveiled Thursday in Canton is number 21.

L-R: Canton Mayor Arnel Bolden, Flonzie Brown-Wright, the wife of Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr., James Meredith, the grandaughter of Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr. and Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr. at the Miss. Freedom Trail marker outside of Canton's courthouse.

Ashley F. G. Norwood, Mississippi Today

Left to right: Canton Mayor Arnel Bolden, Flonzie Brown-Wright, Mrs. Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr., James Meredith, the grandaughter of Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr. and Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr. at the Miss. Freedom Trail marker outside of Canton’s courthouse.

The marker recognizes CORE activists David Dennis, Matheo Suarez, and George Raymond. In 1963, they opened a Madison County office to register black voters. Other organizers such as Annie Devine, C.O. Chinn Sr., and Anne Moody of Tougaloo staged a boycott, created Freedom Schools, and implemented mass voter registration drives in the city.

Robert C. O. Chinn, Jr., the son of the late activist Robert C.O. Chinn Sr., remembers when the Meredith March Against Fear came through the city’s streets 50 years ago. His father, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, walked between city churches, the freedom house and highway 16 singing We Shall Overcome.”

“We are standing on the shoulders of the unnamed and the unknown, but they too made a difference in this community,” said Dr. Leslie B. McLemore, a veteran of the Mississippi civil rights movement. “As we celebrate, let’s get people registered to vote and change politics within our state.”

Prior to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there were 121 registered black voters in all of Madison County. John Brown, the Canton Branch NAACP Board Member, described the Canton city courthouse as a “building of power.” He recalled one white man in the registrar’s office who would decide whether or not black citizens could register to vote.”You had to pass a literacy test and he decided whether or not you passed it,” Brown recalled.

“When the Meredith March came through Canton, Dr. King and others wanted to make sure we realized that we had a right to register and vote. He stood on these steps and encouraged everybody, “said Brown.

“This marker will forever stand as a reminder of what we had to go through just to get the most basic right of any U.S. citizen. The right to vote to determine your own  future,” said Brown.

The 50th anniversary commemoration of the March Against Fear has been taking place across the state throughout this month.

A day of voter registration, dialogue with 1966 marchers and entertainment will be held on the lawn of Tougaloo College on Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.

At 5 pm Sunday, James Meredith will lead “The Walk for Good & Right” beginning at the Smith Robertson Museum and ending in front of the state Capitol building.