Currently, the website of the Mississippi Freedom Summer commemoration we attended contains an online booklet of reflections on the "past and present" of Mississippi, headlined with the following quote from SNCC organizer Bob Moses:
When you are in Mississippi, the rest of America doesn't seem real; and when you are in the rest of America, Mississippi doesn't seem real.
After having spent a few days both in the capital and off the beaten path in Mississippi, I have to say that I feel that quote holds as true today as it ever did. For all the signs of the 21st century in Mississippi, at the same time it feels like it exists in another time and another place from the rest of the country.
During our stay, we only spent part of our time at official conference activities. We also wanted to visit smaller towns and important civil rights movement sites in the state. And it was through those side trips that we really got a sense of how much and how little has changed in Mississippi.
Our first side trip took us to Indianola and Greenwood, Mississippi. That weekend there was a festival on Church Street, which had been the center of the African American community in Indianola during the segregation era. It was a lively, bustling avenue where the African American community could find everything it needed: shops, restaurants, doctors, cleaners. . . . It was all there on Church St. Today, however, Church St. is just one of many similar sites in many, many cities and towns (including Philadelphia), where the successes of the civil rights era have come with a bittersweet side effect: the death of these vibrant centers of African American community life. Church St. is barely a shell of its former self. Of the buildings left standing, few are not abandoned or crumbling. The surviving businesses, most of which are cafes or bars and most of which stand next to now-empty lots, still seem to see a steady enough activty, but to see Church St. today is to see but a faint echo of its former self.
The main thing that draws most people from outside Mississippi to Indianola nowadays is the B.B. King Museum. Indianola is B.B. King's hometown, and serious blues fans make the pilgrimage to see the museum and other sites related to B.B. King and other Mississippi blues musicians. At the beginning of Church St., a historical marker stands at the street corner where B.B. King used to play as a young man.