What Change Is All About … Watching It Move Into Mississippi

Marching in Grenada, Miss. (Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement)

Dear Blog Readers:

I get wonderful e-mail from people who are interested in the Emmett Till story and related civil rights history. The best email, of course, comes from those who share their personal history of what it was like to be involved in the modern civil rights movement.

Here is a powerful message that I recently received from a Grenada, Miss. blogger:

Dear Susan:

Could you please mention this site — the John Rundle High School Google Group —

I will be visiting the Emmett Till website. I have visited Money, MS and have seen the store which was still standing 5 years ago.

I am currently in Baghdad but I’ll be home to Washington DC in another week or so and I’ll look forward to reading your book. I want to work with our JRHS group to understand our history — of all our citizens — so we can start talking about a new future for Mississippi. My dream is to go back home and try to make a difference. That is the dream of many.

Charles Latham is one who has done that. I’d like to get more stories published of those that have gone home and what their perspective is for the future. I re-read Charles email to the JRHS Group from 5 years ago and it is a powerful statement.

You had to be there at the time to understand exactly how dangerous it was for a black child to try to go to a white school. I could visualize Martin Luther King Jr. shaking the hands of the children that morning of September 20, 1966, before they left to go to the schools.

As a father of three I do not know that I could do that — but I also don’t know that I could stand in my child’s way if they want to stand up for what they thought was right. It was courage on an unprecedented scale and it was that courage, jijutsued by the beating of the children into a national outrage, that changed the South.

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So here is the story (printed with permission) that Michael Maxey (MMaxey) refers to, with a short introduction by Maxey:

Charles Latham is an African American alumnus of John Rundle High School. Charles was in the Class of 1971. He left Grenada and this email tells his story and why he came back home. The photograph that Charles refers to in the email is of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, escorting children to school on September 20, 1966. He was one of the black students who attended Lizzie Horn Elementary that day. I’ve copied Charles on this email.

Michael Maxey
JRHS 1970

Email From: “Charles Latham” To: JRHS Group
Subject: RE: JRHS Website Update >Date: Fri, 5 Nov 2004 11:27:33 -0800

Fellow JRHS Alumni:

My name is Charles Latham (class of ’71), although I didn’t know you all personally, I do remember your names and had classes with some of you. I was in the band and played trombone when Mr. Mullens was the director. I have lived and worked San Diego, Ca. since 1975.

I really appreciate the comments and the photo by Mary Gene Boteler, it brought back memories for me. And if ya’ll don’t mind, I’d like to share some of them with you. The girl on our left is Grace Lemon (my former sister-in-law). I remember Mrs. Lemon having a copy of the photo and a copy of the magazine the story came out in. I was also in that line that day. That day was a significant emotional event for me.

Before the march began, we all stood in line in front of our church (Bell Flower A.M.E) for an opportunity to shake Dr. King’s hand. When my turn came, I remember thinking no matter what we had to go through for equality, it would be worth it. Because this man made us believe that he was there for us and would die for his beliefs.

Before that day I was content with the way things were. We lived and worshiped in our own community. Went to our own schools and played with our own friends (sounds familiar?). Even when we went to the movies and had to sit in the balcony and go outside for concessions (rain or shine) I just thought that was the way it was. I didn’t realize how nice and comfortable it was downstairs. Or even that we had a right to do so.

When I would see that “third” restroom marked “colored” I had no problem using it, because that’s the way it was. When I would stand in line at stores waiting to pay for merchandise and the clerk would look past me to assist a white customers first, I still waited patiently. But after that day, things were different. I don’t mean that Grenada had changed, but I had. My way of thinking had.

Suddenly, I started to ask why? And later challenging the status quo.

I remember the first day we had to go to JRHS. I was determine to make new friends and live the dream Dr. King had spoken of. I remember meeting Diane Einkner and talking to her about JRHS. She was telling me about the school, where things were and how things were.

I remember people talking about us (both black and white). The fact that two young people were trying to be examples of how things should be. I remember sitting in the back of the class with Chuck Hancock and a couple of his friends joking and having fun. I don’t remember all the guys names forgive I’m getting old er). Some of you even hung out with me and invited me over to your homes.Sometimes I wondered what if their parents came home and saw me there?

I also realized that those of you who chose to interact with me personally were taking a chance too. I appreciated that. Because I learned a valuable lesson that has helped me until this day. That is, I shouldn’t hold all people accountable for the actions of a few.

Recently I was contacted by a reporter with the San Diego Tribune. He is doing a story on African-Americans who are cashing out of the SD area and moving back to the south. After 33 years, I’ve been blessed to be able to retire and go back home. I’ve even hired Ronnie Collins’ younger brother Odie to build our dream home. The reporter interviewed my family last night. His interview with me has led him to Grenada. Where he is scheduled to go there next week to talk to others who have also moved back to Grenada from SD.

One lady, who was originally from Itta Bena and lived in SD for forty years, purchased a home over the internet (sight unseen) will be featured in the story. Ray Branscome, Joe Lee III and the honorable Diane Freelon will also be interviewed.

I am proud to be a Grenadian and look forward to going back there and contributing to the city’s success. Grenada has come a long way in just forty years. And I still believe that we all (God’s children) have a responsibility to make this world a better place. And I try to do that one relationship at a time. When the time comes that we do have a reunion, I will be happy to assist in any way I can.

May God bless you all.

Charles H. Latham
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As if turns out, Charles Latham’s name does appear in Sovereignty Commission records. Here are several links, to get started:

A weekly report from 1971

Names of Black Youth Group Members

Another report, before Latham’s times, is from 1958 regarding NAACP activity NAACP activities

Lots more to check out in the Files Section under Grenada County …

Good Reading and Happy Holidays!