I watched Mississippi Burning last night for the first time since school. It’s based on real events following the murder of three Civil Rights workers by the Klu Klux Klan in 1964, and as the date flashed up onscreen, knowing what was to come, I had a series of wrenching thoughts.
First: My mother was fourteen when the killings took place. She remembers Freedom Summer, and segregation, and protest rallies. And she remembers being in Darwin as an adult – not too long, even, before I was born – and still seeing segregation between the white and Aboriginal population: on buses, in the cinema. Enforced, but unspoken. Present. And even now, in that instance, I wonder how much has changed.
Second: Men and women who were young Klan supporters in the sixties are still alive today. How many of them raised children, now adults, in their beliefs? Not long ago, they even reared their heads. I find it sharp, strange, to think of these people living and breathing on my same Earth, who aren’t part of history, but alive now.
And, third: Barack Obama was three when these killings took place. Forty-four years after the state of Mississippi refused to try Klan members who’d murdered three civil rights activists, America elected a black man to be the forty-fourth President. There’s a certain lovely symmetry to that.
And as remembrance of these things moved through me, I looked up and thought: How far we’ve come. And then I thought: How far we’ve yet to go.
But go we shall.