Quitman County to Celebrate 50th Anniversary
of Mule Train March With “Rebuild the Dream” Symposium
(MARKS, MS) – In 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., walked and marched down Highway 3 in Marks, Mississippi. Few would have imagined then that decades later the same main thoroughfare would bear his name. Dr. King’s three visits to Marks and Quitman County in the 1960s were during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement that highlighted social and political discontent and led to cataclysmic changes in our nation. While in Marks, Dr. King visited schools and homes of local leaders and spoke at several churches, rallying support from ministers, community leaders, and volunteers to help launch the second War on Poverty.
One of his lasting legacies, among many, is that of the Mule Train from Marks to Washington, D.C., as the centerpiece of the Poor People’s Campaign. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of these significant events, and organizers have planned a commemoration to honor all those who participated and their sacrifices. The four-day “Rebuild the Dream” symposium, scheduled for May 10-13, 2018, is designed to memorialize and celebrate those efforts.
Dr. King chose Marks as the starting point for the Poor People’s Campaign after witnessing heart-breaking poverty on a trip to the Mississippi Delta with the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. The idea of the campaign to help fight the systemic poverty in the Delta had been suggested to Dr. King in the fall of 1967 by Marian Wright, director of Mississippi’s NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. This came after Ms. Wright, a 27-year-old Yale Law School graduate, convinced Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other lawmakers to travel to Mississippi as part of the Senate subcommittee’s look at War on Poverty programs. Their shocking findings of hunger in the population were well publicized throughout the country and deeply affected Senator Kennedy, which eventually helped bring the issue of food insecurity to light.
It was Sen. Kennedy’s idea to pressure Congress to act on food assistance programs, and Ms. Wright passed the suggestion on to Dr. King to mobilize a mass of poor people to come to Washington and stay until their voices were heard. Dr. King’s goal was for 2,000 people in dire economic situations to meet with government officials in the nation’s capital to help find solutions for the lack of jobs, fair wages, and equitable education opportunities that was pervasive in many places around the nation, but particularly in the Delta.
The march on Washington, D.C., was scheduled to take place in May of 1968, even though many thought the goal was too ambitious. After Dr. King was assassinated in April, Rev. Abernathy was determined to continue plans for the march. The first group of approximately 350 demonstrators left in early May by bus, and the second group left on May 13, in a caravan of more than fifteen mule-drawn wagons. By this time, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had taken the lead, using the opportunity to take their message throughout the South on the way to Washington. When they finally arrived, they met more than 50,000 others who cared enough about this cause to join in the demonstration.
Key commemorative activities that are part of the “Rebuild the Dream” anniversary include a community-wide prayer breakfast and evening reception followed by a banquet; a re-enactment of the students/teachers march by the Madison S. Palmer High School drama class; workshops and panel discussions on confronting persistent poverty, healthcare disparities, civil and human rights issues, and racial and economic equity. Other activities planned are tours along the Marks Mule Train Trail and the mule-wagon rides re-enactment featuring iconic Civil Rights speakers as well as a picnic in the historic Marks Roadside Park. The culminating event for the four-day symposium will take place on Mother’s Day, May 13th, with a gospel concert featuring the GRAMMY®-winning Mighty Clouds of Joy.
The organizers of “Rebuild the Dream” symposium are partnering with Dr. Charles Steele, the national president/CEO of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and extending invitations to the SCLC leaders and activists who were in Marks during spring of 1968 to help organize the Marks Mule Train and the Poor People’s Campaign. Some of the well-known activists who participated were Ambassador Andrew Young; Reverend Jesse Jackson; Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr.; Sidney Poitier, actor-film director and Academy Award winner; and Harry Belafonte, singer, actor and civil rights activist. Marian Wright, who eventually married one of Senator Kennedy’s aides, Peter Edelman, should also be recognized for her trips to the Delta as well as her tenacity in keeping the issues from fading away.
Dr. Hilliard L. Lackey III, historian, author and professor at Jackson State University is leading the organizers of the event. He has been a champion of promoting this history for the past forty-nine years. Part of his life-long mission has been to “Rebuild the Dream” to make sure this piece of civil rights history is remembered. Dr. Lackey said, “King’s visits to Marks were not hollow. The seeds he planted fifty years ago in the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta have germinated.” He sees Dr. King’s dream as composed of teachable layers of tribulation that are not only unfolding, but intensifying the vision of King’s dream.
Tickets to the Mighty Clouds of Joy concert are $15, but all other events are free and open to the public. A special invitation is issued to those who took part or witnessed this occasion to participate in planned key events and help commemorate this era of civil rights that impacted millions of Americans through the educational, nutritional, healthcare, and housing programs that took root as a result of the 1968 Marks Mule Train and Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.