While Confederate statues are tumbling down all around Dixie, a new historical marker honoring the Tougaloo Nine rose up Thursday in Jackson, Mississippi. It retells the story of young black civil rights activists, reared by Medgar Evers, staging a read-in at the city’s “whites-only” library on March 27, 1961. The bold action against Jim Crow segregation led to their arrests and mugshots of the activists adorn the new Mississippi Freedom Trail marker just outside the now-integrated library.
One of the booking photos belongs to Anaheim resident Joseph Jackson Jr., president of the NAACP’s youth council at Tougaloo Southern Christian College at the time. He moved to Orange County seven years after the read-in and only recently began telling his story around town, starting with gracing the Weekly‘s cover two summers ago. “I’m just really glad that finally our history is being told,” Jackson says. “With the presentation of the marker, especially in light of Charlottesville, I’m glad that our story has been able to give people hope.”
Jackson, now 80, didn’t attend the unveiling ceremony due to health issues. Geraldine Edwards Hollis, Albert Lassiter, Ethel Sawyer, Alfred Cook, Janice Jackson, James “Sammy” Bradford, and Meredith Anding Jr. reunited for the big moment. (Evelyn Pierce is the only deceased member of the Nine). But Jackson’s role got a big media boost when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow recently featured the marker’s unveiling during her “Best New Thing in the World” segment. Here’s the feature, in case you missed it!
Jackson learned about the historical marker in the works last fall through Geraldine Edwards Hollis, a Tougaloo Nine member on the West Coast he keeps in contact with. The Jackson Hinds Library board funded the tribute. It’s the 25th entry into the Mississippi Freedom Trail’s series of signs commemorating important places and people of the Civil Rights Movement. Even though Jackson couldn’t make it to the unveiling, he’s happy the Tougaloo Nine’s history is also going to be stored closer to home in Anaheim’s archives.
In February, Jackson retold his story of the library read-in and his life afterward at Muzeo to a captivated crowd during Black History Parade festivities. Carol Latham, Muzeo’s community outreach coordinator called him last month wanting to place his Tougaloo Nine presentation in the city’s archives but didn’t have a copy. Thankfully, Jackson’s grandson video-recorded the talk, a masterpiece of storytelling with the civil rights hero singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” in between.
The marker in Mississippi and Anaheim’s archives are the latest moments of the Tougaloo Nine’s renaissance. Despite being lauded as the “Mississippi Pioneers” for their action, the history of the read-in has always been largely overshadowed by civil rights activism that came afterward like the Freedom Rides. With renewed attention, two books dealing with the Tougaloo Nine are in the works. Jackson’s place in history also enjoyed formal recognition by former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez from floor of the House of Representatives last year as well as similar honors from Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and the rest of the local council.
It’s all a bit humbling for Jackson. “I had no idea when I attended Tougaloo College that anything of such historical magnitude would ever be possible with regards to me being a part of civil rights history,” he says. “People now being able to read our story, it affirms that love will always trump hate.”