By Wyatt Emmerich, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
Last week a thousand people gathered in the Jackson convention center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mission Mississippi, an organization founded by one of my dearest friends, Lee Paris.
The crowd — half white, half black — included hundreds of our state’s movers and shakers and just about every significant government official.
A dozen prayers were said during that hour and a half. Heads were bowed, hearts were open. We prayed for mercy. We prayed for grace. We prayed for racial reconciliation in Mississippi.
At one point Democratic gubernatorial candidate Johnny Dupree laid his hands on Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and prayed for his former political rival.
If one wants to see the power of faith in Mississippi, look at these two Christian gentlemen who ran an upbeat, honest, respectful campaign. That doesn’t come from man. That is the power of God.
The rest of the nation is not like this. Mississippi is special — the most religious and charitable state in the nation. We need to appreciate the grace we have been given.
The keynote speech of Myrlie Evers-Williams was in perfect pitch. Wife of the slain Mississippi civil rights icon, Medgar Evers, she spoke of hatred, redemption and reconciliation from her personal experience.
“I stand here looking before all of you. My friends. I don’t think I’ve always been able to say that, because I haven’t always felt it. And I haven’t always felt it because it hasn’t always been true. But here we are today across all lines, breaking bread and praying together. And let me tell you it is a far cry from what I left in Jackson, Mississippi, many years ago.
“Medgar Evers always said, ‘Mississippi is my home. I love the place where I was born. And I will do whatever I have to do to make it the best place in the United States of America.’ He would say to me, ‘Mississippi is going to be the best place in the country.’
“I told him you have to be out of your mind. There’s no way Mississippi can become anything better than what it is and quite honestly I don’t want any part of it and I don’t know how you can do what you do. And he said, ‘Because it is the state of my birth and I believe in it.’ And he gave his life, not wanting to die, but he gave it gladly to help lift this state to where it is today.
“I never thought I’d move back to Mississippi — never. But I’m here and I’m happy to be here. Mississippi is moving forward and all of you are part of making the dream of this state - no longer at the bottom of the list, but at the top of the list, in leadership, in development, in being able to nurture our children, to build a real democracy and I see it.
“Sometimes things happen and we don’t understand but if we stay around and see we get a feel for things and say, ‘Aha! So that’s why it happened.’ When my husband was cut down in the prime of life, people would say to me ‘You are so wonderful. You are so nice. You are so kind. You are so forgiving.’ I simply smiled and said thank you. But they didn’t know that behind that facade was a woman plotting how to get back at the state which was responsible for her children not having a father.
“I remember they let the schools out and the children cheered not knowing fully what they were cheering about. There were editorials in the papers that cheered that this man had been taken off the face of the earth. In my heart was anger. There was fury and I suffered from that split personality.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways. My revenge was not to be. So you embrace something that pulls you together and lifts you up.
“One day my child said to me, ‘Mommy it sounds like you hate and Daddy said we should not hate.’ And I thought, ‘my child you are right.’
“We have so many people here and in other places around our state who are proud to say ‘I am a Mississippian.’ We are gathered here today in friendship. We are gathered here today under wonderful leadership. What more could we want? The opportunity to be whatever our manhood or womanhood will allow us to do or to be. This is the promise of America.
“I thank all of you for allowing me to come before you and say that Mississippi, you’re OK. Mississippi, you are only going to get better. Mississippi, you will be the place, not quite yet, where we can all lift up our heads and be proud to say, ‘I am a Mississippian.’ And I will challenge anyone, any place in this country who will say ‘the old Mississippi.’ And you will say, ‘Not with me there. It’s a new day.’ It’s a new time and we are proving it by our coming together and marching together toward the future. A place where all of us can look and point and say, ‘I am a Mississippian. Thank God I am a Mississippian.’ ”