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What’s Changed Since the Freedom Riders?

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 16 Mar 2011 05:48pm | comments
Senator John Horhn introduces Hank Thomas.

In the 50 years since the freedom rides, Black Mississippians have gone from being banned from the state capitol to leading the nation in in the number of black legislators. Now the Mississippi Senate is honoring one of the first Freedom riders. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports on how the state has changed over the past 50 years.

The Freedom Riders rolled into Jackson 50 years ago to challenge the segregated busing system.

Hank Thomas, one of the first Freedom Riders, was recognized by the Senate on Wednesday

Thomas says when he rode to Jackson he was not even allowed in the Capitol building because of his race.

"This is my first time ever in this capitol. So you can imagine as I am thinking "50 years ago...". No, as the Senator said I wouldn't even be allowed in here. And to get this kind of honor, it gave me chills," Thomas said.

Right now, 50 of the 174 Mississippi legislative seats are held by African Americans, that the highest per capita percentage in the nation.

However, there are no African-Americans serving in state wide office and only one running for a state wide office this year.

Senator John Horhn of Jackson says that is a sign that there is still work to be done between blacks and whites.

"Our white brothers and sisters are yet to be inclined to vote for us for statewide positions. We have to have the white community to be willing to accept the leadership of an African-American for a statewide position in order to be elected," Horhn said.

This year, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree is the only African-American running for statewide office. Dupree is running for Governor.

Shortly before he announced his run last year, Dupree put down the notion that his race would play a role in the election.

"I think my advantage has nothing to do with my skin color. I think my advantage has to do with the experience I have had. Have I had state government experience? No. But neither did I have city or municipal experience when I became the mayor. That is what I bring. It is not my skin color that I bring, it is my experience," Dupree said.

Still, race relations have been a significant political focus this year....especially with the Freedom Riders reunion, The Scott Sisters release from prison, and work in the Capitol to construct a civil rights museum.



Senator John Horhn introduces Hank Thomas.



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