Over the weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the graduating class and guests at Jackson State University, an historically black university in Jackson, Mississippi.
(Jackson State University YouTube: Michelle Obama’s Speech at 2016 JSU Spring Undergraduate Commencement)
Now, back in 1950, when this stadium was built, it was one of the finest stadiums in the country, quickly became the pride of Mississippi. But the story of this beautiful complex also has a darker side. For years, it stood as a steel and concrete tribute to segregation, because Jim Crow laws meant that only white teams and fans were allowed through these gates.
Back in 1962, during an Ole Miss football game, this stadium became the site of what was essentially a pro-Jim Crow rally, with fans waving Confederate flags and singing a song called “Never No Never” to protest the admission of an African American student to their university. […]
That game was just one small moment in a struggle of civil rights that enflamed this entire country, but often burned hottest right here in Mississippi, the state where a 14-year-old boy named Emmett Till was beaten and murdered. Where NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated. Where Freedom Riders overflowed the jails. Where gunshots would ring out here on your campus, killing young people and littering one of your dorms with bullet holes still seen today.[…]
Several months ago, I was meeting with a group of teenage girls from Washington, D.C., and one of them asked me, “Well, what do you think Dr. King would say about everything that’s going on today?” And I told her that none of us can really answer that question. But I said that Dr. King would probably answer it with a simple question –- and that is: “Did you vote?” (Applause.) Did you vote?
Dr. King understood was that one of the surest paths to progress here in America runs straight through the voting booth. That’s been the key to every single stride we have ever taken in this country –- from fighting discrimination to passing health care. It all starts with the ballot. […]
If we fail to exercise our fundamental right to vote, then I guarantee that so much of the progress we’ve fought for will be under threat. Congress will still be gridlocked. Statehouses will continue to roll back voting rights and write discrimination into the law. We see it right here in Mississippi — just two weeks ago -– how swiftly progress can hurtle backward, how easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them because of who they are or who they love.
Full transcript below.
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