Civil Rights in the Rural South

When my husband and I decided to move to rural Mississippi for his job, I had no idea what adventures lay in store for me. Growing up with liberal parents in the suburbs of Indiana and Illinois, I gleaned the ideals of action. From the time I was small, my mother showed me that if you didn't like something, you could always change it. Getting a divorce and not having an annulment despite her Irish-Catholic upbringing were only a couple of examples. She questioned teachers, school systems, and churches. Where injustice placed its dirty hand, she championed justice's cause. I learned that women are equal to men, and that women should help each other. I learned that if a neighbor is being abused, you do what you can to help her.

I now live in the very old-fashioned and republican south. We live in a very small town, with a population of just over 1600. The people here attend church, go to football games, and support their school. Our town of Wesson, is described as close-knit. Recently we made national and state news because of a student at the high school. A high school girl wanted to wear the tuxedo in her picture for the yearbook instead of the traditional drape. While this practice is old-fashioned, it is the practice here in the south. The school has refused to put her picture in the yearbook. The mother and student have protested, and now the Mississippi American Civil Liberties Union is involved. I am posting the link here: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/cearas_season_111809/

Why the school system, Copiah County School District, decided to make this an issue is beyond my comprehension. About 17 miles up the road in Crystal Springs, Mississippi the middle school is failing. That middle school is a part of the Copiah County School District. There has been no news about how to help that failing middle school, or any uprising to support the teachers of the failing school. Instead, the school system chooses to fight a battle that is outdated, oppressive, and uninspired.

When this all started to happen, I really had to look around and make sure that it is 2009. I have an ipod, a laptop computer, and digital cable. This issue is one I would have expected in the 1950s, not in 2009. Education is not supposed to be about oppression and like-mindedness. We are supposed to teach our children to be free thinkers, and how to express themselves. When we put our personal beliefs on a situation, we have damaged education. The precious job of teaching the next generation of free thinkers and citizens can not include censorship. Regardless of the principal's religious and personal beliefs, he should be upholding the student handbook and rules. There are no rules about what is worn in the yearbook pictures.

The second thing that confused me was the fact that no one else in our small town or within the school district seemed upset that this is happening. Everyone just goes about their business as if an injustice is not even happening. If they do not see an injustice taking place, why is that? Perhaps they do not see the need for individuality or expression in the midst of male-dominated traditions. Perhaps they do not realize that by putting the girls in a formal looking dress-drape they are saying that the girls in the south should be in dresses. Perhaps it has not occurred to anyone to let the students wear their own clothes, instead of making the yearbook look like it is from 1956. Perhaps no one realizes that the attitudes of a town that allows oppression further encourages the attitudes that have created a segregated county.

The fight for civil liberties and rights is not over in Mississippi. We still have injustices to fight for. Perhaps it has been lying dormant for a new generation of voices to speak up.

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