WCSU

Debbie Elliott

Fifty years ago today, a mule train left the small town of Marks, Miss., bound for the nation's capital. They were answering a call to action the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made just days before he was assassinated.

"We're coming to Washington in a poor people's campaign," King announced at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968. "I was in Marks, Miss., the other day, which is in Quitman County, the poorest county in the United States. And I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear."

Coretta Scott King was often referred to as the "first lady of civil rights," known primarily as the wife and then widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But her presence in Memphis, Tenn., just four days after her husband was slain there, was the act of a civil rights leader in her own right.

On April 8, 1968, Coretta Scott King wore a black lace headscarf as she led a march through downtown Memphis. Three of her four children were at her side.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opens Saturday in Jackson as a testament to the state's complicated, often dark, racial and political history. This week, it became the setting of its own political dust-up, but organizers hope to stay focused on the museum's message.

Democratic Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi announced earlier this week that they would not attend the opening after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant extended an invitation to President Trump, who attended Saturday.

Friends, family and fellow activists paid homage to late civil rights leader Julian Bond on Tuesday night at a memorial service at the historic Lincoln Theatre in Washington, D.C. The former NAACP chairman died in August at 75 after a brief illness.

Bond's widow, Pamela Horowitz, welcomed the invited guests — a diverse group that included civil rights activists, members of Congress and college students — and thanked them for honoring his mission and "how you will continue to honor him by doing the work that consumed his life."

It was 60 years ago this week that an all-white jury acquitted two white men in the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy visiting Mississippi from Chicago.

The case shocked the nation — drawing attention to the brutal treatment of African-Americans in the Deep South, and the failure of the justice system. The men later confessed to killing Till for whistling at a white woman.

A rural West Tennessee community is pushing the Justice Department to reopen a 75-year-old civil rights murder case.

Elbert Williams is believed to be the first NAACP official killed for seeking to register black voters. Yet the mysterious story of his 1940 murder is not widely known.

Clues about Williams' murder are thought to be buried with him, here in the Taylor Cemetery just outside Brownsville, Tenn.

Local attorney Jim Emison walks to a corner of the cemetery, set off by two towering oaks.

"This is the area where we believe he lies," Emison says.

#NPRreads is a feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we bring you five reads.

From NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott:

Editor's note: This story contains racial slurs.

A new musical work pays tribute to an unlikely and little-known civil rights activist: Booker T. Wright. You won't find his name in history textbooks. But his story is a testament to the everyday experiences of blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Halloween is a day for ghost stories, but if you're a skeptic, don't fret. As the late Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham assured her listeners, tales of restless spirits are for everybody.

"I collect ghost stories," Windham said. "Now, the nice thing about ghost stories is that you don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy hearing a good ghost story."

In a hall inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama on Saturday, long tables are draped with black linen. Experts are bent over tables, examining aging quilts, letters filled with tight, hand-penned script, and yellowing black-and-white photos tacked into crackling albums — all family keepsakes brought in by local residents.

Mississippi's past looms large in Greg Iles' best-selling thrillers. His latest book, Natchez Burning, is the first in a trilogy that takes readers back 50 years to chilling civil rights-era murders and conspiracies all set in Iles' hometown — the antebellum river city of Natchez, Miss.

Iles' hero, Penn Cage, is a former prosecutor and widowed single father who has returned to his childhood home. Once there, he finds himself confronting killers, corruption and dark secrets.

In New Orleans, it's cool to be in the high school band — especially when Trombone Shorty shows up in the band room.

The brass player and bandleader recently paid a visit to New Orleans' Warren Easton High School to work with band members. It's part of his work with the Trombone Shorty Foundation, a music education initiative.

"[Trombone Shorty] is, without a doubt, the role model for the next generation right now," says Bill Taylor, the foundation's executive director.

Fifty years ago Sunday, a Ku Klux Klan bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Ala., killed four black girls and sent shock waves throughout the country.

In Birmingham, the tragedy laid bare a deep rift.

Carolyn McKinstry, standing on the sidewalk outside 16th Street Baptist Church, remembers arriving for worship 50 years ago.

"It was Youth Day," she says. "We were excited because that meant we got to do everything. We sang, we ushered, we did everything."

Some of her Sunday school classmates had gone to the ladies' room to freshen up.

In the town where I grew up — Memphis, Tenn. — Tad Pierson has made a career out of his love for cars and American music by working as a tour guide. We meet in the grand lobby of the Peabody Hotel, the downtown landmark famous for its ducks and Southern elegance. But it's also considered the starting point of the Mississippi Delta, a region steeped in the blues.

Does cast-iron skillet cornbread, hot and crispy from the oven, transport you back to your grandma's kitchen? Do you cook with certain ingredients as a link to your roots in the South? If so, "A Spoken Dish" wants to hear your story.

The Southern Foodways Alliance is teaming up with Whole Foods Market and Georgia Organics in this video storytelling project as a way to celebrate and document food memories and rituals of the American South.

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