In the summer of 1994 when I was 15 years old my father and I went down to Mississippi to visit my uncle and his daughter; a cousin of mine I had only seen in photos. I was excited and at the same time scared out of my mind to go to Mississippi. I was born and raised in Detroit Michigan. My father’s side of the family is from a small southern town in Alabama called Marion. I went to several family reunions in Alabama and had a great time. The people were nice and acted as if they knew me my whole life. Mississippi however, was a whole other animal in my mind. I had heard the story of Emmett Till and seen the Jet Magazine photo of his face. I watched the PBS documentary “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” chronicling the civil rights movement. I read several books on the Deep South. I heard stories about the south from the elders in my community. In both the books and the stories from the elders Mississippi always seem to stand out as a place where if you were a black man and you did something wrong in the eyes of white folks you were either dead or missing. When we first got to Mississippi the first thing I saw was the Confederate flag. It was as if it was letting us know we were behind enemy lines. We went to a gas station and I saw it again on a wall. We went into a gift shop and I saw the Confederate flag on the coffee mugs and t-shirts inside the gift shop. Every time I saw that flag it put a chill down my spine. I wanted so badly to ask my father could we please go back home to Detroit. The Confederate flag to me as a 15-year-old boy was a symbol of hate, oppression, and second-class citizenship. I hated the fact it made me feel powerless, insignificant and irrelevant. I wanted to break every coffee mug and rip every t-shirt from the walls. I wanted to ask them WHY? Why do you have this displayed EVERYWHERE? Do you not know how seeing this symbol makes me feel? Do you want me to be angry and afraid? Is that the point? While down in Mississippi I stayed close to my family. I didn’t go passed the driveway of my uncle’s house. I dared not ask any of the white kids to play with me and nobody had to tell me that those were the rules, it just seemed like it was the thing to do. I always remember that trip down to Mississippi for two things THE HEAT and that damn flag.
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