Philadelphia Coalition presented C.C. Bryant Award
By Edwin Smith
OXFORD, Miss. – The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at The University of Mississippi honored the Philadelphia Coalition on October 25, for its work in the civil rights movement.
The first C.C. Bryant Award for Community Organizing was presented during a standing-room-only ceremony in the Johnson Commons Ballroom. The award is named to honor Bryant, 88, of McComb, said Susan Glisson, director of the institute.
“I find it so fitting that we present Mr. Bryant this award at this time,” said Glisson. “As we remember Miss Rosa, we pay tribute to those still with us who helped topple segregation and injustice in Mississippi.” Glisson was referring to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, who died the day before the event.
As a result of the Coalition’s push for justice, earlier this year Edgar Ray Killen was brought to trial and convicted for his role in the murders of the three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.
Eleven members of the coalition—eight black and three white—were present for the ceremony.
“This truly is an honor for us,” said Leroy Clemmons, co-chairman of the coalition, in his acceptance speech. “We are deeply thankful for the help of the William Winter Institute for its assistance in our endeavors. Like Mr. Bryant and his family, we plan to keep on going until the system of racism is ultimately dismantled.”
Rita Bender, widow of Mickey Schwerner—one of the three murdered civil rights workers—delivered the keynote address before the awards ceremony. In her lecture, “The Legacy of Slavery,” the Seattle attorney spoke about racism as a legacy this country must settle.
“We are still a racist society and will be so as long as we fail to confront the legacy of slavery,” said Bender, “We must have truth before we can have reconciliation.”
Citing numerous atrocities committed by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, Bender blasted the state’s government for legalizing the obstruction of justice, withholding economic empowerment, and committing acts of violence against African-Americans.
“Mississippi has never apologized for its governmental conduct. Each and every one of you is entitled to an apology,” she added.
The speaker urged the audience to continue challenging the system, knowing that persistence will eventually pay off.
“The Philadelphia Coalition is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when, despite intimidation and violence people courageously stand for what is right,” she said.
Bryant echoed Bender’s sentiments in remarks afterwards.
“This is your opportunity. Stand up. Speak up. Make your voices heard,” he said.
A brief video biography of Bryant’s life also was shown. Bryant’s granddaughter, Judith Barlow, a Southern Studies graduate student at UM, created the short video and is working on a full-length documentary about her grandfather and the Mississippi civil rights movement.