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The Freedom Trail in Mississippi is a chronicle of outrage and courage

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A lot of people could have said “The past is never dead — it’s not even past,” but it was Faulkner who actually said it, which makes sense when you consider that Faulkner was from Mississippi, and in no place is the past less dead than Mississippi. I’ve never seen as many roadside historical markers anywhere as I have here, and I live in New England.

Mississippi still celebrates Confederate Heritage Month and Confederate Memorial Day, and retains the Stars and Bars in its state flag, but in recent years it has taken care to celebrate other parts of its history, as well. In the past, all those roadside markers were put up by the state, and terse; but lately other groups and organizations have undertaken their own projects, like the Mississippi Country Music Trail and the nascent Mississippi Writers Trail, that feature information-rich markers with text covering both sides, and even photographs. The most expansive is the Mississippi Blues Trail, which erected its first marker in 2006 and now has 200 of them, some of which can be found in other states and even countries. Those markers tell of musicians and sites that are significant to the development and dissemination of Mississippi’s greatest contribution to the arts (sorry, Faulkner), but they testify, less directly, to the suffering and resilience of its sizable Black population.

The historical trails in Mississippi serve as an indictment of the cruelty of racism and a commemoration of those who fought against it.
The historical trails in Mississippi serve as an indictment of the cruelty of racism and a commemoration of those who fought against it.  (ROBERT RAUSCH / The New York Times)

If “less directly” doesn’t seem quite enough, another Mississippi trail tells the same story much more explicitly. At present, it has fewer than 30 markers; it’s easier, I suppose, to celebrate the music that originated with sharecroppers and field hands chopping cotton in the hot Mississippi Delta sun than it is to contemplate the oppression and precarious daily existence that characterized their lives. The Blues Trail tells of how some of them coped with the burdens of perpetual injustice; the Freedom Trail tells of those who got tired of coping and somehow summoned the courage to try to free themselves from those burdens.

Leslie-Burl McLemore, who got involved in Mississippi’s civil rights movement as a student at Rust College and later spent four decades teaching history at Jackson State, served on the task force assembled by the Mississippi Department of Tourism in 2010 to get the Freedom Trail started. Their first mandate, he said, was “to identify places and individuals that had been heavily involved in the civil rights movement,” and then prioritize.

“It was clear,” he said, “that the Emmett Till marker would be No. 1.”

It stands in the small Delta town of Money, Miss. There doesn’t seem to be much money, or anything else, in Money; today it’s just a handful of modest homes and two commercial structures, both of which are empty: a filling station, and a two-story brick building that’s missing its roof and parts of its walls and looks like it’s been in ruins since Sherman marched through. (He didn’t.)

Just 30 years ago, though, when I lived and worked in The Delta, it was still a going concern, a small grocery; I bought my first (and only) can of Vienna sausage there. With its dusty shelves and dim lighting and sagging floor, it was easy for me then to picture what it would have looked like 33 years earlier, in August 1955, when a black 14-year-old from Chicago, down visiting his mother’s kin, walked into it and supposedly whistled at, or said something fresh to, or pawed the white woman working behind the counter. Three nights later, the woman’s husband and his brother snatched young Till out of bed, carried him off into the darkness and lynched him. Back in Chicago, the boy’s mother insisted her son be given an open-casket funeral, “so the world can see what they did to my boy.”

Photos of his gruesomely disfigured corpse were published in Jet magazine and from there raced around the world, sparking sensational outrage. The killers were arrested; reporters came from all over the country, and even from overseas, to cover the trial. The jury hastily acquitted the brothers, but it was too late: The story of Emmett Till had already shown the world that the ugliness of Jim Crow went much deeper than segregated schools and separate water fountains.

The barn in which Emmett Till was savagely beaten, on a farm outside Drew, Miss., July 19. The historical trails in Mississippi serve as an indictment of the cruelty of racism and a commemoration of those who fought against it.
The barn in which Emmett Till was savagely beaten, on a farm outside Drew, Miss., July 19. The historical trails in Mississippi serve as an indictment of the cruelty of racism and a commemoration of those who fought against it.  (ROBERT RAUSCH/The New York Times)

“Some of us … mark the beginning of the ‘modern civil rights movement’ with the lynching of Emmett Till,” McLemore told me. “Rosa Parks tied the Montgomery Bus Boycott” — which started two months after the acquittal — “with Emmett Till. It has been said that she noted that the day she refused to give up her seat on that bus in Montgomery, she was reflecting on Emmett Till.”

McLemore said everyone agreed that the Freedom Trail marker should go outside the grocery. There are other sites, though, that are just as significant to the story, like the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, where Till’s killers, brothers Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were tried and acquitted in September 1955. Sumner is about 30 miles (50 kilometres) from Money; the trip takes you along a stretch of Highway 49E that has been renamed the Emmett Till Memorial Highway, past the Emmett Till Multipurpose Complex — a low brick building that looks like a school or maybe a modern armoury — behind which you will find the Emmett Till Memorial Walking Trail.

The courthouse was built in 1904; 110 years later, its courtroom underwent a restoration, undoing a 1970s renovation that some say was intended to plaster over history. Today it looks a lot more like it did in countless photographs that were circulated worldwide in 1955.

Like many Southern county courthouses, the one in Sumner sits in the middle of a picturesque square. Off to one side is a small one-story brick office building with “Breland & Whitten Lawyers” still painted on a couple of windows: J.J. Breland and John Whitten were two of the brothers’ five attorneys. Nearby, in a storefront, is the Emmett Till Interpretive Center, which has some exhibits on the walls and a typewriter belonging to J.W. Kellum, another member of the killers’ legal team. (Forty years after the trial, I interviewed Kellum, Whitten and the two surviving jurors.) The most striking artifact, though, is fairly new: a marker, leaning up against a wall, that the centre originally put up in 2007 near the site where Till’s lifeless body was pulled from the water three days after he was carried off to his doom. It’s purple, and powerful, and pocked with bullet holes.

An identical replacement was recently shot up after just five weeks.

The one in Money has been vandalized, too.

The sign marking the river where Emmett Till's body was found was moved to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center after it was vandalized, in Sumner, Miss.
The sign marking the river where Emmett Till’s body was found was moved to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center after it was vandalized, in Sumner, Miss.  (ROBERT RAUSCH/The New York Times)

There is no marker indicating the site outside the town of Drew, about 20 miles (32 kilometres) from Sumner. Set back about a hundred yards from a dirt road is a lovely white farmhouse and, nearby, a weathered brown barn; they look like something you might see in a Wyeth painting. The owner had granted me permission to come by whenever, but he wasn’t home when I did, so I walked around the property by myself — specifically, around the barn, which, I was told, the owner used these days mostly for storage. At one end, behind a chain-link gate, sat a dog who just stared at me glumly as I circled by again and again.

The Delta is extremely flat, but the house and barn sit on a modest rise that affords a visitor a view of the surrounding farmland that just about anyone would find serene. I know I did, so much so that for a few moments I forgot that, before dawn on Aug. 28, 1955, Milam and Bryant drove the 14-year-old Till to this barn — the farm was then managed by another Milam brother — took him inside, and there beat him so savagely that by the time they loaded him back in the truck, the eighth grader was nearly dead. Some say he already was.

They drove about 15 miles toward the rising sun, to the small town of Glendora, where Milam lived. Another purple marker, this one unmolested, stands at the spot where his house used to be. A few hundred yards away, in a building that was once a cotton gin, Glendora’s current mayor, Johnny B. Thomas, has installed a museum that contains replicas of the pickup truck and Till’s coffin, as well as other things relating to (and not relating to) the story. It was closed when I visited, but I found Thomas working in a field, and he told me how to locate the other thing I was hoping to see there: a narrow metal bridge that spans a bayou just outside town. It’s no longer in use; grass and dirt cover much of its surface, and the road at its far end is overgrown to the point of impassibility. As I approached it on foot, I noticed the ground was littered with bright blue shotgun shells.

Glendora, Miss. Mayor Johnny Thomas is Tallahatchie County's first African American county supervisor.
Glendora, Miss. Mayor Johnny Thomas is Tallahatchie County’s first African American county supervisor.  (ROBERT RAUSCH/The New York Times)

The bridge’s beams are rusted; water flows lazily below, caressing cypress trees in its midst, an idyllic spot to cast a line and daydream. On that morning in August 1955, Milam and Bryant dragged young Till here, shot him in the head, tied a heavy cotton gin fan to his lifeless body with barbed wire and dumped it into the bayou. Three days later, another boy, fishing nearby, noticed its legs poking up out of the water.

I thought this site was unmarked, too; it’s not. Mounted atop a railing at the centre of the bridge, I spotted a small metal plaque:

1916

W T Young Bridge Co. Nashville, Tenn.

Board of Supervisors J.A. Shores Pres. S.C. Barnes R.W. Stevens S.M. Jones

About 50 miles south, near the corner of Church and First streets in Belzoni, you’ll find another Freedom Trail marker, this one commemorating the Rev. George Lee. Like most Delta towns, Belzoni still looks very much like it did in the 1950s, when Lee preached the gospel here. His marker stands outside the Green Grove Baptist Church, though his pulpit was actually at another Baptist church in town, White Star.

For most of his 51 years, George Lee kept a low profile outside church; he is believed to have sat for only one photograph in his lifetime. But sometime in the early 1950s, he decided to register to vote — no small undertaking for a black man in the South back then, especially in The Delta. Somehow, he succeeded; then he managed to get his wife, Rosebud, registered. And then he went out and got other African-Americans in Belzoni and Humphreys County registered, too — nearly 100 of them.

The Humphreys County Courthouse, in Belzoni, Miss.
The Humphreys County Courthouse, in Belzoni, Miss.  (ROBERT RAUSCH/The New York Times)

“He was actually out there before Brown v. Board of Education,” noted Helen Sims, the director of Belzoni’s Rev. George Lee Museum, which was closed because of storm damage when I visited town. Lee, she said, also co-founded the local chapter of the NAACP and served as vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. In April 1955, he spoke before a crowd of thousands at the council’s annual meeting, urging everyone present to register and vote. The crowd, Jet magazine reported, was “electrified.”

Local whites were, too, though not in a good way. According to Sims, “the white leadership in the town and county” converged upon Lee’s house — twice. “They basically said, ‘stop trying to register people to vote, and we’ll leave you and your wife alone,’” Sims explained. “He didn’t go for the deal.”

On May 7, 1955, as Lee was driving home on Church Street, just a block from Green Grove, a car pulled up alongside his; someone fired several shots, one at the minister’s tires and the rest at his head, blasting away his jawbone and part of his face. Mortally wounded, he crashed his car into a house. There were eyewitnesses, but the white sheriff refused to investigate, much less arrest anyone, calling it a car accident and going so far as to declare that the lead pellets extracted from the victim’s head were actually dental fillings that had gotten knocked loose in the crash. According to Jet, in an attempt to keep news of the slaying contained, “Belzoni telephone operators refused to take long-distance calls from Negroes.”

It didn’t work. Word spread; more than 2,000 people showed up for Lee’s funeral, which was held at Green Grove because White Star was too small to accommodate them. Rosebud Lee insisted her husband have an open casket. “She wanted people to see,” Sims explained, “what they had done to her husband.” Jet published a photo of it — three months before Emmett Till was murdered.

Green Grove Baptist Church and Cemetery, where Rev. George Lee is buried, in Belzoni, Miss. Lee was killed in 1955, less than a month after his famous speech.
Green Grove Baptist Church and Cemetery, where Rev. George Lee is buried, in Belzoni, Miss. Lee was killed in 1955, less than a month after his famous speech.  (ROBERT RAUSCH/The New York Times)

Today, there’s one street in Belzoni named for Lee, but pieces of his story are everywhere, starting with the Freedom Trail marker and the church that stands next to it; if you’re diligent enough, you can find his tombstone in its graveyard. Right behind the cemetery, on Hayden Street, is the house where Lee was living when he was killed. It’s a three-minute walk from there to the block where he was shot.

Sims couldn’t tell me exactly which house there he had driven into, but as I inspected a row of six, knowing it must be one of them, I spotted a man standing outside a shoe repair shop across the street and asked him if he knew. “That one there,” he said, pointing at the one on the far left. “You can see the porch doesn’t look right.”

“Who lived there back then?”

“It was an old lady, name of Katherine Blair.”

“Do you remember when it happened?” I asked him.

“I was six years old,” he replied. “But I remember people talking about it.” His name, he said, was Percy Gordon.

A half-mile away, at the Humphreys County Courthouse (erected 1921), I knocked on an old white wooden door. The words “Circuit Clerk” were flaking off its transom; they were, I’m guessing, painted on there well before 1955. The three women inside smiled at me. “Is this where people register to vote?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the one with the biggest smile. She was wearing a bright red Delta Sigma Theta sweater.

“Is this where they would have registered in the early ‘50s?”

“It is.”

“Did it look like this then?”

“Just like this,” she said, sweeping an arm around the room.

When I told her I was interested in George Lee, her face lit up even more. “You’re welcome to look around. Feel free to check out the vault, too,” she said, gesturing to a chamber behind a thick black metal door. “Stay as long as you like.”

The vault is stacked, floor to ceiling, with enormous leather-bound volumes that stretch back to the establishment of the county a century ago: Criminal Docket; Civil Docket; Marriage Record; Marriage Record Coloured; Registration. The clerk, Timaka James-Jones, told me I could examine whatever I liked; if I hadn’t had a return flight booked already, I would still be there perusing right now. The most fascinating were the ones stamped Poll Tax Receipts. It is said that James-Jones’ predecessor, six decades back, tried to turn Lee away when he first went to pay his.

“Have you found his name in any of these?” I asked her.

“You know, when I started here, in 2003, the first thing I looked up was my marriage license. The second thing I looked for was his name,” she told me. “I’m still looking for it.”

Following the Freedom Trailand reading its markers can evoke, in a contemplative mind, two notions: That things have changed a great deal in this country over the past six or seven decades, and that they haven’t changed much at all. I say “and” instead of “or” because it’s possible to think both at once and not be wrong; but, as regards the latter, I will tell of just one more thing I saw in Belzoni, as I made my way to the Humphreys County Library, which shares a parking lot with the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department next door. There was only one space available, and it was marked “Authorized Vehicles Only.” Anxious — you don’t want to have to bail your rental out of a tow pound in Belzoni — I looked around and spotted the sheriff escorting a handcuffed prisoner in an orange jumpsuit through the parking lot. They chatted amiably; the sheriff was black, the prisoner white.

“Can I park here?” I asked the lawman.

“Yes,” he said. “You can.”

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Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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