By Jonathan Andrews, The Student Printz
HATTIESBURG, MS - The Centennial Civil Rights Conference, brought several important figures from Hattiesburg's part in the Civil Rights Movement back to the university and held a bus tour which allowed participants to see important places that were part of the movement and commemorated the sacrifices of the many people who lost their lives in their fight for equality.
Speakers stressed the importance of the youth in remembering the sacrifices of the participants in the movement in moving forward.
Peggy Jean Connor, one of the first black students to attend and graduate from USM said the importance of conferences like this is to inform youth.
"Some young people don't even believe it all happened," Connor said. "They need to know that if they don't continue to fight, we could go back.
"They have to keep it going," she said.
Connor helped to serve as a tour guide on one of the buses that toured the Palmer's Crossing area as well as some places in downtown Hattiesburg that were integral to the Civil Rights Movement here.
Connor remembered her old neighborhood and even pointed out the spot where a beauty shop she owned and operated in the 60s. Two tall oak trees stand there now.
"They were just twigs when I left," said Connor.
Raylawni Branch, the first black student admitted to USM, remembers the difficulties she and Connor faced as students here. She said they didn't have any classes together, and the people who were there to protect them often were not very good at it.
Branch also noted the lack of young people who attended the conference, and said "it's a shame" that there weren't more there.
Charles Cobb, who spoke at the luncheon for the event also pointed out the lack of young people who made it to the event.
His speech, given over lunch, revolved around the importance of improving education in public school systems around the world. He called the education that students receive in public schools "sub par" and compared them to "sharecropper educations," a reference to the poor education that sharecroppers received.
"We're standing at a crossroads," Cobb said.
When freshman Alex Washington asked why more was not being done to improve schools in the area, Cobb rebounded the question to Washington.
"You have to make your own voice," he said.