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Rust College being honored with marker on Freedom Trail

HOLLY SPRINGS — The role of Rust College students during the Civil Rights era will be commemorated with a marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail tomorrow.

The unveiling will take place at 4 p.m. on Rust Avenue, across from the main entrance to the Rust College campus. The public is encouraged to attend.

The Mississippi Freedom Trail was launched in 2011 during the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders. Its mission is to commemorate the people and places of the Civil Rights era.

The Rust College marker recognizes the activism of its students during the 1960s, which included boycotting the segregated Holly Theater, assisting with voter registration in the region, and boycotting the State Capitol. Among those students was Dr. Leslie Burl McLemore, who later became a dedicated activist, interim president of Jackson State University and director of the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy. McLemore is chair of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force and will be speaking at the unveiling.

In 1960 Rust College students, under the leadership of President E. A. Smith, boycotted the segregated Holly Theater, a protest that in 1962 evolved into a Rust chapter of the NAACP. The chapter offices were installed by Medgar Evers, NAACP field secretary. Members founded a Speakers Bureau, fostering voter education/registration, and in 1962 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee became active on the campus. In 1963 students were active in the Freedom Vote and later the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Founded in 1866 under the direction of the Freedom Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rust College sought as part of its mission to educate emancipated slaves. Since that time the college has held to that principle: to give African American students a solid foundation for their futures in business, law, medicine, education, and other mainstream careers.

As the civil rights movement began in earnest during the 1960s, Rust College president E. A. Smith set an example for activism. Students including later activist Willie Peacock, McLemore and other members of the NAACP boycotted the segregated Holly Theater, a protest that in 1962 evolved into an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Chapter at Rust. In ceremonies on March 12, 1962, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers installed its officers.

In 1962 five Rust College students made a historic visit to the University of Mississippi to hear newscaster Howard K. Smith speak. They were the first black students on the campus since the graduation of James Meredith earlier that year. The students were Raymond Davis, Walter Evans, Leslie Burl McLemore, John Clinton Morris, and William Delano Scott III.

Also in 1962 SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) became active at Rust, as SNCC field secretary Frank Smith, while living on the Rust College campus, recruited students from both Rust and Mississippi Industrial College. Students formed a Speakers Bureau, visiting rural churches and community centers in Holly Springs and its surrounding area to foster voter registration/education during the Freedom Vote campaign. Students active in the Speakers Bureau included Johnnie Harris, Rose Purdy, Tina Evans Scott, and William Scott. Rust College students were active in the MDFP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) protest at the State Capitol in Jackson.

In 1965 and following years, Rust College President Dr. W. A. McMillan, college administrator Johnny Jackson and others began to integrate public restaurants in Holly Springs. Faculty and students integrated local clinics, doctors’ waiting rooms, and the bus terminal.

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