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BILL CRAWFORD — Will changing times change Mississippi this time?


In 1963, a time of civil unrest and protest, Bob Dylan penned the lyrics to his immortal The Times They Are a-Changin’.

“This was definitely a song with a purpose” Dylan recalled to screenwriter Cameron Crowe. “I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time.”

The times appear to be a-changin’ again as the junction of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Me Too movement erupts amidst the lifestyle changes caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus. In Dylan’s time the eruption came from the junction of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War peace movement amidst hippie/folk music lifestyle changes.

“The battle outside ragin’/ Will soon shake your windows/ And rattle your walls,” wrote Dylan and sang many music legends, including Joan Baez; the Byrds; Peter, Paul and Mary; Simon & Garfunkel; the Beach Boys; Phil Collins; Billy Joel; Bruce Springsteen; and the Rolling Stones.

The battle outside rages again.

Is there is a modern Dylan with other stars who will immortalize these times in song? Perhaps, but while folk music and poignant lyrics played a vital role in furthering change in the 60s, social media and stark videos fill that role now. Interestingly, it appears that athletes will bring the star power this time.

So, will these times have the same long-term impact as those times in the 60s?

1963 spurred long-term change in Mississippi. On June 12th of that year Medgar Evers was assassinated. The next year, Freedom Summer came to Mississippi with voter registration efforts, freedom riders, and more mayhem and murders. This contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which spurred decades of change for Mississippi.

The late Stephen Ambrose, popular history author who spent his last years in Bay St. Louis, sought to portray this change in his last book, To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian, published in 2002.

Noting he had once thought Mississippi as bad as South Africa, he wrote, “For me, one of the great things in my life is riding my bike in my little town of Bay St. Louis and seeing black and white children playing together in the school yard. I see black businessmen, bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, and mixed couples walking on our beaches or sidewalks, holding hands.” Ambrose died thinking much of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream had been realized in Mississippi.

Yet, that battle still rages.

How and by whom will the current change movement be sustained until it becomes transformational?

Time, the Case Foundation, and others point to the Millennial generation.

My Millennial daughter wrote this in an award-winning essay in 2002 at age 15: “I hold in my hand the key to the future. This is so because I am a young adult and have the power to change the future, as does my generation.”

“Come mothers and fathers/ Throughout the land/ And don’t criticize/ What you can’t understand/ Your sons and your daughters/ Are beyond your command/ … For the times they are a’changin’.”

» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.


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About Bill Crawford