Civil Rights, Race, Gender and
Social Issues Reporting


The Lynching of L.Q. Ivy

Seventy-five years ago, a 17-year-old was lynched in Union County. If L.Q. Ivy had lived, today he would be 94 years old - the same age as his sister-in-law, Mattie Ivy Bruce, who clearly remembers his murder. In the Mississippi Delta of the 1940s, it was customary for black drivers to pull over, surrendering rural, unpaved roads to vehicles driven by whites because, "The black man might stir up dust that would get on the white folks." This according to an African-American resident quoted in the book Dark Journey, who survived the muddy and bloody era. But dust rises on the convoluted gravel road just past the green Lafayette County marker on the way to Mattie Ivy Bruce's home, and when it settles, what has been left behind is visible.

Beth Israel turning 150: An integral part of Jackson

Beatrice Lehman Gotthelf, 91, is a third-generation member of Beth Israel Congregation who fondly remembers good times on the grounds, like her wedding day, Hanukkah dinners, outdoor picnics and the annual Sisterhood bazaar. She also recalls dark moments, like the year 1967 when the congregation moved into its present home on Old Canton Road and local Ku Klux Klan members bombed the synagogue. "That was a very frightening experience, but thank goodness, we weren't in the temple when it was bombed," she said. Two months later, the same group bombed Rabbi Perry Nussbaum's home while he and his wife were home.

Born of Conviction statement an 'atomic bomb': Methodist ministers fought racism in the 1960s

As a student at Millsaps in the 1970s, Joseph T. Reiff found his heroes in a group of ministers who forged "a crack in the armor of the closed society" that existed in Mississippi in the 1960s. In the fall of 1962, James Meredith had become the first black student at the University of Mississippi. The event sparked riots on campus that left two dead, 48 soldiers injured and 28 U.S. marshals wounded by gunfire.

Mississippi pastors influenced by legacy of 'Born of Conviction' signers

It's not like the 1960s, but Mississippi pastors today are sometimes forced to take stands on controversial topics - issues such as immigrant rights, health-care reform and the death penalty. The Rev. Chris Cumbest, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Ocean Springs, was influenced by the legacy left by the Born of Conviction ministers.
"I was born in 1962, so I wasn't here long before it happened," he said. "A part of my life has certainly been shaped by the fact that my parents were aware of what was going on." Cumbest's father helped take BOC signer Gerald Trigg out of town when crosses were burned in Trigg's yard and death threats made.

The Elaine Lynchings: A Visit to Elaine, Arkansas, 100 years after America's deadliest race riot

Birdhouses hang everywhere in the dying Delta town of Elaine, Arkansas—a distraction from the blight, neglect and century-old history of a county where hundreds of black men were lynched in 1919. On Lee Street, a diner has “Open” and “For Sale” signs in a window, but no one is there. The Elaine Fire Department is also empty, and the Elaine Public Library is closed. There are ruins of historic buildings - shells of brick and wood with empty window frames - on the town’s main street.

Freedom Riders inspire playwright

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders - civil rights activists who traveled to the South in 1961 risking their lives to desegregate interstate bus travel. Many were arrested in Mississippi and jailed at the state penitentiary. One was Mimi Real, a sophomore at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, who inspired Virginia native Mike Wiley, an actor and playwright, to pen The Parchman Hour. In commemoration of the anniversary, the Mississippi United Methodist Conference's Commission on Religion and Race, or CORR, will host a week-long Mississippi tour of the play that will begin in Jackson Sunday.

Showing humanity towards others

Michelle Shrader decided to transition from speech therapist to pastor when she became aware of the class and racial divides in her Florida town. "I was really involved in leadership at an affluent, all-white church," Shrader said, "and I was working in the school just across the tracks that had no resources and was primarily attended by children from low-income African-American families. "As my faith and leadership began to grow, I realized there was something that was not congruent with this, and I began to understand that my calling was bridging the divides in the world where we are separated from one another."

A lesson in civil rights: Rabbi Perry Nussbaum's role in the 1960s examined

He was both admired and resented during Mississippi's volatile civil rights era. Rabbi Perry Nussbaum became an outspoken voice against racism and segregation in Jackson during his 19 years as rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation, and his life was the topic of the first of 13 Jewish literacy classes that began Tuesday at the synagogue. Rabbi Allen Krause, a former assistant professor in the comparative religions department at California State University, Fullerton, led the event.

A Sunday in September: Locals remember Ole Miss riot

In Billy Joel’s historical ballad "We Didn't Start the Fire," a song about significant events that became turning points and catalysts in American history, the University of Mississippi's nickname falls between "Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania" and "John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson." The lyrics are listed year-by-year, and those four references were all part of 1962. That's the year Ole Miss became the first integrated learning institution in the South known nationally because the widely-publicized entrance of James Meredith, 29, the school’s first African-American student, resulted in violent riots, multiple injuries and two deaths.

Service to honor Medgar Evers legacy

The virulent visitors did not dissuade her. When they dropped by to see her father, Judy Barnes clung to her faith. "As far back as I can remember, I questioned a lot of the racial slurs and remarks that I heard," she said, "and I believed, as part of my Christian faith, that everyone truly is my brother and sister." Barnes maintained those beliefs in the presence of white supremacists Sam Bowers and Byron De La Beckwith, who she said sometimes visited her father, an officer of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, at their Jackson home.


Islam at a crossroads in America

Islam is at a crossroads in America. That is the theme of a conference this weekend at Jackson's International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The event marks the museum's eighth anniversary. Okolo Rashid, co-founder and IMMC executive director, said world-renowned scholars are speaking at the Jackson Convention Complex. The conference, which began Friday and continues through Sunday, is designed to open an international dialogue about American/Muslim relationships. About 500 are expected to attend, Rashid said.


Clinton native battles sex trafficking

In 2006, while working in an impoverished area in the South African country of Swaziland, Clinton native Alli Mellon met a little girl who had been sold for sex. "I was working in a slum area where young children and their mothers sold their bodies for something so small as a loaf of bread," she said. "I held a 5-year-old girl on my lap, who regularly was sent by her mother to have sex with a grown man. The little girl would be sent to one abandoned car in the city dump, while the mother went to another car or behind a pile of trash with another man."

Anniversary of Ole Miss riot series

As an eighth-grader at University High School in Oxford in 1962, Duncan Gray III was well aware of what was happening with the civil rights movement. On the evening of the riot at the University of Mississippi protesting James Meredith's admission, Gray's father, an Episcopal priest, went on campus to calm the swelling crowd and try to get students to go back to their dorms. "For his efforts, he was roughed up pretty good by the crowd," Gray said. "The night and its aftermath are seared in my own consciousness."

No chance imminent change would happen peacefully

Change was happening in Mississippi, and it couldn’t be stopped by teargas or bullets. That’s how Hattiesburg resident Bryant Myatt remembers the events surrounding the integration of the University of Mississippi. Myatt was a National Guardsman from Tupelo sent to the University of Mississippi in 1962, the day of the riot.

Ole Miss elects first African American student body president

Kimberly Dandridge became the first black female elected student body president of the University of Mississippi. But she said she didn’t run to make history. “The fact that I was the first African-American female president didn’t phase me,” She said. “I felt that I was the right person for the job. I wanted to give back to my university, and I wanted to make a difference. Those are the reasons I ran, and those are the reasons I won. I didn’t win or run because I was a black girl.”

Stereotyping on group's agenda for open discussion, elimination

All Asians are smart and good at math. All Irish are alcoholics, and all African-Americans are on welfare. Italians are connected with the mob. Most Hispanics are illegal immigrants. All Muslims are terrorists. And Southerners are racists. Stereotypes - it's a topic Mississippians are discussing this week during an ongoing Sunday school class at Jackson's Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church and in a University of Southern Mississippi program.

The Elaine Lynchings: A visit to Elaine, Arkansas, 100 years after America’s deadliest race riot

Birdhouses hang everywhere in the dying Delta town of Elaine, Arkansas — a distraction from the blight, neglect and century-old history of a county where hundreds of black men were lynched in 1919. On Lee Street, a diner has “Open” and “For Sale” signs in a window, but no one is there. The Elaine Fire Department is also empty, and the Elaine Public Library is closed. There are ruins of historic buildings - shells of brick and wood with empty window frames - on the town’s main street.

Mississippi prison graduates first class in theatrical arts

Upon entering the Marshall County Correctional Facility just outside Holly Springs, Mississippi, visitors were scanned, patted down and led through several locked doors to the gym. Inside, inmates wearing white and black striped pants with “MDOC Corrections” written on the back in block letters waited inside the building that featured icons of sports teams on the walls, from the Chicago Bulls to the Miami Heat. Two barber chairs were positioned on the floor of the basketball court. A sign on the wall read: “It’s simple. Learn from yesterday. Live in today. Hope for tomorrow.”

Shepard Smith's journey from Ole Miss to Fox News

As chief news anchor and managing editor of Fox News Network’s breaking news division, Shepard Smith has seen it all. He covered the 1997 death of Princess Diana. He was on the scene five minutes after planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. He was there when Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. At one time, Smith worked the Pentagon, the White House, Los Angeles and London — all in the same week — and he has been on the front lines of American and international news.

Holy Ghost milestone: 100 years later, Catholic church still on a mission

Father Aloysius Heick, a 41-year-old German missionary, put his life on the line in 1905 when he attempted to establish a mission school in the Delta town of Merigold for poor African Americans. To avoid being lynched, he was placed in a piano box coffin and rolled out of town by a horsedrawn wagon. The experience did not detour Heick's mission. Vicksburg, a city with a larger Catholic population, was more welcoming, and in 1906, he founded St. Mary's Catholic Church, the Divine Word Missionaries' first foundation in the South.

Switchfoot to the rescue: Mississippi concert to help restore foundation's music studio

His life as a civil rights leader and advocate of racial reconciliation inspired a 2009 rock song.Switchfoot - a nationally known, Dove award-winning rock band - released a track called "The Sound" (John M. Perkins Blues) last October on its latest album "Hello Hurricane." It is about Perkins, the founder of Jackson's John M. Perkins Foundation, who also appears in the video. The spiritual rock group from San Diego will perform at 7 p.m. today on the Belhaven University campus during an event called "An Evening with Switchfoot and Dr. John M. Perkins." The performance will help rebuild the foundation's music studio, which was burglarized in 2008.


Forging new ties: Friendship Ball honors two longtime workers for racial reconciliation

Through their work to foster change, they carry the torch ignited by civil rights leaders who dared to envision a Mississippi inclusive of all. And Saturday night, two community leaders will be honored for their efforts to create positive relationships that bridge the gap of racial divide. That's why members of Jackson 2000, an organization founded 20 years ago to focus on racial reconciliation, selected Shirley Tucker and Dorothy Triplett as 2008 honorees. The two will be recognized Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hal & Mal's in downtown Jackson during the annual Jackson 2000 Friendship Ball. Chris Mims, president of Jackson 2000, said the organization works to facilitate understanding and promote racial reconciliation.

Canton alderman opposes annexation

It’s a black and white issue for Dr. William Truly, alderman at-large, who opposes the city’s recent vote to proceed with annexation plans for a 300-plus acre tract of Madison County property. He says plans are in the works to develop the property with golf courses and high-priced multi-family residences that will eventually attract non-white residents and weaken black voting power in the city.

Roles resonate with actor Jay Younger

As a Clarksdale elementary student, Jay Unger's deep, reverberating voice never went unnoticed. "I used to try to change it to make it lighter because it carried so," the 60-year-old Jackson engineer and actor recalls. He often got in trouble trying to whisper, but when a W. A. Higgins High School drama coach heard the seventh-grader's voice, he enrolled him in a high school speech communication class. He also cast Unger in starring roles, which led to a best actor award in the state theater competition. That voice also connected him with a New York stranger who shared information about his family history. It was a coincidence surreal in nature. "I was in New York City performing at an interfaith church and talking in the foyer," Unger said. "Someone came up behind me and said, "How dare you use my voice?' Our voices were so similar."

PBS 'Between the Lions' filmed in Mississippi spotlights literacy

In a room full of camera operators and production assistants, the lion emerges from his den wearing a chef's hat. He pauses between takes as the crew prepares for the next kitchen scene inside Mississippi Public Broadcasting studios, and in a deep voice, the cat shares his impressions of Mississippi. "The people are so friendly," said Theo, one of the star puppets of Between the Lions, an award-winning PBS show filmed in Mississippi since 2004. "They hardly look twice when they see a lion buying liver at the grocery store. The food here is terrific."

Black, gay & proud: Minister speaks at Jackson Black Pride Prayer Breakfast

He grew up singing in the choir, and by age 8, people were piling into a Los Angeles church to hear him perform. Terry Angel Mason knew he had a special gift at an early age, but there was something else that set him apart. By age 8, he also knew he was gay. The minister, author and former choir leader will speak Nov. 22 at the Jackson Black Pride Prayer Breakfast. The event set for 10 a.m. at the Hilton Jackson is being organized by My Brother's Keeper, a nonprofit that works to enhance the health and well-being of minorities.

Wings of song: Mississippi choir tours Ghana

Overcome with emotion, tears streamed down her face as she stood in front of Elmina Castle. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, the Ghana landmark once held thousands of Africans who were imprisoned in its dungeon and later sold as slaves. And there she was, centuries later, standing in the courtyard where men and women had been exchanged as merchandise, belting out black spirituals that doubled as freedom codes - songs written years later by American slaves using the Underground Railroad to seek independence in free states.

It's all about soul: Jackson man with Universal Soul Circus dances his way out of poverty and violence

Johnny Burgess Jr. grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in west Jackson impacted by violence at an early age. In 1997, when he was 9, someone broke into his father's apartment and stabbed him to death during a brawl. “I guess they were trying to rob him, and they didn't know he was there,” said Burgess, now 25. “That, alone, changed my mentality. I didn't know how or what way I would get out of the neighborhood, but I just knew that, one day, I would be somebody.”

Churches feed body and soul: Places of worship reach out to poor

US. Department of Agriculture statistics show 17.4 percent of Mississippi households don't have access to adequate food because of lack of money or other resources. Times are tough. Budgets are tight, and people are hungry. That's why many Mississippi places of worship, adhering to the principles of their faith, are reaching out to feed the poor. Anderson United Methodist Church created a food pantry 15 years ago that now serves around 300 people thanks to community donations and those provided by the Mississippi Food Network, but around 70 people are still on the waiting list.

Jackson ministry helps young girls develop a postive DIVAA attitude

The word "diva" is often used to describe someone larger than life, demanding and self-centered, but the DIVAAS at Jackson's Anderson United Methodist Church believe it's better to be humble and giving. DIVAAS, an acronym for Developing and Inspiring Virtue in the African-American Sisterhood, is a ministry Senatobia native Kashelia Harrion created. It is designed to help meet the social, spiritual and academic needs of African-American girls recruited to the program in grades 7-9. "Girls today need to know that Beyonce is not a role model," Harrion said.

Domestic violence program's funding to end

Alegal assistance program that aids Jackson area domestic violence victims will run out of money next month. Brandi Brown, senior attorney and program manager of the Catholic Charities Legal Assistance Clinic, said the clinic is operating with money provided by the Mississippi Bar Association, but funding ends Sept. 30. Brown's staff has applied for federal and local grants, and is awaiting - responses. Without funding, she said it's impossible to say what will happen to the 250-300 women and children the clinic serves annually.


Duplex symbol of blight: Some surprised suspected drug house remains

The dilapidated blue duplex at 1305 W. Ridgeway Street in Jackson has become an iconic symbol of government intrusion, community blight and city crime. Some find it hard to believe the damaged structure at Ridgeway and Sears Streets is still standing. Aug. 26 will mark the fourth anniversary of the night then-Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, accompanied by two police body guards and a group of young men, used sledgehammers to raid and partially demolish the suspected drug house.

Episcopal meeting to draw thousands: Civil rights anniversaries, Sudanese to be stressed

The gathering has been called the Episcopal equivalent of the Neshoba County Fair. More than 4,000 people are expected to attend the 184th annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi meeting this weekend at the Jackson Convention Complex. Some have deemed it the largest gathering of Mississippi Episcopalians in recent history.

Festival of Faiths: Groups building on MLK's legacy

The legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lives on, but some say his vision of peace and equality has not been fully realized. That's why a group of Jackson residents representing an array of religious beliefs has united to promote the ideals that King envisioned. "His vision of the world has not yet been achieved, and we have an obligation to work together to achieve that," said Michael Steiner, a member of Jackson's Beth Israel Congregation.

Bringing India to Mississippi: $4M Hindu temple opens in Rankin

Mississippi's Hindu population has increased since Dr. Sampat Shivangi immigrated to the state in 1978, just as the population nationally has done. The Hindu population of America has grown from 1,700 in 1900 to 2.29 million in 2008. When Shivangi moved to Mississippi, only a handful of Indian families were living in the state. Today, "I would (estimate that there are) close to 1,000," said Shivangi, chairman of the Hindu Temple Society of Mississippi's Public Relations Committee.

Violins, music: Remembering the Holocaust

In 1996, Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein embarked on a spiritual journey to collect and restore musical artifacts that once belonged to Jewish musicians killed by Nazis. He put out a call asking for violins with histories, some of which had been played by concentration camp prisoners. His mission was to restore the violins in his Tel Aviv workshop, as well as the memory of the victims. Weinstein's efforts will be shown during a Holocaust Remembrance event at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Jackson's Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson.

Resolution: Invest in Jackson: Churches take active role in civic affairs

Homeless and seeking support, Ruth McNeal was once a resident of Matt's House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Jackson. Facility leaders helped her find a place of her own, and today, McNeal frequely returns to voluntairly make beds and clean Matt's House. "It's a blessing for the women who don't have nowhere to go, and I thank God for it," she said in a Meadowbrook Church of Christ video blog that chronicles the work church members have done at Matt's House and another shelter.

Jackson Jewish Film Festival: Terrorism explored in several contemporary productions

The Jackson Jewish Film Festival returns to the area for the ninth time, bringing four films that will be shown Jan. 22-25 at the Millsaps College Recital Hall and the Historic Fairview Inn. The four contemporary Israeli and Jewish films include stories about the collision of different worlds, the life of newspaperman and Las Vegas icon Hank Greenspun, a nontraditional love story, and a man caught in a life-and-death situation. "Several of the films deal with terrorism," said Marcy Nessel, who co-chairs the film festival committee.

Churches honor Medgar Evers: Evers-Williams will speak at Sunday program

Medgar Evers' life and legacy are an important part of Mississippi's historic struggle for equal rights. That is why four Jackson Episcopal churches are coming together to hold an annual "Liturgy of Racial Reconciliation Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Medgar Wiley Evers" at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, will be the guest speaker. The noted civil rights activist and former NAACP president currently lives on the campus of Alcorn State University, where she is a distinguished scholar-in-residence.

Mission in Life Clear: Mississippi missionaries wed and help Sudanese refugees

Before they met, Nathan and Mary Margaret Bogue were inspired by friends to become missionaries. Nathan ventured to China, Vietnam, India and Iraq, while Mary Margaret visited West Africa and Southern Sudan. "The commonality of doing missions is one of the main reasons we dated and later got married," said Nathan. "One of our goals was to go on mission trips together."

Presidential election: Times have changed

Look above and below, listen closely, and you can probably hear the pop and rumble. That's the sound of the glass ceiling cracking and the ground breaking. Come Nov. 4, the fracture will sound louder when Americans elect either an African-American president in Barack Obama or a ticket that includes Sarah Palin, a female vice president. No matter who wins, it will be a first - a monumental event. "It certainly points to transformations in American culture in terms of accomplishments in the civil rights and women's movements," said Susan M. Glisson, director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, "and we, as Americans, should take pride in those measured steps."

A pastor's civil rights journey: From silence to activism

In 1964, Shaw native William McAtee, 77, became the minister at the Columbia Presbyterian Church in south Mississippi. Soon after, three young civil rights workers were killed outside Philadelphia 100 miles away. McAtee suddenly found himself working with other community leaders, trying to calm the volatile climate and improve race relations. He chronicles those days in Transformed: A White Mississippi Pastor's Journey into Civil Rights and Beyond ($35, University Press of Mississippi). It's a clergyman's story of resistance in the face of oppression.

Barack Obama's election promise of American life

In the past, Jackson's Spann Elementary School students often chose to portray sports figures during the school's black history living wax museum. Now they're aiming for a different goal. Principal Nikki Menotti said this year everyone wanted to be President Barack Obama. Earlier in the year, Spann students discussed the inauguration, researched the candidates and participated in a mock election. Obama's groundbreaking presidential election is now being incorporated into school lessons, and not just at Spann. Ron Howard, Mississippi College's vice president of academic affairs, is a longtime political science and government professor who teaches American constitutional development.

Prayers accompany the president-elect

Sylvia Walker, a member of Magee's Goodwater Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, is praying the new president of the United States will improve the education system, make higher education more financially accessible, positively affect the economy and promote unity. "One thing I like about him is he's not just picking all Democrats or picking all black; he is living up to what he said he was going to do - unify," she said. Barack Obama will be inaugurated Tuesday as the 44th president of the U.S. Many around the nation will be praying for him and his vice president.

Segregated services: Hands still not joined on Sundays

Mary E. Gilbert often drove right by the large, intimidating church buildings in her community, never stopping to go inside because she feared she would not be accepted or welcomed. God would invite her in, if He was there, but would the all-white congregation be as hospitable? The thought kept her away. The 26-year-old Jackson State University student recently shared her feelings with a diverse congregation at Central United Methodist Church. "Sunday Morning Segregation: How much has changed since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." was the latest topic of The Medgar Evers/Ella Baker Civil Rights Lecture Series.

Sex in the real world: Churches addressing AIDS, STDs

Sex may seem like a taboo subject for church. But not in some Jackson churches alarmed by recent federal statistics showing Jackson with the third highest rate of AIDS cases in the country. Hanging Moss Road Church of Christ and New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church are two churches educating their congregations this month about the consequences of unsafe sex. "The leadership of the (church) realized that a church must minister to the spirits, bodies and souls of its members," said Joyce H. Smith, a registered nurse and chairwoman of Hanging Moss' Congregational Health Ministry.

Women took different paths to police force

Ten years before women won the right the vote, the first female police officer with full police powers was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department. Almost a century later, the number of female law enforcement officers continues to rise. The ranks include Spring Crenshaw, 28, one of seven female police officers in the 52-officer Madison Police Department. Ten years before women won the right the vote, the first female police officer with full police powers was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department. A second-generation officer, Crenshaw knew she wanted to join the force at an early age. "My father is a Texas state game warden," she said.

Stewpot: Group that feeds the hungry expands services: Helping poor, disinfranchised in the community

With $2 million in pledges already committed, Stewpot Community Services is moving into the public phase of its fundraising campaign. The goal is $4 million. The Rev. Frank Spencer, chief executive officer of Stewpot, said the three-year Capital Campaign began in 2008 as an effort to renovate the organization's facility. "We were advised by our architect to repurpose the old sanctuary for the kitchen and make the eating space useful as a place where community events can be held," he said.


Sunday Girls: New organization based on founder's life lessons

On Sunday afternoons in the late 1960s when church let out in rural Collins, Jacqueline Boykin's brothers often played baseball at a neighbor's house while she and her sisters became "Sunday Girls." It was a routine established by her mother, who spent Sundays teaching her daughters that they were intelligent, powerful, divine beings with a special purpose in life. "My mother wanted to instill in her daughters a sense of strong faith and belief in themselves that they had the power to do whatever they wanted in this world," said Boykin, 51.

We love Lucy: Mom celebrates 30th birthday with fundraiser
for orphans in Ethiopia

Before they even began dating, Tupelo residents Anna and Russ Polsgrove talked about their desire to adopt. In 2008, several years after they wed, conversation turned to action. After reading blogs from families who had adopted children from Ethiopia, Anna Polsgrove felt a sense of urgency. "Every time I saw a picture of an Ethiopian child, I felt as though I could be looking at my own," she said. "For some reason, our hearts were drawn there. After seeing the first picture of our sweet Lucy, we knew why."

Who's Who in Black Mississippi

When Juanita Sims Doty travels across the country and people find out she's from Mississippi, she is often asked what it's like to live here. "I quickly say I have lived here all of my life. I don't plan to leave Mississippi. And I can't do any better anywhere in the country than I am doing in Mississippi," says the Jackson businesswoman and community activist. "Then there is a pause from the other person, and maybe some comments, as if to say that I may not be giving an honest answer or response. I then go on to say that we have so many brilliant and talented African Americans across our entire state."

'For years, we didn't tell': Family comes to terms with daughter's sexuality

She came out during her senior year of high school. Paige Williams acknowledged she was gay, and her devoutly religious parents were devastated. It took more than three years for their fractured relationship to begin to heal, and now they all deal with the issue publicly, albeit different avenues. Paige Williams, a Montana fimmaker, created a documentary called "Mississippi Queen" that tells her coming out story and her parents' transformation.