Leslie McLemore wants to use the Philadelphia Coalition’s efforts in Neshoba County as a statewide model for racial reconciliation and problem-solving.

Walking around the Neshoba County Coliseum shortly before the 2 p.m., “Recognition, Resolution, Redemption: United for Justice” program began, the Jackson State professor and Mississippi historian declared the event “the biggest thing that’s happened in this city.”

Stopping every few feet to greet or be greeted by aging men and women he knew as much younger civil rights workers during 1964’s Freedom Summer or by fresh-faced students eager to shake the hand of a man they’d heard or read about in their studies, McLemore was visibly invigorated.

“This is an absolutely great thing for this community but it’s an even greater thing for this state,” said McLemore, co-author of the first Mississippi history textbook to include accounts of the civil rights movement.

“I had to be here.”

McLemore, who wrote “Mississippi: Conflict and Change” with Charles Sallis of Jackson in the late 1970s, said he can already see short-term repercussions from the Philadelphia Coalition’s work including the announcement by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood that he is asking for federal help. He’s also expecting long-term repercussions that are “yet to come.”

“The coalition is important in and of itself. Just the fact that they did it,” he said. “It is more important to have the coalition continue to have an ongoing dialogue that is sustainable and that can, hopefully, become a model for other communities all across our state and for our state as a whole. One of the great fallacies is that building excitement is what’s important.
The real question is how do you maintain that level of comment. The challenge is to make this sustainable so that as we identify issues, concerns and challenges we can address those in this same way.”