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  • Growing up in Mississippi was a rich, daunting, and bewildering experience. Rarely did I feel like I fit in, not really. Even though decades later I came to appreciate my black and white heritage, it is doubtful that I will ever understand the fear that too many people have of races other than their own.

    My parents were both white. One parent was a champion of equal rights, whose mother held a degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. "Weezy" was sworn into public office as Chancery Clerk in 1923. She was supposedly the first woman to hold public office in the state of Mississippi but I have not been able to substantiate that claim yet.

    In the 1960's, Mississippi was 60% black and I didn't have a single peer of color. I always thought it was strange. During that time, I struggled to understand how so many of my so called friends could say such hurtful things to me and about my family...Daddy just said not to blame them, that it was a result of ignorance. One time I answered the telephone at 8 years old and heard, "This is the Grand Dragon. We're going to get y'all and we will kill your father." I had no idea what a grand dragon was or that he was the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Truthfully, at that age I wasn't sure what the KKK even was. What I did know was that there was a great division between the races and it bothered me a lot. I was very uncomfortable going into a door that said "whites only" when I was going to see the family doctor. Why didn't we have the same waiting room? Sure, my daddy explained what was going on but when you're that young, it's just hard to get the full scope of things sometimes. Being a privileged white girl certainly didn't help, regardless of other messages about equality that I vigilantly received.

    The National Guard occupied my hometown of Natchez several times. Threats were common as were firebombings of black churches and white sympathizers' homes, and the boycotting of businesses that supported "the cause." Dr. Martin Luther King was a name I heard often. His voice was a vibrating beacon of hope and I felt like I knew him well. His words were compelling and comforted me. They still reverberate throughout my being, 43 years later, telling me to never give up. Never, ever give up.

    Looking back decades, I have vivid memories of evening gatherings in front of the t.v. watching Perry Mason, Bonanza, The Saints games, Ed Sullivan, and Walter Cronkite. Some nights, an armed guard perched across the street and a suffocating tension permeated the house, interchangeable with wafting echos of train whistles and cicadas.

    Today I know my father, like Dr. King, lived his life as a drum major for justice and that it is my rightful heritage to be a citizen of the world. My name is Adele Berger Nicols. I am a white girl and a Mississippi daughter of the civil rights movement.
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