Saturday evening, March 3, folks from all over the city will gather at Hal & Mal's for Jackson 2000's Friendship Ball 2007 to celebrate camaraderie between the races. This year, the ball will honor former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and Mississippi Humanities Council founder Cora Norman for their efforts to further mutual understanding between blacks and whites. As in balls past, one honoree is Caucasian, while the other is African American. Jackson 2000, founded more than 20 years ago by Russell C. Davis, among others, is a volunteer organization dedicated to racial reconciliation. Proceeds from the ball will benefit Habitat for Humanity, 100 Black men and Stewpot Community Services.
"I've been a member of Jackson 2000 for years, but to find out that I'm being paired with a man I've admired for so long—I'm just honored," Norman said.
Norman says she's not sure why she's receiving the award. "I just lived—lived without a plan," she said, but she is surely being modest. Norman founded the Mississippi Humanities Council in 1972 so that people would know more about Mississippi's history and government. Racial tensions were high then, but Norman said she was able to find leaders in the black and white community who were willing to come together. The key, she said, was knowing how much she had to learn.
"I would show up at meetings (in black communities) without warning, and not say 'Boo.' I was prepared not to say anything—just listen. I made some life-long soul mates like Dr. Jessie Mosley that way."
Johnson said he was most proud of his efforts to diversify city government. "We created a steering committee that was biracial," he said, "that was headed by Gov. (William) Winter and Dale Berge of United Way. We made sure we had all segments of the community represented. ... The committee came up with the term 'fabric for a better, revitalized, inclusive community.' That gave me a platform to talk about how in a community, just like a fabric, you have different colored threads, but once those threads are woven together, they become very strong, very beautiful."
Norman says race relations have changed remarkably since she started the humanities council in 1972. "We heard about the civil-rights activists, like Fannie Lou Hamer," Norman said, "but very few whites followed them. Now, (civil rights activists) are in leadership positions."
Johnson said his slogan, "The Best of the New South," was meant to capture the potential of the South's changing political climate. "What that meant was that we are in a different time in the South. The political winds have changed in some areas, and we do have black political leadership. There's also some economic advancement by some blacks."
Further, Johnson said he sees racial reconciliation as crucial to the city's success. "That's what I see as the future of Jackson. We have the resources. We have the platform. We have the infrastructure to really be a shining star in this New South. But it's going to take all of us working together to make that happen."
"We have to get involved and meet new people," Norman says. "I'm a Southern white woman, reared in Arkansas. My family accepted the segregated South. Never questioned it. But we all want the same things. It doesn't matter about color. Basically, we're alike except for color. When we can eliminate the sizing up a person by color, then we'll be on our way."
Like Norman, Johnson says that the key to reconciliation is patience and listening. "Sometimes, people say black people are playing the race card too much. But then you have to consider that these black people are maybe two or three generations out of slavery and the vestiges of slavery, and only one generation out of Jim Crow. Somehow, folks have to understand that. On the black side, we have to try to understand why some white people want to put all that behind them and move forward. It takes understanding on everyone's part."
"There's still racism," Norman says, reflecting about the differences between racism and sexism. "Women have advanced. We might not be exactly where we want to be, but the doors are still open because we were helped so much by civil rights people—people who were working for justice. Racism is still in Mississippi, but we've come a long way."
Join the members of Jackson 2000 and honorees Cora Norman and Harvey Johnson at the 2007 Friendship Ball at Hal & Mal's Saturday, March 3 at Hal & Mal's, 7 p.m. Tickets at the door are $20, or $10 with student ID.
Really cool! I hope folks come.