Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The white double doors of the home of Paul Jones, 63 opened and revealed a man with a welcoming smile, his red hair glowing golden from the Christmas tree lit behind him. He led me into his office, where the walls were blanketed with degrees and diplomas, shelves lined with books.
Jones is the executive director of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, a position he's held since 2000. He's been involved with MRLC since 1984 when a friend suggested he come to a meeting.
The mission of the MRLC and Jones' beliefs are in perfect unison. As a young boy in Decatur, Ga., he was held in a police cell for miscegenation, as the officer called the crime of race-mixing. The arrest didn't stop Jones, however. With the MRLC, he has continued to miscegenate.
After all, we are all God's children.
Give me some history behind the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference.
It was founded in 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss., one month after the Neshoba County civil rights slayings. Several area religious leaders decided that it was time for the white communities to stop standing by while wrong was being done. It was originally called the Committee of Concern.
What did you want to accomplish?
Our goal was to assist in the recovery and rebuilding of black congregations that were destroyed as a result of racially motivated crimes, fire or simple decay. They were to invite black religious communities to partner with white religious communities and to educate the religious community of the sinfulness of the response to the black community, in no particular order.
Who was involved with the MRLC?
Everyone in the organization is of various religious backgrounds. No one is ostracized for his or her beliefs. We never debate theology. We are a group of people who care for people. We work to advocate legislation for those subjected to racism and we give access to assistance for those who have various needs.
What was your first major challenge?
In 1979, Jackson experienced a catastrophic flood. Over 5,000 homes were under water. The Eastover community was wiped out. The low-income areas were destroyed. We were the only organization in this area that existed to help with a problem like this. We were the advocates for the poor and needy.
What issues are you facing now?
We are constantly addressing the needs of all people. There are major economic issues, personal/family issues that are not being addressed, such as child abuse. Our intended role has always been to facilitate. In June of 2004, we gathered in Philadelphia for the anniversary of the murder of the James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, three murdered civil rights workers. It was a time of reconciliation. We still had these unresolved murders hanging above our heads. During our discussion we asked, what could we do about it?
What did you come up with?
We got a call from former Gov. William Winter. He asked if the MRLC was willing to hold and administer reward funds for the purpose of obtaining information leading to the capture and conviction of those responsible for those murders. It eventually led to the trial of Pastor Edgar Killen.
How much money was raised?
An excess of $100,000 was raised. Anonymous donations flooded in, nationally and internationally.
There are many unresolved murders from that time period. Are you accepting donations for any other unresolved murders?
Shortly after the announcement of the Killen trial, we received a phone call from Thomas Moore. The (Klan) killed his brother Charles Moore and friend, Henry Dee (in 1964). We are accepting money for that reward fund now.
What do you hope for the future of the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference?
I hope the two funds produce additional information to bring resolution to the cases that haven't been resolved. I want to expand more statewide. The MRLC for the most part is concentrated in the Jackson and surrounding areas. I want to bring in more pastors from different parts of the state. We want to continue to be a viable organization in Mississippi.
Send anonymous donations to MRLC, P.O. Box 68123, Jackson, Miss., 39286.