During the Civil Rights Movement, it seemed like Joan was everywhere, but she wasn’t and the reason why is frightening: Joan wasn’t allowed to go to most places. As a white woman in the Movement, her presence would’ve gotten people killed. When they traveled from Jackson to Atlanta by car, she always rode in the back on the floor under people’s feet while covered with a blanket. Her roommate, Joyce Ladner, made her cover her hair with a dark wrap if she rode with her because she “wasn’t up for dying”. And there were just places that were off-limits to white civil rights workers and Joan in particular. One of those places was Wilkinson County, Mississippi.
It’s been over 50 years since those turbulent days in the Movement and Joan was finally able to visit Wilkinson County… with a very warm welcome. The seeds of her visit were planted back in February of 2019 when an inmate at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil. What he would draw would bring Joan back to Mississippi.
In February of this year, the chaplain of the prison, Roscoe Barnes, reached out to us when the inmate completed the pencil drawing of the famous Woolworth’s Sit-in. This was inspired by the Anne Moody History Project. Anne was from Wilkinson County and is part of the iconic photo.
Joan was so moved that she wanted to meet the young man who made the image. On September 17th, they met (for security reasons we can not show his picture). This was the first time visiting Anne Moody’s hometown. She was able to see Anne’s childhood home and various sites written about in Anne’s book, Coming of Age in Mississippi
At the prison, there were two programs. The first was a quarterly community gathering. Rev. Ed King who was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement came from Jackson to see Joan where she was honored by the Mississippi Department of Corrections, the mayor and the state of Mississippi. However, the biggest honor was speaking with a room full of inmates who had been learning about Anne Moody, Joan and other Civil Rights Activists and the work they did in Mississippi.
The prison pulled out all the stops for Joan’s visit but she had one condition if she came: I need to meet the students. And so on the morning of her day in Wilkinson County, Joan visited with the entire student body of Wilkinson County High School. As usual, Joan loved getting to know the kids and sharing her story and how a new generation can help change their world.