PASCAGOULA -- Bethew B. Jennings joined the Army in 1957, before the civil rights movement was at its peak.
But it hit home with him when a businessman in Dunn, N.C., told him to get back to his side of town, meaning the black section of town, even though Jennings was wearing his class A dress Army uniform and was just walking down the street.
"I'll never forget it," Jennings said.
Later in his career, a Southern boy from Memphis who was part of his radio team treated him like a mentor.
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"I could do no wrong in that boy's eyes," Jennings said. "For some reason, he thought the world of me. After duty one day, he pulled my boots off for me. And he was white."
Jennings saw that as an indication of a gradual change taking place in the military by 1960.
His personal story will be part of the "Shake Hands with History" program at the Aaron Jones Family Interactive Center on Skip Street, across from Pascagoula High School.
The program at 3 p.m. Saturday will be a celebration of black history that will include scripted stories of a freed slave who came to Pascagoula and a famous Mississippi woman crusader against lynching during the post-Reconstruction period. A Vietnam veteran and one woman's brush with death during the civil rights movement will also be among the personal stories told by locals who lived them.
The program is sponsored by the Pascagoula Negro Carver High School Alumni Association, the Pascagoula Public Library Genealogy & Local History Department and the NAACP of Jackson County.
-- Hollis McArthur, 69, graduated high school in 1966 and joined the military during a high point in the civil rights movement. He was career military, earned a Purple Heart and served in the Green Berets.
As part of his presentation, he acknowledges the military was at the forefront of integration.
No one sees race when the enemy is shooting at them, he said as he rehearsed his five-minute talk for Saturday. But he used to wonder about the inequity of assignments, when he and others of his race consistently got the dangerous duty.
He has praise for the military regarding racial equity, but said, "Still, there are some who don't make the change. It's slow. Some pretend, but if you observe them, you'll see that the racial thing is still there."
The military wouldn't tolerate racial attitudes, "but the 1960s were horrible," he said. And he knew when he left the protection of the military base, he faced the same prejudice and inequity others in the world did.
-- Artie Sims Steward was 13 and living in Meridian when she went on an exchange trip North with a dozen other youths in 1964 to see how families there lived and how society treated people of her race. Her trip was cut short when bodies of three civil rights workers were found near Philadelphia, Miss. -- James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
She new Chaney well. He had grown up next door to her family in Meridian. She called him J.E. His young brother Ben was on the exchange trip with her when the news broke, and they were rushed home.
Steward, now a retired Pascagoula teacher, said she's glad to be able to be part of the Shake Hands with History program.
"A lot of people don't know this about me, because it was a tragic situation close to me, and it was hard to talk about it."
She said her brother had cut the hair of two of the slain workers not long before they disappeared. Investigators told her that her family home was the last stop the three made before their fateful trip to Philadelphia, where they were killed and their bodies hidden.
She said it turned out there was no exchange for the exchange trip -- no one up North wanted to send their children to Mississippi. She'd stayed with a white family, where she said she was treated "like family," but she picked up on another level of prejudice when a woman with the family expressed her dislike for a mixed-race couple helping with the trip.
"I want to share my experience with others, so maybe they can learn from it," she said. "We are going in circles, some of the same things that happened then are happening now. People are still getting killed, and prejudice still exists."