MCCOMB, Miss. — A foundation created by a woman expelled from an all-black Mississippi high school in 1961 for participating in a vacation-time civil rights sit-in is holding events honoring 131 classmates expelled for walking out of school in protest.
Back then, Brenda Travis was a 16-year-old student at Burglund High School in McComb.
She was among five people arrested that August at the city’s whites-only Greyhound bus station. When school reopened in October, Travis learned she’d been expelled. She was sent to reform school and released on parole as long as she left Mississippi within 24 hours.
The Enterprise-Journal (http://bit.ly/2dQfIKQ ) reports that The Brenda Travis Educational Foundation will hold workshops on racial issues and activism on Friday at the school, now Higgins Middle School. A tour of civil rights sites in McComb and a banquet at the school will take place on Saturday.
“I’m still not at peace with this place, I’m going to be honest,” she said during a planning visit to the school last week. “I’ve made some peace with this place. … They made an example out of me and I am still not over that. I forgive, but I don’t forget.”
Travis said eating at an integrated restaurant without fear of reprisal 50 years ago would have been a huge accomplishment, but that’s not all she was fighting for, and civil rights still has a long way to go.
“Animals are treated better than black people and black men especially,” she said. “The black man, all he has to do is be of a certain stature, and they will shoot him down because they feel threatened and intimidated.”
Speakers Friday and Saturday will include Travis, area mayors, Black History Gallery operator and former Burglund teacher Hilda Casin, author David Billings and civil rights activists Bob Moses and Hollis Watkins Mohammad.
Travis returned to Mississippi in 1962, without permission from the state. Later in life she lived in Jackson and Meridian, setting up schools for the Child Development Group of Mississippi. She left again, living most of her adult life in Southern California, where she still maintains a home and splits her time between there and McComb.
And 55 years after she was ordered away from home, Travis said she still can’t understand why her principal, Commodore Dewey “C.D.” Higgins, didn’t support her position and instead expelled her.
“He was a black man in a white-controlled town,” Casin said.
“I was a black child in a white-controlled town,” Travis shot back.
She takes pride in being an inspiration to others in the civil rights struggle.
“You know what the beauty of it is? They made a scapegoat of me, but the students continued to come” to demonstrate, she said, noting a little-publicized second walkout by Burglund students.
“The students here in McComb were the first high-school students to lead a protest,” Travis said.
Information from: Enterprise-Journal, http://www.enterprise-journal.com