A woman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, wanted to teach her grandson about civil rights in a big way. On Election Day, Claudia Bivins took the 7-year-old with her on a field trip to the polls. While the experience served as an educational gesture, it also came as a shock. She wore a Confederate flag draped over her shoulder accompanied by a small noose around her neck.
Bivins took the items and placed them on the grave of voting rights organizer Vernon Dahmer, the civil rights martyr who was responsible for co-founding the city's NAACP chapter and leading the charge in developing the voter registration movement called Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was killed in 1966 by the Ku Klux Klan after they firebombed his farm in response to a radio appearance where he announced he would help citizens pay poll taxes to encourage voter registration.
The KKK leader Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers died in 2006 after being sentenced to life in prison for the murder in 1998.
According to CNN, Dahmer’s son, Dennis Dahmer, was contacted by his brother, Vernon Jr., after he saw what was placed on the gravesite.
"Initially we really didn't know what was going on. You see something like that especially in a place like Mississippi with the history it has, you don't know what to think, but it's usually not good,” he said.
Bivins was able to talk to Dahmer to explain her intentions and address his concerns. She also offered to the remove the flag.
"The flag represents racism, slavery and affliction," she told CNN.
It’s not the first time Bivins visited the grave. Along with the noose and flag, she also placed olive branches and peppermint to represent the organizer’s work and healing.
"As I laid the rebel flag down across Vernon's grave, I told my grandson what it represents -- our hope that racism and hatred would die," she shared. "That it would be killed at the root of our hearts, minds and souls."
While Dahmer stated it did bring back negative memories, he understands her activism during this political climate.
"Now is the time to send that message loudly that 'Hey, this stuff that's going on is not the best of America'," he said. "We just need more people to be vocal, to be visual about how they feel about what's going in America right now."
The display comes at an interesting time after several nooses and signs were found at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson reading "We're hanging nooses to REMIND people that times HAVEN'T CHANGED.”Bivins said her actions were in response to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who jokingly stated that she’d sit "on the front row," if invited to a public hanging.
Her pastor, Phil Carlos Wilson of Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, shared a photo of her via Facebook on Election Day. He's known her for 10 years and vouched for the decision.
“Claudia is very outspoken, a very conscious woman … If there’s something that’s got to be said — that needs to be said — and if she’s around, she’s one of those people who will say it,” he said.
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