JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – When it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi certainly has storied past.
There are thousands of stories being told at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson. Inside the Civil Rights galleries are stories reflecting an often brutal history, but there are also stories of courage, struggle, resilience and survival.
“I was arrested, sent to Parchman Prison and put on death row at the age of 13,” said Hezekiah Watkins.
One of the stories being told is that of Watkins, who shared his experience with others, including a group of out of state police officers, and signed copies of his book “Pushing Forward.”
His life-altering story unfolded in 1961 when he was arrested in Jackson at a bus depot. Police thought he was one of the Freedom Riders who were making a journey from Washington D.C. to New Orleans pushing for equal rights.
“I was somewhat nosey. When the Freedom Riders were coming into Mississippi, I went to the Greyhound bus station to just observe the Freedom Riders coming in and out. My friend, as a joke, pushed me inside of the bus station,” he explained.
After five days, Watkins said he was released from prison, but the experience remains with him to this day.
“I really believe that if I had not been released, I probably would have been murdered or even maybe committed suicide based on the treatment that I was receiving there.”
Watkins hopes his experience resonates with visitors.
“In talking to some of those officers and the other guests, they seem to be very, very in tune to what I was saying, very in tune to these galleries within this museum. I’m hopeful that they will take it back in a positive way.”
Watkins is warning others, especially young adults who commit crimes, that prison is not a place they want to be.
“It’s not like you’re going to a party. Everything has been taken from you. These are the things they need to realize,” he stated.
Watkins said he has been arrested more than 100 times in his fight for equality for others.
“I knew I was making a difference. I knew I wanted to be part of that difference. That was being made. I wanted to be part of the changes that we made right here in Mississippi. I am part of all of those changes that were made right here in Mississippi.”