Union University honors civil rights pioneers Freshman Four

JACKSON, Tenn. — An event honored the bravery of several former Lane College students who were at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights.

The students honored are considered trailblazers for African American freedom in West Tennessee.

“We are celebrating those in our community who paid a tremendous cost so that we all can enjoy civil rights and equality here in the City of Jackson,” said Veronica Perry, Great Commandment Collaborative Member at Union University.

Union University hosted its annual Black Heritage Month celebration, honoring The Freshman Four.

“Dr. Wesley McClure, who was the president of Lane College, Reverend Kimmy Davis, Ernest Brooks Sr., and the last living member of the Freshman Four, Ms. Shirlene Mercer,” Perry said.

The actions of these four marked a moment locally in the Civil Rights Movement.

“In the late 60s, all around the U.S. we saw students begin to be active in the Civil Rights Movement, and they began to protest in several ways,” Perry said. “One of those ways were sitting at white’s only lunch counters, and so that movement eventually made its way to Jackson.”

They made an impact locally.

“They sat at Woolworth’s lunch counters here in Jackson and began to protest, and their protests really spread abroad throughout the city and downtown. They were largely responsible for ending Jim Crow laws here in Jackson and ending racial segregation here,” Perry said.

One local council member, whose father was honored, says it is important to have events like these.

“It is events like this that remind us that as a community, we can come together. There were many whites and Blacks that worked tirelessly in the Civil Rights Movement,” said Ernest Brooks II, a council member.

Mercer, the last living member of the Freshman Four, says things haven’t been easy.

“We’ve had to overcome a lot of endurances. It has been tough,” Mercer said.

Mercer says she hopes the future generation can be impacted by their actions.

“I want them to understand that life hasn’t always been pleasant. People haven’t always been kind to us. I’ve seen it. We’ve come a long way. If they can understand that, I’d be satisfied,” Mercer said.

The impact by these four former civil rights pioneers was so big that a tribute to them is on permanent display at the Old Country Store in the Casey Jones Village.

A plaque is also located outside City Hall, honoring the four and the struggle they endured.

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