"Medgar Evers helped open doors of equality, and knock down walls of oppression that held Mississippi back. The Mississippi of 2003 is far different than the Mississippi of 1963," said Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
At Tuesday's commemoration of one of Mississippi's greatest civil rights leaders, Medgar Evers, a lot was said about the past. But now, as Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams said, it's time to look toward the future, looking toward better days ahead.
"We will work hard remembering the past, connecting it to the present. And with our young people moving into the future, that this is a place like Charles and Medgar said, that once all of the evils of segregation are removed, Mississippi will become the greatest place in the nation," said Evers-Williams.
Medgar Evers died 40 years ago at the hands of an assassin at his home in Jackson. But as Nelson B. Rivers of the national NAACP said, he didn't die in vain, because it's not the same anymore.
"You don't know where the back of the bus is, no colored water fountains, no colored restrooms to use, no buzzard's roost in the theater," said Rivers. "You can sit down front and tell everybody what happens because you saw it last week."
The tribute in Evers hometown of Decatur meant a lot to his family, but his life and death may mean even more to the community, state, and nation he helped to set free.
Meanwhile, Robert Kennedy, Jr., was the keynote speaker at a memorial service in Tuscaloosa Tuesday, marking the integration of the University of Alabama.
Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, the first blacks to enroll at Alabama, attended the ceremony.
"These pioneers came along and with all of their courage and heroism and fought what really was the last battle of the Civil War and made this country a democracy," said Kennedy.
Hood described what some of his classmates shared with him during those turbulent times.
"I'd love to have lunch with you, but if my dad saw me on television with you in the lunchroom, he'd be irate. Or my mom, or whomever," said Hood. "So essentially I think their hearts were in the right place but the political climate was not the right time."
Thirteen percent of students at the Tuscaloosa campus are black. Starting next Monday, administrators will host a three-day observance of the anniversary.