National Civil Rights Conference

There's record attendance for the National Civil Rights Conference this week in Meridian. In all, almost 300 people are expected to attend. It's co-sponsored by the cities of Meridian and Philadelphia.

One of the key speakers Monday was the daughter of slain civil rights icon, James Chaney; he was one of the three men killed in Neshoba County in 1964 while working to register blacks to vote.

A day after Father's Day, Angela Lewis stood before a crowd to speak about a man she never had the chance to know. Chaney died when she was 10 days old. Angela says she shies away from the spotlight, but found it important to speak at this year's conference in an effort to encourage young people.

"It's very important that they know that sacrifices were made for them, and to not take those privileges that we have now for granted, but take advantage of them."

Angela Lewis has lived in Meridian all of her life. She shared with the audience how recently after working the graveyard shift, she didn't feel like going to vote on election day. However, after reflecting on the sacrifices of her father and others, she was compelled to do so.

"We are the martyrs when you look at Mississippi with its long history of civil rights engagement and brutality," says conference organizer, Dr. J.D. Parker. "We have to work harder to make sure that we become the beacon light that we so desperately should."

As the first female mayor of Meridian, Mayor Cheri Barry says spotlighting the strides made during the Civil Rights Movement, will only promote more development.

"I just think that it's very important to give a settling factor to people and I think that when you learn about things that are unknown, that it helps you move forward with the future," says Barry.

One of the key focuses for this year's conference is to empower young people.

"On James Chaney's gravesite is an incredible quote. It says, 'There are those who are alive, yet will never live!' So, we challenge our young people and say, 'When are you going to do your great deeds? When are you going to inspire the living?' says Jeff Steinberg, who is the founder of the Sojourn to the Past initiative.

This is the third year for the National Civil Rights Conference. It's set to end Tuesday.