Reunion continues Tuesday amid historic runoff 6/24/2014

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2014

Reunion continues Tuesday amid historic runoff 

By John Howell

As Republican poll workers picked up election materials at the Batesville courthouse Monday, visitors who had once worked to enfranchise almost half of Panola’s voting age population stopped for a short visit.

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The visitors were former civil rights volunteers, members of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) who had come to Panola County during the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project to register black voters.

What they saw Monday was preparation for a frenzied Republican runoff election that has attracted national attention as Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel challenges six-term incumbent Senator Thad Cochran. 

The two sides and groups supporting them have spent over $16 in the race. Both candidates have attracted outside endorsements, including that of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Senator Rick Santorum for McDaniel and Senator John McCain and former Governor Haley Barbour for Cochran.

The Mississippi race was the topic of conversation for the former civil rights workers as well during a Monday tour that wound its way from Crenshaw through the county to the courthouse before stopping for lunch at Edith Cole’s Thomas Sundry.

The sundry was a gathering place for the COFO workers in 1964 where then-owners, the late Lamar and Pauline Thomas welcomed them and fed them meals cooked by the late Connie “Bebe” Childrous, another local civil rights activist.

The Panola County reunion plans included a visit to Panola Playhouse Monday night.

On Tuesday, Como librarian Alice Pierotti, who has helped to coordinate the local reunion, will record at the Como library the spoken histories of the Freedom Summer volunteers.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Project volunteers will travel to Jackson to reunite with other workers from that summer in a statewide reunion.

On Tuesday in Panola County, polls will open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m. to allow Republicans and Democrats who did not vote in the first primary to cast ballots in what has become the most expensive runoff election in the state’s history.

The winner on Tuesday will face Democratic nominee Travis Childers in the General Election November 4.