written by Janine Jankovitz
April 22, 2009
You can read this piece on the Jackson Free Press website as well at: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/index.php/site/comments/edward_hightower_042209/
Raised in Drew, Miss., the Rev. Edward Hightower is one of 10 children. He speaks often of the Delta and her people, especially the troubles his community faced in the 1960s. “I came up in segregated Mississippi, only eight miles from where Emmett Till was murdered. I saw many atrocities,” he says.
Hightower speaks of his own experiences with racism and violence, most notably an incident that took place in 1962. While on his way home from Fort Jackson, S.C., where he served in the Army, he went into a service station where he says blacks were not welcome. “I had a Look magazine that featured several stories about Till’s murder, and I wanted to show my mother what was being written about Mississippi. I left the magazine on a bench before going inside for a Coke,” he says.
When Hightower returned to the bench, a white man was sitting, staring at him. He says he “didn’t think anything of it.”
“Later that night while out with a few friends, the city police went to my house and asked my mother where I was,” Hightower says. “The police went in my mother’s house and tore the furniture up, threw the mattresses off the bed and told my mother that if I came back they was going to kill me.”
Fearful, Hightower’s mother and siblings fled to Chicago.
After several years living away from Mississippi, Hightower became an ordained reverend at the Missouri Baptist Seminary in 1973. He moved with his late wife, Princella, to Jackson in 1989 “because Mississippi is home, and we came to Jackson because I needed to be near the VA hospital,” Hightower says.
Retired now for several years, Hightower is still active in the faith community; he is the president of the Third New Hope Congress of Christian Education, general secretary of East Mississippi Baptist State Convention and has been the pastor of Mount Mariah Church in Pulaski, Miss., for 12 years. He also is the father of four children, with seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. “I’m 71 years old, and I probably have 71 more years to go,” he says.
Hightower is also involved in Jackson’s political scene, often chiding Mayor Frank Melton in letters to the editor in the Jackson Free Press and proudly campaigning for Eddie Fair. His connection to Fair goes all the way back to Drew, Miss. Fair is the nephew of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil-rights pioneer who helped protect Hightower’s family from the city police and gave them money to escape to Chicago.
After the campaign is over, Hightower plans to move back to Drew. “I want to replant my roots and work with the young people there,” he says. “They deserve something better, and I want to be a part of that.”