MLK 50: Historic building was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. -- The M.W. Stringer Grand Lodge Building for the Prince Hall Masons in Jackson has more secrets than most will ever know.

"It's probably one of the most historically significant buildings in the state of Mississippi," said Mississippi historian and NAACP member Frank Figgers.

The Civil Rights battleground was the home of two Mississippis -- one for whites, and one for blacks. The Masons constructed the building with the intention of sharing it with the NAACP.

The history behind the Grand Lodge is one of several Civil Rights Movement stories News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, the yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

Through the years, it was home to four major Civil Rights organizations -- the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. All of them took up residence under one moniker -- the Council of Federated Organizations -- a one-stop shop for black business that included clothing stores, life insurance and loan offices, a bank and the black-owned Mississippi Free Press newspaper.

Ella Baker and Martin Luther King Jr. would appear at the lodge frequently, and over the years the hall would host countless celebrities, like a young Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

"The reason they came to this building is because a portion of their proceeds would go to benefit the movement," Figgers explained.

Stringer Grand Lodge was a priceless asset for the workers of the movement -- including NAACP field secretary and legendary activist Medgar Evers.

Freedom Riders were trained just down the hall from where Evers worked tirelessly for equal rights. He was an indispensable strength for the movement -- especially during time of protest.

The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP was fearless.

Then, June 12, 1963, Evers was assassinated. He was shot in the back in the driveway of his home. More than 8,000 heavy hearts amassed inside Stringer Grand Lodge for his funeral.

"Melvin called to say, 'My momma is going to come by to pick you up.'  She made it a point get all of us in the car so that we could a least participate in the viewing.  I was 13 years old," Figgers recalled. "He didn't bother nobody.  He tried to help everybody."0