It wasn't until his senior year of high school that Zachary Schilling learned of the racist violence that had transpired in his city during the 1960s. In a civil rights elective course at McComb High School, he and his classmates were stunned by stories of bombings, lynchings and a student walkout. "Everybody was like, 'There's no way that happened here,' " Schilling said on a recent spring morning.
Yet McComb was known as "the bombing capital of the world" during the Freedom Summer of 1964, as scores of white Northerners arrived to launch a black voter registration drive and establish schools.
And the town had already seen years of conflict. In 1961, black students walked out of their high school to protest a student's expulsion for participation in civil rights efforts. The same year, Herbert Lee, a black farmer and father of nine, was killed just outside McComb for helping blacks register to vote.
Today's McComb students say they welcome the jarring history lessons, finding they offer important context for life today. But their experience is unusual. While state law requires that civil rights lessons be taught in every grade, teachers and students across Mississippi say lessons on the state's past are uneven at best and sometimes nonexistent.