Following the passage of Mississippi HB 1523 into law in April 2016, a backlash against the legislation has arisen from within the state and across the country. Not only have major corporations, artists, and musicians condemned the bill as discriminatory and harmful, but entire communities such as the cities of Hattiesburg and Ocean Springs have issued counter-proclamations in its wake.
In March, a petition to Governor Phil Bryant signed by 95 Mississippi writers called for its immediate repeal, an effort that made headlines worldwide—the petition, drafted by Mississippi author Katy Simpson Smith and signed by authors John Grisham, Donna Tartt, Kathryn Stockett, and others, appeared both in state outlets and in the New York Times and Guardian (UK) newspapers.
Building on this effort, one of the signers of that petition, ROOM 220 contributor Benjamin Morris—a native of Hattiesburg, MS, and member of the Mississippi Artist Roster—aimed to ensure its delivery to Governor Bryant by personally cycling across the state of Mississippi during the month of May. On May 18, Morris delivered a handwritten letter to the Governor and the members of the legislature along with a copy of the petition. This served as the midpoint of his journey as he cycles the length of the state from Southaven, MS, in DeSoto County to Pearlington, MS, in Hancock County, a journey of approximately 500 miles.
Hoping to raise awareness about this bill and bolster efforts towards repeal before it takes effect on July 1, this journey is a symbolic effort to show the world that Mississippi is not defined by its history of discrimination, but by welcome and hospitality to all peoples. On safe delivery of Morris’ letter to the Governor and legislature, a copy will be published as an open letter in a public venue yet to be announced.
Weather and roads permitting, the journey will consist of approximately three weeks of cycling from May 10 to May 26, with each leg averaging 40-50 miles between towns, taking advantage of the hospitality of friends, family, and fellow Mississippians along the way. All legs will take place during daylight, from morning until afternoon each day, with a day of rest observed each Sunday.
As part of this journey, Morris invites members of the public to join him on any or all legs of the journey, not simply to protest the passage of this bill, but equally to take part in the conversation about Mississippi’s future. Even those who support the bill or who are undecided are encouraged to ride along—for only through constructive dialogue can a better future emerge for the state.
Though Morris is an active member of the Mississippi Artist Roster maintained by the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, these actions neither represent the beliefs of nor receive the endorsement of this agency. Rather, they arise from Morris’ own personal convictions about HB 1523, and the effort by the nearly 100 other Mississippi artists and writers who have signed this petition.
Follow live updates from Morris here.