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I've Got the Light of Freedom

I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, With a New Preface

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 2
Pages: 552
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  • Book Info
    I've Got the Light of Freedom
    Book Description:

    This momentous work offers a groundbreaking history of the early civil rights movement in the South with new material that situates the book in the context of subsequent movement literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93388-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    (pp. 1-6)

    As late as 1960, fewer than two percent of Mississippi’s Black adults were registered to vote. During the early summer of 1962, a handful of youthful organizers fanned out across the state to stimulate voter-registration drives. Seldom more than two or three to a county at first, they went into towns that few Americans had ever heard of—Greenwood, Hattiesburg, Holly Springs, Ruleville, Greenville. The organizers represented a coalition of civil rights groups, but most owed their primary allegiance to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronouncedsnick),the organization that had, under the watchful eye of Ella Baker, grown...

    (pp. 7-28)

    Everything that took place in Mississippi during the 1960s took place against that state’s long tradition of systematic racial terrorism. Without some minimal protection for the lives of potential activists, no real opposition to the system of white supremacy was possible. Lynching is only one form of racial terror and statistics on it virtually always underestimate the reality, but between the end of Reconstruction and the modern civil rights era, Mississippi lynched 539 Blacks, more than any other state. Between 1930 and 1950—during the two decades immediately preceding the modern phase of the civil rights movement—the state had...

  7. Two TESTING THE LIMITS: Black Activism in Postwar Mississippi
    (pp. 29-66)

    We do not ordinarily realize how much the well-publicized activism of the sixties depended upon the efforts of older activists who worked in obscurity throughout the 1940s and the 1950s. In Mississippi, Amzie Moore, Medgar Evers, and Aaron Henry were among those whose work connected most directly with the movement of the 1960s.

    If asked to choose one person as the forerunner of the work they did in Mississippi in the 1960s and particularly of their work in the Delta, veteran SNCC workers would overwhelmingly choose Amzie Moore. Born in 1912, Moore grew up largely on the Wilkin plantation in...

  8. Three GIVE LIGHT AND THE PEOPLE WILL FIND A WAY: The Roots of an Organizing Tradition
    (pp. 67-102)

    If some black activists working in the South prior to the 1960s left an organizational heritage, others left a distinct philosophical heritage. Leadership among southern Blacks—in churches, on college campuses, within families—has frequently leaned toward the authoritarian. Taken as a group, Mississippi's Black activists before the 1960s reflected that traditional conception of leadership. They were shepherds; the people were to be cared for. Many of them liked being in charge and did not easily share authority, which led to some intramural squabbling among them when they should have been fighting the white folks.² At the same time, other...

    (pp. 103-131)

    If the young militants of the sixties didn’t bring the movement to Mississippi, they brought it new forms of organization, new tactics, and new energy. Looking back at the NAACP mass meetings of the early 1950s Amzie Moore said: “We had a nice crowd, but we didn’t know about methods and procedures for demanding things.”² The young people in SNCC brought a greater sophistication about creative ways to make demands on the out-of-state institutions that determined the balance of power within Mississippi.

    SNCC established its national office—at first a corner in a room rented by SCLC—in Atlanta. By...

  10. Five GREENWOOD: Building on the Past
    (pp. 132-179)

    COFO REGARDED GREENWOOD as a place of particular strategic importance. By 1960, its population of twenty-two thousand made it one of the largest cities between Memphis to the north and Jackson to the south. A movement beachhead in Greenwood would allow penetration into the surrounding Delta counties with their enormous Black populations. Moreover, it was one of the tough areas of the state, home to the Citizens’ Council, and the movement had to demonstrate, sooner or later, that it could survive in such places.

    Between the spring of 1962 and the spring of 1963, Black Greenwood did in fact become...

  11. Six IF YOU DON’T GO, DON’T HINDER ME: The Redefinition of Leadership
    (pp. 180-206)

    Being a local activist in Greenwood in 1962 or 1963 called for substantial independence of spirit. It meant refusal to conform not just to the expectations of white supremacy but to the fears and pleadings of one’s own community as well. The first part of this chapter looks more closely at some of those who “led out” in Greenwood, in order to convey a sense of what they were like as individuals. The second part looks at some of the ways the collective behavior of these people affected their traditional leaders, the SNCC-COFO workers, and the more rabidly racist of...

  12. Seven THEY KEPT THE STORY BEFORE ME: Families and Traditions
    (pp. 207-235)

    In his interview with me, the Reverend Aaron Johnson speculated about where some of the older people in the movement got their strength:

    I think somehow you’ve always had families that were not afraid, but they had sense enough to hold their cool and they just talked to their immediate family and let them know, you know, “You're somebody. You’re somebody. You can’t express it right now but you keep this in mind. You’re just as much as anybody, you keep it in mind.” And then when the time for this came, we produced. And I think this has just...

  13. Eight SLOW AND RESPECTFUL WORK: Organizers and Organizing
    (pp. 236-264)

    More has been written about the role of oratory in the movement than about the role of organizing. Historian David Garrow contends that the real emergence of a sustained, widespread movement in the South can be traced in many respects to SNCC’s decision in the summer of 1961 to create a cadre of locally based, full-time, grass-roots organizers, marking the first time that indigenous activists had such day-to-day assistance available to them. “It was the firsthand experience of working with people, day in, day out, that educated both local activists and field secretaries to the item-by-item, conversation-by-conversation reality of what...

  14. Nine A WOMAN’S WAR
    (pp. 265-283)

    Asked to name all the women they can think of who were associated with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, most audiences are hard-pressed after Rosa Parks and Coretta King. In the South, a few may remember Mrs. Hamer. That so few women are remembered is ironic, to understate it. In the Delta, in the rural South generally, women were in fact much more politically active than men, at least in the early sixties. According to COFO organizers, women took civil rights workers into their homes, of course, giving them a place to eat and sleep, but women also...

    (pp. 284-316)

    The period from the summer of 1963 through the summer of 1964 appears, at first glance, to have been a time of stalemate. White power could no longer completely suppress Black activism, but Black activism could make no major dents in the structure of oppression. It was a stalemate punctuated by dramatic moments: the assassinations of Medgar Evers and Louis Allen, Freedom Summer, with its own assassinations, and the disillusionment of the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Ironically, as the fear that had initially made organizing so difficult began to wither, growing disillusionment made activists increasingly impatient with some of the...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  17. Eleven CARRYING ON: The Politics of Empowerment
    (pp. 317-337)

    It is popular nowadays to count the number of Black elected officials in Mississippi—690 in 1991, second only to Alabama—and use that as a yardstick of progress, as a measure of what the movement of the sixties ultimately wrought.² Who in 1962 thought that Jesse Jackson would carry the state in the 1988 presidential primaries? (Hollis Watkins and Willie Peacock both worked for Jackson in that campaign, by the way.)

    Counting politicians is not the best way to assess the work of SNCC-COFO. For many early SNCC members the proper measure of their labor would not be the...

  18. Twelve FROM SNCC TO SLICK: The Demoralization of the Movement
    (pp. 338-362)

    When Silas McGhee returned home in 1968 after his hitch in the service, he found that his brother Jake had lost faith in the movement. “He didn’t have any confidence in himself or anybody. If anybody was going to do anything, it was going to be without Jake. Jake was totally devastated.”

    For five or six years after her first talk with Bob Moses, Mary Lane was completely immersed in movement activity—as SNCC’S local project director, a candidate for office on the FDP ticket, one of the people most instrumental in bringing CDGM to Greenwood, one of the first...

  19. Thirteen MRS. HAMER IS NO LONGER RELEVANT: The Loss of the Organizing Tradition
    (pp. 363-390)

    On many college campuses today, Black student organizations do not use traditional titles for their officers. Instead of presidents and treasurers they have “facilitators” or “coordinators.” On some campuses, there is not a single member of the organization with any idea why Black students forming organizations in the late 1960s didn’t use the more common terms. The language chosen by the students of the sixties reflects the fact that they were still in touch, in greatly varying degrees, with an entire philosophy about social change that cautioned against hierarchy and centralized leadership. Contemporary students are almost entirely unaware of that...

    (pp. 391-406)

    The first paragraph of Richard Kluger’s remarkable history of the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation reads:

    Before it was over, they fired him from the little schoolhouse at which he had taught devotedly for ten years. And they fired his wife and two of his sisters and a niece. And they threatened him with bodily harm. And they sued him on trumped up charges and convicted him in a kangaroo court and left with a judgment that denied him credit from any bank. And they burned his house to the ground while the fire department stood around watching...

    (pp. 407-412)

    Ella baker and septima clark died within a year of one another, Miss Baker on her eighty-third birthday in December 1986, Mrs.Clark in December of 1987. Before she died Mrs. Clark was twice elected to the Charleston School Board, and the South Carolina legislature voted to compensate her for being fired in 1956 when she refused to deny that she was an NAACP member. Miss Baker’s funeral brought together SNCC members who had long been out of touch with one another or had been at odds with one another since the turmoil of the late sixties. Appropriately enough, coming together...

  22. BIBLIOGRAPHIC ESSAY: The Social Construction of History
    (pp. 413-442)
  23. NOTES
    (pp. 443-488)
    (pp. 489-492)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 493-525)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 526-526)