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The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

Edited by Ted Ownby
Chris Myers Asch
Emilye Crosby
David Cunningham
Jelani Favors
Françoise N. Hamlin
Wesley Hogan
Robert Luckett
Carter Dalton Lyon
Byron DʹAndra Orey
Joseph T. Reiff
Akinyele Umoja
Michael Vinson Williams
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  • Book Info
    The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi
    Book Description:

    Based on new research and combining multiple scholarly approaches, these twelve essays tell new stories about the civil rights movement in the state most resistant to change. Wesley Hogan, Françoise N. Hamlin, and Michael Vinson Williams raise questions about how civil rights organizing took place. Three pairs of essays address African Americans' and whites' stories on education, religion, and the issues of violence. Jelani Favors and Robert Luckett analyze civil rights issues on the campuses of Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi. Carter Dalton Lyon and Joseph T. Reiff study people who confronted the question of how their religion related to their possible involvement in civil rights activism. By studying the Ku Klux Klan and the Deacons for Defense in Mississippi, David Cunningham and Akinyele Umoja ask who chose to use violence or to raise its possibility.

    The final three chapters describe some of the consequences and continuing questions raised by the civil rights movement. Byron D'Andra Orey analyzes the degree to which voting rights translated into political power for African American legislators. Chris Myers Asch studies a Freedom School that started in recent years in the Mississippi Delta. Emilye Crosby details the conflicting memories of Claiborne County residents and the parts of the civil rights movement they recall or ignore.

    As a group, the essays introduce numerous new characters and conundrums into civil rights scholarship, advance efforts to study African Americans and whites as interactive agents in the complex stories, and encourage historians to pull civil rights scholarship closer toward the present.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-003-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-2)
    Ted Ownby

    Beginning as part of the Porter Fortune, Jr. History Symposium at the University of Mississippi, this collection of essays attempts to raise some new questions and tell some new stories about the history of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

    For years the history of the civil rights movement in Mississippi seemed relatively clear. Activism, or so it seemed, started slowly due to the kind of powerful oppression sustained by the sharecropping system, disfranchisement, and segregation, and dramatized by the assassinations of Emmett Till in 1955 and Medgar Evers in 1963. Then, according to the old story, Mississippi briefly became...

  4. Grassroots Organizing in Mississippi That Changed National Politics
    (pp. 3-34)
    Wesley Hogan

    There are three ways of organizing any government: around organized money, organized military, or organized people. Our libraries and classrooms are filled with books about societies that have created governments based on organized money or organized militaries. The scholarship is shockingly thin on governments based on organized people. Such books, indeed, would hardly fill a room, much less a library. And the reason why is quite straightforward.

    People do not ordinarily have “organizing” as a category in their heads. It’s missing from most political history courses and books. It’s missing from popular culture. Somehow, those who have really felt the...

  5. Collision and Collusion: Local Activism, Local Agency, and Flexible Alliances
    (pp. 35-58)
    Françoise N. Hamlin

    As a scholar and teacher of the black freedom struggle in the United States, I am often asked why there is not another civil rights movement. Why did direct action and activism work so well then, and where is it now? I teach primarily in the Northeast to those with little experience of the South and its unique social quirks and traits, and to those less experienced in the national racial realities. Therefore explaining the complexity of these questions (and answers) and prodding students to hone their critical thinking skills have become almost as important as uncovering the new, valuable...

  6. The Struggle for Black Citizenship: Medgar Wiley Evers and the Fight for Civil Rights in Mississippi
    (pp. 59-89)
    Michael Vinson Williams

    This essay briefly examines the history and activism of Medgar Wiley Evers and his participation in the African American struggle for full citizenship rights.¹ Here I examine some of the social, political, and cultural firestorms that raged throughout the mid-1950s and early 1960s and their impact upon Mississippi’s combative race relations. As a consequence, this discussion is about the human element of and meaning behind the civil rights struggle, the impact of that struggle on violent oppression in the state, and the influence of violent resistance upon the African American personality.

    The long and intense struggle African Americans waged for...

  7. Trouble in My Way: Curriculum, Conflict, and Confrontation at Jackson State University, 1945–1963
    (pp. 90-122)
    Jelani Favors

    George Swan returned to the campus of Jackson State University in the fall of 1947, eager to bear witness to what he had just experienced. That October Swan stood shoulder to shoulder with 1,000 other students from black colleges and secondary schools who gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, to declare war against the stranglehold of white supremacy. Their defiant stand in the heart of Dixie was not uncharacteristic of the growing discontent and brewing insurgency that was beginning to define black life in post–World War II America. “The Southern Youth met in solemn session,” noted Swan. “Militant, courageous, Negro...

  8. “Hell Fired Out of Him”: The Muting of James Silver in Mississippi
    (pp. 123-137)
    Robert Luckett

    Members of the Southern Historical Association (SHA) who attended the 1963 annual meeting in Asheville, North Carolina, witnessed one of the most significant addresses ever made to that organization. As president of the SHA that year, James Silver delivered a damning blow to the Jim Crow South, where he had lived since joining the history department at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1936. Not much more than a year after the riots that accompanied James Meredith’s integration of Ole Miss in October 1962, Silver characterized white Mississippi as a “Closed Society” committed to thwarting the cause for racial...

  9. “Doing a Little Something to Pave the Way for Others”: Participants of the Church Visit Campaign to Challenge Jackson’s Segregated Sanctuaries, 1963–1964
    (pp. 138-156)
    Carter Dalton Lyon

    For ten months beginning in June 1963, the entrances of white churches in Mississippi’s capital city became some of the key battlegrounds in the national struggle over civil rights. On most Sundays, integrated groups attempted to attend worship services at all-white Protestant and Catholic churches in Jackson. By challenging one of the remaining bulwarks of racial segregation, faculty and students at Tougaloo College, under the leadership of their chaplain, Rev. Edwin King, aimed to provide a palpable testimony to Christian teachings of the oneness of humankind. Even if ushers rejected them, the activists hoped their presence and their conversations would...

  10. “Born of Conviction”: White Mississippians Argue Civil Rights in 1963
    (pp. 157-179)
    Joseph T. Reiff

    Imagine you are a white Methodist preacher in Mississippi in the early 1960s. You grew up in the 1930s and 1940s in a segregated world and simply accepted it as reality. Then as a Methodist teenager or college student at Millsaps or Mississippi Southern, you were exposed to a few speakers, religious life leaders, or professors who gently but persistently pushed you to ask questions about that segregated world. As a college student involved in religious life, you had the opportunity in the late 1940s to meet with a few students from black colleges in Mississippi at occasional events sponsored...

  11. Shades of Anti–Civil Rights Violence: Reconsidering the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi
    (pp. 180-203)
    David Cunningham

    There is no more resonant embodiment of southern white resistance to racial integration than the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). White hoods, burning crosses, and other KKK iconography are familiar even to the most casual student of civil rights–era racial struggles. Popular accounts of anti–civil rights action, in particular those that focus on Mississippi, frequently portray the klan as a ubiquitous vigilante force, standing apart from mainstream institutions. Recent scholarship has usefully adopted a mild revisionism, recognizing the KKK as part of the web of institutional efforts to, with varying degrees of coordination, massively resist civil rights reforms.


  12. “It’s Time for Black Men …”: The Deacons for Defense and the Mississippi Movement
    (pp. 204-229)
    Akinyele Umoja

    The documentary film Black Natchez opens with an oath taken by an initiate of the paramilitary Deacons for Defense. Deacons member James Jackson repeated the beginning of the oath that Natchez activist John Fitzgerald administered to him. The oath began “I do solemnly swear that I will not reveal or invade any of these above secrets.”¹ In the article “‘We Will Shoot Back’: The Natchez Model and Para-Military Organization in the Mississippi Freedom Movement,” I argued that the organization of the Deacons for Defense increased the effectiveness of activists in the Mississippi freedom movement.² While blacks had employed armed resistance...

  13. Robert Clark and the Ascendancy to Black Power: The Case of the Mississippi Black State Legislators
    (pp. 230-249)
    Byron D’Andra Orey

    The Voting Rights Act of 1965 arguably serves as the most important legislative victory for blacks, save for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Indeed, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, blacks in Mississippi had not been able to elect an African American to the state legislature since 1896. The Voting Rights Act had an immediate impact on the state of Mississippi, as the percentage of blacks registered to vote increased from 6.7 percent in 1964 to roughly 60 percent by 1967. Such an increase posed a direct threat to white political hegemony, thereby leading whites to...

  14. “The Movement Is in You”: The Sunflower County Freedom Project and the Lessons of the Civil Rights Past
    (pp. 250-265)
    Chris Myers Asch

    As a fifth-grade public school teacher in Sunflower, Mississippi, in the mid-1990s, I discovered to my delight that our school library had a complete set of Eyes on the Prize, the extraordinary Blackside documentary about the civil rights movement. I had planned to incorporate civil rights history into my state-mandated American history class, and I thought excerpts from Eyes on the Prize would be a wonderful addition to my lessons. As I went to check the videotapes out, I noticed that they had never been used in nearly a decade since they had been purchased. Surprised and intrigued, I asked...

  15. “Looking the Devil in the Eye”: Race Relations and the Civil Rights Movement in Claiborne County History and Memory
    (pp. 266-300)
    Emilye Crosby

    In my research on the black freedom struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi, and its county seat of Port Gibson, I have found that there is remarkable consistency in the stories that blacks and whites tell.¹ But though the details are similar, the meanings they attach to these stories are quite different. This is particularly important to understand and acknowledge because in Claiborne County, as in most of the country, white power has traditionally translated into white control over the way history and race are interpreted and presented publicly. Even though African Americans used the civil rights movement to successfully challenge...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 301-302)
  17. Index
    (pp. 303-318)