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Divine Agitators

Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi

Mark Newman
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    Divine Agitators
    Book Description:

    The National Council of Churches established the Delta Ministry in 1964 to further the cause of civil rights in Mississippi--the southern state with the largest black population proportionately and with the stiffest level of white resistance. At its height the Ministry, which was headquartered in Greenville, had the largest field staff of any civil rights organization in the South. Active through the mid-1970s, the Ministry outlasted SNCC, CORE, and the SCLC in Mississippi, helping to fill the vacuums when these organizations fell apart or refocused their energies. In this first book-length study of the Delta Ministry, Mark Newman tells how the organization conducted literacy, citizenship, and vocational training. He documents the Ministry's role in fostering the growth of Head Start and community-based health care and in widening the distribution of free surplus federal food and food stamps. Newman discusses, among other Ministry successes, the Delta Foundation, which created jobs by channeling grant money to small businesses that could not secure bank loans. At the same time, he details the Ministry's problems from its chronic underfunding to its uneasy relationship with the Mississippi NAACP, which pursued civil rights objectives through less confrontational methods. Newman examines the Freedomcrafts manufacturing cooperative and other ministry failures, as well as mixed efforts such as Freedom City, a collective agricultural and manufacturing community built by displaced agricultural workers. Divine Agitators looks at many inadequately studied events across a time span that extends beyond the widely accepted end dates of the civil rights movement. It offers new insights, at the most local levels of the movement, into conflict within and between civil rights groups, the increasing subtlety of white resistance, the disengagement of the federal government, and the rise of Black Power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4020-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xx)
  7. CHAPTER ONE The Origins and Creation of the Delta Ministry
    (pp. 1-22)

    The National Council of Churches (ncc) comprised thirty-one Protestant and Orthodox denominations with forty-two million members, but, despite its size, it generally avoided direct involvement in the civil rights struggle until the 1960s. Except for sending the Reverend Will D. Campbell as a kind of roving but largely ineffectual ambassador to racial trouble spots in the South, the ncc confined itself to issuing statements in favor of desegregation. Yet between 1963 and 1964, the ncc created a Commission on Religion and Race, participated in the March on Washington, successfully lobbied members of the U.S. Congress on behalf of the civil...

  8. CHAPTER TWO External Relations, Internal Policy, 1964–1965
    (pp. 23-45)

    In the months before the Delta Ministry’s inauguration in September 1964, white Mississippi and southern opposition to the Delta Ministry and the ncc had mounted against the backdrop of the National Council’s involvement in cofo’s Summer Project. Unable to prevent the Ministry’s launch and under pressure from their members, the leaders of Mississippi’s white denominations affiliated with the National Council sought, with considerable success and support from other southern religious leaders, to persuade their ruling bodies to starve the Delta Ministry of funds. Underfinanced and heavily dependent on the wcc, a few northern denominations, and funds from the ncc’s reserves,...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Hattiesburg, 1964–1967
    (pp. 46-67)

    Although far from the cotton fields of the Delta, Hattiesburg became an important part of the Delta Ministry. At sncc’s invitation, more than two hundred northern white clergymen, mostly under upcusa direction, joined a voter registration drive in the city during the early months of 1964. The ncc took over the Hattiesburg Ministers’ Project in May and, in effect, began applying the Delta Ministry’s program in the city four months before its official launch in Mississippi. In September, the Ministry inherited “a going voter registration program, educational activities, community organization, and white community contacts,” created by the combined efforts of...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR McComb, 1964–1966
    (pp. 68-83)

    The McComb Project, like that in Hattiesburg, had not been part of the Delta Ministry’s original plan. After sending minister-counselors to support cofo’s work in McComb during the Summer Project of 1964, the ncc withdrew when the project concluded in late August. Violent resistance, which had plagued the movement in McComb and surrounding areas throughout the summer, escalated with the departure of many of cofo’s volunteers and the ncc ministers. Consequently, the National Council made an emergency appeal for clergymen to aid cofo’s voter registration campaign and established a long-term project under Harry Bowie, who had served as a minister-counselor...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Greenville and the Delta, 1964–1966
    (pp. 84-106)

    The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta in northwestern Mississippi contained some of the richest soil and poorest people in America. A majority of the region’s population, most African Americans were impoverished, disenfranchised, and denied adequate education by a system of white-owned cotton plantations that limited blacks to unskilled agricultural labor. For decades, young adults and the most able had migrated to take jobs in the industrial North. But in the 1960s, automation of northern factories decreased opportunities for migrants, while federal funds and legislation led Delta planters to reduce acreage under cultivation and replace their workers with machines and chemicals. During its first...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Under Investigation
    (pp. 107-126)

    Less than eighteen months into its operations, the Delta Ministry underwent an extensive evaluation by the ncc. The Evaluation Committee gave the Ministry’s critics a full opportunity to voice their objections to its program and conduct. At the same time, the Methodist Church, which did not fund the Delta Ministry, undertook a separate investigation of the project. The ncc’s Evaluation Committee made several harsh criticisms of the Ministry yet still gave it a strong overall endorsement that convinced the ncc’s governing General Board of the project’s worth. Issued in May 1966, the ncc’s report, alongside a subsequent favorable report by...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Freedom City
    (pp. 127-148)

    In July 1966, a group of African American families displaced from Mississippi plantations by mechanization and herbicides relocated to four hundred acres of land twelve miles southeast of Greenville. Aided and advised by the Delta Ministry, they hoped to create a model community. The ninety-four residents intended to pioneer a viable alternative to black migration to northern ghettoes by developing a self-sustaining agricultural and industrial cooperative. With financial aid from oeo and the Ford Foundation, the families received vocational training from doc and began constructing their own homes. Yet the experiment failed. The residents built only twenty of the projected...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Changing Focus, 1967–1971
    (pp. 149-179)

    The late 1960s marked a period of transition for the Delta Ministry. From making mostly ad hoc responses to problems that involved assisting African American protests; pressuring local, state, and federal authorities; and operating virtually autonomous county projects, the Ministry under Owen Brooks’s directorship moved toward a more focused long-term and statewide approach to improving the lives of Mississippi’s poor. The Ministry continued to conduct voter registration and citizenship education programs but also trained black candidates for political responsibility. Its involvement in education broadened from Head Start to school desegregation and improving educational opportunities. The Ministry continued to provide direct...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Internal Dissension and Crisis
    (pp. 180-196)

    Significant divisions developed within the Delta Ministry in the late 1960s. By late 1967, the majority of the Ministry’s staff were black Mississippians, true to the project’s intention of developing local leadership. A black Mississippian majority also sat on the reconstituted Commission on the Delta Ministry. Despite its reorganization in 1966, the Ministry continued to suffer from loose administration. Many of the Delta Ministry’s staff also believed that the organization overlooked indigenous personnel and instead relied on northern staff to facilitate a new emphasis on providing technical support to community advocacy groups that addressed multicounty and statewide issues. The staff...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Winding Down
    (pp. 197-218)

    After its early 1971 budget and staff crisis, the Delta Ministry focused almost solely on providing technical and research assistance in legislative matters, economic development, education, and welfare. A board of directors replaced the Commission on the Delta Ministry. Black Mississippians, rather than the ncc and representatives from member denominations, played the major governing role on the board. The Ministry became independent of ncc control, with the status of a related movement, but continued to receive donations from several national denominations to sustain the reduced operations. By the mid-1970s, however, the Ministry had few remaining sources of support. Unwilling to...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 219-226)

    In the tradition of sncc and core, and inspired by the biblical call to a servant ministry, the Delta Ministry sought to empower the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised and to enable them to realize self-chosen goals. Specifically, the ncc charged the Ministry with facilitating relief, community building, literacy, economic development, and reconciliation in the Delta, with shorter-lived projects in Hattiesburg and McComb. The Ministry acted as an enabler rather than as a leadership organization. Content to work with and form alliances with other civil rights and advocacy groups, to create and then set free new organizations and enterprises, and to...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 227-314)
    (pp. 315-332)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 333-352)