The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we look back with pride at our interview of civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer. The first part was conducted in Fall of 1972 and focused more on her work with voter registration and the Freedom Democratic Party. In the second part, conducted in January of 1973, Hamer reflects on the current state of the movement, her efforts to provide housing and healthy foods choices for Mississippi’s poor people, and how the Civil Rights Movement was evolving to address new challenges.
1973 –In 1964, Hamer and ten other civil rights activists travelled to Africa for a much-needed rest. She recalls how the people they met on that trip inspired her to see what was possible for blacks in America. Hamer remembers feeling angry that African Americans had had they culture, and history stolen from them and how they had been made to feel ashamed by the West’s distorted image of their homeland.
One objective of the Civil Rights Movement was to change the old ways of thinking about race. Hamer discusses the importance of realizing that we all need each other. In 1969, Hamer and a group of donors founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She explains how they grow vegetables and other crops to help feed poor people in the Delta.
By 1972, many goals of the Civil Rights Movement had been met and some said the work was finished. Hamer opines on how the Movement has evolved and why the struggle must continue.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we dip into the interview of Dr. William Penn Davis, conducted on March 24, 1972. During the Civil Rights Movement, no white church leader in Mississippi showed more bravery or strength of his convictions than Reverend Davis. His lifelong work towards racial unity—which he called “human relations”—was met at times with threats of violence and scorn by white Christians and non-Christians alike.
1972 - Dr. William Penn Davis was born in Union County, Mississippi, in 1903. In this episode, he recalls how his parents taught him, by example, to treat people with respect, regardless of race. While attending Mississippi College, Rev. Davis served as pastor of a church in the Brownsville community. He explains how a hate crime inspired his work to improve race relations in the state.
From 1957 until 1971, Davis served as president of the Mississippi Baptist Seminary. He discusses their efforts to promote racial unity during the Civil Rights Movement. As an advocate for race relations, Rev. Davis was often targeted by white supremacists. He remembers being beaten and left for dead by a group of masked men.
Because black churches were meeting places for civil rights organizers, dozens were burned in retribution. Dr. Davis recounts how the Citizens of Concern rebuilt fifty-two churches during that time.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND DESCRIPTIONS OF VIOLENCE.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. As the last layperson to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Owen Cooper recognized the need for fundamental changes in the organization’s approach to racial issues. While the nation attempted to build on the tenuous gains of the Civil Rights Movement, Cooper recognized that Baptist churches, too, must evolve in the way they dealt with their black brothers and sisters in Christ. However, his determination to change the old ways of thinking and put those changes into action would require the sacrifice of his political aspirations.
1972 - Like many Mississippians of his generation, Cooper gave little thought to racial equality. He recalls how his daughter’s desire to attend an integrated church sparked a change in his thinking. As President of the Southern Baptist Convention for two terms, 1972 – 74, Cooper recognized the need for churches to be more welcoming of African Americans. He explains the dilemma for church leaders during that time.
As a prominent businessman, Owen Cooper’s work with pro-civil rights organizations created controversy. He remembers how a picture of him eating dinner with NAACP leader Aaron Henry was widely circulated. When Cooper decided to work with black citizens in such groups as Mississippi Action for Progress, he knew it would end his hopes of running for governor. He reflects on that decision.
Forty-eight years after this interview was conducted, the Southern Baptist Convention has made solid progress in the way it handles the issue of race. However, for the nation as a whole, Sunday morning worship services remain the most segregated of hours.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we look at the career of civil rights attorney R. Jess Brown. Brown originally came to Mississippi in 1946 as a public-school teacher. After Gladys Noel Bates was fired and black-listed from teaching in Mississippi for agreeing to be the plaintiff in a landmark civil rights lawsuit, Brown volunteered to take her place. When his teaching contract was not renewed, he left the state to attend law school at Texas Southern University. He passed the Mississippi Bar Examination in 1954 and established his law practice that same year.
1972 – At the time this interview was conducted in the Jackson law office of R. Jess Brown on April 2, 1972, Brown was still an active, practicing attorney. Brown was born in Coffeeville, Kansas in 1912. In this episode, he explains how growing up in Oklahoma inspired him to become a civil rights attorney. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the early 60s, activists were often targeted by police. Brown recalls representing these defendants against a variety of charges.
In preparing for the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, workers received training on how to protect themselves both physically and legally. Brown remembers going to Oxford, Ohio, to warn them of the hazards they would likely face.
During the Civil Rights Movement, some black citizens feared reprisals after the activists went home. Jess Brown discusses the strategy of direct confrontation versus a protracted legal battle.
WARNING: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.