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.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. Another controversial Mississippian takes the spotlight in this week’s episode. Few public figures did more to hinder the cause of civil rights in our state than Judge Thomas P. Brady of Brookhaven.
1972 - In 1948 President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the US Military. He also supported progressive civil rights legislation that threatened long-established Jim Crow laws of the day. In this interview recorded on March 4, 1972, Judge Brady recalls helping form the State’s Right Democratic Party or “Dixiecrats” in response. In the 1950s, a series of progressive Supreme Court decisions angered conservative whites across the South. Brady states his reasons for wanting Justices to be elected and not appointed.
After school segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Brown versus the Board of Education, Brady railed against that decision in a speech entitled “Black Monday.” He explains how the speech became a book and inspired the formation of Citizens’ Councils across the country. While overtly rejecting the violent tactics of the KKK, the Citizens’ Council covertly worked to destroy the lives and livelihoods of all who openly supported integration and equal rights of black Mississippians.
Judge Brady was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in July of 1963. Despite his record on racial matters, in several cases that came before the court, he demonstrated a fealty to the Constitution beyond his personal beliefs. He discusses his decision to integrate a “whites only” park in Greenwood despite being a segregationist.
PHOTO: actual Citizens Council membership card from private collection.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
1972 - Percy Greene had a terrible secret. When the civil rights pioneer and publisher of the Jackson Advocate newspaper agreed to be interviewed by us in December of 1972, he had been secretly serving as an informant for the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission for years. It was a secret he would take to the grave when he passed in 1977 and not revealed until the Commission’s files were unsealed much later.
So why would a man so nationally respected as a voice for the disenfranchised black citizens of Mississippi agree to share damaging information about the Civil Rights Movement’s leadership with the state?
It is an intriguing question. Perhaps it was Pride—bitterness at having lost his role as the state’s voice for equality under the law—that drove him to do it. Maybe it was his belief that the Movement was a communist plot to overthrow the country: a conspiracy theory that echoes today’s criticism of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Whatever the reason, Greene’s role as an informant has forever overshadowed his legacy.
In 1940, Greene, organized the Mississippi Negro Democrats Association. In this episode, he describes their early efforts to register Black Mississippians to vote. By 1944, over 8,000 African Americans had been registered to vote in Mississippi. Greene recalls Senator Theodore Bilbo’s campaign of black voter suppression.
As publisher of the Jackson Advocate, Greene championed equal rights under the law. Even so, he believed the Civil Rights Movement was in fact, a communist plot. Greene opposed efforts to integrate public schools and the use of the word “Black” instead of “Negro.” He explains how his call for a “New Liberalism” throughout the South would be more tolerable to whites than forced desegregation.
Greene’s characterization of young civil rights workers as communists and militants made him a pariah of the Movement. He discusses how his newspaper’s circulation dropped as a result and how he has worked to gain more subscribers.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
PHOTO: State Sovereignty Comm. file photo - MS Dept. of Archives and History
1971 One year after the courts forced Mississippi to fully integrate its K -12 public schools, the newly-formed Mississippi Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi sat down with former governor Ross Barnett to discuss his life and career in politics. Barnett was a good storyteller and had much to share about his childhood and career as a young attorney. During his tenure as governor from 1960-64, Barnett worked hard to bring much needed industry to Mississippi and had several large-scale construction projects of which to boast. But his views and actions as an unrepentant segregationist have rightfully defined his place in history. This episode focuses on his memories and opinions surrounding that time.
Barnett campaigned as a diehard segregationist, promising to maintain the status quo in Mississippi as the winds of change in America began to blow in earnest. That promise would soon be put to the test when a young African American named James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. After a Supreme Court ruling in his favor, Meredith was finally allowed to enroll at Ole’ Miss in 1962. When President Kennedy sent in troops to enforce the court’s ruling, the standoff turned into a riot. Three years after the riot at Ole’ Miss, it was revealed that Barnett had been in secret negotiations with the Kennedy Administration. He shares his version of those events.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission tried to maintain racial segregation by investigating civil rights workers and through public relations campaigns. Barnett discusses traveling the country presenting his views and the hostile reception he received in Michigan. Segregationists claimed the Civil Rights Movement was really a plot to destroy America. In the interview, Barnett argues why integration would ultimately fail and how the communists were involved.
Caution: this episode of Mississippi Moments contains racially derogatory language.
In 1971, Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, became the first black Mississippian to run for governor in modern times. That same year, he agreed to be interviewed by a new group of scholars at the University of Southern Mississippi called the Mississippi Oral History Program.
At the time of the interview, Evers was forty-nine years old and had lived through a lot. He was frank about his early days in Chicago, describing how he worked in illegal gambling and prostitution before opening a series of successful night clubs. Evers stated he had always intended to return to Mississippi eventually, but his plans were upended when his brother was assassinated in 1963. He returned home the next day and took over Medgar’s duties as field secretary for the NAACP. From there, he became politically active, running for and becoming mayor of Fayette, Mississippi in 1969.
The interview is a snapshot in time, taken exactly halfway through his ninety-eight years. In this episode, Evers recalls how a white lady named Mrs. Paine became like a second mother to him and Medgar. He discusses how his life in Chicago was interrupted by Medgar’s death and how he tried to share his brother’s fate by actively provoking confrontations with law enforcement and the Klan upon his return to Mississippi.
He describes his reasons for going into politics, his vision for a better, more inclusive Mississippi, and why more black citizens needed to run for political office at all levels.
Charles Evers passed away on July 22, 2020. Now in our forty-ninth year, the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage is proud to share with you excerpts from the seventh volume in our collection: The Honorable Charles Evers, Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.
The brutal death of Emmett Till in 1955, shocked the nation and ignited the Civil Rights Movement. In this episode, civil rights icon Cleveland Sellers, Jr. recalls how he and other students were inspired to confront systemic racism.
In 1964, after his sophomore year at Howard University, Sellers left school to devote himself fulltime to the cause of racial equality. He became active in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Sellers discusses how they would often protest in front of the White House and the importance of SNCC’s DC office in planning the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
After four years of working in Mississippi and other segregation hotspots, Sellers moved to Orangeburg, South Carolina to attend school at South Carolina State University. Soon after moving there, students began protesting at a local bowling alley about their “whites only” policy. On February 8, 1968, State Troopers opened fire on a group of 200 unarmed protesters on campus. Sellers and thirty others were shot and three died. He explains why he was the only person charged in the incident.
After serving seven months in prison, Sellers found it impossible to find a job due to his record. He remembers how one white woman looked past his FBI file and gave him the opportunity to rebuild his life and his reputation.
Cleveland Sellers, Jr. was pardoned by the State of South Carolina in 1993.
In 1961, Ruby Magee was a student at Jackson State College, majoring in History and Political Science. In this episode, she explains how her participation in local Civil Rights demonstrations, almost led to her expulsion.
That summer, Magee returned to her home in Tylertown and attempted to register to vote. At that time, Mississippians were required to pass a literacy test before being allowed to register. Magee remembers how her application was rejected even though she passed the literacy test.
After being denied the right to vote in Walthall County, Magee filed a complaint with the Justice Department. She describes her parents as supportive, even as they feared for her safety.
In 1961, the U.S. Justice Department filed suite against the Walthall County registrar, and others, for denying blacks citizens the right vote. Magee recalls the outcome of that trial.
This episode was written by Ellie Forsyth, a senior at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Hattiesburg.
Mississippi Moments is produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Philip Freelon was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this episode, he explains how his family background in Education and the Arts inspired him to become an architect. As a young African American architect, Freelon aspired to design libraries and schools. He recalls how a focus on education and community development led him to several museum projects.
Philip Freelon is proud to have been chosen as the chief architect of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. He laments that so few women and people of color choose to enter the field of design.
According to Freelon, the decision to have two Mississippi museums was an unusual choice. He discusses the positive aspects of having two connected and centrally located facilities.
In 2016, Philip G. Freelon was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He passed away on July 9, 2019.
Jerry Mitchell was working as a reporter for the Clarion Ledger when he attended a press premier for Mississippi Burning. In this episode, he explains how that event piqued his interest in civil rights-related cold cases.
After the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission was dissolved in 1977, its records were ordered sealed for 50 years. Mitchell recalls how he was able to get a look at those files in 1989. The ACLU filed a lawsuit to gain access to the sealed records of the State Sovereignty Commission, and the judge ruled in their favor. Mitchell recounts how having access to those files helped investigators solve several civil rights cold cases.
In his work as an investigative reporter, Jerry Mitchell gained extensive knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement. He describes his feelings about the Two Mississippi Museums and their impact.
Jerry Mitchell was awarded a Genius Grant by the MacArthur Foundation in 2009.
On January 6th, 2020, a statue of slain civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer was unveiled at Hattiesburg City Hall.
In this episode, taken from her 1974 COHCH interview, Ellie J. Dahmer remembers her husband as a Christian man who helped everyone regardless of race. As a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Vernon Dahmer received death threats, daily. Ellie Dahmer recalls the extreme measures she and her husband took to protect their family.
On the night of January 10, 1966, Vernon Dahmer attended church and then returned home to prepare for another week of hard work. Ellie Dahmer describes waking up to gunfire and trying to rescue her children as bullets riddled their burning home.
Vernon Dahmer died January 10, 1966 from injuries sustained when his home was firebombed by the KKK. Ellie Dahmer discusses her husband’s legacy and why she thinks he would do it all again.
(note: in the podcast and broadcast, the statue dedication date was incorrectly given as January 4th, not January 6th)
As a young man, Fred Clark of Jackson traveled to Midway, Georgia, to attend a series of meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King. In this episode, he recalls fearing for his safety as the group planned protests across the Jim Crow South.
The Freedom Riders were protesters who rode interstate buses to challenge southern segregation laws. Clark describes being arrested in Jackson in June of 1961 for trying to buy a ticket from the whites-only window. So many Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, many were taken to Parchman to handle the overflow. Clark remembers how their nonstop singing led to severe reprisals by prison officials.
PODCAST BONUS: In order to break the spirit of the protesters, prison guards resorted to putting them in windowless iron holding cells known as hotboxes. Unable to breath in the sweltering heat, Clark describes feelings of panic and being ridiculed by the guards.
PHOTO: MS Dept. of Archives and History
Fred Clark, Sr. grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1950s and 60s. In this episode, the first of two parts, he recalls the death of Emmett Till and how fear dominated the black community at that time. As events unfolded around him, Clark was determined to overcome his fear and work to make things better.
During the Civil Rights Movement, local organizers would hold events called Mass Meetings. Clark explains how these gatherings satisfied a variety of needs within the community. After the meetings, he would often catch a ride with civil rights leader Medgar Evers. He describes the sense of dread he felt riding with Evers, even as he marveled at the man’s bravery.
The culture of fear used to maintain social order in the Jim Crow South was deeply ingrained in everyone. Clark explains how being part of a greater movement inspired everyone to do their part.
For many young people, participation in the Civil Rights Movement began with a membership in the NAACP. In this episode, Franzetta Sanders of Moss Point recalls joining the group and the work they did to promote Equality for all. During the 1960s, members of the NAACP would test local businesses for compliance with new Civil Rights laws. Franzetta Sanders describes their work in Moss Point and how the community reacted.
In the Jim Crow South, there were separate public restrooms marked for “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only.” Sanders recounts how a stopover at the Hattiesburg bus station resulted in their bus being surrounded by police.
Most Mississippi public schools did not begin to fully integrate until 1970. As the mother of six children, Sanders worked to make sure they had the best educational opportunities possible. She remembers those difficult early days and how things eventually got better.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Sanders worked diligently to break down racial barriers. She expresses frustration at the apathy of young people who are reluctant to join the NAACP.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Lucas Somers, and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
PHOTO: USM Digital Collections – Herbert Randall
Billy Ferrell became Sheriff of Adams County in January of 1960. In this episode, he describes the rising tensions brought on by the Civil Rights Movement during the second half of his first term in office. During the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate anyone they perceived as supporting civil rights. Ferrell remembers countering threats against his family with some intimidation of his own.
While campaigning for a second term as sheriff, Ferrell was asked to give a political speech to a group of local Klansmen. He explains his reasons for agreeing to meet with the group and discusses how completely they had been infiltrated by the FBI.
On September 25, 1964, Klansmen bombed and damaged the home of Natchez Mayor John Nosser. Ferrell recalls going to check on the mayor afterwards and being questioned by the FBI.
THIS EPISODE CONTAINS MILD PROFANITY.
In 1959 Dr. Gilbert Mason was the only black physician on the staff of the new Biloxi Hospital. At that time, the 26 mile man-made Biloxi beach, paid for with Federal funding, was designated for whites only, in violation of the original agreement. In this episode, Mason explains his decision to try and integrate the beach.
After he was arrested, Mason and group of black citizens petitioned the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to make the beach available to all citizens. The board refused and the group made a second attempt in April of 1960. Mason describes being attacked by an angry mob while police watched the violence unfold.
In response, NAACP President Medgar Evers gathered citizen complaints to present to the U.S. Justice Department, who then filed suit against the board. Three years later, seventy protesters returned to the beach carrying black flags in honor of Evers who had been assassinated the week before.
The original group arrested for trespassing on the beach in 1960 was awaiting their verdict in county court the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mason recalls how they honored the slain President. The case eventually made it all the way to the US Supreme Court and in 1968, Harrison County was forced to desegregate Biloxi Beach, making it available for use by all its citizens.
Amzie Moore of Cleveland, Mississippi, had to fend for himself from the time he was fourteen years old. In this episode, he recalls wondering why there was such economic disparity between the white and black communities. To his young mind, there must have been something special about white people that allowed them to attain a higher standard of living than blacks. It was only after serving in Europe during WWII Moore realized this was not the case. He came home determined to work towards a better life for himself and his community. He got financing to open his own Pan-Am service station, the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg that allowed black customers to use the restrooms. And he became politically active, first with the Black and Tan Republicans and later joining the Democratic Party. He also joined the NAACP.
In September of 1955, while serving as NAACP President for Bolivar County, Moore received a call from the grandfather of a boy named Emmett Till. He explains how Till’s death marked a turning point in Mississippi. Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, Southern states used poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise poor minority voters. Moore discusses how they worked to overcome those obstacles through the formation of the Freedom Democratic Party. Later, as leader of Project Head Start, he fought to bring affordable housing and new job opportunities to poor people in the Mississippi Delta. Moore looks back with pride at all they were able to accomplish.
In 1948, Gladys Noel Bates agreed to be the named plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the black Mississippi Teachers Association against the state of Mississippi to demand equal pay for black teachers, knowing that she and her husband would most likely lose their jobs.
After news of the suit made headlines, Bates remembers the other teachers avoided being seen with her for fear of reprisals. She describes how being blacklisted by the state prevented the couple from teaching anywhere in the South.
Bates and her husband left Mississippi in 1960 and became teachers in Denver, Colorado. She recalls how their plan to keep a low profile was thwarted by a desire to improve racial relations. Soon, Bates had developed a reputation in the Denver public school system as someone who could work with people of all races. She gives several examples of the strategies she used to unite parents and students in the common goal of a better education for all.
CONTAINS RACIAL EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In October of 1966, Father Peter Quinn became pastor of Holy Rosary, a small, black, parish in Hattiesburg. Interested in working with the youth of the community, he formed a group that would later become the Catholic Youth Organization. In this episode, he describes how their young people participated in picketing and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement.
As an activist priest in Hattiesburg in the 1960s, Quinn often received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. One night, his station wagon was fired on by men in two pickup trucks who tried to force him off the road. Afterwards, he was protected by a group of volunteers called the Deacons of Defense.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept a grueling schedule of personal appearances during the Movement. Father Quinn recalls how on King’s last trip to Hattiesburg, just ten days before his assassination, he borrowed Quinn’s bed for a much-needed nap. After King was killed, violence erupted across the nation. Quinn describes leading a protest march through downtown Hattiesburg after pleading with the kids to leave their knives and guns at home.
PHOTO: Huffington Post
Former Governor William Winter was first elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1947. In this episode, he remembers how the verdict in Brown versus the Board of Education solidified opposition to desegregation throughout the South. Gov. Winter was running for State Treasurer in 1963 when he learned of the assassination of civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. He recalls being shocked by the news and even more shocked by the reaction of a respected church elder.
In 1997, Gov. Winter was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race. He reflects on his work with the Board and the things that are important to most Americans.
Today, the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss, supports harmony and wholeness among all Mississippians. He explains how each of us have a role to play and why it’s so important.
In March 2008, Governor Winter was given the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for his work in advancing education and racial reconciliation.
Prior to the end of slavery in the United States, educating African-Americans was discouraged or prohibited by law throughout the South. After emancipation, opportunities for blacks to attend school were still scarce, but began to improve during the Reformation. Lounett Gore’s father was born a slave, but emancipated while still an infant. In this episode, she describes how he was educated by his mother’s former master.
As the youngest child of a sharecropper’s family, Gore was kept by her big sister while their parents worked. She remembers sitting in a classroom, as a toddler, while her sister attended school, and learning along with the older children.
During WWI, many African-Americans migrated from the southern states, northward, in search of better jobs. Gore recalls how her father went to St. Louis and earned enough money to buy his own farm. This gave them the chance to: improve their diet by growing their own food, keep all the profits their farm produced, and raise their standard of living. Even so, because black children were needed during planting and harvesting, their school year was only three months long.
PODCAST EXTRA: Prior to WWI, Home Demonstration Clubs were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These clubs taught young women food preparation and other homemaking skills. Gore explains how belonging to a Home Demonstration Club gave her the opportunity to attend Tougaloo College—a historic black school, founded just north of Jackson, Mississippi in 1869 by New York–based Christian missionaries for the education of freed slaves and their offspring.
PHOTO: The Mansion at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/FreedomNow/scans/TJ0071.jpg
On Friday morning, Feb. 2, 2018, an unveiling ceremony was held on the USM campus for a new historical marker detailing the efforts of Clyde Kennard to enroll at Mississippi Southern College.
Kennard had tried to enroll as a student at Southern Miss multiple times in the late 1950s, but was denied admission because of his race. He was later arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. In this episode, Raylawni Branch of Hattiesburg recalls Kennard’s attempts to integrate the all-white college. Branch was active in the Civil Rights Movement between 1959 and 1965. She describes her work with the NAACP and the limited opportunities for black people in Hattiesburg.
In 1965, Branch was a young mother, trying to make ends meet. She remembers being offered the chance to become one of the first African-American students at Southern Miss. Shortly afterwards, Vernon Dahmer, a popular businessman who led the local effort to register black voters, died from injuries he sustained when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his home at Kelly Settlement. Branch recalls Dahmer’s generosity and how he died fighting back.
When Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch became the first black students at USM, they were assigned six bodyguards for protection. Branch reflects on how they were accepted by the other students.
In the Jim Crow South, African-Americans had limited access to doctors and hospitals. One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to improve healthcare for blacks in segregated states like Mississippi. In this episode, taken from a series of interviews conducted in 1998, Dr. Gilbert Mason recounts conditions as they existed in 1955, when he came to the Gulf Coast as a young doctor. He explains how black patients were crammed into a two-room annex in the New Biloxi Hospital. As a black physician, Mason was prevented from becoming a member of the hospital staff or joining the Mississippi State Medical Association. He recalls the struggle for recognition by his white colleagues.
As a civil rights activist, Mason is best known for leading a series of wade-ins on segregated Biloxi beach, but he also worked to improve healthcare for black Mississippians. He remembers Dr. Bob Smith, who led the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP Medical Committee for Civil Rights.
In 1965, the Biloxi School District was ordered to completely desegregate all its schools. Mason describes being attacked by a white man with scalding hot coffee after the ruling came down. When asked why he became a civil rights activist, Mason would credit his training as a boy scout and a physician. In his view, medicine and civil rights share an inseparable bond.