As remembered by Ed King
May 27, 2019
Jeannette Sylvester King, veteran of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, died on May 2, 2019 at her home in Camano Island, Washington. Her daughters, Lillian Marie Nobles (Mark) and Margaret Jane King (Hank) were with her. This was a peaceful death a few weeks after discovery of an untreatable malignant brain tumor. She and her former husband, Rev. Ed King, were divorced in 1983. Jeannette is also survived by four grandchildren (Lillian, Viviane, Duncan, Cade), four brothers and sisters, and her nieces and nephews and their families. She was born and raised in Jackson, MS. Her family had Delta roots in Leflore, Carroll, and Sharkey counties. (Her daughters were named for family and for Movement folks, Lillian Smith and Jane Stembridge.)
As a youth Jeannette was active in the Forest Hill Methodist Church and the Methodist Youth Fellowship. Jeannette graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson in 1958. Here, as part of a long time program of interracial communication with nearby Tougaloo College, she met black students and community leaders like Medgar Evers and Sociology professor Ernst Borinski. She received her Master's Degree in Social Work from Boston University. She also studied at Florida State University, the University of Michigan, and Harvard.
In Hands on the Freedom Plow, Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, Jeannette wrote of her civil rights work, with focus on her personal identification with SNCC and teachings of direct action and community organizing with the local people. She joined others in 2011 to speak about this at the Smithsonian Institute. Her chapter is entitled "Inside and Outside of Two Worlds." In the sixties she wrote for the Southern Patriot, journal of SCEF, Southern Conference Education Fund. Her Movement work is written about in Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi, in Polly Greenberg's The Devil Has Slippery Shoes, in John (Hunter Bear) Salter's Jackson, Mississippi-Chronicle of Struggle and Schism and many other books.
Jeannette's Movement activity centered on Mississippi but she spoke in several other states and had many meetings in Montgomery, Alabama with SCLC and her new friends, Clifford and Virginia Durr.
She worked in the 1963 Jackson Movement led by Medgar Evers, Dave Dennis, John and Eldri Salter, and Mrs. Doris Allison. Jeannette was in the first group of persons arrested. This was for picketing on Capitol Street in Jackson and carrying a sign, "Jackson Needs a Biracial Committee." This was Medgar's slogan for the need for racial communication. Others arrested with her were Tougaloo College folk, Margrit Garner and student body president, Rev. Eddie O'Neal, and Jackson women, Doris Bracey and Eddie Jean Thomas. Police focus on this demonstration allowed cover for other demonstrators to enter Woolworth's for the famous lunch counter sit-in.
She attended the March on Washington. She worked in major campaigns such as the 1963 Freedom Vote, the church visit campaign, the boycott of cultural events in Jackson, efforts to promote desegregation of Millsaps College, and interracial women's meetings. For Freedom Summer Jeannette helped plan the Freedom Schools and taught in freedom schools in Madison County. She worked with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, especially at the famous national Democrat Conventions in Atlantic City in 1964 and Chicago in 1968. She advised younger friends in Southern Student Organizing Committee and in Students for a Democratic Society.
She was active in protesting the war in Vietnam and in study groups on the excesses of capitalism and empire in the world. Her home was a second home for many tired Freedom fighters and a center for strategy, including one 1964 meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, James Foreman, Bayard Rustin, Bob Moses and MFDP leaders to plan for the Atlantic City Convention. More joyful meetings in her home included Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She was active in the SNCC Women's study and action groups and, later, women's support groups in Jackson. She helped set up the first head start program, the Child Development Group of Mississippi. She was their first director of social services and later served on their state board.
Jeannette used the lessons of CDGM in India in 1971 where she lived and studied with her family for a year at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in a special assignment of the Board of Missions/Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. She instructed Gandhian women leaders in child care and educational programs for newly arrived migrants leaving impoverished villages and caste discrimination problems. She used CDGM experiences and, even, CDGM pamphlets on roles for local people.
Jeannette taught psychology at Tougaloo College. As a social worker she served with the Mississippi state welfare department in Natchez, with adoption agencies in Boston and in New Orleans, and at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She later set up a private counseling practice. She was given an award as the social worker of the year and as one of the founders of the Mississippi Association of Social Workers.
Addresses for children are: Lillian, firstname.lastname@example.org and Meg, email@example.com. Her former husband, Ed King's address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Civil Rights vet, Tougaloo College, MFDP, Delta Ministry