Civil Rights Movement History

Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Formed in Mississippi
"Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana (Feb)
Cambridge MD — 1962
Maryland Easternshore Project (Summer)
Diane Nash Defies the Mississippi Judicial System (April-May)
Freedom Highways in the Tarheel State (1962-63)
Freedom Highways in Durham and Greensboro (Summer-Fall)
Cairo IL Protests (SNCC) (June)
Mississippi Voter Registration — Greenwood
James Meredith Integrates 'Ole Miss (Sept-Oct)
The Campaign for a Second Emancipation Proclamation
Greenwood Food Blockade (Winter)
Jackson MS, Boycotts (Winter-Spring)
Operation Breadbasket — SCLC


Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Formed in Mississippi


See Voter Registration & Direct-Action in McComb MS for preceding events.

After being released from jail in December of 1961, Bob Moses and the other SNCC organizers analyze the successes and failures of the McComb voter registration campaign. It is clear that racist opposition to Black voting rights in Mississippi is so ferocious, so violent, so widespread, that only by uniting all of the state's civil rights organizations into a coordinated effort is there any hope of success.

Moses and Tom Gaither of CORE circulate a memo proposing formation of a coalition. They are determined not to repeat in Mississippi the unproductive conflicts between national civil rights organizations that have so often occurred elsewhere. Statewide NAACP Chairman Aaron Henry agrees with them. In February, representatives of SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP, along with local community leaders, create the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) to be a vehicle through which civil rights organizations working in Mississippi can work together. The name is taken from an earlier coalition effort to support the Freedom Riders. A grant request to fund COFO voter registration activities is submitted to the Voter Education Project (VEP).

The national leaders of the three organizations initially oppose the idea out of fear that each will lose visibility within it — with consequent loss of northern funds. But the local activists and leaders on the ground in Mississippi, those who are closest to the suffering of the people and the necessities of the struggle in that state, insist that success — indeed, survival — require organizational cooperation rather than competition.

In August, a meeting is held in Clarksdale to formalize COFO. Attending are Moses, Jim Forman and a dozen other SNCC workers, Dave Dennis of CORE, James Bevel of SCLC, and others. NAACP leader Aaron Henry is elected President, Rev. R.L.T. Smith is named Treasurer, attorney Carsie Hall becomes Secretary, and Bob Moses is appointed the COFO state-wide Project Director. An agreement is made that CORE will focus its registration efforts in Mississippi's 4th Congressional District centered around Meridian and Canton, SNCC will work the other four districts including the Delta region around Greenwood and the Pearl River area around McComb. For their part, SCLC will continue its Citizenship school program throughout the state, and the NAACP will concentrate on the judicial aspects of the struggle.

In September, VEP funds COFO organizing projects in the Mississippi Delta counties of Bolivar, Coahoma, Leflore, and Sunflower where SNCC field secretaries are already working. Over the following year VEP gives more than $50,000 (equal to $380,000 in 2012) to a number of voter registration projects in Mississippi. But against the ferocious resistance of the white power-structure little progress is made — less than 4,000 Blacks are added to the Mississippi voter rolls. In mid-1963, VEP stops funding Mississippi projects in favor of states where there is greater potential of success.

See Mississippi Voter Registration — Greenwood for continuation.

For more information on the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Council of Federated Organizations
     Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
     Mississippi Movement


"Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana (Feb)

See Baton Rouge Student Protests for previous events.

In February of 1962, the campus of Southern University is still occupied by the state police and under a political lockdown to suppress CORE-organized student protests. Dion Diamond — Freedom Rider, former Howard University student, and now SNCC field secretary — attempts to meet with the students. As he steps on to campus he is immediately arrested and charged with Trespassing, Disorderly Conduct, and Vagrancy. He is also charged with "Criminal Anarchy" — attempting to overthrow the government of the State of Louisiana — a major felony. Bail is set at $7,000 (equal to $53,000 in 2012).

SNCC Chairman Chuck McDew and white field secretary Bob Zellner visit Dion in jail to bring him reading material: Scottsboro Boys, The Ugly American, and Richard Wright's Eight Men. They too are arrested on charges of "Criminal Anarchy." The local newspaper describes them as two "Communists" carrying "obscene" literature on "race-mixing."

Zellner is put in a cage holding more than 50 white prisoners. The guards make sure that the other inmates know he is a "race-mixer." Day after day, he is beaten and threatened with death while the guards look on. Eventually, Movement lawyers force the jailers to isolate him from the white prisoners. He is placed in "the hole," a dark, sweltering hot, 5x7 steel cubical. McDew and Diamond are in similar adjacent cells.

After a month in jail, Dion's bail is raised to $12,000 and the three are arraigned on the "Criminal Anarchy" charge alleging that they:

...with force of arms, in the Parish of East Baton Rouge feloniously did... advocate in public and in private opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means and are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization which is known to the offenders to advocate, teach and practice opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means. [1]

Eventually, the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) raises the bond money and they are bailed out. After years of legal struggle, the absurd "Criminal Anarchy" charges are dropped, but Dion has to serve 60 days on the original Disorderly Conduct charge.

For more information on the Baton Rouge Civil Rights Movement:
Books: SNCC The New Abolitionists
Web: Louisiana Movement


Cambridge MD — 1962

See Desegregate Route 40 Project for background and previous events.

Cambridge MD is a small industrial town on the Easternshore of Chesapeake Bay. Racism and segregation are far more virulent on the Eastshore than in the urban areas around Baltimore or the western portion of the state, a condition of long historical standing — at the time of the Civil War it was said that the Easternshore was slave-holding Dixie, while the area to the west of Baltimore was practically Pennsylvania.

Cambridge is the capitol of Dorchester County. In 1960 one-third of Cambridge residents are Black, all of whom live in the 2nd Ward which has been represented for six decades by the only Black on the five-member City Council. There are three Blacks on the police force, but they are limited to patrolling the Black neighborhood and are not allowed to arrest whites anywhere. The schools are segregated, with Black schools receiving half as much funding as those attended by whites. All lunch counters, cafes, churches, and entertainment venues are segregated. The local hospital does not admit Blacks who have to travel to Baltimore two hours distant by car (longer by bus). Nor do Black doctors have privileges at the segregated Johns Hopkins hospital.

By 1962, Cambridge has fallen on hard times. The city's major manufacturer, a food-processor, has closed its Cambridge plants and the jobs are gone. For whites, unemployment is over 7%, twice the national average, and Black unemployment is a devastating 29%. Two of the remaining factories, both defense contractors, have a tacit agreement with their white workers and the city council — the companies will not hire Blacks in return for the workers rejecting any attempt at unionization. Under federal poverty regulations, Dorchester County is in the same category as Appalachia.

By the end of 1961, efforts to desegregate public accomodations along the highways between Washington and the north have largely succeeded. Led by Clarence Logan and other Morgan State College students, Baltimore's Civic Interest Group (CIG) — a SNCC affiliate — begins sit-ins and freedom rides in towns on Maryland's Easternshore.

In January of 1962, CIG/SNCC organizers Reggie Robinson and Bill Hansen arrive in Cambridge. Protests commence in Cambridge with 100 activists marching downtown to desegregate various establishments. Half of the protesters are Cambridge high school students, the other half are students mobilized by CIG from Morgan State and Maryland State Colleges, along with a few white supporters from Johns Hopkins. Some of the demonstrators are arrested. Hostile whites jeer, and in some cases, assault them. Bill Hansen is beaten by a mob and then arrested for "Disorderly Conduct." The Cambridge Mayor blames the violence on "outside agitators," and calls Hansen a "professional integrationist."

More than 300 Black residents attend a mass meeting that night at Waugh Church to show support for the protesters, and in the following days they found the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) — pronounced "See-Nack" — to support and continue the protests. Frederick St. Clair and Enez Grubb are elected CNAC co-chairs at a mass rally. A week after the first protests, CIG and CNAC organize a second "freedom ride" into Cambridge, this time including supporters from CORE, SNCC, Northern Student Movement (NSM), Black students from Howard University, Morgan, Lincoln, and Maryland State Colleges, and white students from Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr. Again white vigilantes attack some of the protesters, again Bill Hansen and others are beaten, and again Hanson and others are arrested. White students are beaten more than Blacks.

Penny Patch, a white student from Swarthmore, recalls "Everyone sang, the songs bound us together and made us strong. [The white mob] gathered around us, screaming, waving baseball bats. I was scared. But I also drew enormous strength from the songs we sang." She later goes on to become a full-time SNCC field secretary in Albany Georgia and the Mississippi Delta.

CIG expands the freedom rides and sit-ins to other Eastshore towns such as Chestertown, Princess Ann, Salisbury, and Easton, an effort that evolves into the Maryland Easternshore Project" a summer campaign of CIG/CNAC. Meanwhile, CNAC continues demonstrations in Cambridge, relying on local high school students led by Donna Richardson, Lemuel Chester, Dinez White, and Dwight Cromwell. For awhile, Edward Dickerson, a local white student, defies family and community to take part in CNAC protests. His parents kick him out of their home and threaten to commit him to a mental institution.

Maryland Governor Tawes asks the legislature to pass an anti-discrimination bill to end segregation in public accomodations throughout the state. But Easternshore legislators weaken the bill by allowing counties to exempt themselves. In other words, Easternshore counties like Dorchester where segregation is widespread can choose to ignore the law. In Cambridge, the police allow white racists to beat nonviolent protesters, and then arrest the demonstrators. The all-white, volunteer Rescue & Fire Company (RFC) is a major civic institution. It runs the swimming pool and skating rink on a segregated, white-only basis, and those facilities become targets of CNAC protests. In retaliation, the RFC threatens to deny ambulance service to Blacks.

Howard University graduate Gloria Richardson is drawn into CNAC by her daughter Donna, one of the main high school activists. Gloria soon becomes CNAC's most prominant leader. Throughout the Southern Freedom Movement, women play significant leadership roles, but men typically hold the prominant positions. That is not the case with CNAC, which is primarily led by women at all levels. In the spring of 1962, Gloria and Yolanda St. Clair are sent by the community to attend a SNCC conference in Atlanta, and CNAC becomes a SNCC affiliate.

By the end of summer, most Cambridge eating facilities are still segregated as are entertainment venues such as the movie theater and skating rink. Protests taper off when school resumes in the fall, and CNAC begins deep organizing down at the grassroots, developing activists and leaders throughout the 2nd Ward, and broadening its base among poor and working class Blacks.

Said one unemployed Black war veteran: "Here if you are a colored person and go looking for a job, they tell you they only want skilled workers. If you have the particular skill, the vacancy suddenly 'has been filled.'" Said another unemployed Black man, "Things for us can't get any worse. We have nothing to lose and maybe something to gain by backing [CNAC]. I don't have anything but time and my life to give to the Movement. I'm willing to give both if necessary."

To the dismay of the traditional upper-class Black elite — long accustomed to being the community leaders — CNAC adds a factory worker and a welfare recipient to its executive committee rather than additional ministers, a move that signals CNAC's committment to the issues and priorities of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And CNAC rejects the gradualist, conciliatory, approach favored by the Black elite.

See Cambridge MD, Movement — 1963 for subsequent events.

For more information on the Cambridge Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Civil War on Race Street: the Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge Maryland
Web: Cambridge MD Movement


Maryland Easternshore Project (Summer)

See Desegregate Route 40 Project and Cambridge MD — 1962 for previous events.

Maryland does not practice the kind of systematic, state-wide disenfranchisement of Blacks that is typical of the Deep South, but some individual counties and communities, particularly on the Easternshore, do limit Black voting rights. In Chestertown, for example, the town constitution requires voters to own more than $500 worth of property within the municipal limits in order to vote in city elections. Since most residents, regardless of race, are either renters or own homes valued at under $500, less than 250 of the 2,400 residents are eligible to vote for the Mayor who has been in office for close to 30 years. And in many Easternshore communities, Blacks are prevented from fully participating in the political process by social and economic barriers, and by customs of long standing.

The Easternshore Project evolves out of the Civic Interest Group (CIG) freedom rides and sit-ins of 1961-62. Led by Bill Henry of Maryland State College (brother of CIG leader Clifton Henry), and Tom Kennedy a Northern Student Movement (NSM) activist from Swarthmore, the project recruits college students for full-time civil rights work in Easternshore communities during summer vacation from school. While the project is involved in some direct-action against segregation, voter education and registration is its primary focus. Project activists help with local voter registration drives, conduct political education classes, and support community organizing efforts. As such, the Easternshore Project is a forerunner of more famous summer projects in the years to come.

For more information on the Baltimore and Maryland Civil Rights Movement:
Web: Baltimore & Maryland


Diane Nash Defies the Mississippi Judicial System (April-May)

By the fall of 1961, a year and a half of nonviolent sit-in and freedom ride campaigns by SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP have managed to desegregate some public facilities in some college-towns of the Mid- and Upper-South. But in the Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, direct action campaigns have been brought to a standstill by legal assaults, mass arrests and police brutality — at least for the moment.

Following SNCC's decision to pursue both direct action and voter registration, in the fall of '61 Diane Nash, James Bevel (the two of them newly married), Bernard Lafayette, Paul Brooks, and other direct action proponents begin organizing a "Move On Mississippi" (MOM) campaign in Jackson. With it's large Afro-American population and two Black colleges they hope to build a nonviolent student-led protest movement that can both challenge segregation and register voters as was done in Nashville.

But Mississippi is not Tennessee. Fear lays heavy over the Afro-American community and it's tough going. Half a year earlier, the Tougaloo Nine, had been immediately arrested for the "crime" of trying to read in the white-only public library. When Jackson State College students attempted to hold a support vigil and march they were brutally dispersed by club-swinging police using tear gas and attack-dogs — as were adult supporters outside the courthouse when the nine were arraigned. The arrival of the Freedom Riders in May inspired the community with hope, but after the riders were incarcerated in the notorious Parchman Prison the state's lesson regarding the price of protest was not lost on Jackson's Black community.

Nevertheless the MOM organizers dig in and begin holding workshops for Black students on nonviolent strategies and tactics. But before they have a chance to mount their first protest the Jackson police hit them with a preemptive strike. Nash, Bevel, and Lafayette are arrested on felony charges of "Contributing to the Delinquency of Minors." Though the students attending the seminars have not violated any laws the city prosecutor claims that merely teaching them about nonviolent resistance constitutes "contributing" to their future "delinquency" — a police-state legal ploy that utterly tramples underfoot the First Amendment right of freedom of speech and association.

The felony charges come with high bail amounts that SNCC can ill-afford. If they or others continue teaching nonviolent resistance they'll be arrested again and have to sit in jail awaiting trial and appeal — a lengthy process. As a practical matter, the arrests stifle MOM's effort to build a direct action movement in Jackson.

In municipal court the three are quickly convicted on the "contributing" charges. In addition to $2,000 fines (equal to $16,000 each in 2016) Bernard and James are sentenced to three years in prison, Diane to two years. They remain free on bond while their convictions are appealed. But under the legal rules they first have to appeal up through the various levels of Mississippi courts — all of which will certainly ignore the unconstitutionality of their arrest and conviction. Only after the state Supreme Court rejects their appeal (as everyone knows it will) can they appeal to federal court where, after more time-consuming and costly hearings at various levels they expect that the charges will be dismissed on constitutional grounds. The Mississippi authorities know the convictions will eventually be overturned in federal court, but meanwhile they prevent SNCC workers from organizing protests in Jackson — perhaps for years if the court proceedings can be strung out long enough.

Late in April of 1962, Diane declares that her commitment to nonviolence precludes any further cooperation with the biased and corrupt Mississippi judicial system. Though she is pregnant with her and Bevel's first child, she withdraws her appeal and appears before the sentencing judge to turn herself in and begin serving her two-year prison sentence.

To appeal further would necessitate my sitting through another trial in a Mississippi court, and I have reached the conclusion that I can no longer cooperate with the evil and unjust court system of this state. I subscribe to the philosophy of nonviolence; this is one of the basic tenets of nonviolence — that you refuse to cooperate with evil. The only condition under which I will leave jail will be if the unjust and untrue charges against me are completely dropped.

The southern courts in which we are being tried are completely corrupt. ... The immorality of these courts involves several factors. They are completely lacking in integrity because we are being arrested and tried on charges that have nothing to do with the real issues. The real reason we are arrested is that we are opposing segregation, but the courts are not honest enough to state this frankly and charge us with this. Instead they hide behind phony charges — breach of peace in Jackson, criminal anarchy in Louisiana, conspiracy to violate trespass laws in Talledega Alabama.

But over and above the immorality of cooperating with this evil court system, there is an even larger reason why we must begin to stay in jail. If we do not do so, we lose our opportunity to reach the community and society with a great moral appeal and thus bring about basic change in people and in society.

[My child] will be a black child born in Mississippi and thus wherever he is born he will be in prison. I believe that if I go to jail now it may help hasten that day when my child and all children will be free — not only on the day of their birth but for all of their lives — Diane Nash [14]

Meanwhile, Bevel and Bernard continue their appeal so as to overturn the legal fiction that teaching nonviolence to students amounts to a form of contributing to their delinquency.

The bold defiance of Diane Nash places the authorities in an uncomfortable position. The municipal court convictions and prison sentences were accomplished with little notice by the press and appeals through the state judiciary are unlikely to attract much media attention. But incarcerating a young mother-to-be in state prison on bogus "contributing" charges that are utterly without legal merit risks a national publicity backlash of exactly the kind that the Freedom Movement is proving itself adept at provoking.

At first the judge tries to dodge the issue by sentencing Diane to serve 10 days in lockup for "contempt of court" because she refuses to sit in the courtroom's segregated "Colored" section. Perhaps he hopes that a dose of jailhouse reality will dissuade her from her committed course. If so, he's proven wrong. After she serves her 10 days for contempt she returns to court in mid-May to again turn herself in on the contributing sentence. She thus forces the judge to either incarcerate her or drop the charges. In the face of her defiance, the authorities back down. The judge suspends her sentence and fine.

The Bevel's daughter Sherrilynn is born later that year while her parents continue their Freedom Movement organizing in the Deep South, her mother with SNCC and her father with SCLC — soon they will be Birmingham leading a decisive direct action campaign against segregation. Bernard Lafayette marries NAACP youth leader Colia Lidell and together they move into Selma Alabama where they begin organizing what eventually becomes the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and The March to Montgomery, the capstone voting-rights campaign of the 1960s. And that fall, a few months after Diane forces Mississippi to suspend her sentence, students working with the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council pick up the direct action torch by first organizing a Black boycott of the Jackson State Fair and then a Christmas boycott of the city's white merchants.

For continuation see Jackson MS, Boycotts.

For more information See:

A Message, Diane Nash Bevel. April 30, 1962
Statement by Diane Nash Bevel, May 21, 1962
SCEF press release re Diane Nash prison sentence, Jackson MS, May 22, 1962


Freedom Highways in the Tarheel State (1962-63)

See Desegregate Route 40 Project for previous events.

With the success of the Route 40 Project at the end of 1961, CORE expands the program down the Eastern seaboard. Now calling it the "Freedom Highways Project," CORE targets segregated Howard Johnson's restaurants on the main U.S. highways of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida using the same tactics that worked on US-40 — sit-ins, consumer boycotts, picket lines, mass rallies, and other forms of protest. As a national chain that relies on tourist business, the Howard Johnson company is sensitive to its "family friendly" public image, and most of the chain's restaurants, motels, and ice cream parlors in Maryland, Virginia, and Florida desegregate — but not in North Carolina.

CORE field secretaries Ben Elton Cox and Jerome Smith — both of whom had been Freedom Riders, active in the Southern University protests in Baton Rouge, and CORE organizing in New Orleans — are sent to build CORE chapters in North Carolina around the Freedom Highways Project. In close cooperation with militant NAACP Youth Councils, CORE chapters begin taking action in Raleigh, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro and Statesville, all of which are on the busy US-70 corridor (today I-40).

By the summer of 1962, some Howard Johnson locations in North Carolina have been desegregated, but the struggle continues in Raleigh, Statesville, Durham and Greensboro. In Raleigh 300 protesters are met with high-pressure fire-hoses. In the tiny tobacco town of Statesville, 21 demonstrators are arrested and CORE Executive Director James Farmer arrives to lead a march of more than 600. Having no supply of tear-gas, Statesville police try to disperse them by spraying the crowd with a thick fog of poisonous industrial-strength agricultural insecticide. The demonstrators endure the burning fumes and hold their ground. In August and September, Durham civil rights attorney and CORE officer Floyd McKissick leads thousands in sit-ins and marches. Hundreds are arrested. Some progress is achieved over the summer, but most businesses remain segregated as the cold rains of fall and winter slow the pace of protest.

Inspired by Birmingham, in May and June of 1963 mass protests erupt in Durham and Greensboro, eventually forcing politicians to act. North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford — a racial moderate and Kennedy ally — meets with CORE leaders Farmer and McKissick at the State House in Raleigh. He agrees to set up a "Blue Ribbon" commission to desegregate chain restaurants across the state. He keeps his word. By the end of 1963, almost all of North Carolina's chain and franchise restaurants & motels are desegregated. But many privately-owned, independent, facilities still refuse to serve Blacks. Protests and sit-ins continue until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally ends overt segregation nation-wide.

For more information on the North Carolina Civil Rights Movement:
Web: North Carolina Movement


Freedom Highways in Durham and Greensboro (Summer-Fall)


See The Greensboro Sit-Ins and Durham Sit-ins and Protests for preceding events.
See Freedom Highways in the Tarheel State for related and concurrent events.

Back in 1960, the Greensboro Sit-Ins that began on February 1st come to an end in the summer with a partial victory — lunch counters in the national chain stores like Woolworth and Kress are desegregated as are a few other facilities. But, as author William Chafe later notes: "... in most areas of education, employment, public policy and private associations, the two years following the first sit-ins witnessed an almost complete lack of progress toward equal opportunity or public desegregation." [10]

In Greensboro, students return in the Fall to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (NCA&T), Bennett College for Women, and other local institutions. Working with the NAACP Youth Council, the newly-formed Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter mobilizes large-scale sit-ins as part of the state-wide Freedom Highways campaign. CORE is led by William Thomas (who as a Dudley High School student had participated in the sit-Ins of 1960) and Evander Gilmer. They target McDonald's, Biff Burger, the Hot Shoppe, S&W and Mayfair Cafeterias, the Center and Carolina Theaters, and other segregated businesses. Many are arrested, but little progress is made. As winter sets in, the pace of protest slows.

In Durham, four people are arrested for sitting-in at the Howard Johnson's restaurant on Chapel Hill Boulevard (US-15). They refuse to pay the $25 fine and serve 30 days in jail. From this spark, flares large Freedom Highways protests in Durham. Floyd McKissick and James Farmer of CORE, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, hold a massive freedom rally at St. Joseph's AME Church on Sunday, August 12, 1962. More than 500 follow them by car-caravan to the Howard Johnson's Sunday after Sunday, week after week, month after month, Durham CORE and NAACP Youth Council members protest against segregation at Howard Johnson's. Though most of the chain's facilities elsewhere in the nation are integrated, in Durham the restaurant refuses desegregate.

My children got involved first, but when I found out what they were doing, I went with them and all the other young people, and walked those picket lines, too. — Margaret Turner, Durham activist, 1987 interview. [11]

Eventually, lack of progress and the cold rains of winter slow the protest tempo and turn-out in Durham dwindles.

See Mass Action in Durham and Mass Action in Greensboro for continuation.

For more information on the North Carolina Civil Rights Movement:
Web: North Carolina Movement


Cairo IL, Protests (SNCC) (June)

Cairo (pronounced "Kay-row"), at the southern tip of Illinois where the Ohio flows into the Mississippi, is a segregated "southern" town in a "northern" state. In the summer of '62, the majority of the population is Black, but almost all the businesses are owned by whites.

By 1962, local freedom movements are breaking out in communities all over the south — and the north too. Unnoticed and unreported by the national media, they are the rising tide that will sustain and support the epoch events and victories of the future. Seemingly unimportant — except to those who participate in them, and the local communities that they profoundly affect — these small challenges to the status quo make manifest the spirit of defiance that is taking root in the heart of Black America. One such unreported struggle occurs in Cairo Illinois, and we mention it here as representative of the hundreds of unsung actions taking place during this period.

Working with local Cairo student leaders Charles Koen and Jim Peak, activists from SNCC's direct-action wing — John Lewis, Chico Neblett, and Freedom Rider Selyn McCullum — organize protests against segregation in Cairo. SNCC photographer Danny Lyon describes one such action:

It is hard to convey what this demonstration was like except by contrasting it with what we have been conditioned to expect today. There was no press, no film cameras, no police, and no reporters. I had my camera, and I ran along as this brave little group marched through the sunlit and mostly empty streets of a very small American town. With the exception of a few young black men, everyone else who was watching seemed to hate and deride the demonstrators, many of whom were children. At Cairo's only, and segregated, swimming pool, the group stopped to pray. Then they stood in the street singing, and when a blue pickup truck drove down the center of the street straight at them, a game of chicken ensued as the truck slowed and the demonstrators moved out of the way, except for one defiant thirteen- year-old girl, who stood her ground until the truck knocked her down. — Danny Lyon. [2]

The racism of Cairo's whites is deeply entrenched. In the years that follow there are demonstrations, gun battles, riots, and a decade-long Black boycott of white merchants. In a form of racist civic-suicide, many white-owned businesses close down rather than hire Blacks. Already in economic decline, Cairo sinks deeper into poverty and depression. From a population of 9,000 in 1960, it dwindles to less than 3,600 in the 2000 Census, leaving Cairo a city of abandoned buildings and dead hopes.

For more information on the Cairo Civil Rights Movement:
     Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement
     Let My People Go: Cairo, Illinois by Jan Peterson Roddy. Photos by Preston Ewing Jr. Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.


Mississippi Voter Registration — Greenwood


See Voter Registration & Direct-Action in McComb MS and Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Formed in Mississippi for preceding events.

When the arrested SNCC field secretaries are finally released from jail in Pike County, they join other SNCC organizers — many newly hired with VEP money — in resuming voter registration work. Bob Moses, Paul & Catherine Brooks, James Bevel & Diane Nash (newly married), and Bernard Lafayette in Jackson; Lester McKinnie in Laurel; Charles McLaurin, Dorie Ladner, and Colia Lidell in Ruleville; James Jones in Clarksdale, Mattie Bivens in Cleveland, Frank Smith in Holly Springs; Emma Bell in Greenville; and Curtis Hayes and Hollis Watkins in Hattiesburg.

The Delta

Sam Block, a young Mississippi native and SCLC Citizenship School teacher, is assigned to Greenwood, the seat of Leflore county and the unofficial capitol of the Mississippi Delta. Here, cotton is still king, 800,000 bales pass through Greenwood each year. For the most part the work is still hand-labor, plantation-style — but under the urging of the White Citizens Council, land owners are now bringing in machines to replace and displace Black field-hands. With the rise of the Freedom Movement and increased Black assertivness, "Negro-removal" is now the strategy of Mississippi's white power-structure. Between 1950 and 1960, some 200,000 Blacks are forced to leave the Delta, by 1964 the number of Black sharecroppers is roughly half of what it was six years earlier. Most of those forced off the land migrate to the urban ghettos of the North.

Those who still remain endure grinding poverty and unyielding oppression. According to the 1960 Census, annual median income for rural Blacks in the Delta is just $452 (equal to $3,800 in 2017). On average, white children in the Delta receive 10 years of public schooling, Blacks less than 5 years in schools that are so ill-equipped that few are accredited. Segregation remains absolute and the effects are stark.

Leflore County (Including Greenwood Residents)
  White Black
1960 population 35% 65%
Land owned 90% 10%
Median family income $5,200
($41,000 in 2013 dollars)
($11,000 in 2013 dollars)
Median education 11.2 years 5.1 years
Voter registration Almost 100% 2%
Political offices held All None

For Blacks, segregation, exploitation, and abuse permeate every aspect of life. Though almost two-thirds of the county is Black, 131 of the county's 168 hospital beds are reserved for whites-only. More than 80% of Blacks live in dwellings rated "sub-standard," but their tar-paper shacks with a single light bulb are charged more for electricity than whites living in modern homes.

In Leflore county, almost 100% of whites are registered to vote, compared to just 268 Blacks (2%). In the seven years since the Brown decision, only 40 Blacks have been allowed to register (compared to 1,664 whites). With Blacks a 2 to 1 majority, whites know that Black voter registration threatens their economic and political control. One white voter tells a reporter: "We killed two-month-old indian babies to take this country, and now they want us to give it away to the niggers."

Organizing in Greenwood

Sam is soon joined by Rust College graduate Willie (Wazir) Peacock, and then Luvaugn Brown, and Lawrence Guyot.

I canvassed every day and every night until I found about seven or eight people to carry up to register ... We went up to register and it was the first time visiting the courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi, and the sheriff came up to me and he asked me, he said, "Nigger, where you from?" I told him, "Well, I'm a native Mississippian." He said, "Yeh, yeh, I know that, but where you from? ... I know you ain't from here, cause I know every nigger and his mammy." I said, "Well, you know all the niggers, do you know any colored people?"

He got angry. He spat in my face and walked. So he came back and turned around and told me, "I don't want to see you in town any more. The best thing you better do is pack your clothes and get out and don't never come back no more." I said, "Well, sheriff, if you don't want to see me here, I think the best thing for you to do is pack your clothes and leave, get out of town, 'cause I'm here to stay, I came here to do a job and this is my intention, I'm going to do this job." — Sam Block. [3]

White racists attack the SNCC office, and the SNCC organizers barely escape over the roof tops. The building is trashed, and the frightened landlord evicts them. The fear is so intense that people cross to the other side of the street rather than walk past Sam or Wazir and risk whites observing them in proximity to the "race-mixing agitators." It is months before anyone else in the Black community will rent space intended for voter registration work.

Sam and Wazir dig in deep, and hold on. They continue organizing in Greenwood without an office. Fear is pervasive among Greenwood Blacks. Fear of being fired. Fear of being evicted. Fear of beatings, bombings, and murder. Fear that the SNCC workers will stir up trouble and violence and then leave. But gradually, week by week, month by month, as Sam and Wazir hold on, trust is built and their courage inspires first the young students and then their parents.

Greenwood was so organized — there was not one block that we couldn't have — it was like guerrilla war, we could stop anywhere and duck out of sight, go into somebody's house. At every block in the Black neighborhood. So that's one thing that kept us alive 'cause they would see us at night and the cops would think it was an opportunity to get us, speed up and try to turn around. When they turned around we'd be watching out a window somewhere, see them come back to try to find us. — Wazir Peacock. [4]

A new office is finally rented, a church dares to open its doors for a voter registration meeting, and the community begins coming together. Slowly, one by one, two by two, a few Leflore County Blacks begin to make the dangerous journey down to the courthouse to try to register to vote. But in the first six months, only five Blacks of the dozens who try are actually registered.

By the end of 1962, SNCC's Mississippi field staff has grown to 20 organizers, all but three of them from Mississippi itself.

... I had become part of something else besides a civil rights organization in Mississippi. Everywhere we went, I and other civil rights workers were adopted and nurtured, even protected, as though we were family. We were the community's children, and that closeness rendered moot the label of "outside agitator." Indeed, if we had any label at all, it was "freedom riders." It did not matter whether we had arrived in that fasion or not. This identity was liberating, conferring respect in every community we worked in. In calling us freedom riders these communities were finding the most defiant image they could to signal their approavl of our work, even if they crossed the street when they saw us, or were not yet prepared to brave the dangers of trying to register down at the county courthouse. — Bob Moses. [5]
See Greenwood Food Blockade for continuation.

For more information on the Greenwood and Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
     Mississippi Movement
     Greenwood MS, Movement
Personal story from the Greenwood Movement: Wazir Peacock


James Meredith Integrates 'Ole Miss (Sept-Oct)

Born in Kosciusko Mississippi of Black and Choctaw ancestry, James Meredith serves nine years in the Air Force before returning home to attend Jackson State College (a segregated Black college). In January of 1961, he applies for transfer to the University of Mississippi — known as 'Ole Miss — a bastion of white privilege and a sacred symbol of southern gentillity & confederate mythos. He is denied admission.

Represented by NAACP attorney Constance Baker Motley, he files suit in federal court. In 1962 the Fifth Circut Court rules that he is being denied admission because of his race in violation of Brown v. Board of Education. The court orders that he be admitted. Eight long years after the Brown decision, Mississippi is finally told to admit a Black student to a white-only school.

Whipped up by the White Citizens Council and segregationist politicians, hysteria sweeps across white Mississippi at the thought of a Black man attending 'Ole Miss. Strident cries for preservation of "racial integrity," and outrage at the horror of a Black male interacting as a social equal with the "flower of southern womanhood" reverberate across the state. Once again the Confederate ideology of "states rights" to institutionalize racism is proclaimed, as is the doctrine of "interposition" that claims a state has the right to reject any federal laws or court rulings it disagrees with.

In a TV address to the state, Governor Ross Barnett declares: "There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration. We will not drink from the cup of genocide. ... We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them never! ... No school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor!" The state legislature and local officals across the state (all of them white, of course) echo and intensify his position.

Meredith has no illusions. He later explains: "I was engaged in a war. I considered myself engaged in a war from day one. And my objective was to force the federal government — the Kennedy administration at that time — into a position where they would have to use the United States military force to enforce my rights as a citizen." Looking back years later, Constance Baker Motley put it this way: "People have forgotten about it, but it was, as I say, the last battle of the Civil War, actually fought on this campus that night."

Governor Barnett appoints himself Registrar of 'Ole Miss. In mid-September Meredith attempts to enroll as mandated by federal court order. Barnett refuses to admit him. He tries a second time and is refused. He tries a third time and is refused.

Cars driven by whites parade through Mississippi towns with confederate flags waving and bumper stickers proclaiming: "The South shall rise again!" Retaliatory violence against Blacks flares across the state as Black men, women, and children are attacked, beaten, and shot at. Armed students are posted at Tougaloo to defend the campus from KKK nightriders. Despite the terror, Blacks are inspired by Meredith's courage and defiance. His struggle to integrate 'Ole Miss becomes a state-wide confrontation between whites intent on maintaining the old order of racial segregation and Blacks determined to be free and equal citizens.

On the evening of Sunday, September 30, Meredith arrives at the 'Ole Miss campus in Oxford. He is accompanied by officials of the Department of Justice who intend to enforce his registration the following morning. They are guarded by a hastily assembled team of several hundred federal Marshals, Border Patrol officers, and prison guards. Referred to collectively as the "Marshals," they are not armed and have only batons and tear gas to protect themselves and Meredith.

White students surround Meredith's dorm and the registration office. They chant: "Two-four-one-three, we hate Kennedy! Kill the nigger-loving bastards!" Determined to lynch Meredith, armed Klansmen from around the state and as far away as Selma and Birmingham Alabama swarm into Oxford. The crowd, a volatile mixture of KKK, students, and townsmen, grows to more than 2,000. The mob is led by former Army Major-General Edwin Walker, who had been forced to retire when he refused to stop distributing racist hate literature to his soldiers. They attack the Marshals guarding Meredith with bricks, bottles, guns, and fire bombs. Mississippi state troopers charged with maintaining "law and order" disappear, leaving the Marshals to face the horde alone.

The Marshals desperately try to hold back the lynch mob with tear gas. Half of them are wounded, 30 of them are shot. The crowd lashes out at journalists — they murder French reporter Paul Guihard. A second man is also killed under circumstances that remain unclear to this day. With tear gas running low and the raging horde closing in, the Marshals plea for reinforcements. President Kennedy calls up Troop E of the Mississippi National Guard, but only 67 men respond. Led by Captain "Chooky" Falkner (nephew of author William Faulkner) they try to rescue the Marshals and Meredith. They are not enough.

As the battle rages, Kennedy finally — at long last — sends in the United States Army to restore order. An officer later recalled:

As we were marching up there, they would throw rocks at us and call us nigger lovers. Wanted to know if we were there to put our nigger brother in college. There was a lot of gasoline burning, a lot of automobiles burning on campus. Every concrete bench was broken, being thrown at us. I spent time in Vietnam. I'll take that any time over 'Ole Miss. [6]

To appease southern whites, Attorney General Robert Kennedy secretly orders that the units assigned to 'Ole Miss be re-segregated so that armed Black GIs won't be patrolling the streets of Oxford. Some 4,000 Black soldiers are humiliated, disarmed, removed from their units, and reassigned to KP and garbage duty. Black soldiers can be sent to fight and die in Vietnam, but they are not allowed to protect Black citizens in Mississippi from mob violence.

With tens of thousands soldiers occupying Oxford, Meredith finally enrolls at 'Ole Miss, on Monday, October 1st. Protected around the clock by armed guards he endures a year of isolation, discrimination, and hatred from all but a few of his professors and fellow students. Those few who do try to treat him fairly are themselves ostracized. In August of 1963 he graduates with a BA in political science.

Meredith later wrote:

I noticed in the hallway a black janitor and I wondered why he was standing there. And he had a mop under his arm. And as I passed him, he turned his body, twisted his body, and touched me with the mop handle. Now this delivered a message, and the message was clear: "We are looking after you while you are here." — James Meredith. [7]

For more information on James Meredith and 'Ole Miss:
Books: James Meredith (Desegregation of 'Ole Miss ...)
Web: Meredith Desegregation of 'Ole Miss for web links.


The Campaign for a Second Emancipation Proclamation

See also Draft Second Emancipation Proclamation (Text of).

The Situation

By 1962 the Freedom Movement fight against segregation is slowly grinding to a halt. Two years of sit-ins have managed to desegregate some public facilities in some college-towns of the Mid- and Upper-South, and after the Freedom Rides all bus terminals serving interstate commerce are now no longer segregated — in theory. But across the region most public facilities remain segregated by local law and the very few Afro-Americans who dare sit at the front of a bus still face both vigilante violence and likely arrest on trumped up charges of "disorderly conduct" or "disturbing the peace." And by 1962 most student integration campaigns in the Deep South have been crushed by intensified police repression and Klan terrorism. In Albany Georgia, for example, public facilities are still segregated despite a powerful SNCC-organized movement with deep support in the Afro-American community and mass marches led by Dr. King resulting in over 750 arrests.

It is 100 years since the Civil War (or the "War of Northern Agression" as some southern politicians refer to it). The years 1960 to 1965 mark the centennial of that war. On the national level, Centennial programs and ceremonies are conducted with maximum deference to the sensitivities of southern whites and little mention of slavery as the conflict's defining issue. Nor is there much acknowlegement of Black suffering under ante- bellum slavery, or Reconstruction, or the realities of ongoing segregation and denial of basic human rights in the current-day South of the 1960s. And in the South itself, commemorations glorify the "lost cause," exalt the sanctity and purity of white womanhood, and praise the "southern way of life" and its defenders such as the White Citizens Councils and the Ku Klux Klan.

During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy assured Afro-American voters and northern liberals that he would address equality of opportunity with the "stroke of the president's pen." But once in office JFK's priority is foreign affairs and Cold War anti-communism. Unwilling to offend southern segregationists in Congress who he needs for his military and diplomatic initiatives, JFK offers little public support for the student sit-ins and minimal federal action in defense of Black voting rights.

When forced by public pressure to take action against mob violence during the Freedom Rides and the Meredith-'Ole Miss crises Kennedy's assertion of federal authority is reluctant and tepid. Civil rights supporters and northern liberals press him to enact new civil rights legislation but he declines, arguing that there is no chance at all of doing so in the 87th Congress (1961-1962) against the united and adamant opposition of the Southern Bloc of Senators. And as a practical politician he knows that no Democrat can be elected president — or reelected — without the political support of the "Solid South."

Origin of the Draft Proclamation

At a June 1961 press conference, Dr. King calls on President Kennedy to circumvent the Senate's legislative roadblock by issuing a "Second Emancipation Proclamation" that mobilizes Executive Branch administrative powers to oppose segregation in ways that don't require new laws.

"Just as Abraham Lincoln had the vision to see almost 100 years ago that this nation could not exist half-free, the present administration must have the insight to see that today the nation cannot exist half-segregated and half-free." — Martin Luther King. [12]

There is no response from the White House.

Freedom Movement supporters bring increasing pressure on Kennedy to honor his campaign promises by providing at least some gesture of support to those struggling to end segregation. Hoping to placate them, in October of 1961 the Kennedys invite Dr. King to a private lunch with the President and First Lady in the residence rather than the more official West Wing. The lunch is not listed in the White House appointment book and its "social-event" nature is designed to minimize backlash and criticism from southern segregationists. Under the societal norms of race and gender that govern the era, the presence of Mrs. Kennedy constrains King's ability to raise or discuss substantive issues of policy or politics that might be interpreted as "offensive" to her white feminine gentility.

After lunch, the Kennedys give King a tour of the residence. As they pass through the Lincoln Room, Dr. King seizes the opportunity to raise the issue in a way that out-maneuvers the social-norms circumscribing their meeting. Pointing to a framed copy of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, King comments:

Mr. President, I'd like to see you stand in this room and sign a Second Emancipation Proclamation outlawing segregation 100 years after Lincoln's. [13]

Kennedy responds by asking King to prepare a draft for his consideration.

The Draft Proclamation

See text of the Draft Second Emancipation Proclamation

For the next seven months Dr. King, his chief attorney Clarence Jones and several others labor over their draft of a Second Emancipation Proclamation that they hope and pray President Kennedy will issue. On May 17, 1962, the eighth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Dr. King formally presents his 50-page draft to the White House in a beautiful leather binder with copies delivered to other government officials and civil rights organizations.

The proposed proclamation itself is actually quite short:

We are confident that with your help, Mr. President, the discontinuance of segregation and state imposed discrimination shall come to pass. We, therefore, respectfully propose that in glorious commemoration of the Centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, you as President of these United States by Executive Order, proclaim:
  1. That the full powers of your office will be used to eliminate all forms of statutory-imposed segregation and discrimination from and throughout the respective states of this nation.

  2. Effective January 1, 1963 that as of the school year, September 1963, all school districts presently segregated must desegregate.

    Such a Proclamation should be accompanied by a Directive authorizing the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to immediately prepare, in consultation with local school officials, a program of integration in compliance with the mandate of Brown v. Board of Education.

  3. That racial segregation in Federally assisted housing is henceforth prohibited and unlawful.

  4. That any and all laws within the United States requiring segregation or discrimination because of race or color are contrary to the national policy of the Government of the United States and are detrimental and inimical to the best interest of the United States at home and abroad.

The larger draft document is divided into several sections:

  1. Section I: A Preamble presenting a moral, historic, and political justification for a Second Emancipation Proclamation. [Many scholars believe that this portion was personally drafted by Dr. King.]

  2. The actual draft proclamation as shown above.

  3. Section II: A legal and political analysis of racial segregation and discrimination in education, housing, and transportation, and an appeal for justice from an Afro-American point of view.

  4. Section III: A legal analysis of how southern segregation violates the Constitution, existing federal law, and federal court rulings.

  5. Section IV: A legal brief outlining the "Duty and Power of the President to Secure Constitutional and Civil Rights in America" arguing that Kennedy has both the duty and the legal authority to take executive action in regards to racial discrimination and segregation.

  6. Appendix A: [Not avaiable. Believed to have provided examples of Mississippi's segregation laws that violated the Constitution and federal law.]

  7. Appendix B: A legal brief analyzing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as it related to the proposed Proclamation and rebutting southern arguments rejecting executive powers in civil rights matters. [The 1957 Act was the most recent civil rights legislation to be enacted by Congress.]


Over the following months Dr. King publicly urges the President to issue the Proclamation on September 22nd, the anniversary of Lincoln's proclamation. He also reserves the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a New Year's eve midnight ceremony 100 years to the minute after the first Emancipation Proclamation went into legal effect on January 1, 1863.

President Kennedy makes no response at all to King or the proposed Second Emancipation Proclamation. He never issues it or comments on it.

Unwilling to offend southern segregationists, Kennedy arranges to be out of town on September 22 and therefore unavailable to personally participate in the small-scale, pro-forma official ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial honoring the original proclamation of 100 years earlier. And in his tape-recorded remarks played for the few people present he casts racial discrimination, humiliation, and deprivation as problems of the distant past, "...it can be said, I believe, that Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves, but that in this century since, our Negro citizens have emancipated themselves."

Dr. King is deeply disappointed at the President's failure. He makes one last appeal for the administration to at least observe January 1st, 1963, the 100th anniversary of Emancipation going into legal effect, with some significant statement about segregation. The White House ignores his plea. And out of deference to lingering southern hostility to emancipation itself the federal Civil War Centennial Commission chooses to ignore the date entirely, omitting any acknowledgement of it at all.

The most important result of Kennedy's failure to take Executive action against segregation is the effect it has on Dr. King's strategic thinking. By closing off any hope that a Presidential Proclamation might circumvent the stranglehold that Dixiecrats have on the Senate, King concludes that Afro-American aspirations can only be met by mobilizing massive public pressure to force action out of a paralyzed Congress and a reluctant White House. He decides he has to "go for broke" in Birmingham Alabama, the "most segregated city in the South" — and one of the most dangerous.


Greenwood Food Blockade (Winter)

See Mississippi Voter Registration — Greenwood for background and previous events.

Defying generations of white-supremacy, a small trickle of Leflore county Blacks continue to show up at the courthouse even though they know they won't be allowed to register. For sharecroppers and farm laborers in the Mississippi Delta, winter is the lean time, the hard time. With no work and nothing to eat, they rely on federal surplus food commodities for survival. The White Citizens Council strikes back — at poor people in general, not just the few Blacks trying to register. The Council controls Greenwood politics, no politician can win election without their support, and as winter closes in they order the County Board of Supervisors to stop distributing federal food aid to 22,000 Leflore County citizens — most of them Black, a few poor white or Choctaw.

[In this era before Food Stamps, the federal "commodity" programs staved off starvation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided basic food commodities — bags of flour, rice & beans, boxes of canned goods, dairy products, and so on — to states, counties, and private welfare agencies who distributed them to poor and hungry families. Begun in the 1930s under the Roosevelt administration, the official-stated purpose of these programs was to provide subsidies and price support for farmers and agribusiness corporations.]

By mid-winter, conditions are desperate. Sam Block and Wazir Peacock inform SNCC headquarters in Atlanta:

Saturday, January 19,1963. ... these people here are in a very, very bad need for food and clothes. Look at a case like this man, named Mr. Meeks, who is thirty-seven years old. His wife is thirty-three years old, and they have eleven children, ages ranging from seventeen down to eight months. Seven of the children are school age and not a one is attending school because they have no money, no food, no clothes, and no wood to keep warm by, and they now want to go register. The house they are living in has no paper or nothing on the walls and you can look at the ground through the floor and if you are not careful you will step in one of those holes and break your leg. [1]

And as Bob Moses later writes in a letter to a northern supporter:

We do need the actual food. ... Just this afternoon, I was sitting reading, having finished a bowl of stew, and a silent hand reached over from behind, its owner mumbling some words of apology and stumbling up with a neckbone from the plate under the bowl, one which I had discarded, which had some meat on it. The hand was back again, five seconds later, groping for the potatoe I had left in the bowl. I never saw the face. I didn't look. The hand was dark, dry and wind-cracked, a man's hand, from the cotton chopping and cotton picking. Lafayette and I got up and walked out. What the hell are you going to do when a man has to pick up a left-over potatoe from a bowl of stew? — Bob Moses. [1]

SNCC sends word to its supporters on college campuses and in Friends of SNCC chapters throughout the country — and people respond. Comedian Dick Gregory charters a plane to deliver emergency food supplies to Greenwood. He becomes a Movement stalwart, raising funds, participating in demonstrations, enduring beatings and arrests in the cause of Freedom.

Michigan State students Ivanhoe Donaldson and Ben Taylor drive a truckload of food, clothing, and medicine 1,000 miles down into the Mississippi Delta over the Christmas holidays. The local cops are tipped off — perhaps by some federal agency — and the two are busted in Clarksdale for "possesion of narcotics." The supposed "narcotics" are actually aspirin and vitamins. They are held on $15,000 bail (equal to $115,000 in 2012). After 11 days in jail, a nation-wide protest gets them released, but the confiscated food, clothing, and medicine mysteriously disappears from police custody before it can be returned to them. Ivanhoe is not intimidated, in the following months he delivers a dozen truckloads of food to embattled Greenwood and goes on to become a SNCC field secretary.

Meanwhile, the Kennedy administration and U.S. Department of Justice do nothing effective to protect the voting rights of Black citizens. With legal support provided by Dr. King, SNCC sues Attorney General Robert Kennedy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in January of 1963 demanding that they enforce existing federal voting rights laws. Rather than performing their Constitutionally-required duty to protect the rights of all citizens, federal lawyers quash the suit.

But violence, intimidation, beatings, arrests, and federal dereliction, all fail to halt the growing movement. And the food blockade backfires.

Whenever we were able to get a little something to give to a hungry family, we also talked about how they ought to register. The food was ...identified in the minds of everyone as food for those who want to be free, and the minimum requirement for freedom is identified as registration to vote. — Bob Moses [8]
See Marching for Freedom in Greenwood for continuation.

For more information on the Greenwood Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
     Mississippi Movement
     Greenwood MS, Movement
Personal story from the Greenwood Movement: Wazir Peacock


Jackson MS, Boycotts (Winter-Spring)


See Tougaloo Nine & Jackson State Protest and Diane Nash Defies the Mississippi Judicial System for preceding events.

Jackson is Mississippi's capitol and most significant urban area. In 1960, 40% of its 150,000 residents are Black, and Blacks are a clear majority in the surrounding rural areas of Hinds, Madison, and Rankin counties. Jackson is totally segregated, and Blacks are restricted to the lowest-paid menial jobs in the public and private sectors. Jackson is a White Citizens Council stronghold and the Council dominates the local political scene. Mayor Allen Thompson is a rabid segregationist, as are the Governor and state legislators. A miasma of fear lays heavy over the Black community, ruthless police butality is common, and Klan terrorists lurk in the shadows ready to strike down anyone who challenges the racial order.

In the fall of 1961 and into early 1962, SNCC organizers try to organize protests and register voters in Jackson, but make little headway against police repression and the grip of fear. SNCC moves its main focus into the Mississippi Delta region around Greenwood where there is more hope of success. This leaves the NAACP as the main civil rights organization with an ongoing presence in Jackson. But the Jackson NAACP is largely moribund, most of its Youth Councils are dormant, and only the heroic efforts of NAACP State Field Director Medgar Evers keeps the organization barely alive.

The NAACP's national leadership shun direct-action protests in favor of lawsuits in federal Court, but unlike Alabama where Federal Judge Frank Johnson often rules in favor of civil rights, Mississippi Federal Judge Harold Cox (appointed by President Kennedy) is an ardent segregationist. He almost always rules against the NAACP, forcing them to appeal each case to the Federal Fifth Circut Court in New Orleans, a process that slows and limits progress.

The national NAACP also emphasizes voter registration, but unlike SNCC who work with the masses of Black sharecroppers, maids, and laborers, the NAACP concentrates their efforts on the small Black elite — ministers, professionals, teachers, business owners. But in Mississippi, the Black elite are vulnerable to the economic terrorism of the White Citizens Coucil. With some notable exceptions, in 1962 most of them are still unwilling to risk attempting to register.

Back in the fall of 1961, Tougaloo student Colia Lidell (later Colia Lafayette) and Tougaloo teacher Hunter Bear (John Salter) began reactivating and rebuilding the North Jackson NAACP Youth Council (NJYC). By early 1962 it has slowly begun to make headway against the palpable fear. Along with a few high school students such as NJYC President Pearlena Lewis, Lewis Lidell (Colia's brother), and Cleveland Donald, they hold on and dig in deep.

When school resumes in the fall of 1962, they are joined by Tougaloo student Betty Anne Poole, expelled Jackson State students Dorie and Joyce Ladner who have transferred to Tougaloo, and white exchange students Karin Kunstler and Joan Trumpauer. The NJYC continues slow but steady growth, moving their meetings from living rooms to the attic of Virden Grove church. Made up mainly of students Tougaloo and Jackson State and from Lanier, Hill, and Brinkley high schools, along with some school dropouts and young professor Hunter Bear as their "adult" advisor, they begin distributing the North Jackson Action, a mimeographed newsletter.

In early October, Jackson hosts the annual state fair, a major harvest festival. It is completely segregated, the first week is for "whites only," followed by 3 days for "colored." The NJYC calls on Blacks to boycott the "second-hand fair." Any public demonstration, such as picketing, will result in immediate arrest and there is no money for bail. Anyone caught distributing boycott leaflets will also be jailed. Like resistance fighters in occupied territory, the word has to be spread secretly, through clandestine meetings and passing flyers covertly from hand to hand. A telephone tree is organized and sympathizers are asked to call their friends. October 15 is the first day of the "Negro Fair." The boycott is 90% effective, Black fair goers are few and far between to the financial discomfort of white vendors and concessionaires.

Buoyed by the success of the fair boycott, the NJYC and the revived Tougaloo NAACP chapter begin organizing a Christmas boycott of Jackson's downtown merchants (all white, of course). They adopt four key demands:

  1. Equality in hiring & promotion
  2. End segregation of restrooms, water fountains, lunch counters
  3. Courtesy titles such as "Miss," Mrs," "Mister"
  4. Service on first-come first-served basis

Medgar Evers tries to negotiate with the merchants but they refuse to meet with him. The boycott targets 150 white stores including all the "downtown" stores. The plan is to start with a small group of pickets whose inevitable arrest will dramatize the boycott, and then follow up with a campus meeting to mobilize support. Despite pleas by Medgar — who is NAACP state Field Director — the national NAACP leadership is unwilling to provide any bail funds. But enough bond money for six protesters is contributed by the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), NY attorney Victor Rabinowitz, and Dr. King's Gandhi Fund.

On Saturday December 12, the first civil rights demonstration in Jackson since the Freedom Rides takes place on Capitol Street, the main drag of the downtown shopping district. Led by Hunter Bear, the six pickets raise their signs and a swarm of 50 cops immediately arrest them, including Hunter's wife Eldri, and Tougaloo students Betty Poole and Ronald Mitchell.

The mass meeting is held on the Tougaloo campus that night. The next day the NJYC and Tougaloo and high school students begin clandestinely distributing leaflets through Jackson's Black neighborhoods and to Blacks in Hinds, Madison, Rankin, and Yazoo counties. But the end of December, 15,000 flyers have been passed from hand to hand. The telephone tree is activated, speakers are assigned to address church meetings, and "undercover agents" (Black students posing as shoppers) patrol Capitol Street quietly informing out-of-area Black shoppers about the boycott.

Enough bail money is raised for a second team of pickets — Tougaloo students Dorie Ladner and Charles Bracey — to be busted on Capitol Street on December 21. That night, Klan nightriders fire into Hunter Bear's home narrowly missing his baby daughter. Armed guards are posted on the Tougaloo campus.

NY attorney William Kunstler (father of Tougaloo exchange student Karin Kunstler), Gandhi Fund lawyer Clarence Jones, and local Jackson attorney Jess Brown devise a new legal strategy. Pointing out the obvious fact that civil rights demonstrators cannot possibly receive a fair trial in segregated state courts that only allow whites to serve on juries, they petition to have the picket cases transferred to federal court under an old Reconstruction Era statute. The racist Federal Judge Harold Cox denies their petition and they appeal his ruling to the Fifth Circut in New Orleans. While the case is working its way through the judicial system, the pickets are free on bail and their trials are postponed. The removal petition eventually succeeds, setting a precedent for transferring civil rights cases from all over the South to federal court where they enter a legal limbo and are never brought to trial.

The Christmas boycott is surprisingly effective, honored by roughly 60% of the Black population. And once the pressure of providing Christmas gifts to children is past, the boycott gains strength as it continues into 1963. In tacit admission of the economic harship being suffered by the white merchants, the City waives the annual property taxes for businesses being boycotted. But despite their economic losses, the white business owners refuse to negotiate with Blacks or make any changes in segregation. And the White Citizens Council stands ready to forclose mortgages, stop supplies, and mobilize a white boycott against any merchant who wavers in steadfast support of segregation.

See Jackson Sit-in & Protests for continuation.

For more information on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
Web: Jackson Movement for web links.
Personal story from the Jackson Movement: Hunter Bear


Operation Breadbasket — SCLC

The fundamental premise of Breadbasket is a simple one. Negroes need not patronize a business which denies them jobs, or advancement or plain courtesy. Many retail businesses and consumer-goods industries deplete the ghetto by selling to Negroes without returning to the community any of the profits through fair hiring practices. — Martin Luther King. [9]

In 1960, Rev. Leon Sullivan of Philadelphia PA organizes Black ministers to engage in a jobs-oriented "Selective Patronage Program." In 1962, SCLC's Atlanta affiliate, led by Rev. Abernathy, asks Rev. Sullivan to assist them in setting up a similar program. Their first effort is against job discrimination in the baking industry so they name their project "Operation Breadbasket."

Operation Breadbasket adopts the three-step program pioneered by Rev. Sullivan. First, research the actual employment statistics of a target firm or industry. Second, if the research shows a clear pattern of racial discrimination in hiring, promotions, or job-assignments, meet with the company and try to negotiate specific improvements. Third, if the corporation refuses to take corrective action, mobilize Black ministers and their churches to boycott that firm's products until an agreement is reached.

Not surpisingly, business owners and corporate managers resent being pressured to change their employment practices. In their view, they have a sacred right to run their companies without outside interference in whatever manner they deem most profitable. But in the 1960s, Black consumers spend over six billion dollars in the national economy and that amount of money speaks with a loud voice. Knowing that they cannot publicly justify policies of "whites-only" hiring or restricting Blacks to the lowest-paid and most menial positions, business leaders instead claim that preferential hiring and promotion of Blacks to make up for generations of discrimination amounts to "reverse-racism" against whites. An argument they still use today to oppose affirmative action programs.

The first target of Atlanta's Operation Breadbasket are two large baking companies, Sunshine and Colonial bread. Rev. Fred Bennett is appointed to head the campaign, and by February of 1963 there are signed agreements with five bakeries resulting in dozens of new jobs and over 40 promotions. When the Ford Corporation opens a new factory in the Atlanta area, the manager rudely rebuffs the ministers. With Dr. King's assistance, they contact Henry Ford, telling him he'll have a hard time selling Fords to Blacks across the country if his plants practice racial discrimination in hiring. In response, Ford comes personally to Atlanta to address the matter. Hundreds of Blacks — a third of the new factory's workforce — are eventually hired, roughly matching the ratio of Blacks to whites in the greater Atlanta metro area.

By 1967, Atlanta's Operation Breadbasket claims that jobs it won are bringing $25,000,000 a year into the Black community. And beyond jobs, the campaign has expanded into encouraging white-owned stores to stock products made by Black companies such as Joe Louis Milk and Johnson Beauty Products. White firms are also being urged to deposit some of their funds in Black-owned banks so that those banks can loan money to Black businesses and families seeking home mortgages.

SCLC tries to expand Operation Breadbasket across the South, but that proves difficult. In part the problem is economic. In the 1960s, the Atlanta urban area is enjoying a sustained period of rapid economic growth creating many new jobs in the private sector, but most other southern cities are not so fortunate. Threats of Black economic boycotts are sometimes able to convince white employers to include Blacks in new hires or replacements, but firms with stagnant or shrinking workforces are unlikely to fire whites and replace them with Blacks.

And while economic boycotts are easy to conceive in theory, they are hard to pull off and sustain over time. Pulpit sermons, flyers, and community meetings are the foundation of an Operation Breadbasket boycott, but picketing and other forms of direct action are often needed to make it effective. In places where there are direct-action campaigns against segregation, or police repression, or for voting rights, broadly-targeted economic boycotts against a town's white merchants are often quite successful. But outside those larger campaigns, SCLC-affiliated ministers are sometimes hesitant to mobilize young protesters into the streets to support narrowly targeted Breadbasket campaigns. In part, this is because protests are likely to result in arrests, and resources for bail and trials are limited. Pickets and other kinds of direct action may also trigger violent white reaction or economic retaliation that the SCLC affiliates are sometimes reluctant to risk.

To be successful, an Operation Breadbasket "don't buy" campaign also requires broad unity among Black ministers and churches, but frequently there are jealousies and rivalries which make that difficult to achieve. When money is involved, rumors, suspicions, and accusations of corruption and cronyism often arise; and white employers facing what they consider to be economic extortion don't hesitate to sow discord and pay-off influential local power brokers to cripple a boycott with disunity.

So, though there are some Breadbasket successes in various southern communities in the early and mid-60s, few approach the scale of Atlanta's program.

By the later-1960s the program is facing new obstacles. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars overt job discrimination by the kinds of medium and large corporations usually targeted in Breadbasket campaigns. Want-ads and job requirements, for example, can no longer explicitly specify "white" (or "male"). To avoid legal penalties yet still retain an almost all-white or largely segregated workforce, some companies adopt strategies of "tokenism," hiring a few non-whites (or women) in visible positions, but limiting the number to the smallest they can get away with. This tokenist camouflage makes it harder to build support for boycotts and provides a rationale for those who wish to shift from mass action to self-help, social, and service programs.

When their discriminatory employment practices are challenged, many companies claim they cannot find "qualified" nonwhite (or female) candidates. They then divert attention to job-training programs that they, or foundations, or a government agency such as the War on Poverty funds. In some cases, a business that is the target of a campaign contracts with the ministers or community group to screen, recruit and train workers who might (or might not) then eventually be hired. Maybe. The appeal of being paid good salaries to run their own training programs is seductive to many churches and organizations, and some form their own development corporations to operate such ventures and seek additional grants to expand their enterprises. But by doing so, they tacitly reinforce the "no-qualified-candidates" smokescreen which shifts responsibility for ending racial discrimination from corporate policy to the community — a classic "blame the victim" runaround.

At the same time, filing job-discrimination lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act seems to offer an attractive alternate avenue to achieve Breadbasket aims. But proving discrimination in court proves difficult, and courtroom strategies don't organize and mobilize Black communities to fight for justice and political power on their own behalf. Absent effective public pressure, progress against economic racism is glacially slow.

For more information on SCLC:
Books: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Web: Operation Breadbasket (King Institute ~ Stanford Univ.)


1962 Quotation Sources:

1. SNCC The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn
2. Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, Danny Lyon
3. The Making of Black Revolutionaries, James Forman
4. "Selma & the March to Montgomery — A Discussion"
5. Radical Equations: Organizing Math Literacy in America's Schools, Bob Moses
6. "Mississippi and Meredith remember" CNN ~ October 1, 2002
7. Three Years in Mississippi, James H. Meredith
8. In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960's, Clayborne Carson
9. Operation Breadbasket King Encyclopedia ~ Stanford Univ.
10. Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, N.C. and the Struggle for Freedom, William Henry Chafe.
11. Howard Johnson's Restaurant — 1962. (Civil Rights Heritage ~ Durham Public Library)
12. King's Forgotten Manifesto, New York Times, 5/17/2012
13. Parting the Waters, America in the King Years 1954-1963, Taylor Branch
14. Diane Nash statements of: April 30 and May 21 1962


1963 (Jan-June)

© Bruce Hartford
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)