Polly Greenberg
(1932 — 2013)

CDGM, Mississippi, 1965-67

I was one of three founders of CDGM (the Child Development Group of Mississippi) in spring, 1965, and lived in Mississippi with my four little girls for two years.

Largely due to (CDGM), Mississippi's civil rights movement swelled and peaked between 1965-67, during the two years following the famous Freedom Summer. In part, CDGM grew from Freedom Summer. CDGM enabled poor, black Mississippians to move from protest to program. Movement people know what Mississippi was like at the end of 1964! In this context, during the first season of the national Head Start program's existence, thousands of unbelievably poor black families organized and participated in CDGM's 64 Head Start centers, feeding and caring for 12,000 children in dozens of counties. They had 1,100 jobs. We got them more than a million dollars the first summer — a billion by 1990.

Low-income parents wrought this miracle within eight weeks of hearing about Project Head Start. Most families lived in shacks and shanties in the Delta. Most were the grandchildren or great grandchildren of field slaves. Black people still lived in a reign of terror, and white families were too terrified of Ku Klux Klan reprisals even to talk to CDGM's organizers, who were primarily Delta Ministry volunteers and local SNCC people. Those who became CDGM community "school boards," center staff, and families lacked just about everything except generosity and courage. Yet they themselves — though their level of poverty was extreme (many families' annual incomes averaged $400) — organized and staffed dozens of programs for children.

CDGM was conceptualized and actualized by founding director Dr. Tom Levin, a New York psychoanalyst who had been active in Mississippi during Freedom Summer; the Reverend Arthur Thomas, a North Carolinian living in Mississippi as Director of the Delta Ministry; and me, Polly Greenberg, author of THE DEVIL HAS SLIPPERY SHOES, about CDGM. I was a staff person at the War on Poverty; OEO's Washington D.C. headquarters. My job was to serve as Sargent Shriver's Senior Program Analyst for Head Start's Southeast Region. I was responsible for soliciting and helping officials in as many counties as possible within the region's seven states develop applications for Head Start grants so as to launch the newly announced program. Through the civil rights grapevine, I located Tom Levin. The rest is history.

If interested, you can see what I've been working on ever since at pollygreenberg.net.


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