- And Gently He Shall Lead Them: Robert Parris Moses and Civil Rights in Mississippi, and: Local People: The Struggle For Civil Rights in Mississippi (review)
- Southern Cultures
- The University of North Carolina Press
- Volume 2, Number 3/4, 1996
- pp. 393-397
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Reviews Our regular review section features some of the best new books, films, and sound recordings in southern studies. From time to time you'll also find reviews of important new museum exhibitions and public-history sites, and retrospectives on classic works that continue to shape our understanding of the region and its people. Our aim is to explore the rich diversity of southern life and the methods and approaches of those who study it. Please write us to share your suggestions, or to add your name to our reviewer file. And Gently He Shall Lead Them: Robert Parris Moses and Civil Rights in Mississippi. By Eric R. Burner. New York University Press, 1994. 294 pp. Cloth, $24.95. Local People: The Struggle For Civil Rights in Mississippi. By John Dittmer. University of Illinois Press, 1994. 530 pp. Cloth, $29.95. Paper, $14.95. Reviewed by Brian Ward, Department ofHistory, University ofNewcastle upon Tyne. In recent years, Mississippi has become a sort of totem for historians of the black freedom struggle, much as it was for the civil rights workers of the early-to-mid-1960s. Movement supporters once believed that if unregenerate Mississippi, the ultimate "closed society," could be brought to heel then black freedom in the United States was surely just down the road apiece. Similarly, many Movement scholars have focused on the Magnolia State in the belief that unraveling the complexities of the freedom struggle there is important, not just as a worthy end in itself, but as a means to understand the very nature of the southern civil rights struggle. There is much truth to this view. On the one hand, events in Mississippi clearly demonstrated both the tenacity of American racism and the remarkable resourcefulness of white power when mobilizing in its own defense. On the other hand, Mississippi has also provided scholars like Eric Burner and John Dittmer with the opportunity to study how an oppressed people mobilized to fight the worst ravages of racial discrimination and wrest a measure of political, economic, and psychological power from a system designed and operated specifically to deny them any such thing. Eric Burner's And Gently He Shall Lead Them offers a useful introduction to the career of Bob Moses, the New Yorker whose enigmatic figure quietly stalks all accounts of the freedom struggle in Mississippi. As Burner explains, Moses's prestige among his fellow workers and influence on those he struggled to register to vote was unparalleled, deriving from 394Southern Cultures an elusive combination of moral and intellectual authority, personal courage, and steady dedication to the cause. Moreover, since Moses led—albeit reluctantly—from the heart of the Movement he did not offend his and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee 's (SNCC) commitment to local, group-centered leadership. Instead, he personified SNCCs radical democratic impulse. Burner argues that Moses was the key figure in the campaign that culminated in the Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's (MFDP) challenge to the official, whites-only delegation to the 1964 Atlantic City Democratic party convention . After the failure of that challenge, bitterly disillusioned by what he perceived as an unforgivable betrayal by the Movement's white allies, Moses took his mother's name, Parris, reconsidered the merits of inter-racialism , and gradually withdrew from Movement activities. Fleeing the draft to Canada and then to Tanzania, Moses returned to the United States in the late 1970s and resumed a teaching career in which he has pioneered new techniques for the teaching of algebra to children. There is little to argue with in all of this, but there is precious little that is new in terms of detail, or revelatory in terms of analysis, either. Burner's main contribution is to plot diligently the when and where of what Moses did in Mississippi, but he ultimately fails to answer the more interesting and difficult questions of why and, to a lesser extent, how Moses did what he did, the way he did. This is not to suggest that Burner's book is without its insights into Moses's character, methods, and motivations. For example, it is to Burner's credit that his Moses is not simply the...