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Divine Agitators

The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi

Mark Newman

Publication Year: 2004

The National Council of Churches established the Delta Ministry in 1964 to further the cause of civil rights in Mississippi--the southern state with the largest black population proportionately and with the stiffest level of white resistance. At its height the Ministry, which was headquartered in Greenville, had the largest field staff of any civil rights organization in the South. Active through the mid-1970s, the Ministry outlasted SNCC, CORE, and the SCLC in Mississippi, helping to fill the vacuums when these organizations fell apart or refocused their energies.

In this first book-length study of the Delta Ministry, Mark Newman tells how the organization conducted literacy, citizenship, and vocational training. He documents the Ministry's role in fostering the growth of Head Start and community-based health care and in widening the distribution of free surplus federal food and food stamps.

Newman discusses, among other Ministry successes, the Delta Foundation, which created jobs by channeling grant money to small businesses that could not secure bank loans. At the same time, he details the Ministry's problems from its chronic underfunding to its uneasy relationship with the Mississippi NAACP, which pursued civil rights objectives through less confrontational methods. Newman examines the Freedomcrafts manufacturing cooperative and other ministry failures, as well as mixed efforts such as Freedom City, a collective agricultural and manufacturing community built by displaced agricultural workers.

Divine Agitators looks at many inadequately studied events across a time span that extends beyond the widely accepted end dates of the civil rights movement. It offers new insights, at the most local levels of the movement, into conflict within and between civil rights groups, the increasing subtlety of white resistance, the disengagement of the federal government, and the rise of Black Power.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xiv

Mississippi provided the stiffest and most determined resistance to the demands of the civil rights movement for racial equality. In the early 1960s, the state's African Americans, particularly in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta,...

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pp. xv-xvi

Mattie L. Sink, a skilled and very knowledgeable librarian at the University of Southern Mississippi, suggested that I look at the Delta Ministry back in 1991, during a research visit for another pr...

List of Abbreviations

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p. xvii

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ONE. The Origins and Creation of the Delta Ministry

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pp. 1-22

The National Council of Churches (NCC) comprised thirty-one Protestant and Orthodox denominations with forty-two million members, but, despite its size, it generally avoided direct involvement...

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TWO. External Relations, Internal Policy, 1964-1965

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pp. 23-45

In the months before the Delta Ministry's inauguration in September 1964, white Mississippi and southern opposition to the Delta Ministry and the NCC had mounted against the backdrop of the National Council's involvement in COFO'S Summer Project. Unable to...

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THREE. Hattiesburg, 1964-1967

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pp. 46-67

Although far from the cotton fields of the Delta, Hattiesburg became an important part of the Delta Ministry. At SNCC'S invitation, more than two hundred northern white clergymen, mostly...

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FOUR. McComb, 1964-1966

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pp. 68-83

The McComb Project, like that in Hattiesburg, had not been part of the Delta Ministry's original plan. After sending minister-counselors to support COFO'S work in McComb during the Summer Project of 1964, the NCC withdrew when the project concluded in late August. Violent resistance...

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FIVE. Greenville and the Delta, 1964-1966

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pp. 84-106

The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta in northwestern Mississippi contained some of the richest soil and poorest people in America. A majority of the region's population, most African Americans were impoverished, disenfranchised, and denied adequate education by a system...

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SIX. Under Investigation

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pp. 107-126

Less than eighteen months into its operations, the Delta Ministry underwent an extensive evaluation by the NCC. The Evaluation Committee gave the Ministry's critics a full opportunity to voice their objections to its program and conduct. At the same time, the Methodist...

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SEVEN. Freedom City

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pp. 127-148

In July 1966, a group of African American families displaced from Mississippi plantations by mechanization and herbicides relocated to four hundred acres of land twelve miles southeast of Greenville. Aided and advised by the Delta Ministry, they hoped to create a model community. The ninety-four residents intended to pioneer a viable...

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EIGHT. Changing Focus, 1967-1971

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pp. 149-179

The late 19605 marked a period of transition for the Delta Ministry. From making mostly ad hoc responses to problems that involved assisting African American protests; pressuring local, state, and federal authorities; and operating virtually autonomous county projects, the Ministry under Owen Brooks's directorship moved toward a more...

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NINE. Internal Dissension and Crisis

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pp. 180-196

Significant divisions developed within the Delta Ministry in the late 19608. By late 1967, the majority of the Ministry's staff were black Mississippians, true to the project's intention of developing local leadership. A black Mississippian majority also sat on the reconstituted...

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TEN. Winding Down

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pp. 197-218

After its early 1971 budget and staff crisis, the Delta Ministry focused almost solely on providing technical and research assistance in legislative matters, economic development, education, and welfare. A board of directors replaced the Commission on the Delta...

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ELEVEN. Conclusion

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pp. 219-226

In the tradition of SNCC and CORE, and inspired by the biblical call to a servant ministry, the Delta Ministry sought to empower the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised and to enable them to realize self-chosen goals. Specifically, the NCC charged the Ministry with facilitating...


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pp. 227-314


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pp. 315-332


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pp. 333-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780820340203
E-ISBN-10: 0820340200
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820325262
Print-ISBN-10: 0820325260

Page Count: 366
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 706076565
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Divine Agitators

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mississippi -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Delta Ministry.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Mississippi.
  • Civil rights -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Civil rights movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
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