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Student Activism and Civil Rights in Mississippi

Protest Politics and the Struggle for Racial Justice, 1960-1965

James P. Marshall

Publication Year: 2013

In 1960, Mississippi society still drew a sharp line between its African American and white communities. In the 1890s, the state had created a repressive racial system that ensured white supremacy by legally segregating black residents and removing their basic citizenship and voting rights. Over the ensuing decades, white residents suppressed African Americans who dared challenge that system with an array of violence, terror, and murder. In 1960, students supporting civil rights moved into Mississippi and challenged this repressive racial order by encouraging African Americans to reassert the rights guaranteed them under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The ensuing social upheaval changed the state forever. In Student Activism and Civil Rights in Mississippi, James P. Marshall, a former civil rights activist, tells the complete story of the quest for civil rights in Mississippi. Using a voluminous array of sources as well as his own memories, Marshall weaves together an astonishing account of student protestors and local activists who risked their lives for equality, standing between southern resistance and federal inaction. Their efforts, and the horrific violence inflicted on them, helped push many non-southerners and the federal government into action, culminating in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act—measures that destroyed legalized segregation and disfranchisement. Ultimately, Marshall contends, student activism in Mississippi helped forge a consensus by reminding the American public of its forgotten promises and by educating the nation that African Americans in the South deserved to live as free and equal citizens.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xvii

James Marshall undertook this study in the 1960s, when he was a Yale undergraduate and I taught American history there. I had been a teacher at Spelman College in Atlanta from 1961 to 1964 and, no doubt because of this experience...

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pp. xix-xx

My acknowledgments have grown over the years as this project moved from Yale College and Law School, to the civil rights organizations SNCC and CORE, to the American Studies and History programs at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv...

Cities and Towns in Mississippi, by County

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pp. xxi-xxii


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pp. xxv-xxvi

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pp. 1-6

My objective is to trace the development of student support of the civil rights movement in Mississippi from 1960 to 1965, along with the growth of protest, parallel politics, and the resultant parallel political organizations. White...

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1. The Incipient Movement

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pp. 7-19

The dilemma for Mississippi African Americans was whether to remain in “their place” and accept their lot or to leave that position and seek those constitutional rights denied to them by Mississippi’s closed society. If they chose...

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2. The Decision to Go into Voter Registration

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pp. 20-26

The decision to go into voter registration work in Mississippi was the result of an internal debate within the student movement. Intermittent discussions lasted throughout the summer of 1961 and failed to convince all workers of the correct...

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3. Warming Up Mississippi: The Movement Becomes a Local Thing

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pp. 27-47

In the winter of 1961–62, Jackson, Mississippi, was a busy planning center for the spring and summer of 1962, and the Mississippi Free Press began to appear there.1 The movement saw the necessity of forming a battle plan for the coming...

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4. Commitment Aborted

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pp. 48-55

The Mississippi movement’s decision to work on voter registration was influenced by both the federal government and the foundation world. By early 1963 the early fears of the direct action group that the movement was being...

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5. The Stalemated Movement

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pp. 56-61

We have seen that the near-fatal shooting of Jimmy Travis on February 28, 1963, drew voter registration workers from all of the civil rights groups in the state to Greenwood in early March in order to launch a frontal attack...

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6. The Birth of Protest Politics

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pp. 62-82

Met everywhere with apparent failure in its efforts to register Mississippi African Americans, the movement began to think in terms of a new strategy to soften up the closed society. Direct action protests and voter registration...

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7. Freedom Summer, Part I

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pp. 83-113

The Mississippi Summer Project operated on two levels. On the one hand there were programs aimed at the immediate problems within the state, and on the other there were programs that represented an attempt to dramatize those problems...

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8. Freedom Summer, Part II: Freedom Schools and Community Centers

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pp. 114-133

Douglass’s words, although written in 1845, penetrate to the heart of the modern “slavery” endured by Mississippi African Americans, a slavery of ignorance.1 Throughout the early years of the student-supported civil rights...

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9. The Political Organization of Protest Politics, Part I

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pp. 134-164

The other programs created within the framework of the Summer Project of 1964 were those which focused on the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in early 1964, as well as such offshoots as the Mississippi Freedom...

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10. The Political Organization of Protest Politics, Part II: The Second Freedom Vote and the Breakup of COFO

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pp. 165-198

The second Freedom Vote was in many ways different from the first. Outwardly, they were both protest, parallel elections held to demonstrate to the nation that Mississippi African Americans would vote if given the opportunity...

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pp. 199-208

By 1965 the movement’s fight seemed to be the nation’s. This condition passed quickly, however, as the country and the student-supported movement became caught up in the controversy over the meaning of Black...


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pp. 209-210

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Appendix: The Power of Protection: The Federal Government

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pp. 211-217

For those who were in Mississippi with the civil rights movement, or for those who were African American Mississippians and ventured from “their place,” the paramount question in their minds was survival. It was not a question...

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Notes on Sources

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pp. 219-225

Initially I answered the question of how and in what manner the civil rights movement developed in Mississippi by reading sources that gave only the general outlines of events. The problem I had to confront was that much of the material...


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pp. 227-260


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pp. 261-290


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pp. 291-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780807149850
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807149843

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Civil rights movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • Student movements -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • College students -- Political activity -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • African American college students -- Political activity -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Mississippi -- History -- 20th century
  • Mississippi -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
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