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Crossroads at Clarksdale

The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

Françoise N. Hamlin

Publication Year: 2012

Weaving national narratives from stories of the daily lives and familiar places of local residents, Françoise Hamlin chronicles the slow struggle for black freedom through the history of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Hamlin paints a full picture of the town over fifty years, recognizing the accomplishments of its diverse African American community and strong NAACP branch, and examining the extreme brutality of entrenched power there. The Clarksdale story defies triumphant narratives of dramatic change, and presents instead a layered, contentious, untidy, and often disappointingly unresolved civil rights movement.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. iii-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xvii

Drive the approximately seventy miles south to Clarksdale, Mississippi, from Memphis, Tennessee, on U.S. Highway 61 through Tunica County. Fields dominate the landscape, broken only by lines of trees between properties or crops. Depending on the time of year, crop dusters might zigzag low across the...

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Introduction: The Black Freedom Struggle at the Crossroads

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pp. 1-7

The claim to fame for Clarksdale, Mississippi, is as the home of the blues. In the first half of the twentieth century, many men, and a few women, gathered there to develop the blues as a musical form and consume it with pleasure. W. C. Handy, Gus Cannon, Charley Patton, Son House, John Lee Hooker...

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ONE: Washington Was Far Away: Defining a Different Postwar Delta

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pp. 9-41

In Mississippi, the violence of white supremacy stained the land as in few other places in America. The brutal murder of fourteen- year- old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, in August 1955 embodied, then transcended, that violence. The crime stunned even those who had grown accustomed to everyday...

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TWO: M Is for Mississippi and Murder . . . and Mother

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pp. 42-72

The “Mississippi Situation,” as the national NAACP referred to the crisis at the end of 1955, focused national attention on conditions in the state. In addition to Emmett Till, three other black males were murdered that year in widely publicized attacks. Emotions ran high, and the whole world, it seemed, was increasingly watching...

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THREE: I Think Freedom and Talk Freedom: Demanding Desegregation, 1960–1963

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pp. 73-115

“What can a mother, a professional woman, and a Christian contribute to the struggle for human dignity?” asked Vera Pigee. Answering her own question, Pigee mused: “It was my first commitment as a mother to see her [daughter Mary Jane] more fully equipped to cope with the problems of today. Youth is...

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FOUR: Fires of Frustration: Summers of 1963 to 1965

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pp. 116-166

Vera Pigee was proud of Mississippi’s youth councils, with good reason. She had toiled for years to build up the chapters and boost membership in local NAACP branches. By the middle of 1963, she had consolidated considerable strength among the state’s youth, and the fruits of her labors were evident...

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FIVE: Children Should Not Be Subjected To What Is Going On There: Desegregating Schools

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pp. 167-208

Elnora Fondren wrote this poem seated at one of the donated desks in COFO’s community center in Clarksdale during the summer of 1964 as part of the organized activities run by the volunteers. In it, she evoked American history through the imagery of Abraham Lincoln and slavery, which she equated with...

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SIX: It Was a Peaceful Revolution: Johnson’s Great Society and Economic Justice in Coahoma County

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pp. 209-243

The presence of the federal government brought great transformations to the southern landscape. Actively enforcing federal legislation and court orders initiated by mass protest muzzled white supremacy, disallowing discrimination on the basis of race. At least that has been standard rhetoric for the sixties...

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Epilogue: I Have Not Ended the Story For There Is No End: Continuing Histories of Clarksdale’s Black Freedom Struggle

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pp. 244-262

The school day began at 6 A.M. The dusty yellow school bus would start its long journey from the Lyon subdivision where I lived for a year out in the county, surrounded by cotton fields. With my Sony Walkman clamped to my ears, I would climb on that bus before 7 A.M. and stare out of the window as...

Appendix: Black and White Freedom Summer Volunteers in Clarksdale

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pp. 263-264

Notes

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pp. 265-315

Bibliography

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pp. 317-345

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 347-350

I have truly been blessed. Just as characters and organizations enter and leave Clarksdale’s story at various points, many colleagues and friends have played a part in this project’s long voyage from Clarksdale to this book. Here I thank only a few. Hugh Brogan, Larry Barth, and particularly Gary McDowell...

Index

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pp. 351-371


E-ISBN-13: 9781469601694
E-ISBN-10: 1469601699
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835494
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835498

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: JHFS

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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- Mississippi -- Clarksdale -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Segregation -- Mississippi -- Clarksdale -- History -- 20th century.
  • Civil rights movements -- Mississippi -- Clarksdale -- History -- 20th century.
  • Segregation -- Mississippi -- Clarksdale -- History -- 20th century.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Coahoma County Branch -- History.
  • Henry, Aaron, 1922-1997.
  • Pigee, Vera Mae, 1924-2007.
  • Clarksdale (Miss.) -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
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