Life and Death in the Delta

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1 Life and Death in the Delta

2 Palgrave Studies in Oral History Series Editors: Linda Shopes and Bruce M. Stave Sticking to the Union: An Oral History of the Life and Times of Julia Ruuttila, by Sandy Polishuk; Foreword by Amy Kesselman (2003) To Wear the Dust of War: An Oral History, by Samuel Iwry, edited by Leslie J. H. Kelley (2004) Education as My Agenda: Gertrude Williams, Race, and the Baltimore Public Schools, by Jo Ann O. Robinson (2005) Remembering: Oral History Performance, edited by Della Pollock (2005) Postmemories of Terror: A New Generation Copes with the Legacy of the Dirty War, by Susana Kaiser (2005) Growing Up in The People s Republic: Conversations between Two Daughters of China s Revolution, by Weili Ye and Ma Xiadong (2005) Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, , by David P. Cline (2005) Life and Death in the Delta: African American Narratives of Violence, Resilience, and Social Change, by Kim Lacy Rogers (2006) Voices from This Long Brown Land: Oral Recollection of Owens Valley Lives and Manzanar Pasts, by Jane Wehrey (2006) In the Wake of Kent State: Campus Rhetoric and Protest at the University of Nevada, by Brad Lucas (forthcoming) Sisters in the Brotherhoods: Organizing for Equality, by Jane Latour (forthcoming)

3 Life and Death in the Delta African American Narratives of Violence, Resilience, and Social Change Kim Lacy Rogers

4 LIFE AND DEATH IN THE DELTA Kim Lacy Rogers, Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. First published in 2006 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y and Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England RG21 6XS Companies and representatives throughout the world. PALGRAVE MACMILLAN is the global academic imprint of the Palgrave Macmillan division of St. Martin s Press, LLC and of Palgrave Macmillan Ltd. Macmillan is a registered trademark in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. Palgrave is a registered trademark in the European Union and other countries. ISBN ISBN (ebook) DOI / Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library of Congress. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India. First edition: January

5 To colleagues and friends Owen Brooks Tom Dent ( ) Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Jewel Williams who taught me so much

6 Prayer after baptism, Moon Lake, 1990, photograph by Tom Rankin

7 Contents Acknowledgments viii Series Editors Foreword ix Introduction ONE Conditions of Life and Death TWO Change and Movement Among the Poor THREE Achieving in the Rural: Independence and Leadership in Bolivar County FOUR The Wilderness of Social Change: The Movement and Head Start FIVE The Limits of Political Power Notes Glossary Bibliography Index

8 Acknowledgments This work has been a truly collaborative effort from its beginning in I would like to thank my research associates Owen Brooks, the late Tom Dent, and Jerry W. Ward, Jr., for their generosity, hard work, and assistance. Special thanks goes to the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose 1995 Collaborative Projects Grant provided funding for the project, and to Dickinson College for its administration of the grant, and for its support through the Research and Development Committee. I would also like to thank the National Humanities Center, which awarded fellowships to Jerry Ward and me in , for a restorative year of thinking, study, and writing. Thanks also to Tougaloo College and the Zenobia Coleman Library for support of this project, and a special appreciation for Mr. Clarence Hunter who, as the lone arranger of Tougaloo s bountiful archives, provided much astute assistance during my forays into Mississippi. I would like to thank the archivists of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and Ms. Amy Redwine of the Delta Democrat Times for research assistance. I also thank Charles Bolton and Nan Elizabeth Woodruff for sharing with me the manuscripts of their wonderful histories of Mississippi s school desegregation, and of the development of an American Congo in the Delta. Finally, I would like to give special thanks to friends and colleagues for their love, assistance, and support. John Lankford, Monte Piliawsky, and Andrea Hinding have been lifelong friends and sources of inspiration. Susan D. Rose, Lonna Malmsheimer, Melanie Lowe, Eva M. McMahan, Valerie Yow, Ann and Jay Hill, Catherine Beaudry, Dan Schubert, and Linda Shopes have been wonderful friends and colleagues who have listened to me think and talk through the issues of this book with great patience and generosity. A special thanks also goes to Elaine Mellen, whose gifted editorial assistance has saved me countless hours. Linda Shopes and Bruce Stave, editors of Palgrave s oral history series, deserve special appreciation for their faith in this project and their care with the manuscript. The faults and limitations of this work, however, are mine alone.

9 Series Editors Foreword Shortly after Kim Lacy Rogers completed this study of Life and Death in the Delta, a jury trial in Neshoba County, Mississippi reminded Americans of a time when that state epitomized intense resistance to civil rights. On June 21, 2005, the forty-first anniversary of the killings of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman near the town of Philadelphia, a jury of nine whites and three African-Americans convicted eighty year old Klansman Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter. Although not the murder verdict that many desired, the conviction suggested that Mississippi had changed. It was a far cry from 1964 when no one in Neshoba would help the FBI in its probe into the case and the state refused to press murder charges. While that county is not among those studied by Rogers, she employs oral history to explore change over time in the Delta region of Mississippi, concentrating on the four contiguous counties of Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower, and Washington that served as the location of the Delta Oral History Project. Rogers explores the system of poverty and land-holding that frames her study, the struggles over civil and voting rights, federal intervention and its effect on local residents, and the organizing campaigns that changed the American South. In so doing, Rogers is always sensitive to the suffering and trauma resulting from oppressive structural violence and segregation heaped upon Mississippi s blacks before and during the struggle for civil rights. Unlike most studies of the civil rights movement, Rogers uses oral history not so much as a record of fact but as a means of gaining insight into the perceptions or consciousness of historical actors. Her work significantly contributes to our understanding of the struggle to end segregation and does not shy away from the sometimes very ambivalent assessments that African-Americans made about change in their communities. Well aware that life-stories and autobiographical narratives are constructs that view the past from the perspective of the present, she succeeds in achieving the Delta Oral History Project s goals of discovering how local activists in Mississippi communities described their lives in terms of stability and change that often structure life stories. This book provides a fine example of how oral history can be synthesized with written sources to provide an eloquent narrative. Its inclusion in the Palgrave/Macmillan Studies in Oral History series adds another dimension to our effort to demonstrate the versatility of the oral history approach. The series has

10 x / Series Editors Foreword permitted us to have a better understanding of not only United States society, but of Latin America, Chinese, and European cultures. It includes single personal narratives and collective memories. It encourages self-conscious assessments of memory and oral history as a source. In this way, the series seeks to shape the field while appealing to a wide audience of readers. We believe that Kim Rogers s work will bring us closer to that goal. Bruce M. Stave University of Connecticut Linda Shopes Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

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