Segregation remained a part of life in Mississippi after the Civil War. Not until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s did change begin. Some of the key events of this movement took place in Mississippi. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education called for an end to racial segregation in public schools throughout the United States. The Brown decision directly affected Mississippi, where school segregation had long been required by state law. However, total segregation of all state educational institutions was maintained until 1962, when James Meredith became the first black to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Meredith’s enrollment was accomplished only with the help of marshals acting under a federal court order, after Governor Ross Barnett refused to allow it and segregationists rioted on campus. Public schools below the college level were first desegregated in 1964. Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and Millsaps College were desegregated in 1965.
Attempts were made to end segregation in other areas of life. In 1961 the “freedom rides” were organized by a civil rights activist organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to challenge segregation at interstate bus stations in the South. The freedom rides chartered buses for a trip through the South. They were mobbed and beaten, and one of their buses burned, in Alabama. When they reached Jackson, Mississippi, they were arrested and imprisoned for 45 days at the state penitentiary, thus ending the protest. However, the freedom rides left the strong impression that blacks were willing to subject themselves to violence to end segregation.
Voting by blacks in Mississippi had been suspended by intimidation and violence in 1875 and made difficult by registration requirements, such as the poll tax, in the state constitution of 1890.
Starting in 1961, another activist organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organized voter registration campaigns in heavily-black, rural counties of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. In McComb, Mississippi, Robert Moses of SNCC led a registration effort despite constant terrorism. In 1962 and 1963 SNCC worked for voter registration in the Mississippi Delta, where it found local supporters like activist farmworker Fannie Lou Hamer. The rising tide of civil rights protest caused a violent reaction from Mississippi’s white supremacists: In June 1963 Medgar Evers, state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was shot dead in front of his Jackson home.
SNCC workers helped organize the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism by recruiting Northern college students to work in the state. The project drew national scrutiny, especially after three project participants—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—were murdered in Neshoba County.
The Summer Project led directly to the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). When white Democrats in Mississippi refused to accept black members in their delegation to the Democratic National Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer and others went to the convention and challenged their right to represent Mississippi. National party officials offered two convention seats to the MFDP delegation, but they rejected the compromise and went home. However, the MFDP challenge later resulted in more openness to blacks and other minorities in the Democratic Party.
Much progress was made in registering black voters after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The most obvious effect was in the number of political offices opened to black candidates. By 1996, 10 of the 52 members of the Mississippi Senate were black, as were 34 of the 122 members of the House of Representatives. Law enforcement was integrated, and many blacks began to hold local and county positions, both elected and appointed. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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