"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Civil Rights Act of 1965 and Mississippi

Do we still need the Voting Rights Act of 1965?  Yes, but we need more than that! Below are excerpts from an article from the NYTimes and some maps of various Mississippi election results. The Media and mainstream history focus on the laws and national leaders.  But it is the people who make change, ordinary people like you and me. Without us, there is no change.

I would highly recommend watching the movie Freedom Song if you are interested in the history of the voting rights campaign in McComb -- a nice case study of the role of ordinary people in making change. While most commentators reporting on the recent Supreme Court's debate over the constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act have identified John Lewis as "coordinating SNCC in Mississippi," I would argue that Bob Moses was the actual coordinator in MS. He is portrayed by the character, Daniel Wall, in Freedom Song...which is amazingly historically accurate. McComb was a pillar in the foundation of the movement that broke apartheid in Mississippi and in the Deep South.

From site:
"In July, [1960] ... Bob Moses comes to Atlanta to work with SCLC. But there is little happening, and he begins helping Baker and Stembridge at the SNCC desk. Baker asks him to go down into Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to recruit for a SNCC strategy conference scheduled for Atlanta in October. He leaves in August on a journey that will, in time, transform SNCC from a loose association of independent student groups to an organization of organizers fomenting social revolution in the Deep south. "
NY TIMES: A Divide on Voting Rights in a Town Where Blood Spilled
McCOMB, Miss. [PIKE COUNTY]—. . . . The McComb project, as it was called by civil rights workers in 1961, was one of the early battles in a long and bloody war for voting rights in the South, a crucible for future leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who drilled black residents to pass the constitutional literacy tests and in return for their civic engagement were shot at, jailed and beaten.  Most people here, whites and blacks, agree that that was a very bad time. They also, generally, agree that things are much better now.  But on the more specific question on the necessity of Section 5, which requires nine states, most of them Southern, to submit voting changes for federal approval, opinions begin to separate. And by and large, there is a relatively easy test here to tell what a person is likely to think, and it comes down to the person’s skin color. .. ...

“I have to agree that it was very bad,” said Hollis Watkins, 72, a leader of the McComb project who sang spirituals to his fellow civil rights workers as they languished in jail in 1961.  “But based on where we are now, and understanding their way of camouflaging things, instead of it being very bad, it’s bad,” added Mr. Watkins, who is still active in civil rights work in Mississippi. ........ “Rather than the literary tests and poll taxes, the problems we have now are different,” Mr. Dowdy said. “There are long lines in certain neighborhoods, there are voter ID requirements. And those kinds of problems are not restricted to the Southern states.” . . . .

With a black population of 37 percent, by far the largest in the country, Mississippi did not have a black representative in Congress until 1986. As recently as 1990, only 22 out of the 204 members of the Mississippi State Legislature were black. While no black statewide official has been elected, there are now a black congressman and 49 black state lawmakers.
 The McComb project seemed to fail at the time.  But it's success was in the learned lessons that were used in the voter education project of 1962-3 and then during Freedom Summer of 1964. 

The maps that I put together below attempt to show a correlation among 1964 MS Freedom Democratic Party voter registration centers,  majority black counties and their gradual transformation into majority democratic voting counties today.  My theory is that the 1964 MFDP campaign resulted in grassroots community organizations and local leaders who were able to leverage the 1965 voting rights act to steadily register critical masses of black voters over the last sixty years.  Is the struggle over yet?  Hell no!  but fundamental progress has been made.  Freedom is a CONSTANT STRUGGLE---we cannot rest on the laurels of others.  By the way, Pike County (PI), where McComb is, went for Obama (it's on the bottom, bordering Louisiana) in 2012.  RED = Republican  BLUE = Democrat

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