Pike County

Pike County

McComb, Mississippi, was one of the main battlegrounds for the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The 1950s set the stage for the Mississippi Movement, and the pivotal years for the state and McComb came in the 1960s.

In 1961 local NAACP leaders teamed with Robert Moses, a young activist with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), to organize voter registration drives in Southwest Mississippi. That October, students at Burglund High School participated in a protest walkout that landed many young people in jail. These two events nurtured a growing group of local activists who helped lead the way for change in Mississippi.

The hold of the Klan over McComb was strong, and progress was slow and hard-wrought. By the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) committed to an ambitious new campaign in the state called “Freedom Summer,” with projects in McComb and other Mississippi communities. That summer saw the mobilization of hundreds of Movement workers arriving from outside the area and teaming with local people. They led “freedom schools,” voter registration drives, and other efforts to support local blacks in the pursuit of civil rights.

Klan members and their sympathizers stepped up their efforts at maintaining white supremacy, trying to intimidate the Movement workers into withdrawing from the area and local activists into retreating in silence and fear. The Klan carried out their terrorism with no repercussions from law enforcement. In a two-month period, there were more than a dozen bombings—so many that McComb became known as “the bombing capital of the world.” Local law enforcement supported the Klan tactics either directly or by concocting so-called crimes and arresting COFO workers and local blacks in punishment for their activism. Many white business leaders used economic punishment against the black people who worked for them. McComb’s white leadership remained silent. Fear had a hold over the area, and white moderates remained passive. Those who spoke out were targeted themselves. In the words of McComb Enterprise-Journal editor Oliver Emmerich, “Almost everybody was hysterically afraid.”

But many local black people organized despite the fear and terror. They continued to demand assistance from the federal government, despite most of their pleas being ignored. Finally, by mid-November, continued pressure by the NAACP, COFO, and the local black community—combined with a “statement of Principles” denouncing violence printed in the Enterprise-Journal by a group of white citizens—led to a crack down on Klan violence and ushered in a new phase of the Movement.

See the McComb Legacies website for more information.

McDew, Charles “Chuck”: Oral History

Charles “Chuck” McDew participated in the civil rights movement in many parts of the American South, including Mississippi. He was a pivotal movement activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In this interview, he begins by discussing segregated seating laws in the South versus elsewhere. He then describes the Greensboro sit-ins. He concludes by discussing his hopes for change in Mississippi. His interview is featured in the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Chuck McDew from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Chuck McDew

Name of Interviewer: Susan Glisson

Date: April 10, 2004

Place of Interview: Oxford, MS


Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Jim Crow
2:00-4:00 Plessy vs. Ferguson; Sumter, SC; arrest
4:00-6:00 Arrest; train travel
6:00-8:00 Segregation; language of segregation
8:00-10:00 Plessy vs. Ferguson
10:00-12:00 Taxes; equal facilities
12:00-14:00 University of Texas Law School; Mr. Sweet
14:00-16:00 Inequality in Southern schools; separate but equal
16:00-18:00 Nonviolent action
18:00-20:00 Brown vs. Board of Education; Montgomery Bus Boycott
20:00-22:00 Montgomery Bus Boycott
22:00-24:00 February 1, 1960 – beginning of sit-ins
24:00-26:00 Sit-ins; desegregating buses; Ohio
26:00-28:00 Segregated bus travel
28:00-30:00 Bus travel; Anniston, AL
30:00-32:00 Freedom Rides; SNCC
32:00-34:00 Freedom Rides; SNCC; violence
34:00-36:00 Mississippi
36:00-38:00 Sit-ins; wade-ins; Mississippi; desegregation
38:00-40:00 History of race relations in Mississippi
40:00-42:00 Mississippi; Ross Barnett; Ole Miss; SNCC in Mississippi
42:00-44:00 Atlanta; Mississippi; Pell City, AL; Jackson, MS; Ku Klux Klan sign in Mississippi
44:00-46:00 Racial conditions in Mississippi; Emmett Till; racial violence
46:00-48:00 “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”
48:00-50:00 Mortality; changes in Mississippi; McComb, MS; Chatawa, MS; Amite County, MS; fear
50:00-52:00 Dante’s Inferno; Amite County, MS; Freedom Rides in context of larger movement
52:00-54:00 Freedom Rides in context of larger movement; significance of Mississippi in movement; Christianity
54:00-56:00 Morality; humanness; change; ability of young people to make change
56:00-58:00 Change in Mississippi; courage
58:00-60:00 “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round”