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Cromwell, Oliver

Oliver Cromwell was a primary organizer and leader of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance in Leflore County, MS. The Colored Farmers’ Alliance formed to create an organization for black farmers and farm workers who weren’t allowed membership in the whites-only Southern Farmers’ Alliance. In September 1889, a group of whites in Leflore County retaliated against what they saw as a threat to white businesses by black economic independence, threatening Cromwell, whose supporters responded by organizing a march. A 75 black men who stood up to the threats and vowed to protect Cromwell if he were attacked. There were reportedly 3,000 men ready to defend Cromwell. The sheriff, national guard, and white posse members hunted down black people in Leflore County that were purported to be associated with the Colored Farmers’ Alliance. Although Cromwell escaped and eventually fled the state, as many as 100 black men, women, and children were killed in what is known as the Leflore County Massacre.

Sources:

“The Leflore County Massacre and the Demise of the Colored Farmer’s Alliance,” William F. Holmes, Phylon (1960-) Vol. 34, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1973), pp. 267-274

“Farmers’ Alliance and Colored Farmers’ Alliance”
https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/farmers-alliance-and-colored-farmers-alliance/

“My Ancestor Died in the Leflore County Massacre”
https://www.theroot.com/my-ancestor-died-in-the-leflore-county-massacre-1790859521

Leflore County Massacre

After the success of the all-white Southern Farmers’ Alliance, a group that organized white farmers and farm workers in numbers that grew to about 80,000 by 1890 in Mississippi, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance formed to create an organization for black farmers and farm workers, who weren’t allowed membership in the Southern Farmers’ Alliance. In Leflore County, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance was organized by Oliver Cromwell, who set up several branches there and gained support of black farmers and laborers. In September 1889, a group of whites in Leflore County retaliated against what they saw as a threat to white businesses by black economic independence, threatening Cromwell, whose supporters responded by organizing a march. A 75 black men who stood up to the threats and vowed to protect Cromwell if he were attacked. There were reportedly 3,000 men ready to defend Cromwell. At the request of the local sheriff, three troops of national guard went to Leflore County, where they arrested dozens of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance’s black supporters. A white “posse” gathered and continued to hunt down others after the sheriff dismissed the national guardsmen. Many white newspapers downplayed the events, claiming no one was killed, but many other reports, particularly in the black press, recount greater violence, claiming that at least six Colored Farmers’ Alliance organizers were killed, including Adolph Horton, Jack Dial, J.M. Dial, and Scott Morris. Some accounts described as many as 100 black people killed, including men, women, and children. There were no accounts of white people being injured or killed.

Sources:

“The Leflore County Massacre and the Demise of the Colored Farmer’s Alliance,” William F. Holmes, Phylon (1960-) Vol. 34, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1973), pp. 267-274

“Farmers’ Alliance and Colored Farmers’ Alliance”
https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/farmers-alliance-and-colored-farmers-alliance/

“My Ancestor Died in the Leflore County Massacre”
https://www.theroot.com/my-ancestor-died-in-the-leflore-county-massacre-1790859521

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

Considered one of the most integral organizations in the 1960s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “Snick”) functioned to offer young people a voice during the Civil Rights Movement. SNCC was founded during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) hosted at Shaw University in April of 1960. The meeting was organized by Ella Baker, and SNCC was adamant during its formation that it would function separately from other Civil Rights organizations to facilitate their own projects and strategies.

SNCC was most prominent in states such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland as they played major roles in the early 1960s by participating in various sit-ins and the freedom rides of 1961. The organization shifted focus in 1962-1966 to increase voter registration for people of color, a project that was initiated in McComb, MS. SNCC also participated in the March on Washington in 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, and were advocates for the formation of the Mississippi Democratic Party in 1964.

After the Democratic Convention of 1964, a dichotomy began to emerge as members began to grapple with the ideology of non-violence as a core value of the organization. One group favored a nonviolent approach while others began to favor black power and Marxism. Under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael as the chairmen of SNCC from 1966-1967, SNCC pulled away from its philosophy of nonviolence. Other members began to question how much longer SNCC could stay nonviolent and remain an effective organization in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1969, SNCC was officially renamed the Student National Coordinating Committee, abandoning their guiding principle of nonviolence. SNCC largely disappeared by the early 1970s due to a decline in funding, ambiguity amongst leadership, and disconnect in organizational philosophy.

History.com (2009). SNCC. Retrieved from: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/sncc

King Encyclopedia (2017). Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Retrieved from: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee_sncc/

Greenwood (Leflore County)

Frank R Parker in his book Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965 describes Greenwood, the county seat of Leflore County, as being the “testing ground for democracy for the civil rights movement.”For two years starting in 1962, multiple civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) came into Leflore County and Greenwood for the sole objective of registering blacks to vote. They joined a grassroots system already in place to win the right to vote for members of the black community.

The reasons that made this area ripe as a “testing ground”are also detailed in Charles Payne’s I’ve Got the Light of Freedom. One-third of the state’s population lived within sixty miles of Greenwood in those times, and that population was a majority black. At least since the Depression, Payne describes, the black community had made grassroots efforts to organize and solidify its base, in many ways for protection rather than to pursue a singular objective such as enfranchisement. Black society may have been separated from white, but it in some ways thrived independently due to economic and social support within its own community. Two local organizations that had a great influence in Leflore County were the Elks Club and the Citizen’s League, formed in 1957-58. The Citizen’s League focused on voting rights and the voter education movement. Over time, national rights organizations would come in to help organize Leflore County efforts.

During the middle of the Movement in the spring of 1963, the responsibility for the movement in Greenwood and Leflore County began to shift back to the locals with many of the national activists moving on to other battlefields such as Birmingham. Charles Payne describes it this way:

Black people by the hundreds had gotten in the streets
and fought for themselves, they had withstood a wave
of repression as severe as anything the Delta had seen
in at least a decade, and they had set the white folk back
on their heels for awhile. For young people long disgusted
with what looked like cowardice of the older generations,
for older activists who had been working for years with
little to show for it, there was some triumph mixed in
with the disappointment. The movement hardly collapsed.
Indeed, more people were arrested in June [1963] than
in March, and they were local people. After most of the
outsiders had left, local organizers and local people went
right back to the slow process of building a solid movement,
with more confidence than ever.

The national and state organizations and the young activists had been a catalyst for extreme changes in the social order of Greenwood, Leflore County, and the Mississippi Delta. They also took their experiences to other parts of the country and the South.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

NAACP of Leflore County

Leflore County was where early local civil rights efforts met the national movement. This collision caused conflict early in the Civil Rights Movement. Payne describes how in the 1950’s, efforts by the black community to start a local chapter of the NAACP failed several times. The local chapter was originally formed in 1952 but went through a period of inactivity before being reformed in both 1956 and 1958. While those within other local civic and church organizations began to meld their ideas and objectives with those of national organizations, it seems the labeling of a group as “the NAACP”invited negative attention – a backlash – from the white community, and was therefore abandoned, or would at least weaken in strength and numbers to be ineffective.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

Jordan, Cleve; Block, Sam; Bevel, James; and Moore, Amzie

Cleve Jordan of Greenwood, Sam Block and others like James Bevel of Itta Bena, Amzie Moore of Cleveland and Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, were able to mobilize existing churches and civic organizations throughout the county and the Mississippi Delta, and blacks began to attempt to register in larger numbers. The reaction by local whites was violent. In Greenwood, a local SNCC office was attacked by an armed mob. Homes and businesses were burned. Bob Moses and Randolph Blackwell were shot at while traveling in a car. Worker Jimmie Travis was seriously hurt in the attack. Protestors and marchers were attacked by police dogs.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

SNCC, CORE, COFO of Leflore

National support to the local region that ultimately helped turned the tide toward voting equality came to Leflore County in the 1960s. The Kennedy administration created the Voter Education Project which gave support to national organizations who sent in local economic and volunteer support to voter registration efforts. In 1962, multiple civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) came into Leflore County and Greenwood for the sole objective of registering blacks to vote. Locals who had been influenced by these organizations from the state and national level first began to make inroads into the community – like activist Sam Block from Cleveland. Their entrance was slow and extremely labored, volunteers working door to door and living hand to mouth. Workers were arrested and put in jail on sham charges. They were harassed by officials and often had to change living and working locations lest those locals who were giving them support suffer as well.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

End of the Federal Food Program

In October, 1962, the white county board of supervisors cut off a federal food program, a program that gave 27,000 people in the county, a large part of them black, aid on which to survive. The supervisors were probably reacting to the burgeoning voter registration drives, but they claimed that they could not afford the distribution. In the spring of 1963, this action brought national attention and an outpouring of support of money, food, and clothing. Comedian Dick Gregory and famed Mississippi activist Medgar Evers brought a spotlight to focus on the effort and to the injustices being suffered in the region.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

Mississippi Valley State University

Mississippi Valley State University is one of three state public historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the State of Mississippi. The state legislature passed laws to establish MVSU – then called “Mississippi Vocational College”- in 1946. The goal of the college was to train teachers for rural and elementary schools and to provide vocational training.

The college, the eighth of Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning, opened in the summer of 1950. The first full academic year, 1950-51, began with fourteen regular students and seven faculty members. The college offered the Bachelor of Science degree in fourteen areas and provided Extension Services.

In 1964, the name was changed to Mississippi Valley State College and began offering liberal arts, science, and education degrees. In 1974, the college was granted the status of being a “university.” MVSU started its graduate program in 1976.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.