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Parchman, Mississippi State Penitentiary

Parchman is the Mississippi State Penitentiary. During the Freedom Rides in 1961, Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson for challenging segregation on public buses. Twenty-seven riders rode from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson on May 24, 1961. As soon as they got off the bus, they were immediately arrested. After they were sentenced to jail, more and more Freedom Rides took place, often ending in Jackson where they were arrested. More than 300 Freedom Riders were arrested, and many of them were sent to Parchman. Freedom Riders were kept in poor conditions–given clothes that did not fit, not allowed to exercise or leave their cells, and often served inedible food–and ridiculed by prison officials. When the prisoners refused to stop singing freedom songs, their mattresses were taken away. However, the jail also served another purpose. According to Raymond Arsenault in Freedom Riders, “In effect, the Freedom Riders turned a prison into an unruly but ultimately enlightening laboratory where competing theories of nonviolent struggle could be discussed and tested. In the darkest corners of Parchman, where prison authorities had hoped to break the Riders’ spirit, a remarkable mix of personal and political education became the basis of individual and collective survival” (352).

To explore the University of Mississippi’s Freedom Riders archive of video interviews conducted at the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in 2001, visit their website at http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/archives/freedom_riders.php.

See also: Freedom Rides and Former Site of Trailways Busway Station.

Videos about Parchman:

The videos can also be viewed here.

Sources:

Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford, MS: Oxford UP, 2006.

“Mississippi State Penitentiary.” Wikipedia. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_State_Penitentiary>.

Williams, Juan. “Down Freedom’s Main Line.” Eyes on the Prize: America‚Äôs Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin, 1987. 

Fannie Lou Hamer and Civil Rights in Ruleville

The story of the Civil Rights Movement in Ruleville cannot be told apart from the story of Fannie Lou Hamer. The youngest of 20 children in her family, Hamer experienced the hardships of life as a sharecropper. Like many other African American children at the time, she went to school for just four months each year, attending classes in a one-room shack after the harvesting season ended.

Blessed with a sharp analytical mind, Fannie Lou Hamer was able to use her limited formal education in a positive manner, rising to leadership positions on the various plantations on which she worked. She was among the first group of African Americans from the Ruleville area to attempt to register to vote. Her commitment to the pursuit of civil rigths led to the founding of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). A delegation from the MFDP attended the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964, where they exposed the oppression experienced by African Americans in Mississippi (and throughout the South) in front of a national audience. Mrs. Hamer’s testimony at the convention included an impassioned description of the savage beating she received in a Winona, Mississippi jail. In the summer of 1963, Hamer and a group of activists were returning from a meeting of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in South Carolina; when the bus stopped in Winona, several members of the group were arrested for using “whites only” restrooms or sitting at the white lunch counter. While in jail the guards–and several African American prisoners whom they coerced–brutally beat Mrs. Hamer and other members of the group using nightsticks, fists, and a studded leather strap. Mrs. Hamer never fully recovered from the injuries she sustained in this sadistic attack.

Mrs. Hamer’s testimony was many Americans’ first appalling confrontation with the calculated savagery of white supremacy. Calls and telegrams poured into the convention, and the Democratic Party pledged that future conventions would not honor any delegation that had not been democratically chosen. A year later, president Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to curtail voter discrimination and enable the participation of all citizens in the political process.

Mrs. Hamer continued to be a leader in the struggle for civil rights until her death on March 14, 1977. A Memorial Garden was dedicated near her grave site in Ruleville in 2005, and is the final stop on this tour.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

Freedom Schools of Sunflower

Besides registering African Americans to vote as part of Freedom Summer in 1964, SNCC also created Freedom Schools in the Delta, which focused on black history, politics, and artistic achievement. The schools educated both children and adults. Moye reports in Let the People Decide that,”[S]chools [were] a means of consciousness-raising . . . An alternative school system could teach alternative values, which would be crucial to the creation of a movement culture”(125).

Sources:

Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Olson, Lynne. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. New York and London: Scribner, 2001.

Eastland, Senator James

Senator Eastland, born in Doddsville and known as “Slippery Jim,”served in the Senate in 1941 and from 1943 to 1972. His legacy is one of opposition to equal rights for all Mississippians. Before serving in the Senate, he was trained as a lawyer and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He opposed civil rights legislation, specifically denouncing Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Senator Eastland died on February 19, 1986, in Doddsville.

Sources:

Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

McLaurin, Charles

In the 1960s, Charles McLaurin came to Ruleville as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in order to register black voters. McLaurin initially worked out of the Williams Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, using it as an venue to meet local blacks and run a voter educational school. He had to stop using the church when Mayor Dorrough threatened to shut off the utilities and cut tax exemptions because the church was not being used solely for worship (Moye 101). McLaurin responded by going door to door, holding voter registration meetings in yards. McLaurin’s efforts, along with those of other SNCC workers, enabled many blacks to vote by helping them register in Indianola. During his work, McLaurin met Fannie Lou Hamer, who became a model spokeswoman for black voters.

Sources:

Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Park

Byron Street
Fannie Lou Hamer is buried here, and thetombstone contains her oft-quoted phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Sources:

Olson, Lynne. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. New York and London: Scribner, 2001.

Fannie Lou Hamer Speech before the Credentials Committee, 22 July 1964, http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/programs/pauleyg/voices/fhamer.htm.

http://www.fannielouhamer.info/fannie_lou_hamer.html

Campbell Jr., Milton

Inverness is the birthplace of the blues artist, Milton Campbell, Jr., also known as “Little Milton.” Born in Inverness in 1934, he grew up in Greenville. His song, “We’re Gonna Make It”was produced in 1965 and was inspired by the civil rights movement. He recorded with various record labels, including Sun and Stax, and he was initiated into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988.

Sources:

Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

King, Annie Mae

Annie Mae King helped African-Americans register to vote, and during Freedom Summer she housed white volunteers. As a result of her efforts she was fired from her job as a cook, and her home was bombed. Annie May King also was a teacher of Head Start, a federally funded educational program with the purpose of educating blacks and the poor (Olson).

Sources:

Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Olson, Lynne. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. New York and London: Scribner, 2001.

William Chapel M.B. Church

Amzie Moore, an African American businessman from nearby Cleveland, brought workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe (SNCC) to Sunday morning services here on August 9, 1962. They met Joe and Rebecca McDonald, leaders in the curch who opened their home to the young Civil Rights workers. Two weeks later, the SNCC staffers held the first of many mass meetings to be hosted at this site. Fannie Lou Hamer attended this meeting and got involved with SNCC’s efforts to organize a voter registration initiative. Her participation in a trip to the Sunflower County courthouse in Indianola on August 31 was the beginning of her rise to prominence in the Mississippi Movement.

William Chapel suffered several repercussions for supporting Civil Rights activites. The mayor revoked their free water and tax exemptions since the building was no longer being used exclusively for worship. The church was fire-bombed by night riders on June 25, 1964.

It was the women of the church–deaconesses like Rebecca McDonald and Mrs. Hamer–who pressured the pastor and deacons to keep William Chapel open to Civil Rights activities. As historian J. Todd Moye notes,”[Charles] McLaurin, Hamer, and the women of the church continued to use the pulpit on Sundays to cajole fearful congregants into attempting to register at the county courthouse.”
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The next site described in this guide is on private property outside Ruleville. Please read the text on the next page, then follow the directions at the bottom of the page to stop number 2 on the tour.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”