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.