Community Center

The original site of many of the voter registration meetings was in the Sanctified Church (presently known as New Jerusalem) prior to being moved to the Community Center. The church also served as the first Head Start center in the county. The church burned down in 1964. A large community center was built on that same place in the fall of 1964.

Initially, it was difficult to convene large meetings of farmers and plantations workers unless they lived on the Marcella, Mileston, Chaw-Chaw, Dawson, or Good Hope plantations. Many of the plantation owners forbade their workers from attending such meetings, thus most of the time one representative from a plantation would attend the meetings and carry the information back to the others. During late 1964-1965 participation from the plantations strengthened. With this surge in attendance came the displacement of sharecropping families at the hands of the plantation owners as punishment for attending voter registration meetings. By some estimates 75-100 people were ejected from the land their ancestors had farmed for two or three generations, their houses burned to the ground. At that time the plantations held anywhere from 110 to 115 families on them. The combined effects of mechanization and participation in voting rights efforts in essence saved the plantation owners costly renovations incurred by compliance with the government’s requirements for habitable housing (including the installation of indoor bathrooms).

The local independent black farming community pulled together with civil rights workers during these evictions to provide farming opportunities and housing for the families whose knowledge and skills outside of farming were very limited. These farmers and workers taught those who were displaced how to apply for welfare and food stamps, to pay bills (light, gas, and water), to file income taxes, and to see to other business that the plantation owner had always handled for them.

Griffin McLaurin, a Covington County activist, recalled his experiences for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History. He said civil rights activists “were guarding all of our houses”and “we formed a little group that was patrolling the community and keeping an eye on our community center.” McLaurin noted that there was still plenty of fear because they received threats on their lives every day. He added that although individual citizens and racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan “blew up a lot of cars on the road going to the center,”they did not succeed in bombing it because they kept a 24-hour watch on the building. McLaurin stated that “they’d come in late at night and try to get to the center, but we had our guards. We stood our ground, and whenever we heard something that we thought wasn’t right, we had our firepower.”

The community center was basically run by members of the local community, including several young ladies with the required knowledge and skills to do the necessary tasks: Rosie Head, Elise Galleon, Zelma Williams, Catherine McLaurin, Rose Berta Clark.

Sources:

http://www.usm.edu/crdp/html/transcripts/manuscript-mclaurin_griffin.shtml