Local people : the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi /

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Main Author: Dittmer, John, 1939-
Format: Book
Published:Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1994.
Series:Blacks in the New World
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Review by Choice Review

Dittmer traces the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement from the end of WW II until its demise in 1968. Although the initial efforts of local middle-class National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) members for voting rights and school integration largely failed in the face of extreme white racism and violence, a broader, deeper grassroots movement emerged in the 1960s that dramatically altered Mississippi's "closed society." Catalyzed by youthful organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and their umbrella organization, the Congress of Federated Organizations (COFO), poor African Americans successfully claimed their voting rights, overcame a reign of terror, and challenged segregation. This is one of the very best studies of the Civil Rights Movement. Based on extensive research, it is a powerful analysis that reveals the Mississippi movement, black and white, within the larger social, economic, and political contexts. Powerfully written, Local People is a major study of one of America's most important social movements; it is most highly recommended for all audiences. J. Borchert; Cleveland State University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Dittmer's stirring history of the struggle for racial justice in Mississippi tells the story in all its grim, often shocking detail. He delivers a damning indictment of the Kennedy administration for its half-hearted policies and failure to enforce the Supreme Court's ban on segregation. White churches, the author shows, consistently opposed black demands for equality and offered no leadership during the crucial 1960s. After 1966, he contends, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had little impact on the Mississippi movement, whereas the grass-roots Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party made strides in black empowerment. Along with key figures, such as Medgar Evers and James Meredith, Dittmer, a DePauw history professor, profiles dozens of unsung heroes. He also demonstrates that women played a dominant role in the black freedom campaigns of the '60s. His assessment of gains and setbacks to date (``More than half the state's black children . . . were living below the poverty line in 1990'') will jolt readers. Photos. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A historian who taught for 12 years in Mississippi presents a thorough and sensitive study of the struggle for civil rights in what was at the time the nation's most racially repressive state. Dittmer (History/DePauw Univ.; Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 1900-1920, not reviewed) moves chronologically from WW II to 1968, mining a rich variety of sources to describe the numerous incremental battles in towns around the state. White Mississippi in the 1950s bolstered its ``siege mentality'' with harsh new laws blocking racial reform; while many in the black middle class were afraid to rock the boat, activists like the NAACP's Medgar Evers galvanized young people to wage sit-ins. Civil rights groups like CORE and SNCC joined in; organizers like SNCC's legendary Robert Parris Moses learned the importance of working closely with local communities. In 1962, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) formed a united front of protest groups; its dual goals--quiet local grass-roots organizing and national publicity to gain federal protection--were, the author notes, contradictory. With the Kennedy administration sluggish on civil rights, COFO organized ``Freedom Summer,'' the 1964 education and voter registration project involving many white volunteers; Dittmer ably describes the project's successes and tensions. He also covers the historic efforts of the insurgent Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic presidential convention and the effects of the mechanization of cotton farming and the abortive War on Poverty. Dittmer concludes that the Mississippi movement, like other major American social movements, hit a cycle of compromise in which much political change was accomplished while fundamental economic change was deferred. Though some black activists attribute the movement's decline to the white influx during ``Freedom Summer,'' Dittmer suggests that rapid social changes nationally also weakened the movement's cohesion. More such analysis of larger issues would have been welcome, but the book's strength is in the details.

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