LOCAL PEOPLE: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer

LOCAL PEOPLE: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi

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KIRKUS 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.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0252065077
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois Press