“Through the long, hot summer and the long cold winter, Delta Ministry looks ahead: to a total ministry, to growing self-respect and self-determination among delta Negroes, to a bold new start for some.” So begins the text of a wonderful brochure (found in the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records) that tells the story of the Delta Ministry.
The Delta Ministry was a project begun in 1964 by the New York-based National Council of Churches to provide support to African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The project not only sought to bring economic aid to black Mississippians but also encouraged voter registration and greater political involvement. According to Mark Newman’s 2004 book, Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi, the Delta Ministry began with a 10-year mandate but ended up stretching its support for the citizens of the Delta into the 1980s. This, according to Newman, filled the vacuum created as other civil rights organizations, such as SNCC and CORE, discontinued similar programs of support for poor blacks in the Mississippi Delta.
The group has a fascinating story, much more deftly told by Newman’s extensively-researched book than I could do in this space. The organization’s history deserves greater attention, it deserves even more ink from historians writing on the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement. As an intro, we hope you’ll read and enjoy this Delta Ministry brochure. Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image. Finally, if you’re interested in digging deeper, there are other great materials in Box 59 of the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records.
This video also contains a montage of images, primarily taken from the holdings of the Southern Historical Collection. The SHC contains scattered documentation about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation and about the life and work of Reverend Charles M. Jones, including (but not limited to):
Southern Oral History Program (finding aid for collection #4007): Including these digitized interviews B-0010; A-0035; B-0041; and others not yet digitized.
We are very proud to be the repository for these important primary source materials documenting this often-forgotten episode of Southern history. However, we can’t help but notice that there are many missing pieces in the archival record that might tell the rest of the story. Could it be that there really is only one photograph of the 1947 freedom riders? What about documentation of the cab drivers and others who opposed the riders? We still have our work cut out for us.
Attending the ceremony was George M. Houser, organizer of and key participant in the 1947 freedom rides. Houser, a spry 92-year-old World War II era pacifist, spoke eloquently about his experiences and even broke out a lyric sheet to give a nice rendition of the song “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow.”
This new historic marker in Chapel Hill commemorates a pivotal moment in the late-1940s struggle to desegregate interstate bus, air, and train travel across the United States. The Journey of Reconciliation sought to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia case – a ruling which outlawed the enforcement of state Jim Crow laws over interstate travel. An interracial group of 16 activists, including George Houser and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, embarked from Washington, D.C., traveling through the upper South. They met with strong resistance throughout, with resistance turning to violence during their stopover in Chapel Hill.
Rather than just recount the whole story myself, I’ll let Houser and Rustin tell it in their own words. To document the experience of the Freedom Rides the two co-wrote the pamphlet, “We Challenged Jim Crow” (published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality). The Southern Historical Collection happens to have a copy of it, as a part of the Charles M. Jones Papers. We gladly reproduce it below. The Chapel Hill portion of the story occurs on pages 5 and 6.
[Stay tuned for tomorrow's Part 2 post. You'll hear more about Rev. Charles Jones's involvement in this moment in history and you'll get to hear some of the audio from an oral history with one of the freedom riders...]
Olive M. Stone, an Alabama native, was a sociologist whose work focused on social welfare, race relations, and southern farmers. That’s her, pictured here in Russia, 1931. Stone’s involvement in civil rights and radical politics brought her to a number of southern and northern interracial conferences in the 1930s. This post is the first of three that will highlight some of the documents that represent these conferences in the Olive M. Stone Papers, illustrating some of the earlier stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement.
"The Institute of Race Relations: an attempt at evaluation by a southern woman," #4107 Olive M. Stone papers, folder 6
The Swarthmore institute of Race Relations
July 1934, Swarthmore College, P.A.
Stone wrote this evaluation of the conference, praising it for it’s “truly inter-racial character.” The conference was sponsored by Pennsylvania Society of Friends, lasted twenty-nine days, and featured twenty-nine African American speakers. Excerpt:
“Too often, at inter-racial conferences which I have attended in the South, there is a patronizing approach on the part of the whites and an ingratiating appeal from the Negroes. At such meetings, the races usually sit on opposite sides of a public hall and are discreetly careful to discuss only the most flagrant abuses of discrimination which neither would dare challenge; as, for example, the undue cruelty administered to a certain Negro on a “jim-crow” street-car rather than the whole question of segregation in transportation…”