In the early twentieth century, Black people in Mississippi who aimed to exercise their rights as citizens of the United States had few allies. State and local government officials, acting under the authority of the 1890 state constitution, blocked efforts by black citizens to vote and operated separate schools for White and Black children. In other states, by the 1930s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had developed a strategy to gain full citizenship rights: use the courts.
Building the Collective “voice of Negro women in Mississippi”: The National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi in the 1960s and 1970s Lesson Plan
With this article, Rebecca Tuuri introduces the history, mission, and innovative female leaders who championed the National Council of Negro Women from its inception in 1935 through its spread and successes specifically in the state of Mississippi during the 20th century. Focusing on NCNW’s efforts to unite diverse social and political organizations, Tuuri describes how the National Council for Negro Women has worked to support Black women in achieving leadership roles, promoting health and education, and achieving Black pride in Mississippi communities.
Building the Collective “voice of Negro women in Mississippi”: The National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi in the 1960s and 1970s
In November 1966, Noel Henry, wife of prominent Clarksdale NAACP leader Aaron Henry, sent her regrets to Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). Height was organizing a workshop to draw Black women leaders of all socioeconomic levels from around the state to Jackson to discuss how the NCNW could be most helpful to them. While Henry could not attend, she confirmed the value of bringing women, “regardless of status,” together.
Grades 7 through 12
MS.8.3 - Evaluate the lasting impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Mississippi.
US History: 1877 to Present
US.3.2 - Trace the development of political, social, and cultural movements and subsequent reforms, including: Jim Crow laws, Plessy vs. Ferguson, women’s suffrage, temperance movement, Niagara movement, public education, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Marcus Garvey.
In May 1954, the United States Supreme Court announced in a unanimous decision that segregation—the practice of separating Black and White students, by law, within the public school system—was unconstitutional. That decision, Brown v. Board of Education, set into motion decades of organized, White opposition in southern states that had, since the 1890s, enforced laws to ensure that Black students and White students would not attend the same schools.
In January 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept the resignation of Minnie Geddings Cox, postmistress for the city of Indianola and Mississippi’s first African American postmistress. Roosevelt subsequently closed Indianola’s post office, and it remained closed for more than a year. The newspapers called the incident the “Indianola Affair.” Raised by business owner parents and educated at one of the premier schools for aspiring African American women, Cox sought opportunities beyond the traditional expectations for women of the time.
In January 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept the resignation of Minnie Geddings Cox, postmistress for the city of Indianola and Mississippi’s first African American postmistress. Roosevelt subsequently closed Indianola’s post office, and it remained closed for more than a year. The newspapers referred to the post office closing as the “Indianola Affair.” Cox’s role in the Indianola Affair, however, has been reduced to a footnote in early twentieth-century United States history.
Nearly ten years after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), most Southern school districts remained racially segregated, and decades of educational disparities wrought devastating economic consequences for Black Mississippians. In the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) established forty-one Freedom Schools in Mississippi.
The 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer was perhaps the most ambitious extended campaign of the entire Civil Rights Movement. Over the course of roughly two months, more than 1,000 volunteers arrived in Mississippi to help draw media attention to the state’s Black freedom movement, to register African American voters, and to teach in Freedom Schools that were established to supplement the inferior educational opportunities provided to black youths in the state’s public schools.