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African American History Forum

"And a child shall lead the way"

"And a child shall lead the way": ... Children's participation in the Jackson, Mississippi, black freedom struggle, 1946--1970
by Chamberlain, Daphne Rochelle, Ph.D., The University of Mississippi, 2009 , 266 pages; AAT 3358357
Abstract (Summary)
Guided by common ideals, diverse groups of people and organizations contributed to the success of the modern civil rights movement. African Americans' desire for social, economic, and political equality spawned a massive freedom campaign in the American South. Grassroots activists challenged the system in what African Americans considered the most segregated and most repressive state in the country, initiating the Mississippi movement. Children were at the center of this movement. This dissertation examines the roles of youth as political activists in the Jackson, Mississippi, struggle for civil rights.

Although children played a pivotal role in the movement, scholars have marginalized their participation. This dissertation offers a narrative account of youth participation in Jackson, while providing a historical context for their activism. Before the Birmingham "Children's Crusade" in May 1963, before the crisis in Little Rock at Central High School in September 1957, and before the landmark Brown decision in May 1954, black youths in Jackson had already taken the initiative to challenge the system of Jim Crow. Youth activism during the pre-movement years influenced the development of an organizing tradition in Jackson, which ultimately helped sustain the Mississippi movement.

This study treats a youth-led 1946 bus boycott in Jackson as a precursor movement, highlighting youth leadership in the absence of a significant organizing tradition. Although youth involvement declined in the 1950s, the local branch of the NAACP sought to mobilize children for community activism by forming a Youth Council. In the early 1960s, black children further organized and participated in the first major civil rights demonstrations in Jackson. Even as ideals shifted from nonviolent direct action to militancy, Jackson youths remained politically active until 1970, when the public schools were finally desegregated.

Using oral testimonies, manuscripts, video footage, primary, and secondary sources, this dissertation reveals the significant role of children in the Jackson movement. As successful pioneers in 1946 and politically conscious activists in subsequent years, these youths worked to effect positive change for more than two decades. Their sustained involvement demonstrated that children could lead the way to social progress.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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