Resistance to Racial Equality in Mississippi


Jackson, Mississippi, police lock young demonstrators in a cattle wagon. (Matt Herron/TAKE STOCK/The Image Works.)

Individuals and institutions intent on maintaining white supremacy in Mississippi responded to federal intervention, U.S. Supreme Court orders, and an influx of civil rights activists with criminalization, terrorism, and violence. Rev. George Lee, Vernon Dahmer, and Lamar Smith were murdered in Mississippi after encouraging Black citizens to vote in the 1950s and 1960s.

Medgar Evers, a Mississippi native and Navy veteran, became the state’s first NAACP field secretary. His work to promote racial equality attracted death threats from local white supremacists. On June 11, 1963, 37-year-old Evers was shot and killed outside of his home in Jackson while his wife and children were inside. His murder and burial at Arlington National Cemetery made national and international news.

In 1964, the “Mississippi Summer Project” brought hundreds of college students to the state to register Black voters and teach in freedom schools. Activists Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were murdered by Klansmen and found on August 4, 1964, near Longdale, Mississippi, after a long, high-profile search.

Students and activists working for racial equality in Mississippi were targeted by law enforcement officials and faced arrest, imprisonment, and police brutality. In June 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer and other activists were arrested and brutally beaten by police in Winona, Mississippi. In June 1965, police arrested hundreds of protestors at the state capitol in Jackson. Mississippi became known as the most dangerous and violent place to fight for racial justice during the civil rights era.