On the Impact of the Movement go to audio


The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi brought about tremendous changes. No longer were blacks denied the right to vote, to eat, shop, and swim where they pleased, and more importantly, to attend integrated schools. The movement instilled in black Mississippians a sense of pride not seen since the days of Reconstruction. Having opened up the Magnolia state to the rest of the world, civil rights activists succeeded in demonstrating the power of nonviolent direct action.

Despite its many accomplishments, however, the civil rights movement had its shortcomings. For example, many people, both young and old, lost their lives, homes, jobs, and families. Still other individuals were so damaged by psychological trauma that they ceased being productive members of the community. The movement left intact the economic inequities that had contributed to the maintenance of segregation. And finally, racism remained alive and well long after the movement's end. Like most movements of its kind, the civil rights movement left behind a mixed legacy of triumph and tragedy. Nevertheless, it changed the way blacks and whites thought of themselves, and therefore helped to advance the cause of social equality.

Charles Young, elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1978, is a former civil rights activist. He noted that one of the things accomplished during the movement was the recognition of talent. "You know for so long we have had the expertise, knowledge, and ability to do, but was never allowed the opportunity. Even though that is still not 100 percent today, the exposure has given us the opportunity to show the world a lot of our talent." He added that, on the other hand, the movement "helped set us back some, especially in the economic field, because nothing from the primary white community has ever drifted over to the black community."

Mrs. Julia Holmes, one of the Meridian activists, thought that the movement brought a number of positive changes to Mississippi. She told one interviewer that after the movement, "blacks began to feel like they were worthy" and their "self-esteem just went up sky high. And they felt that they didn't have to bow down to anybody and that they were as good as anyone else." In addition, she noted that "after the murder of the civil rights workers, [blacks] really felt that they should be beneficial to society, and they started owning their own businesses and running for office." And, she added, "conventional wisdom would say that Vernon Dahmer, Medgar Evers, and the three civil rights workers that were murdered would probably be amazed if they came to our town because it is wracked with drug problems, debilitating poverty, and violence." On the other hand, she insists that they "would be pleased with the number of people who are trying to persevere in the face of adversity. And I think that they would find hope in this. So, the movement was not in vain and they didn't die in vain." She concluded that the movement "did wonders" for Mississippi.


audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.       
                                                                                                                                Total time: 1 minute, 29 seconds

I think that the Freedom Democratic Party and civil rights movement in Mississippi served to advance the cause of poor people in Mississippi, but it also served to harm them. A lot of people—. If you look at C.O. Chinn, and you look at what he had when we got there and what he had when we left, he was virtually broke and destitute by the time we left Mississippi. I learned later that he was set up and sent to [the] penitentiary, all of which, I'm sure, was because of his participation with the movement. While Mrs. Hamer was able to go on, and Victoria Gray was able to go on, and re-establish themselves and to take care of themselves financially, the road is covered with bodies of people who couldn't, that we dislodged from their lifestyles, arguing that we were there to help and to improve the situation, but, when we left, they were much worse off than when we got there. And that concerns me. That really bothers me. You know.

--Matt Suarez was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, he joined the civil rights movement by working with both SNCC and CORE. He later moved to Mississippi and helped to organize the movement there. Suarez was the first state director of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.












audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.     
                                                                                                               Total time: 2 minutes, 5 seconds

It succeeded in its way, I suppose, I mean, it changed the state forever. It more or less—you know, Phil Ochs had a song back around, roughly that same time, I think. It had a line that went something like "Mississippi, find your self another country to be part of." I think that is the way that line went in the song. Well after '64 Mississippi became a part of America. What you could see at the end of '64 was that Mississippi was really a part of the U.S. I mean, it wasn't some weird and obscure place. That is a bitter lesson. I think that is part of why the Mississippi delegation wasn't seated in Atlantic City and why Mississippi today has a lot of large problems that are generally associated with urban northern communities—if my own quick surveys of Greenwood and Greenville are anywhere near accurate today. And for the people who participated in the project, it changed them a lot. I mean, you talk to young guys now, somebody like say Wilbur Cologne, who is a Mississippian in Columbus, Mississippi, now a businessman, but who was a Freedom School student. It had a big impact on him. I think the legacy is probably in some people who were involved both expanded, extended, and changed their lives. You know, if you mean legacy in a political sense—well, I don't think the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] is much of a presence in Mississippi now. But certainly efforts nudged the Mississippi Democratic Party into something other than what it had been, and that's a part of the '64 project.

—Charles Cobb, organizer for SNCC.