The tactic of nonviolence was essential to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, especially the campaigns waged in Mississippi. Movement organizers had long understood that the defenders of Jim Crow would go to any length to maintain their power and control over blacks. As a result, they sought to take advantage of this reality. They reasoned that if enough people outside the South witnessed the terrible violence to which they had been subjected for decades, change might come. They hoped that T.V. cameras and newspaper photographers and reporters would show the world that the primary reason blacks remained in such a subordinate position in the South's politics and economy was because of the widespread violence directed against them. The violence had grown so bad in some areas that some towns developed nicknames based on the carnage. For example, Obie Clark, a NAACP activist in Meridian, noted that "Kemper County was known as Bloody Kemper because of the violence committed against black folks-lynchings and hangings and all." Mrs. Julia Holmes, a student of the Pascagoula Freedom School, explained that "it was like living in Northern Ireland at certain points" because whites "would throw rocks and other foul matter" from their school buses. They never knew what kind of violence they might encounter and therefore "learned how to walk far enough off the road to avoid" being hit. She noted that "the boys really had it bad" because they'd often "be beaten up" trying to visit their girlfriends who lived across town. Sometimes they'd be walking home from football practice, and they'd be harmed. But, she added, "this was life in segregated Pascagoula."
Johnny Barbour, a minister and former NACCP leader in Meridian, described a typical incident in the life of a civil rights activist in the following terms:
I went to my little church one Sunday and they had thrown a bomb in the window because we were housing things for the civil rights movement. And I can remember one day a guy called and said he was going to burn a cross on my lawn. I had a little son, my wife and all these things. It gives you a certain feeling that you are really not comfortable with, and especially when you have decided to take on this situation and be nonviolent which means that you are kind of vulnerable to a lot of things.
For Barbour and a host of other activists, the only way to stop this violence was to expose it. The best way to expose it was to not fight back. Matt Suarez, before becoming a member of both SNCC and CORE, said that he "thought you were absolutely stupid to let somebody hit on you, spit on you, slap you, or throw anything on you." After he realized the power of nonviolence and the courage it took to practice it, he changed his mind.
These activists reasoned that even the most uninterested person would be appalled at the sight of young children and elderly people being beaten and jailed by white racists. They hoped that in this way, the nation's and the world's conscience would be moved to such an extent that the perpetrators of violence would lose credibility and therefore their positions. While people died adhering to this tactic, it is clear that had the activists responded by marching through the streets with guns, they not only would have been mercilessly mowed down, but they would have also failed in winning the sympathy and support of people interested in bringing about "peaceful" change.