Black Empowerment: 1965–1970

Freedom Summer and the Democratic National Convention challenged Mississippi politics. Thousands of local people became engaged in the Movement. Their desire to claim their civil rights outweighed their fear of violence. Empowerment was taking hold in Black communities. In rural towns, on college campuses, and in large cities, they began to march. When Movement leaders left the state after years of dangerous struggle, local people picked up the torch. A decade that began with Freedom Riders and sit-ins would end with Black leaders running Head Start programs and taking seats in the Mississippi state legislature. 

From the Gallery

Explore artifacts, photos, and documents featured in the Black Empowerment gallery.

Bombs Ignite Natchez Protests

Movement activists faced bullets and bombs in Natchez, a Klan stronghold. As president of the local NAACP, George Metcalf endured months of threatening phone calls and drive-by shootings. On August 27, 1965, his car exploded when he started it following his shift at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant. The bombing came days after Metcalf had filed a petition to desegregate Natchez public schools and asked the county clerk to comply with federal voter registration laws. The bomb sent armed Black protesters into the streets. Charles Evers warned, "We will shoot back."

Miraculously, Metcalf survived the bombing but spent weeks in the hospital. Two years later, Wharlest Jackson was not so fortunate. A Korean War veteran, Jackson had served as NAACP treasurer. Like Metcalf, he had recently been promoted over White co-workers at the Armstrong Plant when a bomb that was planted in his vehicle took his life on February 28, 1967. More than 2,000 marched to the plant demanding justice. Nearly 50 years later, the bombing remained among the unsolved cases of the FBI Cold Case Project.

Timeline: 1965-1970

Video Tour

Dahmer Dies Defending His Family

In the predawn hours of January 10, 1966, members of the Jones County Ku Klux Klan firebombed the home and store of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer Sr. at the Kelly Settlement outside Hattiesburg. Attackers threw Molotov cocktails to lure the Dahmers outside so they could shoot them. Dahmer returned fire, driving off the attackers to enable his family to escape. Severely burned and suffering from smoke inhalation, he died in the hospital soon after.

A longtime advocate for civil rights, Dahmer had been targeted due to his activism on voting rights. Earlier that night, he had announced that Blacks could pay their poll taxes at his store. The Hattiesburg community responded to the attack with outrage. The Black community marched to the Forrest County Courthouse demanding justice. White residents, seeing the newspaper photo of Dahmer’s four sons in uniform standing over the smoking ruins, recognized that Dahmer had not been an "outside agitator" or "communist" but an upstanding member of their community.

Points of Light

The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi is full of ordinary men and women who refused to sit silently while their brothers and sisters were denied their basic freedoms. A number of these heroes are featured throughout the museum as Points of Light, shining exemplars of dignity, strength, and perseverance in the face of oppression.

Dr. L.C. Dorsey - Photo courtesy UMMC Dorsey Research Honor Society

Dr. L.C. Dorsey

A native of the Mississippi Delta, L.C. Dorsey began working in her community for Operation Head Start in 1964. Her involvement led to the founding of Mississippi’s Office of Economic Opportunity and eventually to working within the Movement as a part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). During her time with MFDP, Dorsey organized marches, boycotts, and voter registration drives throughout the state. After completing her doctorate in social work at Howard University, she resumed her duties with Head Start, serving as director of social services. In 1974, Dorsey began her tenure as associate director of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons and was later appointed to the National Council for Economic Opportunity by President Jimmy Carter. 

Margaret Walker Alexander

Margaret Walker

In words and deeds, Dr. Margaret Walker inspired Black people to learn their own history and determine their own future. An English professor at Jackson State College from 1949 to 1979, Walker’s breakthrough poem—For My People (1937)—portrayed the pain of Black daily life while celebrating strengths. In 1966, Walker published her signature novel, Jubilee, based on the life of her grandmother. Jubilee tells the African American story from slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1968, Walker founded the Institute for Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Center) at Jackson State University, where she served as director. 

Explore Mississippi

Many of the homes, colleges, and historic sites discussed in this gallery still exist today. Journey beyond the museum walls and explore the places where history happened.

Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden

Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial GardenDedicated to the memory and legacy of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer

929 Byron Street
Ruleville, Mississippi

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Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center

Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural CenterMuseum housed in the first public school for African Americans in Jackson in 1894

528 Bloom Street
Jackson, Mississippi 

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