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.

Judge Reuben Anderson - McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi

Judge Reuben V. Anderson

In 1967, Reuben Anderson became the first African American to graduate from the University of Mississippi School of Law, just five years after James Meredith integrated the university. He started his legal career working as a civil rights attorney for the firm Anderson, Banks, Nichols, and Leventhal. He practiced for ten years, serving as an associate council for the Mississippi NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund. He often carried his diploma with him into courtrooms in Mississippi to prove he was an attorney. Governor Bill Allain appointed Anderson to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1985. He was the first Black justice and served until 1991.

Dr. John A. Peoples Jr. - MDAH Photographs Collection

Dr. John A. Peoples Jr.

After earning his doctorate of philosophy, John Arthur Peoples Jr. became the sixth president of Jackson State University in 1967. During his 17-year tenure as president, the university saw increased growth in enrollment, programs, and infrastructure. In 1970, Peoples witnessed the police shootings that took place on the university’s campus. Peoples recalled, “I walked into the [dorm] and there was blood running down the stairways and the smell of gunpowder in the air.” Even after this violent attack, Peoples was able to maintain the positive reputation of the school and uplift student morale. In 1993, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame.

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.

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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Holy Family Catholic Church

Holy Family Catholic ChurchFirst Catholic Church in Mississippi River Valley with exclusively African American congregation

16 Orange Avenue
Natchez, Mississippi

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