A Closed Society, 1941–1959

In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt named four freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. World War II would reshape America. Communities, families, and individuals would be changed. Black citizens served in global conflicts, but began questioning why—what were they fighting for? Black soldiers and nurses returned home transformed, but Mississippi still held fast to Jim Crow. As the war in Europe and Asia wound down, the battle lines at home were drawn. 

From the Gallery

Explore artifacts, photos, and documents featured in the A Closed Society gallery.

Timeline: 1941–1959

Video Tour

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. T.R.M. Howard - Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-135350

Dr. T.R.M. Howard

A charismatic leader, Dr. T.R.M. Howard came to Mound Bayou in the 1940s to serve as chief surgeon at the Knights and Daughters of Tabor Hospital. He also owned a plantation and the Magnolia Mutual Insurance Company. In 1951, Howard founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in Cleveland. Hosting national figures like Thurgood Marshall and Mahalia Jackson, Howard drew thousands to rallies at his plantation. The RCNL called for voter registration and “first class citizenship for Negroes in Mississippi.” Howard spoke out against police brutality and started a boycott of gas stations that did not provide restrooms for Black people.

Betty Pearson - Photo courtesy of University of Mississippi Press

Betty Pearson

Raised on a cotton farm, Betty Pearson grew up with segregation, but the Marine Corps exposed her to people and cultures beyond Jim Crow. She returned committed to ending segregation. In 1955, she and college roommate Florence Mars attended the Emmett Till trial. They were struck by the racial hatred displayed by Whites. In 1959, she agreed to serve on the Mississippi Council on Human Relations, and later accepted an appointment to the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. 

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.

Tallahatchie County Courthouse

Tallahatchie County Courthouse in SumnerLocation of the 1955 Emmett Till murder trial

401 West Court Street
Sumner, Mississippi 

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Reverend George Lee Museum

Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights MuseumMuseum dedicated to Reverend George Lee and other civil rights heroes.

17150 US HWY 49
Belzoni, Mississippi

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