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. A.H. McCoy

Dr. A.H. McCoy

Physician and astute businessman A.H. McCoy owned a dental practice, two movie theaters and the Security Life Insurance Company of the South, and helped establish the Farish Street Business District in downtown Jackson, which became the hub of the Civil Rights Movement. McCoy worked diligently within the movement, serving as president of the Mississippi Chapter of the NAACP in the 1950s and providing financial backing for equal rights campaigns that helped to uplift African Americans disenfranchised by the Jim Crow South. In 1984, the federal building in downtown Jackson was named for McCoy, making it the first federal building in the nation to be named in honor of an African American.

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.

Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market

Bryan Grocery and Meat MarketLocation where in 1955, Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white shopkeeper

County Road 518 at County Road 24
Money, 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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