A Tremor In the Iceberg: 1959–1963

In the 1960s, a new generation of activists rose to breathe fresh urgency into the Civil Rights Movement. Where World War II veterans had emphasized voter registration and legal challenges in the courts, this younger generation seemed less willing to wait and more determined to confront Mississippi segregationists directly and publicly. From a Pike County jail, Bob Moses described it as the “tremor in the middle of the iceberg from a stone that the builders rejected.” Young activists organized in Mississippi with the aid of people from all over the nation. They provided energy, new methods, and a courage perhaps steeled by their naiveté about the waiting consequences.

From the Gallery

Explore artifacts, photos, and documents featured in the A Tremor in the Iceberg gallery.

Blood on the Beach

Dr. Gilbert Mason launched Operation Surf at Biloxi Beach on April 17, 1960. Despite assurances of support from members of his church, he was the only one to wade in. He was arrested immediately. Inspired by his example, about 125 people, many students from Nichols High School, showed up on April 24 to wade in the water. Sovereignty Commission files later revealed that local police were aware of the group’s intentions and purposefully assigned a “skeleton crew,” despite their knowledge that local Whites were planning to “take care of this situation.”

When activists took to the beaches at three locations along the 26-mile stretch, they were immediately attacked. Dr. Mason described “hordes of snarling White folks . . . with bricks, baseball bats, pipes, sticks, and chains.” The White mob attacked the unarmed Black protesters while police watched. Another group met a similar fate farther down the beach, and violence later erupted in the town of Biloxi with eight Blacks and two Whites wounded by gunfire.

Timeline: 1959-1963

Aaron Henry Home and Store Fire-Bombed

In April 1962, Aaron Henry hosted Rep. Charles Diggs at his Clarksdale home. The Black Michigan congressman was a longtime ally and a vital link to the Kennedy administration. Diggs spoke at Jerusalem Baptist Church, and the two men toured civil rights work in Mound Bayou and Greenwood. They were in Henry’s home on Good Friday when it was bombed. Miraculously, no one was injured. Henry’s wife and daughter escaped while the two men put out the fire. Police arrested Ted Carr and Luther Audrey Cauthen. Despite testimony from an eyewitness who had seen them making the bombs, both were acquitted. Three weeks later, another bomb exploded in Henry’s 4th Street drugstore.

Video Tour

Medgar and Myrlie Evers: A Legacy of Courage and Activism

Courthouse Attack

A day after police arrested the Tougaloo Nine in 1961, a crowd of local Blacks gathered outside the Jackson courthouse to show support during the trial. They broke into spontaneous applause as the students approached the courthouse. Police responded by attacking the crowd, beating them with nightsticks and pistols. A newspaper photographer snapped a photo of a police German shepherd attacked a local Black leader.

The courage of the students and the police brutality united the Black community. That night, approximately 1,500 Blacks rallied in solidarity. Myrlie Evers later called it “the change of tide in Mississippi.” For the first time, Blacks young and old, poor and middle class were solidly behind the Movement. The event began a cycle in Mississippi—young people engage in public, nonviolent protests; police respond with violence; the community rallies around the Movement. 

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. James Anderson

Dr. James Anderson

James Anderson provided care for wounded Freedom Riders in 1961 and for other SNCC demonstrators who were refused treatment in segregated hospitals in Jackson. After serving in the Air Force, Anderson completed his medical degree at Meharry Medical College and returned home to Jackson where he was a front line organizer for the Council of Racial Equality (CORE). In 1970, as part of his mission to provide quality healthcare to African Americans in Jackson, he cofounded the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Care Center along with Dr. Aaron Shirley. The center became the first state medical facility to serve homeless individuals and continues to serve Hinds County through a partnership with the University of Mississippi Medical Center. 

Jack Reed Sr. - Courtesy Mississippi Economic Council

Jack Reed Sr.

"I think we all have a responsibility that we do what we think is right, and I thought if I wasn’t going to say it, who was?" Tupelo businessman Jack Reed Sr. was president-elect of the Mississippi Economic Council in 1963. On January 22, he spoke before hundreds of business leaders and legislators in Jackson—only a few months after the integration of the University of Mississippi. Tensions ran high, with state leaders pledging to close all public schools. In the landmark speech, Reed condemned the violence and made the case for education and academic freedom. His audience walked out. Later, letters of support from White Mississippians poured in. Reed went on to become a leading moderate voice and lifelong supporter of public education.

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.

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home

Medgar and Mylie Evers HouseHome and assassination site of famed civil rights activist

2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Dr.
Jackson, Mississippi 

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Tougaloo College

Tougaloo CollegeBecame a primary center of activity of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi

500 West County Line Road
Tougaloo, Mississippi 

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