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.

Brenda Travis

Brenda Travis

Burglund High School student Brenda Travis became a symbol of courage to local youths in McComb. At age 15, Travis spent weeks canvassing neighbors for voter registration. She lied about her age to join the Greyhound terminal sit-in. Fresh out of jail, she then led the student walkout that landed her back in jail. Travis was expelled and sentence to the Oakley Reformatory School. At Oakley, Travis corresponded with Aurelia Young and other Movement veterans. In 2006, Burglund High gave honorary degrees to those who had been expelled. Randall O’Brien, then executive vice president and provost at Baylor University, had been a twelve-year-old boy in McComb during the walkout. He presented her with the Bronze Star Medal he had earned in Vietnam.

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum - Photo courtesy American Jewish Archives

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum

A Toronto native, Rabbi Perry Nussbaum came to Jackson’s Beth Israel Congregation in 1954. He spoke out against segregation in his sermons, despite a congregation that largely remained silent. In 1961, Nussbaum was moved by the sacrifice of the young Freedom Riders, if not entirely in favor of their methods. Since about a third of the Riders were Jewish, he tried to organize the state’s rabbis to visit them at Parchman, but none agreed. So each week he drove north to Sunflower County to deliver personal items and cigarettes, and he led a short worship service. In 1964, he organized the Committee of Concern, which raised money to rebuild Black churches. As a result of his activism, Rabbi Nussbaum’s temple and home were bombed. 

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.

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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University of Mississippi Civil Rights Monument

University of Mississippi Civil Rights MonumentHonors James Meredith and all those who fought for equal educational opportunities

University Circle
University of Mississippi
University, Mississippi 

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