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

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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.

Representative Robert Clark - AP Images/Bill Johnson

Representative Robert Clark

Robert G. Clark Jr. was the first African American elected to the Mississippi state legislature in the 20th century. A public high school teacher and coach, he had served on the Holmes County Community Action Program board and as project director of the Migrant Farmer’s Education Program. In the 1967 election, Clark benefited from an alliance of the NAACP, the MFDP, and local people when he defeated 12-year House veteran J.P. Love by just 116 votes. Clark would serve for 36 years, eventually chairing the House Education Committee, where he played a key role in the passage of the Education Reform Act of 1982. For 12 years, Clark served as Speaker Pro Tempore.

Judge Fred L. Banks - Photo courtesy NAACP

Judge Fred L. Banks

Fred Banks "chose to enter the law to help African Americans achieve equality." After earning his juris doctorate in 1968 from Howard University, Banks returned to Mississippi and helped win important victories in the areas of public accommodations, voting rights, and school equality and integration. Banks was in the second wave of African Americans to be elected to the Mississippi legislature in the wake of Robert G. Clark Jr. As a member of the House of Representatives, he was a leader in the effort to make legislative districts fairer and more inclusive. In 1985, Banks was appointed judge of the Seventh Circuit Court District, and in 1991, he became a justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court. 

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.

Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University

Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State UniversityHonors its namesake’s legacy through artifacts, exhibits, and public programs

1400 John R. Lynch Street
Jackson, Mississippi

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Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden

Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial GardenDedicated to the memory and legacy of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer

929 Byron Street
Ruleville, Mississippi

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