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.

Governor William F. Winter

Governor William F. Winter

 "Poorly educated people translate into poor people," said Governor William Winter, who led the effort to pass the landmark Education Reform Act in 1982. The act established a public kindergarten system for all Mississippi students, made school attendance compulsory, raised teacher salaries, and tightened teacher certification requirements. Winter held hearing around the state to build grassroots support. Opponents objected to new sales and income taxes used to fund the bill. The Legislative Black Caucus strongly supported the bill because poor schools disproportionately affected Black Mississippians.

Margaret Walker Alexander

Margaret Walker

In words and deeds, Dr. Margaret Walker inspired Black people to learn their own history and determine their own future. An English professor at Jackson State College from 1949 to 1979, Walker’s breakthrough poem—For My People (1937)—portrayed the pain of Black daily life while celebrating strengths. In 1966, Walker published her signature novel, Jubilee, based on the life of her grandmother. Jubilee tells the African American story from slavery through the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1968, Walker founded the Institute for Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People (now the Margaret Walker Center) at Jackson State University, where she served as director. 

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.

Emmitt Till Interpretive Center

Emmitt Till Interpretive CenterEstablished in 2005 to serve as a commemoration of the events of 1955. 

120 North Court Street
Sumner, Mississippi 38957

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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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