Mississippi, America

Narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, this story uses archival footage and on-camera interviews to reveal the little known, but important chapter in US history: how America’s attorneys volunteered to assist Black Mississippians in their battle for the right to vote and political representation in the 1960’s. It is a story of persistence and courage in the face of oppression and life-threatening violence. Broadcast on PBS Primetime television (1996 – 1999).

00:00Copy video clip URL Juneteenth Productions logo 

00:08Copy video clip URL Musical intro with collaged footage including a sign that reads “Mississippi Welcomes You” and historical footage of the Jim Crow era in Mississippi, interspersed with present-day footage of cars on the highway. 

00:29Copy video clip URL “Thirty years ago, James Earl Chaney, along with Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman surrendered their lives in the struggle for freedom for Black Mississippians. The struggle did not only free the black Mississippians but it also broke the shackles on white Mississippians. It was learned that you could not hold the black Mississippian down without blocking progress for all Mississippians.” says Rev. George Johnson at the Freedom Summer Reunion Memorial.

01:04Copy video clip URL Ben Chaney, brother of James Chaney, gives a speech at the Freedom Summer Reunion Memorial. Footage of people at the memorial and a close-up of the gravestone of James Earl Chaney. 

01:27Copy video clip URL Onscreen text, “Mississippi Summer Nineteen Sixty-Four”. Narration: “Mississippi Summer Nineteen Sixty-Four, the state became a proving ground for the thousands of black and white Americans who joined together to launch a single strategy: registering blacks to vote, leaving a legacy that forever changed Mississippi’s and America’s outlook on every American’s claim to this constitutional right.”

01:57Copy video clip URL “The goal was simple yet their tasks placed each and every one of them at severe personal risk, for the Magnolia State was known for its entrenched political, social, and economic systems that regulated its black citizens to second class status”, explains the narrator. 

02:18Copy video clip URL Frank Parker, a professor at the District of Columbia Law School, explains how discriminatory the voter registration process that the state of Mississippi once had was. Aaron Henry and Bob Moses also discuss the discrimination that black people in Mississippi faced when attempting to register to vote.

03:10Copy video clip URL “Mississippi funds and agencies indeed supported its segregation and discriminatory policies. In Nineteen Fifty-Four, the Sovereignty Commission was formed by Governor JP Coleman to craft legislation that would block the school desegregation mandated in the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision.” Followed by a clip of J.P. Coleman giving a speech. 

03:48Copy video clip URL Henry Kirksey, civil rights activist, says “State Sovereignty Commission was clearly a criminal agency of state government, [it] aligned itself with the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizen Council.” The narrator explains that the Citizens Council in Mississippi was formed by white businessmen to prevent integration. Aaron Henry and Bob Moses discuss the era of the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties in Mississippi in terms of race relations and policy. 

05:08Copy video clip URL Voice over explains that Freedom Summer had two basic goals: register black Mississippians to vote and educate them to pass the complex registration requirements. Aaron Henry recalls growing up in Mississippi and wondering why white children got to attend school longer than black children. 

06:47Copy video clip URL Bob Moses discusses the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which set up the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department. Rep. John Lewis talks about getting legal representatives in Mississippi to protect civil rights activists. 

07:58Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “The Attorneys” George Crockett, of the National Lawyers Guild, recalls trying to find lawyers who would be willing to go into Mississippi and defend civil rights workers. The Lawyers Guild was the first integrated Bar association in the nation. Historical photos of the Guild are shown. Earnest Goodman, of the National Lawyers Guild speaks about opening an office in Mississippi to provide legal council to civil rights activists.

11:58Copy video clip URL R. Jess Brown, Carsie Hall, and Jack Young were the three remaining lawyers in Mississippi at the time to take on scores of civil rights cases. Mrs. Aurelia Young, widow of Jack Young recalls Young studying to become a lawyer and the discrimination he faced. Members of the National Lawyers Guild discuss facing rumors that the organization was a Communist front. 

17:01Copy video clip URL Historical photos of Mississippi, George Crockett speaks about being fearful to practice law in Mississippi for civil rights cases but after seeing the brutality civil rights workers were experiencing during his first case, he says he wasn’t afraid anymore. 

19:02Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “The Crusaders” Highlights of the people from Mississippi who led the movement for black voter registration, including Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, and Sam Bailey. Sam Bailey speaks on camera about involving the NAACP in the fight for civil rights in Mississippi. 

20:54Copy video clip URL Henry Kirksey, civil rights activists, speaks about meeting with Medgar Evers to strategize on getting black teachers to register to vote. Discussion of violence against civil rights workers and youth and the arresting of students after they held a sit in at the Jackson public library. Following the ramping of violence from police against youth and civil rights activists, demonstration for voter registration increased, as well as arrests.

23:55Copy video clip URL The voice of Jack Young speaking, saying “They arrested kids and somebody had to represent them. So the burden fell on Carsie, Brown, and me. Three folks couldn’t possibly be in six places at the same time, so this was quite a problem.” Hollis Watkins speaks on his initial resistance to northerns joining the black voter registration in the south. 

27:13Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “The Strategy” Narration explains that joining in the fight for black voter registration in Mississippi were sixty-six attorneys and law students representing the Lawyers Guild, another one hundred people joined the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law.

30:44Copy video clip URL Discussion of the violent bombing and burnings of black homes and establishments in retaliation for voter registration efforts. “During the summer, thirty homes and buildings were bombed, thirty-five churches were burned, and eighty people were beaten by white segregationists, law enforcement authorities arrested over one thousand blacks and whites for voter registration related activities” William Kunstler, civil rights attorney, discusses the Federal Civil Rights Removal in Title Twenty-Eight that helped them get people fair bail and released faster when arrested for voter registration activism. 

33:58Copy video clip URL Three civil rights activist went missing after investigating a black church that was burned in Philadelphia. Their names were Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney, and Michael Henry Schwerner. It was later found that police released them to a Ku Klux Klan mob to be murdered. 

37:17Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “The Legacy” Narration: “At summer’s end, only seventeen hundred Black Mississippians were registered to vote. Although, seventeen thousand had tried, their efforts were not in vain. On August sixth, Nineteen Sixty-Five, president Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

38:45Copy video clip URL Footage from Nineteen Sixty-Five of then president Lyndon Johnson giving a speech on the day he signed the Voting Rights Act into law. 

39:42Copy video clip URL Narrator explain that Mississippi political institutions rearranged voting districts to thwart the Black vote after the Voting Rights Act. 

40:53Copy video clip URL Footage of Paul B. Johnson, former Governor of Mississippi giving a speech. “And nowhere was the backlash against black political representation more evident than within the redrawn second congressional district.Located in the northwest corner of the state, the second district was home to the state’s wealthiest cotton plantations and largest black population.”, explains the narrator. 

42:33Copy video clip URL “To overcome this latest roadblock to voting rights, Mississippi Civil Rights groups organized to take their struggle into the courts.” Footage of Lawrence Gia speaking, to which the narrator speaks over, “Lawrence Guyot, chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, created the strategy challenging the states racist political structure. In Nineteen Sixty-Four, the interracial group challenged the seating of the all white Mississippi delegation at the Democratic National Convention. In Nineteen Sixty-Six, they filed the first in a series of federal lawsuits.” 

44:24Copy video clip URL Henry Kirksey discusses drawing maps of the congressional districts in Mississippi to demonstrate the racially discriminatory district lines. 

46:24Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “The Unfinished Agenda” Discussions of the disparities that still exist economically between black and white Mississippians even though Mississippi has a high number of black congress members. 

49:42Copy video clip URL Highlight of Southern Echo, a grassroots organization that continued the work for justice and equality in Mississippi. 

52:02Copy video clip URL Constance Slaughter-Harvery says “when we got the right to vote, we expected change and we got change, but this country permitted and embraced slavery. . . the roots of this country happens to be racism.”

53:07Copy video clip URL George Crockett says, “The big problem, however, and you’ve heard this before, is to convince young blacks what the situation was then as compared to now. They take all of the freedoms and so forth for granted. They don’t, I don’t think, feel the necessity of making the sacrifices that we made going into Mississippi and so forth.” 

55:10Copy video clip URL Credits




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