Honoring The Civil Rights Movement


Remember that popular song whose lyrics celebrate ignorance?

“Don’t know much about history, don’t know much geography…?”

In the end, what matters to the young man in the song is getting the girl.

But is it important is it that we, and those who follow us, know and respect the past? If history matters to you, then please read on. The words were penned by Jim Loewen, the historian and writer of a wonderful book, Lies My Teacher Told Me.

If you find yourself with money to give this holiday season, Tougaloo College is a worthy recipient.

(S)ome good folks are working on funding a “Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Chair” at Tougaloo College. As you may know, Tougaloo played an important and unique role in the Movement itself, and this offer might be of interest to you.

Tougaloo is a small predominantly black college located at the edge of Jackson, MS. During the civil rights movement, most black colleges took a “hands off” role, especially those under state control but many private schools as well. Not Tougaloo. Even at the risk of its survival, Tougaloo backed its students when they got arrested, provided space for groups to meet, invited speakers whom white Mississippi deemed controversial if not subversive, and retained and promoted faculty members who campaigned for an end to racial segregation. At the time, these were very courageous, dangerous, and radical actions.

Tougaloo admitted Joyce Ladner and her sister, for example, when Jackson State expelled them for participating in civil rights movement activities. Joyce went on to become an award-winning sociologist and the first female president of Howard University. In her words, “Perhaps no other college in the South played as central a role in the Movement as Tougaloo. Founded over a century ago, Tougaloo was always a leader in human rights. It provided a liberal education to black students not found anywhere else in the state. In 1961, it found itself at the forefront when the “Tougaloo Nine‟ students staged the first sit-in in Mississippi at the then all-white Jackson Public Library.

Tougaloo hosted civil rights activists from the Freedom Riders in 1961 to the Meredith March in 1966. Prominent leaders and ordinary citizens found safe haven at Tougaloo, which was called “an oasis of freedom” because it was the only place where integrated groups could gather. Prominent individuals such as Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokeley Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer, Julian Bond, Joan Baez, and Congressman John Lewis spoke at its historic Woodworth Chapel. Students, faculty, and staff were arrested for protesting racial discrimination at segregated white churches, the city auditorium, and were beaten at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter. We students routinely conducted voter registration drives across the state, a boycott against Jackson businesses, and some of us were deeply involved with SNCC, COFO, and the Freedom Democratic Party.”

Now, some private individuals with the support of the college have undertaken a campaign to endow a “Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Chair” at Tougaloo. In Ladner’s words, “It will be the College’s first endowed chair and the first such chair in Mississippi devoted to the Civil Rights Movement.” She goes on to say, “Tougaloo paid a heavy price for its involvement. It was dubbed “Cancer College” by whites, and the Mississippi State Legislature attempted to revoke its charter.” To this day, Tougaloo is not able to draw on the economic elite of Mississippi for the kind of support that many other colleges get from their areas and states. That’s one reason this campaign is so important.

An endowed chair will make a huge difference at Tougaloo, both by funding an important faculty position and also by improving campus morale. I am helping with this campaign because I feel that a dollar given to Tougaloo goes further, compared to any other college. …

Tougaloo … does more with less than any other college I know. Even with its limited financial resources, it still offers a fine education. In Ladner’s words, “It was at Tougaloo that I learned the importance of using knowledge to promote social change. Professors at Tougaloo encouraged us to explore languages, the decolonization on the African continent, participate in Crossroads Africa, join the Peace Corps, and apply for graduate and professional schools. Tougaloo students continue to enter graduate, medical, and law schools in disproportionate numbers compared to its peer institutions.”

This professorship will allow the college, again quoting Ladner, “to bring to the campus the kind of nationally known scholar the students deserve the right to have as part of their education. Such a professor will be a role model for faculty colleagues as well as students. This endowed chair will help retain an impressive faculty member or to recruit a nationally renowned professor who will provide distinction to the College. This chair will also enable the College to continue its proud tradition as a leader in the struggle for human rights, as a continuing legacy.”

Today, all that many young people in Mississippi know of the civil rights movement is “Martin Luther King Jr.” And he played only a minor role in Mississippi! Simply establishing a Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Chair will honor and remember a great cause, a magnificent campaign.”

I do not know Professor Loewen, just his book. I learned of the proposed Endowed Chair from Richard Rothstein, the brilliant education analyst and writer when he sent a mailing to those on his list. It struck a chord with me, because I spent two wonderful years teaching English at Virginia State College, another HBCU, in the late 1960’s and know how those institutions, their faculty, and their students battle the odds.

I went online to donate but found that process frustrating. I did speak with someone in the development office who told me that they ‘had a long way to go’ toward the goal of $2 million.

If you wish to donate, send checks made out to “Tougaloo College,” with the “for” blank saying “Civil Rights Chair,” to Tougaloo College, Office of Institutional Advancement, 500 W. County Line Rd., Tougaloo, MS, 39174.

Whether you are in a position to donate or not, please share this message with like-minded people who care about civil rights and justice for all.

Right about now most of us are looking for ways to reduce our tax obligations, and all gifts are fully tax-deductible. So you will feel good, while doing good for others and for your own bottom line.

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3 thoughts on “Honoring The Civil Rights Movement

  1. Hi, John: Thanks for this. After making a contribution to Tougaloo for the Civil Rights Chair, I posted the info on my Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/parkerjpalmer in connection with a brief report on Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” 292 people have “Liked” this post so far, and it’s been shared 37 times on other people’s Facebook pages. I hope others will link to what you say here on their Facebook pages, blogs, etc. It’s an important cause. Best, Parker


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