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Freedom Summer

Diane Nash – Unsung Hero Of The Civil Rights Movement

Black History: Special Delivery!!

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A native of Chicago, IL, Diane Nash (1938-) was one of the pioneering forces behind the Civil Rights movement. Nash and many other women  were champions of the movement.  She became active in the movement in 1959 as a new student at Fisk University in Nashville, TN.  While at Fisk she would encounter the harsh realities of segregation and prejudice that were previously unknown to her.  In 1959 she attended a workshop focused on non-violent protesting. She would quickly become a respected leader of Nashville’s “sit in” movement.  Her efforts were instrumental in organizing the first successful campaign to end segregation of lunch counters.  This effort engaged hundreds of black and white college students as volunteers.  She was also one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  SNCC would play a major role in the civil rights movement by engaging young college students in civil rights activism.  These efforts were successful and in 1960, Nashville became first southern city to desegregate lunch counters.  Continue reading “Diane Nash – Unsung Hero Of The Civil Rights Movement”

WEDNESDAYS IN MISSISSIPPI: WOMEN MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Black History: Special Delivery!!

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Wednesday in Mississippi (WIMS) is  believed to be the only civil rights project run exclusively by a national women’s organization. The concept for WIMS came from Dorothy Height an African American civil rights activist and President of the National Council on Negro Women, and a close friend Polly Cowan, a white Jewish woman who volunteered with NCNW . WIMS brought black and white women from Northern Cities (including Boston, New York and Chicago) to Mississippi in 1964 during Freedom Summer. On a weekly basis interracial and interfaith teams of women from Northern states (Wednesdays Women) came to Mississippi with supplies and support for rural communities. Local black residents as well as civil rights workers faced the threat of daily violence and harassment as they worked to end segregation and discrimination. The “Wednesdays Women” had the opportunity to experience the impact of racism and injustice first hand.

On Thursdays, “Wednesdays Women” secretly met with black and white women in Mississippi. The meetings usually took place in private homes. In these encounters, southern women shared their fears and concerns regarding the civil rights movement. The meetings had to remain secret because at that time “mixing” with outsiders could have very negative consequences. These meetings were a catalyst for change. In 1966, trainings were also added to the weekly visits.  The collaboration resulted in economic, health and educational programs. One such program that is still exists today is the Fannie Lou Hamer Day Care Center.

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WIMS operated on the belief that the northern participants’ gender, age, and class would serve as a point of connection to southerners who had rejected other civil rights activists feeling they were too radical. All of the details of the project were painstakingly planned. This included travel plans, safety precautions, as well as how black and WIMS workers would interact with each other.

Even their dress was meticulously planned out. Many of the WIMS participants had never even traveled to the south before. Black and white WIMS participants could not be seen talking to each other publicly and could not lodge together. So they wouldn’t stand out, they were advised to wear white gloves like most women of the South did at the time.  If local residents asked, the WIMS participants would say that they were in the city developing a southern cookbook.

Dorothy Height and Peggy Cowan have not received enough recognition for their work with Wednesdays In Mississippi. A documentary film is currently in production for Wednesdays In Mississippi.

Prathia Hall: Where MLK First Heard “I Have A Dream”

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

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Prathia Hall

In 1962 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was visiting Terrell County, Georgia to speak at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. The church had recently been burned down by the Klu Klux Klan. As part of the service Prathia Hall, a young college student, who was volunteer with SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) was invited to pray. Hall was the daughter of Rev. Berkeley Hall, a Baptist minister and was known for her oratory skills. Through her prayer, she shared her personal vision of what she hoped for the future of Black Americans. In her prayer, she used the phrase, “I Have A Dream” many times. Dr. King was very impressed with Prathia’s prayer. In particular, he admired her use of the phrase, “I Have A Dream”. As ministers often do, King would later incorporate “I Have A Dream” into some of his own speeches. By late 1962, the phrase was reported to have been a regular part of King’s sermons. The phrase also became popular due to its use during 2 historic 1963 civil rights marches by Dr. King; “Walk To Freedom” march in Detroit and the “March on Washington” in Washington DC.

Prathia Hill grew up in Philadelphia. Her father, Reverend Berkeley Hall, was a passionate advocate for racial justice. She left her college studies at Temple University to join other college students who were traveling to the south to advocate for civil rights there. Prathia was active in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She eventually became one its first women field leaders in southwest Georgia. Prathia would later go on to become a preacher, and pastor. After her father’s death, Prathia accepted the call of Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia to come and pastor the church her father once pastored. Prathia later enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary and received a Ph.D in ethics. Prathia Hall died on August 12, 2002, following a long illness.

Of Prathia Hill, Dr. King is quoted as saying, “Prathia Hall is the one platform speaker I would prefer not to follow”.

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