This summer I was asked to review a book for our state’s library publication, Mississippi Libraries. The book titled, After Freedom Summer: How Race Realigned Mississippi Politics, 1965-1986 by Chris Danielson, is the history of voting in our state after The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were enforced.
Danielson’s comprehensive book explains the political climate in Mississippi after these acts removed legalized segregation from the South. He explains the cerebral turns African Americans in Mississippi made such as testing the black independent candidates against the black democrat candidates for local elections throughout the different counties. He also demonstrates white and black Mississippians jockeying for the vote in race after race and the new strategies that changed a born white Democrat into a card-carrying white Republican during the “Great White Switch.”
The narrative is not an easy read. At times it can be confusing with all of the acronyms. The first three chapters become an alphabet soup while breaking down the alliances at the poles represented by these factions. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), a grassroots party organized from Freedom Summer’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), fought for the same votes as the top-down organization represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Both MFDP and NAACP found success in two strong democratic leaders in 1965: Robert Clark and Charles Evers respectively.
The constant race results also give a stop and start feel to the narrative. I read about black candidates that win or lose in a 70% white county or white candidates who cater to the black vote because the county is 80% black. There are plenty of black firsts like Evers being elected as the first mayor in Fayette and Robert Gray the first black alderman in the town of Shelby, but they are mentioned as side notes to the races. The ballot count and any legal action that takes place after elections are the important facts in this book.
Danielson’s narrative excels when writing about the major politicians at the time. For instance, Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles, was vastly different from the soft spoken leader. Charles once said, “Medgar chased civil rights…I chased girls, civil rights, and the dollar.” Charles worked alongside his brother on voter’s registration until white hostility ran him out of the state. While in Chicago, he did legal and illegal work. His prostitution and numbers running charges haunted him throughout his career. His personality is well defined by Danielson as we follow boycotts he led and his rivalry with Marie Farr Walker.This is an excellent addition to those who collect Mississippi history books, but be comfortable. Nodding off happens.