Date of Award

Fall 12-7-2023

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

School

Humanities

Committee Chair

Dr. Kevin Greene

Committee Chair School

Humanities

Committee Member 2

Dr. Rebecca Tuuri

Committee Member 2 School

Humanities

Committee Member 3

Dr. Douglas Bristol

Committee Member 3 School

Humanities

Committee Member 4

Dr. Andrew Haley

Committee Member 4 School

Humanities

Abstract

“Fractured activism” examines internal conflict within the southern civil rights movement between 1965 and 1970, focusing on one of Mississippi’s largest cities and hub of civil rights activity: Hattiesburg. This study interrogates the activist community’s fracturing, while broadening the field’s understanding of the nature of the civil rights struggle in the city, and how the movement has since been remembered and memorialized. This dissertation reaches the conclusion that conflict within Hattiesburg was more than a struggle for power and resources between different activists and civil rights groups. It was provoked, instead, by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) desire to regulate and control the representation of the civil rights movement to the public. At the heart of this was a larger shift in strategy during the second half of the 1960s that saw the NAACP prioritize potentially advantageous coalitions with powerful whites who held influence and power. For these connections to be successful, it was necessary to portray the local movement in a way that highlighted it as non-threatening, safe, and respectable. On several occasions the NAACP attempted to disassociate with individuals and organizations who threatened this portrayal, thus distancing themselves from the language of Black empowerment, self-determination, and armed resistance that were integral components of the local experience. In Hattiesburg, the NAACP found a unique opportunity to dominate this process due to the changing organizational landscape that was provoked by the collapse of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in 1965, the murder of local activist Vernon Dahmer in 1966, and the aftermath of the city’s downtown boycott of white businesses in 1967. These three events are positioned at the core of this dissertation and are central to its larger argument.

Available for download on Wednesday, December 07, 2033

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