Petition By Picket, 1963. Visible from left to right are Rev. Willie Goodloe, Willie L. Schott, and James Julius Guy. The police officer is probably Chief Ben C. Collins.

Credit: Courtesy of Robert Birdsong


Crossroads At Clarksdale chronicles the triumphs and tragedies of the black freedom struggle through the local history of the Mississippi Delta. Hamlin weaves accounts of local stories from Clarksdale; its cotton fields, streets, churches, jails, courts, the Freedom House, Aaron Henry's Fourth Street Drugstore, and Vera Pigee’s Beauty Salon, into the national story of the mass movements for civil rights. From the 1950s and into the 1970s, numerous organizations, college students, and campaigns for social transformation – from desegregation crusades to hard-fought battles for economic justice – passed through Clarkdale and changed it forever.

Hamlin's moving narrative documents choices. Local leaders, like pharmacist and World War II veteran, Aaron Henry, and beautician, Vera Pigee, made decisions as they tried to forge change. They stayed flexible in their associations and manipulated multi-organizational resources to serve their needs and to achieve particular goals. As members of a constellation of local and regional movements, they remained conscious of local circumstances and managed relations with national organizations to cater to their specific situations. Crossroads At Clarksdale also incorporates the overlooked element of gender in organizing among black activists. Hamlin demonstrates how many black women, in a style distinct from male leaders, chose to take advantage of their gendered roles for the black freedom struggle. She shows us the uncertainty in the struggle for equality and how local conditions – from long-term friendships to simmering local conflicts – shaped the fight against racial justice.

Despite the movements and change that swept through the region, including the pioneering community action agency, Coahoma Opportunities, Clarksdale remains at a crossroads. Hamlin boldly poses the question: how do we evaluate success in light of persistent poverty and inequality? National questions, told through Clarksdale, highlight how the story is unfinished.

Vera Pigee working with volunteers at a food and clothing drive in Clarksdale (circa 1961-1963)

Credit: Mary Jane Pigee Davis personal collection

Table of Contents

  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction - The Black Freedom Struggle At The Crossroads
  • Chapter 1 - "Washington was far away": Defining a Different Postwar Delta
  • Chapter 2 - "M is for Mississippi and Murder"… and Mother
  • Chapter 3 - "I Think Freedom And Talk Freedom": Demanding Desegregation, 1960-1963
  • Chapter 4 - "Fires of Frustration": Summers of ‘63 to ’65
  • Chapter 5 - "Children Should Not Be Subjected To What Is Going On There": Desegregating Schools
  • Chapter 6 - "It was a Peaceful Revolution": Johnson’s Great Society and Economic Justice in Coahoma
  • Epilogue - "I Have Not Ended The Story For There Is No End": Continuing Histories of Clarksdale’s Black Freedom Struggle
  • Appendix - Freedom Summer Volunteers in Clarksdale
  • Bibliography
  • Notes