—Mississippi Freedom Trail —
The courage of Tougaloo College students, faculty, and staff fueled the Jackson Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by the bravery and resolve of Medgar Evers, students and faculty attempted to integrate Jackson's main public library, restaurants, and churches. In demonstrations and sit-ins, they suffered insults, beatings, and jailings. A private institution, Tougaloo was not governed by racist state policies but did risk the revocation of its charter as it became Mississippi's safe haven for activists fighting for dignity, equality, and justice.
After World War II racial segregation was boldly challenged in Mississippi. Tougaloo College teachers, staff, students, and alumni led the way for voting rights, equal pay, and public access for all. By the 1960s, NAACP youth council chapters had become active, encouraged by Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers. In March 1961, nine youth council members from Tougaloo attempted to use the Jackson Public Library's whites-only main branch. They were arrested on breach of peace and jailed. When the "Tougaloo Nine" arrived for trial, a crowd of students and adults outside the courthouse applauded. Police with dogs turned on the supporters, beating them. The students were found guilty, fined. and given suspended sentences.
Later, the case was thrown out. This first Jackson sit-in stimulated others to stand up and speak out. Two months later Freedom Riders began arriving in Jackson. Tougaloo students joined their call for desegregated transportation and were jailed. The College gave the Riders shelter as they awaited trial and was a safe haven where activists met, organized, and trained throughout the movement.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized supporters on the Tougaloo campus, many of whom would spearhead major civil rights initiatives. Picketing and boycotting downtown Jackson businesses often included Tougaloo participants in pivotal roles. In May 1963, students faculty, and staff led the sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter and were attacked by an angry mob. Since blacks were barred from attending cultural events at public venues in Jackson, Tougaloo campaigned to dissuade celebrities from appearing in segregated facilities, and many cancelled their shows. Entertainers like folk singer Joan Baez came to Mississippi to support the movement, and many appeared at Tougaloo.
Segregationist spies noted car tags of whites in attendance at Tougaloo events and names of Tougaloo teachers and students protesting discrimination and reported them to the State Sovereignty Commission. During this tense time, the
College was the target of drive-by shootings and cross burnings. Nonviolent activists were arrested, treated harshly by police, and jailed. The Tougaloo College community was significantly involved in the massive voter registration-inspired Mississippi Summer Project of 1964 and throughout the 1960s as tragedies and triumphs took their toll and made their mark on Mississippi and the nation.