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Beyond the Book

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 illus., 2 tables, 1 map , notes, bibl., index

ISBN  978-0-8078-5561-4
Published: October 2004

Let the People Decide

Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986

By J. Todd Moye

In the middle of the Mississippi Delta lies rural, black-majority Sunflower County. J. Todd Moye examines the social histories of civil rights and white resistance movements in Sunflower, tracing the development of organizing strategies in separate racial communities over four decades.

Sunflower County was home to both James Eastland, one of the most powerful reactionaries in the U.S. Senate in the twentieth century, and Fannie Lou Hamer, the freedom-fighting sharecropper who rose to national prominence as head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Sunflower was the birthplace of the Citizens' Council, the white South's pre-eminent anti-civil rights organization, but it was also a hotbed of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) organizing and a fountainhead of freedom culture.

Using extensive oral history interviews and archival research, Moye situates the struggle for democracy in Sunflower County within the context of national developments in the civil rights movement. Arguing that the civil rights movement cannot be understood as a national monolith, Moye reframes it as the accumulation of thousands of local movements, each with specific goals and strategies. By continuing the analysis into the 1980s, Let the People Decide pushes the boundaries of conventional periodization, recognizing the full extent of the civil rights movement.

About the Author

J. Todd Moye is assistant professor of history and director of the oral history program at the University of North Texas.


"[An] important book. . . . Puts the civil rights saga in a new perspective."
--American Historical Review

"Offers another crucial piece in the puzzle that is the overall history of the Civil Rights Movement. . . . A thorough representation of a community central to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi."
--The Journal of African American History

"Increases our understanding of the American civil rights movement's complexity and addresses historiographical issues concerning its origins, aims, longevity, and class composition."
--Journal of American History

"Moye's narrative skills prove equal to the task of capturing the civil rights saga of this archetypically Deep South country. Highly recommended."

"A fascinating story that seeks to deepen our understanding by exploring both sides of the [Civil Rights] movement, examining the dynamics of the rural struggle, and extending the time-line of the civil rights era in the 1980s. . . . A vivid portrait of a complicated era."
--North Carolina Historical Review

"An eminent example of the increased attention now rightly being accorded to the African American experience in this country in the 20th century.
--Dunbar on Black Books

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