Bringing the Movement Home to Small Cities and Rural Communities
While the civil rights movement gained momentum in the upper South, it became increasingly clear that this heightened movement activity did not extend to smaller cities and isolated pockets of the rural South. Following the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott civil rights movement organizations -- primarily the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality ( CORE) -- targeted southern cities for direct action -- that is, sit-ins and organized protests. The Freedom Rides, precipitated by CORE, resulted in several successes in the upper South. In the Deep South, this challenge to segregation in interstate travel resulted in bloodshed and left the racist order intact. 1 Strategies were needed to link movement organizations to these otherwise isolated areas. Bridge leaders would fill this need.
What became increasingly clear was the need to penetrate the very core of these southern communities. Mobilization of Black populations in the deep pockets of the rural south and in smaller cities had been weak, yet their participation was critical for the demise of the powerful and ruthless southern order. Civil rights organizations, especially CORE, the SCLC, and SNCC, sought to mobilize these areas, but they were well aware of the dangers such tactics posed for both organizers and community members. Direct action in the rural south was a prescription for death. Even registering to vote was life-threatening. Still, the organizations formed