Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964

Article excerpt

Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964. By Debbie Z. Harwell. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. Pp. [xii], 257. $65.00, ISBN 978-1-62846-095-7.)

The summer of 1964 in Mississippi readily evokes images of fear, violence, and death, countered by even greater strength and dedication to equality, all set in the sweltering cotton fields and cramped Freedom Schools where the hard work of voter registration and education took place. Seemingly incongruous with these images are middle-aged, middle- and upper-class ladies, costumed in dresses and white gloves, sipping coffee in well-appointed living rooms. As Debbie Z. Harwell argues, however, women like these--northern and southern, black and white--played a valuable and often overlooked role in instigating change during the tumultuous months of Freedom Summer. In recounting the goals and actions of the Wednesdays in Mississippi (WIMS) project, Harwell relies on records of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and other archival collections. Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964 provides a valuable look into the organizational history of WIMS, which was established by the NCNW in collaboration with a wide range of religious and civic organizations. The book also offers significant insight into how women from diverse backgrounds thought about issues of civil rights.

Harwell's account is an important corrective to the continued overshadowing of the role and importance of women in the civil rights movement. She traces the history of the by-women, for-women WIMS project, in which '"Cadillac crowd'" ladies from the North, both black and white, flew into Mississippi on Tuesdays and on Wednesdays traveled across the state to observe Freedom Schools, community centers, and even mass meetings and rallies (p. 46). Relying heavily on their impeccable images as proper, churchgoing ladies engaged in harmless Progressive era-style social housekeeping, the Wednesdays women faced much less opposition for being outside agitators than did the more visible, and aggressive, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations. …

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