Oxford had big role in desegregation

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, December 17, 2015

By Jim Adams

While Oxford is well-known in history books as the site of one of the most violent acts of resistance to desegregation in the 1960s, less well-known is that Oxford was one of the most successful communities in Mississippi in desegregating its public schools.

This was largely due to the efforts of local community members, who formed the Oxford Civic Council, a biracial civic organization, with one primary goal — to preserve a strong public school system in Oxford. 

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Forty-five years later the city still has one of the strongest public schools in the state.

Barbara Kingsolver in her novel Animal Dreams notes how the grand narratives of social movements can too easily dismiss the importance of the mundane. She writes, “Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work – that goes on, it adds up.” The daily work that occurred in Mississippi to desegregate its public schools is the subject of a book to be published by the University Press of Mississippi.  The authors of “Just Trying to Have School: The Story of School Desegregation from Those Who Were There” are Drs. James and Natalie Adams, professors at Mississippi State University and The University of Alabama. They have spent the last five years documenting the desegregation of public schools in Mississippi largely through oral histories of people integrally involved in that process – people like Ken Wooten and Ed Meek, both of whom served on the Oxford Civic Council. 

Their book is primarily the story of small-town Mississippians who were the boots on the ground in one of the most significant social and educational changes of the 20th century. Historically it is an important story to be told because it highlights how the daily work of local Mississippi residents contributed to the civil rights movement.   

The book also reminds us of the historical role public schools once played in local communities. People fervently disagreed on much during this time period, but what motivated almost everyone featured in this book was the conviction that their town, their state, and their children were only as strong as their local public school system.

If you would like to share your personal story about school desegregation in the 1960s, contact me at 205-242-7085 or email me at jha17@msstate.edu.

Jim Adams is a professor at Mississippi State University. You can reach him at jha17@msstate.edu.