By Danny R. Johnson – Political News Editor
The new book “Voices from The Mississippi Hill Country: The Benton County Civil Rights Movement,” which was released in July 2020, by the University Press of Mississippi, presents a panorama of biographical profiles on Mississippi African Americans who have made significant contributions in bringing about the uplift of the African American race in the 20th Century. The book’s purpose is to reveal the most significant struggles of a people who dared to venture forth into white and Jim Crow Benton County, Mississippi, challenge the status quo, and succeed in breaking down racial barriers.
Slavery, Reconstruction, and segregation, all so difficult, have presented such overwhelming obstacles in the path of African Americans that, with the odds stacked against them, Benton County African Americans has been more than determined to succeed, to rise above every obstacle that has impeded him or her, and to achieve greatness in the eyes of their fellow Mississippians. Undoubtedly, the hardships, the provincial atmosphere, and the oppressive social systems have contributed to a climate for perseverance and progress in Mississippi. This is an anomaly, a peculiar irony, but true: Mississippi has become a climate for genius based on the sacrifices and extraordinary accomplishments of those brave souls in Benton County.
“Voices from The Mississippi Hill Country: The Benton County Civil Rights Movement,” tells the stories of ordinary men and women who were educated and some who never set foot in a school building, but who nonetheless emerged as leaders and foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.
For this book, the profiles are centered around African Americans like Nelma and Albert Tipler, whom the book described as “two of the most active citizens in the Benton County movement, some of which they attributed to owning their land.” The Tipler family was one of many Benton County residents subjected to a Jim Crow and segregated and unequal system that divided residents into racial categories blurring the legal distinction between being free and being a second-class citizen.
The book describes African Americans’ accounts, no matter their status, of being excluded from public accommodations or put in separate facilities, denied schooling, restricted to their churches, and forced to accept a general etiquette based on the presumed natural superiority of whites.
The authors of this book, Dr. Roy DeBerry, Aviva Futorian, Stephen Klein, and John Lyons, used their sociology, civil rights background, international human rights advocacy and film editing expertise to carefully research the body of work for this book based on over 20 years of combing through public records, personally recorded interviews, private collections, and local newspapers. The authors always kept an eye on the broader focus of the plight of the book’s subjects and the more general Southern problem, while building a convincing narrative for each and focused the attention on their stories within the African American community of Benton County.
“Voices from The Mississippi Hill Country: The Benton County Civil Rights Movement” serves an essential purpose. It seeks to give us a glimpse of Benton County African Americans’ lives during their painful transition from a Jim Crow unequal system to full freedom. This means unearthing the actual conditions among African Americans and examining white attitudes, especially concerning whites perceived as the proper role of African Americans in their communities.
This book serves as an enduring reminder that the quest for what the old guards of the Civil Rights Movement refer to as the “Beloved Community” has yet to be fully comprehended.
This book’s subjects are true heroes and sheroes cut from the same cloth and tradition that included abolitionists and many other varieties of progressive social reformers. Many Americans, including younger African Americans, do not understand or have forgotten how indebted we are to the stubborn tradition of the loyal opposition in American history. The Benton County African Americans whose life’s work is celebrated in this book were and still are the opposition’s determination to put righteousness, conscience, and morality before social and political expediency helped shape some of our fundamental values institutions.