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Derrion Arrington
Standing Firm in the Dixie: The Freedom Struggle in Laurel, Mississippi
In this comprehensive study, Derrion Arrington chronicles Laurel, Mississippi's rise into national notoriety, its fall from grace, and its reemergence into the national spotlight. On the back of its Freedom Movement, Laurel survived the onslaught of the early cold war years and persisted during even the darkest days of Jim Crow Mississippi. The Laurel story defies triumphant narratives of dramatic change, and presents instead a layered, contentious, untidy, and often disappointingly unresolved civil rights movement. Perhaps a concealed treasure of mass social reform, Laurel’s Freedom Movement possessed keen foot soldiers who helped mobilize a rural southeastern town in the heart of the Mississippi Piney Woods. The town’s black bourgeoisie in concert with its working class developed and sustained an expansive vision of social change that is sporadically scattered across Civil Rights historiography. Internal and external networks of African Americans in Laurel rooted in daily fights for equality formed critical hubs centered around public integration, voter registration, and economic justice. Similarly, the most visible leaders such as Benjamin E. Murph, Susie Ruffin, and Arwilla Davison all based their own advocacy around the militant organizing tradition of their time. African Americans swelled the ranks of the Laurel Nonviolent Movement playing key roles both behind the scenes and in public demonstrations. From the 1950s through the 1960s, community based civil rights activism consistently dovetailed. Often orchestrated from the increase of mass white resistance from local government officials and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)—which, in most cases, the two were indistinguishable.