Jason Ward

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20132014 Forum on Violence

Jason Ward

History, African American Studies

Ph.D., Yale University

Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence, Grassroots Struggle, and America's Civil Rights Century

In 1918 and again in 1942, white vigilantes hung African American teenagers from a rusty river bridge near Shubuta, Mississippi. During the 1960s, local African Americans organized to challenge continued repression, discrimination, and economic marginalization. In 1966, a white mob beat civil rights marchers in Shubuta while white authorities lobbied federal officials to defund black-run poverty programs and conspired to ship a local activist to Vietnam. By weaving together three generational narratives of racial violence and grassroots struggle, Hanging Bridge connects a seemingly isolated corner of the Deep South to three watershed moments in America's civil rights century. At three turning points in the black freedom struggle—1918, 1942, and 1966—racial violence in rural Mississippi dramatized national campaigns against lynching, disfranchisement, and the refined forms of repression that historic civil rights legislation failed to stamp out.

This study places violence at the center of the narrative, focusing on the ways lynching and other forms of white repression fueled Jim Crow-era outmigration and transformed black conceptions of racial militancy. Violence also shaped a local civil rights struggle that defies conventional movement timelines and themes even as it influenced national debates over the War on Poverty, the Vietnam War, and the nation's ongoing racial dilemma. Rather than a reassuring narrative of progress from Jim Crow brutality to civil rights triumph, Hanging Bridge uses recurrent racial violence as a framework and analytical tool for probing the unfulfilled promise of civil rights in the rural Deep South.