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Supporting school desegregation in Mississippi

Constance Curry, 1933-2020

Photo: AFSC

Constance (Connie) Curry grew up in Greensboro, N.C., and studied political science in college and abroad. From 1960–64, she directed the Southern Student Human Relations Project of the National Student Association and became the first white woman on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 

In 1966, as AFSC’s Southern Field Representative, Connie was in frequent contact with the Carter family of Drew, Mississippi— one of the first African-American families to try to desegregate public schools in the Mississippi Delta region by sending their children to school. Connie had established this relationship on her assignment to investigate the intimidation of and reprisals against Black families attempting to desegregate the schools under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Over the course of her nearly 10 years, she helped the family find a house, secure jobs, and ensure fair treatment for their children. Her reports of visits to the Carters were often filled with stories of unfair treatment by the local community. After one particularly disheartening trip in January of 1966, Connie writes, “Well, on this dismal note, we left, wanting to strangle HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare], the Justice Department, and all of the people who passed the Civil Rights Bill and everybody else who had allowed this kind of hope to be followed by such a wondering kind of disappointment.” 

Despite their struggles, seven of the eight Carter children who desegregated the Drew schools graduated from the University of Mississippi. Connie returned years later to collect the oral histories of the family, writing “Silver Rights: The story of the Carter family’s brave decision to send their children to an all-white school and claim their civil rights.” She dedicated her book to “the unsung heroes of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement who risked their lives and livelihoods to secure a better education for their children.”

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