Joseph Jackson Jr. Made Civil Rights History as a Member of Mississippi's Tougaloo Nine
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
"You know you don't belong here!" a worker yelled at 23-year-old Joseph Jackson Jr. as he walked into the Jackson, Mississippi, main public library on March 27, 1961, to try to desegregate it. "You go back to your library!" Dozens of angry, white faces surrounded the slight, bespectacled, nervous student as he made his way to the information desk and into the front lines of war. In a couple of months, freedom riders would get arrested by the hundreds in the city; the following year, James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi with the help of U.S. Marshals only to have a deadly riot erupt around him. The year after that saw Jackson weather a sit-in at Woolworth and the assassination of legendary activist Medgar Evers. And in 1964, the murder of three civil-rights workers brought in the federal government and led Nina Simone to pen her scintillating smackdown of the Magnolia State, "Mississippi Goddam."
Jackson knew those troubled times were ahead, but he had a job to do. Heart thumping wildly, his body getting numb, the Youth Council president for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recited his prepared words. "Ma'am, I want to know if you have this philosophy book," he stammered to the stunned lady who had just told him to leave, in a voice that everyone at the library could hear. "I need it for a research project over at Tougaloo College," the all-black Southern Christian school that Jackson attended.
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