Mississippi Action for Progress (MAP) was founded in 1966 to receive federal funds to run Head Start programs. It challenged and ultimately superseded the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) as the primary group to run Head Start in the state.
As an important part of the War on Poverty in the mid-1960s, the US government’s Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) made a commitment to Head Start programs to improve the education and health of young children in poor areas of the country. The CDGM was a private group that hoped to carry on the goals of the freedom schools of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as evidenced by its headquarters at Mount Beulah, which shared space with the Delta Ministry and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; its conscious interracialism; its rhetoric of local control over local affairs; and many of its leaders, such as founder Tom Levin, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member Fred Smith, and Marian Wright. In 1965 the CDGM received a large federal grant to run Head Start programs in Mississippi.
Conservatives in the state condemned the CDGM as a leftist organization that was challenging the racial hierarchy, in part by creating jobs for young troublemakers. Gov. Paul B. Johnson, Sen. John Stennis, and other government leaders criticized the CDGM for putting up bail money for jailed demonstrators and more broadly for not knowing how to handle money, especially large federal grants. Stennis and Sen. James Eastland were among the Mississippi leaders who urged OEO director Sargent Shriver not to give more money to CDGM.
At the end of 1966, the US Congress hesitated to give another large grant to CDGM to run Head Start programs. In response, some Mississippi leaders, including Hodding Carter III and Aaron Henry of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded MAP. Other leaders included Owen Cooper, Leroy Percy, and Oscar Carr of the traditionally conservative Delta Council and Robert L. T. Smith and Charles Young, two younger African Americans who wanted to work with the existing Democratic Party. MAP received considerable criticism because it competed with the CDGM for funds and respectability. Critics saw MAP as one sign of the difficulties faced by innovative, countercultural forces in turning the energy and activism of the civil rights movement into platforms for local control and a new type of education. The OEO, happy to get away from controversies surrounding the CDGM, granted most Head Start funding and authority to MAP. Fannie Lou Hamer condemned the decision: “We aren’t ready to be sold out by a few middle-class bourgeoisie and some of the Uncle Toms who couldn’t care less.” Wright saw the decision as another example of powerful Mississippians trying to prevent African Americans from obtaining funds to run programs for themselves.
Members of MAP and CDGM argued over the proper direction and leadership for Head Start until 1967, when the OEO stopped giving funds to CDGM. In an attempt to quell the controversy, MAP hired Helen Bass Williams of Tougaloo College, a former CDGM worker, as its director and offered a compromise between federal and local control over Head Start.
MAP remains an idealistic organization dedicated to improving the health and education of the state’s poor children. By 2016 it ran sixty-one Head Start centers offering education, health care, meals, and other programs for more than six thousand children in its twenty-five-county service area, and it has expanded its range of services to include family literacy and environmental health concerns.
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1995)
- Polly Greenberg, The Devil Has Slippery Shoes: A Biased Biography of the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), a Story of Maximum Feasible Poor Parent Participation (1990)
- Kay Mills, Something Better for My Children: The History and People of Head Start (1998)
- Mississippi Action for Progress website, www.mapheadstart.org
- Kim Lacy Rogers, Life and Death in the Delta: African American Narratives of Violence, Resilience, and Social Change (2006)
- Crystal R. Sanders, A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Freedom Struggle (2016)
- Clyde Woods, Development Arrested: Race, Power, and the Blues in the Mississippi Delta (1998)