In 1963 a small group of white Mississippi women concerned about violence and the possible closing of public schools began meeting in Jackson to discuss their support for public education and their worries about the consequences of massive resistance. In 1964 five members of that group—Patricia Derian, Winifred Falls, Elaine Crystal, Mary Ann Henderson, and Joan Geiger—organized Mississippians for Public Education. Henderson, from Jackson, served as the group’s first president. The organization avoided overtly supporting integration but instead urged Mississippi’s state and local governments to obey federal court decisions and criticized plans to provide vouchers for parents who wished to send their children to private schools.
In July 1964 Mississippians for Public Education held public meetings, hired American Friends Service Committee worker Constance Curry to organize the group’s efforts, formed new chapters in at least ten Mississippi towns, and took out newspaper advertisements to clarify the organization’s position. The advertisements explained that the tuition grants program was a bad idea because the grants would cost too much, would leave other students in poorly funded public schools, would put money into unaccredited new private schools, and would perpetuate divisiveness that might encourage violence. Winifred Falls Green later recalled that the group hoped “to attract large numbers of white women across the state of Mississippi to, if in no other way, stand up in the bedroom and say to their husbands, ‘We won’t have this. We are not going to be Prince Edward County, Virginia, and we’re not going to be Little Rock, Arkansas.’”
Mississippians for Public Education walked a line between the goal of keeping public schools open and the fear of being branded an organization of radicals. The newspaper advertisement stated that they were not “debating the pros and cons of desegregation or state’s rights,” and Curry pretended to be Falls’s old college roommate rather than a veteran of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Historian Charles S. Bolton concludes that Mississippians for Public Education “encouraged white parents to stick with the public schools and ultimately had more success than the Jackson’s [sic] Citizens’ Council chapter’s effort to create a system of white-only private schools.”
- Charles C. Bolton, The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870–1980 (2005)
- Constance Curry, Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (2000)
- Jackson Clarion-Ledger (19 July 1964)