Learn more about the Southern Women

Southern Women

The WIMS teams called the handful of southern women upon whom they depended their “angels.” They served as hostesses, arranged housing and rental cars; they laundered the rent checks that came from the NCNW to pay for Goodwillie and Vivell’s apartment in the Magnolia Towers; they made contacts for the staff in Mississippi, and they recruited others to open their homes to the northern women. These women helped pave the way for the WIMS team members.

barbara barnesBarbara Barnes:  Head of the central YWCA in Jackson, Barbara Barnes met multiple times with the WIMS organizers in advance of the first trip and arranged or meetings with YWCA board members and Lillie Belle Jones, director of the branch YWCA. She had just made the executive director in 1964, a time of transition in the community and the local organization for compliance with civil rights legislation. Deeply impacted by Medgar Evers’s murder, Barbara Barnes felt concerned for the safety of the YWCA students and those coming down for Freedom Summer. She saw the value in having members of the national YWCA board discussing what they saw in the student projects with Jackson women, particularly those on her board who continued to resist the national YWCA policy against segregated facilities. Barnes told Polly Cowan that she hoped that she would live to see “the end of the Revolution” because when people could have “real friends in both races” then the South would be a nice place in which to live. In 1968 with the support of the board of directors, the Jackson YWCA opened all locations to everyone. Her obituary notes that when Barnes retired in 1984, she reflected in an interview “I don’t know of any other way I would have been associated with people of so many diverse cultures and races.”

Read Barbara Barnes’s obituary.

Lillian Burnstein: The wife of Norman Burnstein, Lillian headed the local organization of Jewish women. She belonged to the Sisterhood of Temple Beth Israel in Jackson, Hadassa,h and the National Council of Jewish Women, although Jackson did not have a chapter. A white woman, she initially had reservations about participating in WIMS but became more involved as the first summer progressed. The Burnsteins came to Jackson in 1948, and Lillian became active in community affairs. She served as president of the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and the Lester School PTA, and was a member of the Jackson Civic Arts Council and the Jackson Council on Human Relations. Prior to coming to Mississippi, she taught special education in New Orleans and Milwaukee.

portrait_CCHClarie Collins Harvey: An African-American resident of Jackson, it was Harvey who stood up at the Women’s Inter-organizational meeting in Atlanta that asked the NCNW to send women to her to community to act as a “ministry of presence” in anticipation of increased violence during the summer of 1964. Clarie was the only child of Malachi and Mary Collins, owners of Frazier and Collins Funeral Home in Jackson. In 1943, she married Martin Luther Harvey, who became a dean at Southern University. She joined her mother in managing the family business in 1950, and they changed its name to Collins Funeral Home. After her mother passed, Harvey became CEO and expanded the. She had an M.A. in personnel administration from Columbia University, completed post-graduate work at New York University School of Business Administration and Union Theological Seminary, and held many certifications in mortuary science. Described as an elegant, articulate woman, Harvey was well-respected in both the black and white Jackson communities as a successful businesswoman and humanitarian. In 1961 she founded WomanPower Unlimited to support the Freedom Riders on trial in Jackson. The organization grew to an interracial network of over three hundred women who supported voter registration, school desegregation, and other civil rights projects. Harvey also served in leadership positions in numerous local, national, and international organizations.

portrait_AHAnn Hewitt: A white Jackson woman, Hewitt acted on WIMS’s behalf at the local level to minimize suspicion about their activities and make contacts with other local women. A widow of independent means, she could not be threatened economically. Even though Hewitt worked for social justice most of her life and was active in the Presbyterian Church and Church Women United (CWU), she appeared less visible as an activist compared to women who served publicly and Susie Goodwillie believed that this was the secret to Hewitt’s success. She was “formidable” in a quiet, southern way. Hewitt reminded Team 1 member Marian Logan of Madame Defarge, a character in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, who hid her plans for revenge during the French Revolution in the patterns of her knitting. Logan jokingly speculated that Hewitt was probably hiding her own plans for the Jackson civil rights “revolution” in the blue sweater she knitted during their meeting.

lilliebellejones (2)Lillie Belle Jones: Director of the black YWCA in Jackson, Lillie Bell Jones agreed to let Doris Wilson and Susan Goodwillie meet in the back room of her facility provided they were careful and did not stay long. This was an important contribution to the effort as Jackson afforded no other place for these women, one black and the other white, to meet without drawing attention to the project. In 1965, Lillie Belle Jones, called for WIMS to return. She wanted team members to expand their reach, creating new opportunities for black and white women to interact.

thelmasanders (2)Thelma Sanders: The owner of a dress shop, Thelma Sanders welcomed African merican WIMS team members into her home. As a business owner, she had a slight advantage because she did not have to worry about losing her job, but she was not totally immune to intimidation. She and her husband, school principal I. S. Sanders, had a bomb explode in their driveway, destroying their car, and blowing out the windows in the guest bedroom where several WIMS team members had slept weeks earlier. Fortunately, the family escaped physically unharmed.

Jane Schutt:  Schutt served on the Mississippi Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from its inception in 1959 and as its chair from December 1962 until September 1963, when she resigned to protect her husband’s job. She reported to the Civil Rights Commission that it was not until she joined the Advisory Committee that she learned the true state of affairs for Mississippi blacks. Schutt attributed her ability to work for civil rights and withstand the criticism to her experiences in the Episcopal Church and the ecumenical movement. After attending interracial meetings in Atlanta and Miami in 1961, she helped found the Interfaith Prayer Fellowship in Jackson. Although she and the Jackson women accompanying her felt that they could not hold integrated dinner meetings as women from other cities intended to do, they believed interracial groups could pray together. Schutt was instrumental at the WIMS coffee with Team 2 in opening an honest dialogue with local women about the state of discrimination and intimidation against African Americans and civil rights workers in Mississippi.