Breaking down human barriers and mobilizing women
The only civil rights project organized by women for women as part of a national women’s organization, Wednesdays in Mississippi (WIMS) brought interracial, interfaith teams of northern middle-aged, middle- and upper-class women to Jackson, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964 to meet with their southern counterparts. Conceived by Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan and sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), WIMS operated on the principle that the team members’ gender, age, and class would serve as an entrée to southern women who had criticized and dismissed other civil rights activists as radicals. The WIMS team members’ respectable appearance and quiet approach enabled them to open lines of communication between black and white Mississippi women and build bridges of understanding across region, race, and religion.
WIMS offers a new paradigm through which to study civil rights activism. It challenges the view of Freedom Summer activists as young student radicals and demonstrates the effectiveness of the quiet approach taken by middle-aged women presenting themselves as proper ladies. It confirms that the NCNW involved itself in civil rights work, promoting integration and black voting rights as well as addressing education, poverty, hunger, housing, and employment.
After successful efforts in 1964 and 1965, WIMS in 1966 became Workshops in Mississippi, which directed its efforts at alleviating the specific needs of poor women. Projects that grew from these efforts still operate today.