Divine Agitators

The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi

Title Details

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 01/05/2004

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2532-3

List Price: $30.95

Divine Agitators

The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi

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  • Description
  • Reviews

The National Council of Churches established the Delta Ministry in 1964 to further the cause of civil rights in Mississippi-the southern state with the largest black population proportionately and with the stiffest level of white resistance. At its height the Ministry, which was headquartered in Greenville, had the largest field staff of any civil rights organization in the South. Active through the mid-1970s, the Ministry outlasted SNCC, CORE, and the SCLC in Mississippi, helping to fill the vacuums when these organizations fell apart or refocused their energies.

In this first book-length study of the Delta Ministry, Mark Newman tells how the organization conducted literacy, citizenship, and vocational training. He documents the Ministry's role in fostering the growth of Head Start and community-based health care and in widening the distribution of free surplus federal food and food stamps.

Newman discusses, among other Ministry successes, the Delta Foundation, which created jobs by channeling grant money to small businesses that could not secure bank loans. At the same time, he details the Ministry's problems from its chronic underfunding to its uneasy relationship with the Mississippi NAACP, which pursued civil rights objectives through less confrontational methods. Newman examines the Freedomcrafts manufacturing cooperative and other ministry failures, as well as mixed efforts such as Freedom City, a collective agricultural and manufacturing community built by displaced agricultural workers.

Divine Agitators looks at many inadequately studied events across a time span that extends beyond the widely accepted end dates of the civil rights movement. It offers new insights, at the most local levels of the movement, into conflict within and between civil rights groups, the increasing subtlety of white resistance, the disengagement of the federal government, and the rise of Black Power.

Divine Agitators fills an important gap in the historiography of the civil rights movement in Mississippi and provides a fascinating view of one of the most controversial organizations in the state. Anyone interested in the civil rights movement, in the history of Mississippi, and in the southern and American religion will profit from Newman's work.

—Randy Sparks, author of Religion in Mississippi

In his meticulously researched study, Newman explains how the Delta Ministry was simultaneously co-architect, product, symbol, and ultimately victim of the African American freedom struggle in Mississippi from the optimistic zenith of activism in the 1960s to the uncertainties and disappointments of the 1970s. As he unravels the complex, often bittersweet tale of the Ministry's relationship to the evolving civil rights and black power struggles, Newman apportions credit for its successes and blame for its failures in a thoroughly judicious and evenhanded manner. Consequently, not only is Divine Agitators an important contribution to our understanding of how religious ideals and practically minded faith-based organizations influenced the Mississippi freedom struggle, but it also represents a sophisticated and respectful corrective to the relentlessly celebratory accounts of the Movement that still dominate civil rights historiography. It is an impressive piece of scholarship.

—Brian Ward, author of Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations

[A] comprehensive, detailed study of this important organization.

University Press Book Review

Exhaustive but approachable . . . This book is significant for several reasons, not the least of which should be its broad appeal. Because of its examination of a faith-based organization, it provides religious scholars and ministers with great insight about how religious denominations and churches could make significant impacts on challenged communities. It should appeal to those who are interested in history, specifically of the South, Mississippi, or the civil rights era, in that it gives detailed insights about post-civil rights leaders and their activities in the South. Students of politics will be interested in the Delta Ministry's community outreach initiative that initially sought to respond directly to the plight of African Americans that had resulted from past discriminatory policies and unfair resource allocations; but it evolved into a major political action committee that organized protest rallies, registered voters, identified and supported candidates for public office, and lobbied policy makers. Lastly, nonprofit theorists and managers, given their focus on identifying and explaining elements of success and failures with the ultimate goal of developing 'best practice' models, would find the book extremely useful.

Journal of Southern Religion

Newman's carefully researched monograph is the first book-length study of this important group.

Multicultural Review

[Newman's] study is the first of a crucial organization that historians have previously neglected or ignored altogether. Yet Divine Agitators does much more than trace the development and detail the achievements of a single civil rights group. In examining the DM's post-1965 activities, Newman exposes the challenges and restrictions that faced the Mississippi black freedom struggle after federal legislation ended de jure segregation in the decade's early years. . . . [A]n indispensable contribution to existing civil rights scholarship.


Newman's study of the Delta Ministry is scrupulously researched and skillfully written. In exploring local organizing in the South in the later 1960s, he casts valuable light on areas of the movement currently understudied by historians.

Journal of American Studies

A much-needed study of an important civil rights organization.

Journal of American History

About the Author/Editor

MARK NEWMAN is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Derby. He won the Southern Regional Council's Lillian Smith Book Award for Getting Right with God.