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.