Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Sociology


Sociology and Anthropology

First Advisor

Albert Nylander

Second Advisor

Anne Cafer

Third Advisor

Brian Foster

Relational Format



This thesis examines how Black residents in the Mississippi Delta claim and deploy agency and resiliency in a rural community context entrenched in a legacy of oppression. Black, low-income communities are implicitly labeled non-resilient when macro-level community capitals and resiliency literature are applied. However, I find that resiliency is culturally distinctive and oftentimes detected in ritual, daily processes in Black communities. This thesis rejects dominant narratives that Black communities in Mississippi are only poor, backwards, and lacking. It questions the assumption that dominant institutions have created inescapable boundaries for Black people in this region and challenges the notion that the current and past economic exploitations by dominant White elites determine the lives and identities of Black people. The research question for this thesis is straightforward—what are Black people doing and saying in their daily lives that counter the cultural deficit language imposed on the Delta region? Through this question, I explore what agency looks like for Black students, and how they re-define resilience through skepticism and frustration. Black students in the Mississippi Delta exercise human agency, defined as pre-existing practices of knowledge that empower collectives and individuals in the pursuit of their goals and values deemed important, through cultural and educational capital enriched by freedom schools and community members (Bourdieu 1984; Sen 1999).The findings consisted of three themes that described the teacher-student encounters in relation to students’ learning at the freedom project and the local public school. The first narrative, Encounters between the teacher and student, described a latent awareness of the students’ position in Rosedale’s and the Delta’s unique history. The second narrative, Students as critical thinkers/sociologists, described how the students are already practitioners, and the third narrative, Space and exclusion, described the students’ awareness of what community means by living in the Mississippi Delta. Each theme provided evidence that Black students have created resilience by rejecting dominant perspectives about their lives, consistently shaped and re-shaped community to promote resiliency building and activated their own agency to overcome structural problems in their community.

Included in

Sociology Commons



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