Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Southern Studies

First Advisor

Andrew C. Harper

Second Advisor

Jessica Wilkerson

Third Advisor

W. Ralph Eubanks


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



In the midst of the turbulent and sometimes violent unrest culminating in the fatal shootingsat Kent State University and Jackson State College in 1970, there is another story of black student activism that has been all but erased from public memory. In February 1970, the largest mass arrest of students in U.S. history took place at a relatively obscure small-town college in the Mississippi Delta. That winter, enrollment at Mississippi Valley State College was barely 2000 students, but on February 11, 1970, almost 900 students, nearly half the student population at the historically black college, would be arrested and find themselves riding buses headed for the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Farm. Mississippi Valley State had only been founded twenty years earlier as Mississippi Vocational College, but with its change in name the college witnessed a palpable change in the way the students saw themselves. The students’ demands seem tame today—they ranged from improvements to bathroom facilities to allowing women to have cars on campus—, but the demands were symbolic. They reflected a changing sense among the black students at the college of their relationship to both campus authority and the authority of the state apparatus in Mississippi and the nation. Students were no longer willing to accept without question the authority of the institution and the state. The college and state response was swift and decisive. Concerned with the optics of race and state- sanctioned violence, the state and the administration recruited a group of fifty-eight black officers and from across the state to act as an ad hoc police department to perform the arrests and quell the student protests and boycott of classes. This thesis tells the story of the events at Mississippi Valley State in 1970 and explores the complex motivations that drove students to demonstrate against their college administration. It will also explore the underlying problems of race and authority at a historically black college operating within a white-dominated Southern state.



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