January 15, 1917 – December 9, 2007
Raised in Tylertown, Mississippi
The willingness and ability of SNCC organizers to embed themselves in communities depended on an older generation that had long been engaged in civil rights struggle. Among the most important of these was Curtis Conway “C.C.” Bryant. In 1961, Bryant read an article in Jet magazine about a SNCC “Move on Mississippi” voting project to be led by Bob Moses in the Mississippi Delta, far up north from McComb where he lived. Bryant had been elected president of the Pike County NAACP branch in 1954, and with the help of another NAACP leader in the Delta, Amzie Moore, C.C. Bryant brought Bob Moses down to McComb.
This is where SNCC’s Mississippi voter registration campaign began. Bryant opened his home to Moses. Beneath a tree in his yard where he cut hair and where there was a small library of Black newspapers, magazines and books, there were ongoing discussions of civil rights issues. Now with Moses in town, Bryant could step up his efforts. As a first step, he knew that Moses needed to gain the acceptance and trust of the community. And Bryant, as well as other local NAACP stalwarts, worked tirelessly to introduce Moses to the community.
Bryant didn’t come out of nowhere. He had long been trying to increase the number of Black registered voters. For all practical purposes, the registration form was impossible to fill to out to the satisfaction of the county’s circuit clerk, who had absolute power of approval or disapproval, and registration attempts by Black people always angered many of McComb and Pike County’s white residents. With a combination of economic reprisals and out-and-out terrorism, various whites struck out against would be Black registrants. Fear, even among local leaders, was typical: “Many a time I walked down the streets of McComb and the Black leadership – ministers, whatever – would move to the other side,” Bryant recalled, “They were afraid to do anything.”
Bryant’s hospitality and the hospitality of others in the Black community enabled meaningful work to begin. Although some of the SNCC workers who followed Moses into McComb encouraged direct action, Bryant had brought SNCC there for voter registration. The arrest of school children in these protests angered him and other adult Black community leaders. They wanted SNCC to leave, but by this time voter registration work had extended into neighboring counties, and Black leaders from those counties defended Moses and SNCC.
Voter registration put adults and young people at great risk, too. Not only was Bryant’s barbershop bombed but also his house and his brother’s house. White night riders threw dynamite onto his brother’s porch, and Bryant even exchanged gunfire with the assailants. Incidents like these, and more importantly the community’s effort to continue fighting despite mounting terrorism, showed that “hospitality” wasn’t just about room and board, it was a tie that binds for better or worse. As C.C. Bryant remarked: “You can’t come here and start. Someone’s got to bring you.”
John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
Robert Moses and Charles Cobb, Jr., Radical Equations: Civil Rights From Mississippi to the Algebra Project (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001).
Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
Interview with C.C. Bryant by Joseph Sinsheimer, July 9, 1983, Joseph Sinsheimer Papers, Duke University Libraries.
Interview with C.C. Bryant by Joseph Sinsheimer, February 7, 1985, Joseph Sinsheimer Papers, Duke University Libraries.
Interview with C.C. Bryant by Jimmy Dykes, November 11, 1995, Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi.