C.C.Bryant talks about being chair of the NAACP branch in McComb, Mississippi, National Visionary Leadership Project
A Story from Here
McComb, MS, a railroad town, was an important halfway point between the cities of Jackson and New Orleans. Working on the railroad was one of the best jobs a Black man could have, and the railroad men made up a strong network of local leaders. They formed the backbone of the local chapters of the NAACP. Two of the most important were NAACP treasurer Webb Owens, a slim, dapper man commonly known as “Super Cool Daddy, and C.C. Bryant, the Pike County NAACP president, who enjoyed cutting hair and engaging in conversations about civil rights struggles. These men helped introduce SNCC’s Bob Moses and others to members of the community and garnered financial support, kept safely in Owens’ back pocket, to bring SNCC field secretaries to join in the voting registration drive.
One of the residents that Owens introduced Moses to was Aylene Quin, a member of the local NAACP chapter and owner of the South of the Border cafe. Owens told her, “Whenever any of [the SNCC workers] come by, you feed ‘em, you feed ‘em whether they got money or not.” Not only did she feed them, but her cafe became an important meeting place for the movement. Other local Black institutions, like the Masonic Temple and Burglund High School, became key movement centers as well.
SNCC was quick to find young allies. Jessie Divens Nicholas recalls, “When I was about 12, some strangers came to town… and I wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers, and my mother told us that, and she never told me I couldn’t follow strangers. So, when I saw Bob Moses, I just followed him for about a week” Eventually, after securing permission from her mother, they became friends. These young allies, like Brenda Travis, Bobby Talbot, Emma Bell, and Joe Lewis, all high school students, would become protest leaders. They were essential to the development of SNCC’s involvement in McComb and for understanding the relationship between voter registration and direct action.
McComb had 12,000 residents in 1960, which made it the largest city in Pike County, MS. Southwest Mississippi was the heart of Klan Nation. McComb’s mayor was the acting chairman of the Citizens’ Council, and the police chief led the local chapter of the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, which also counted the county sheriff among its members. Henry McComb, the president of Mississippi Central Railroad, had founded the city in 1872, and the railroad remained a major employer of its residents. Blacks comprised about 30% of the population. Those who worked with the railroad were protected by union contract, which allowed them to participate in the Movement without fear of losing their jobs. McComb was home to the first mass student-led movement in Mississippi, and SNCC’s successes and failures in Southwest Mississippi largely shaped the ways in which they approached organizing in the future.
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s
Wesley Hogan, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America
Interview with E.W. Steptoe, Jr., 1995, USM
Interview with Brenda Travis, 2007, www.crmvet.org
Interview with Jessie Divens Nicholas, McComb Legacies
“Reflections from Bob Moses,” www.crmvet.org
“Voter Registration & Direct Action in McComb MS,” www.crmvet.org