For Immediate Release — Monday, Feb. 6, 2006


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516

SUNY Geneseo history professor Emilye Crosby selected to receive prize from Mississippi Historical Society

GENESEO, N.Y. — State University of New York at Geneseo Associate Professor of History Emilye Crosby has been selected to receive the Mississippi Historical Society's 2006 McLemore Prize for her book, "A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, Mississippi."

The book, published in the fall/winter 2005 by The University of North Carolina Press, is a long-term community study of the freedom movement in rural, majority-black Claiborne County, Miss. Crosby explores the impact of the African-American freedom struggle on small communities in general and questions common assumptions that are based on the national movement. The legal successes at the national level in the mid 1960s did not end the movement, Crosby contends, but rather emboldened people across the South to initiate waves of new actions around local issues.

Crosby will travel to Natchez, Miss., to accept the prize at the Mississippi Historical Society's annual meeting March 3.

The McLemore Prize, which carries with it a $700 cash award, was established by the Mississippi Historical Society to memorialize Richard A. McLemore, former president of the society and former director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and his wife, Nannie Pitts McLemore, who also served as president of the society and who joined her husband in writing numerous books and scholarly articles.

"You are to be commended for your splendid research and writing that has resulted in a significant contribution to Mississippi historiography," wrote Elbert R. Hilliard, secretary-treasurer of the society, in his Feb. 2 letter to Crosby.

Geneseo Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Katherine Conway-Turner praised Crosby for her award-winning book.

"Dr. Crosby's new book is a well-crafted, thoughtful and splendidly written analysis of the black fight for freedom in Claiborne County, Miss. It makes a significant contribution to the historical literature of the civil rights era, and I am delighted to see the acclaim that it is receiving," said Conway-Turner.

In her 376-page book, in which Crosby studies both black activists and the white opposition, Crosby employs traditional sources and more than 100 oral histories to analyze the political and economic issues in the postmovement period, the impact of the movement and the resilience of white supremacy, and the ways these issues are closely connected to competing histories of the community.

Escalating assertiveness and demands of African Americans—including the reality of armed self-defense—were critical to ensuring meaningful local change to a remarkably resilient system of white supremacy. In Claiborne County, a highly effective boycott eventually led the Supreme Court to affirm the legality of economic boycotts for political protest. NAACP leader Charles Evers (brother of Medgar) managed to earn seemingly contradictory support from the national NAACP, the segregationist Sovereignty Commission and white liberals.

John Dittmer of DePauw University reviewed Crosby's book. He writes: "This is a marvelous book—a riveting story of black activism in the latter days of the civil rights movement and the most comprehensive account of race relations in a southern community I have come across in years. The chapter on armed self-defense in the black community expands our definition of 'nonviolence.' Her documentation of the cozy relationship between the state's most visible black leader and the segregationist Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission is eye-opening, to say the least. A native of Claiborne County, Emilye Crosby had access to local leaders across the board, black and white. Modestly titled, 'A Little Taste of Freedom' is a big book, a major contribution to the new civil rights historiography."