When Aaron Henry returned home to Mississippi from World War II service in 1946, he was part of wave of black servicemen who challenged the racial status quo. He became a pharmacist through the GI Bill, and as a prominent citizen, he organized a hometown chapter of the NAACP and relatively quickly became leader of the state chapter.
From that launching pad he joined and helped lead an ensemble of activists who fundamentally challenged the system of segregation and the almost total exclusion of African Americans from the political structure. These efforts were most clearly evident in his leadership of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation, which, after an unsuccessful effort to unseat the lily-white Democratic delegation at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, won recognition from the national party in 1968.
The man who the New York Times described as being “at the forefront of every significant boycott, sit-in, protest march, rally, voter registration drive and court case” eventually became a rare example of a social-movement leader who successfully moved into political office. Aaron Henry of Mississippi covers the life of this remarkable leader, from his humble beginnings in a sharecropping family to his election to the Mississippi house of representatives in 1979, all the while maintaining the social-change ideology that prompted him to improve his native state, and thereby the nation.
“Morrison convincingly argues that Henry’s role as an activist and politician made him more important and influential than many other civil rights activists whose influence waned after the high tide of mass organizing. … Will likely stand as the definitive biography of a major civil rights figure.”
—American Historical Review, June 2016
“Long ago, the historiography of the civil rights movement moved beyond the study of some its most iconic leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks. John Dittmer’s Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (CH, Dec’94, 32-2338), for example, trained the focus of research toward the activism that took place in neighborhoods, local businesses, and churches. Morrison (political science, Mississippi State Univ.) chronicles the life and accomplishments of one such little known African American activist. The superlatives Morrison heaps on Aaron Henry prove to be more than well deserved. He calls Henry “the single most important continuous leader in implementing a civil rights vision that transformed racialized politics and society in Mississippi.” Henry worked with Medgar Evers to help register blacks to vote, and he ran as a gubernatorial candidate in a statewide mock “freedom election” in 1963. His networking skills led to working partnerships with Martin Luther King Jr. and the White House. Eventually, Henry’s career reflected the fruits of his labor as an activist. He was elected to the Mississippi state legislature in 1979, serving until 1996.”
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
—Choice, March 2016
“Essential for readers interested in and for collections focusing on the civil rights movement.”
“A stunningly powerful book that takes an honest and exhaustive look at one of the seminal figures from the state’s civil rights history. … To say that perhaps no American scholar could write seriously about the life of Aaron Henry with more credibility than Minion K.C. Morrison is a great understatement.”
Winner of the 2016 Lillian Smith Book Award.