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Historical Essay

Documenting Life in the Segregated South - Image Gallery Essay

The Natchez Poverty Report

Documenting Life in the Segregated South | Wisconsin Historical Society
Two men sit outdoors on stoops of houses while two stand in the dirt pathway. More homes are visible in the background. There is a garbage or fire pit in the foreground.

Men in Street, South Wall Street, 1966

Natchez, Mississippi. View the original source document: WHI 99059

This gallery's 46 stunning photographs, taken in the mid-1960s to accompany an unpublished report on living conditions in the African-American neighborhoods of Natchez, Mississippi, dramatically document life in the segregated South. Mark Lundeen, a volunteer with the Delta Ministry, did the research and report text, but it's not known if he was the photographer. The photographer blended careful composition with emotionally evocative content in a way that is still powerful after half a century.

The Natchez Poverty Report

EnlargeTwo young girls stand near a water hydrant in Natchez.

Girls at Water Hydrant, Taylor Alley, 1966

Natchez, Mississippi. Two young girls stand near a water hydrant. "Hydrant placed on edge of steep bank. Used by 30 people in 9 families. Four of these families (17 people) live over 50 yards down the hill from this hydrant." View the original source document: WHI 99069

Lundeen's paper carefully documents the stark living conditions of black residents in Natchez, the seat of Adams County in southern Mississippi, during the peak years of the nation's civil rights struggle. The report combines images, survey data on health and sanitation facilities, and residents' anecdotes to paint a vivid picture of urban life in the Deep South. The text describes each neighborhood through tabulations of data about residents, the number of houses, and access to facilities such as water hydrants and toilets.

A Visual Record of Segregation

The images in the report vividly convey the difficult living conditions of the African-American residents of Natchez, including their homes, streets and sanitation facilities. They also depict in graphic detail the sorts of neighborhoods in which civil rights volunteers such as Lundeen worked and lived 50 years ago. The pictures often feature children playing in dirt roads, decrepit houses, inadequate water supplies, shared toilets and other injustices resulting from decades of racial discrimination and political disenfranchisement.

Creating the Natchez Poverty Report

Lundeen, a theology student and intern with the Delta Ministry, conceived the report. Natchez resident Barbara Shelly, a civil rights activist who had worked with various organizations in both Mississippi and Alabama, assisted him in navigating the neighborhoods, interviewing residents and collecting data. The goal of the project was to gather information that would support calls for public programs to improve housing in Natchez and across the Delta Ministry's reach.

The Delta Ministry

The National Council of Churches' (NCC) Commission on Religion and Race founded the Delta Ministry in the fall of 1964, at the close of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project. It hoped to establish a long-term presence in the South and by 1967 was one of the most prominent civil rights organizations working in Mississippi. Projects covered all aspects of life including community development, economic support and services, education, medical care, political engagement and improving interracial relations.

White, Protestant churches in the North supported the Delta Ministry, staffed largely by northern clergy and students, particularly Freedom Summer volunteers who wanted to stay in Mississippi to continue their work. The Wisconsin Historical Society acquired the Natchez Poverty Report from Robert Beech, head of the Hattiesburg ministers' project for the NCC. Beech had served as Lundeen's supervisor and included it in his papers.

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View information and access more than 25,000 pages of official records of organizations, personal papers of movement leaders, letters, racist propaganda, diaries, images, newsletters and more related to the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project.