From Blanche K. Bruce in the earliest days of the Delta to Amzie Moore in the 1960s and 70s, Rosedale and Bolivar County have a deep legacy of education and social justice.
Born in 1841, Blanche Bruce, who may have been fathered by his mother's master, was afforded the opportunity to be educated, a rare chance for a slave at that time. After escaping enslavement, Bruce attempted to join the Union army but was unsuccessful.
After the war, Bruce opened a school for Black children in Missouri before moving to Rosedale, Mississippi to become a cotton farmer. Because of the voting rights and freedoms achieved by the Black community during Reconstruction, Bruce was elected to represent Mississippi as senator. During his political career, Bruce fought to desegregate the US Army and was twice nominated to be the Republican party's vice presidential candidate.
Later, in 1924 - 1927, a series of court cases filed by Chinese-American families in Rosedale, culminating in Rice v. Lum, presented one of the earliest challenges to school segregation and established a school to educate Chinese-Americans in Bolivar County. However, it was not until a 1964 federal court ruling that Rosedale school began to desegregate.
Bolivar County itself has a rich history of social justice struggles, embodied by Civil Rights activist Amzie Moore. Mr. Moore, upon returning from service in World War II, was shocked to find that American society was still so segregated. Frustrated by the segregation in the Delta, Mr. Moore settled in Cleveland, MS, where he opened a beauty shop, service station, and grocery on Highway 61.
As early as 1951, Moore used his gas station as an example of integration, and led a push to desegregate bathrooms along Highway 61, which had been a serious impediment to travel for African-Americans. Later, Moore joined efforts to provide health care to poor families of color in the Delta, and was an active member of several Black fraternal organizations.
Moore is said to have been a driving force behind the voter registration campaign undertaken by activists during Freedom Summer 1964, and is credited by Bob Moses, one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), as being a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Moore's tenacity and unflinching commitment to justice guide the RFP's work today, and his example provides a guiding light for our Freedom Fellows.
The work of Freedom Fighters was immense and their successes were profound. Thanks to their struggle, African-Americans in the Delta are now able to hold property, vote, attend primary and secondary school, and hold elected office. These successes are not to be discounted, nor is the ongoing efforts of many parents and community leaders, who are working hard to give students chances to grow and develop.
However, families in Rosedale still face the harsh reality of poverty. Rosedale has 26% unemployment and half its population makes less than $16,000 per year. Further, the community is isolated; Rosedale has only 1,872 residents and is 20 miles from the next largest town.
Students, too, face many struggles. Students still attend schools that are heavily segregated by race (students at West Bolivar District High School are 98% Black/African-American) and affluence (98% of students at the high school receive free- or reduced-price lunches). Students at the middle and high schools lack many of the opportunities enjoyed by their affluent, urban peers. Academically, the school district is chronically understaffed, and many graduates of the Rosedale schools, although extremely capable, are not prepared for the ACT, a necessary test for college admission; the average ACT score in Rosedale is just above a 15. Some students have never traveled outside of Bolivar County, and many have not left the state. Further, Rosedale students are rarely given a space to explore, create, and be inspired. The high school has no band or visual arts instructors. A lack of after-school opportunities in the arts (music, poetry, drama) and the core academic subjects (English, Math, Science, ACT Prep) leaves students, many of whom have the talent to compete at the top colleges and universities in America, unable to explore their talents, expand their opportunities, and become America’s next leaders and innovators.
At the RFP, we are committed to providing students with the same opportunities as other students throughout the country. We work so that our students are able to travel and experience life outside of the Delta; we work to give our students opportunities to read, write, and critically analyze the world around them; we work to empower students through artistic opportunities and leadership experience. Together, the students and staff of the RFP are motivated by the successes of the past to address the struggles of the present.
Although it has served as a dentist's office and Christian community center in the past, the LEAD Center is now a second home for Freedom Fellows and the RFP staff. Thanks to a clean-up effort by community members, the LEAD Center now has two classrooms, a stage, a library and game room, two offices, a garden, a jungle gym, and a basketball court. In the future, the RFP looks to create a third classroom and expand our garden!