How Students at Historically Black Colleges Drove the Mississippi “Personhood” Defeat

When I was asked to come to Mississippi about three weeks ago to organize students against Initiative 26, or the so-called “personhood” amendment, I honestly did not know if we even had a chance of winning. The amendment could have made abortion illegal and banned hormonal birth control, including the Pill. Because Mississippi, the bedrock of the Bible Belt, has a deep-rooted history of racism, sexism and classism, I knew it would be an uphill battle to mobilize students quickly against this initiative. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming outrage students expressed when they learned about the implications of Initiative 26.

I helped organize students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Mississippi, including Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Tougaloo College. When I did my first classroom announcement at Jackson State about Initiative 26, students were outraged about how this initiative could affect access the Pill, and they volunteered to get involved and spread the message to their peers and classmates. Though the majority of students on campuses across the state were barely familiar with the initiative when I and other Feminist Majority Foundation organizers arrived, it did not take long for students to realize that their rights to the the Pill, IUDs and emergency contraceptives could be at stake if 26 passed.

Students at Tougaloo held forums and a rally against 26; student organizers at Jackson State handed out flyers, educated their peers and mobilized at the “Hot Spot” for a Rock the Vote rally; Alcorn students proudly displayed “Vote NO on 26″ signs on the windshields of their cars. It was inspiring to see both women and men energized and participating in grassroots organizing on their campuses around what is not only a state issue, but also a national issue concerning reproductive rights.

Most of the students I worked with were African American and they understood how greatly family planning services are needed in the African American community in Mississippi. African Americans in Mississippi make up a third of the population and many live below the poverty line. When I visited a campus in Cleveland, Miss., I had breakfast in what was clearly “the black part of town.” I had a conversation with our server, a woman, about my age and what I was doing in Cleveland. She told me that she has five children and that the only reason why she has so many is that she could not consistently afford birth control. She also said that if Mississippi were to take away the pill, she does not know what she would do.

The students that I worked with knew many of these same stories and knew that if the pill and abortions were to become illegal it would leave many poor families, particularly poor black families, in a cycle of poverty. They knew the history of Mississippi and how government had taken away their rights and their ancestor’s rights in the past. With this, they stood together, talked to their families and friends, organized their campuses and helped defeat 26.

I am so proud and honored to have worked with the students that I met! They put in a ton of hard work and were right there with me to defend Roe in Mississippi.

Photo of organizers in Mississippi by the Feminist Majority Foundation

Comments

  1. Great blog post on the tremendous organizing by HBCU students in Mississippi to defeat Initiative 26! The student organizers I had the privilege of meeting at JSU and Tougaloo College were amazing and inspiring. THANK YOU!

  2. Feminist Metalhead says:

    That is awesome!

  3. I am so pleased to see that the students are still trying to ensure the rights of the poor.

  4. Thank you for publicly acknowledging that black students worked with you on behalf of themselves and their own communities. Too often, blacks’ efforts to address oppressive forces are all but erased in public conversations–unless, of course, those efforts are being demonized. Too often, it is only in our own circles that we hear our work being affirmed. Thank you for not adding to that tendency!

  5. Yes!!! Love the organizing spirit of students of color. Gotta love HBCUs!

  6. What a great example of campus leadership and student engagement. HBCU students do have a voice and this is an example of how they make sure they are heard, especially on topics they know could impact them. Sounds like you met some students who might be able to build careers around advocacy and community work. Kudos!

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