- The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement (2008) with Bob Zellner
- Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (editor) 2002
- Mississippi Harmony: Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter with Winson Hudson, (Palgrave Macmillan, November 1, 2002)
- Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning with Aaron Henry (University Press of Mississippi, March 2000)
- Silver Rights, 1995 (Lillian Smith Book Award for nonfiction in 1996)
by Jessica Kennard (SHS)
Born on July 19, 1933, Constance Curry, writer of Silver Rights, claims that her first generation Irish parents made her immune to some of the time’s prejudices. She was raised in a small town in North Carolina in the 1940’s and 50’s. Curry attended Atlanta’s Agnes Scott College, a small all-girl, all white school. Somehow though, she became interested in racial issues as a student leader and member of the National Student Association. By the time she graduated in 1955 with a B.A. in history, Curry had made many friends at the nearby all black Spelman and Moore Colleges (Ravenel).
Thirty years later in 1990, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a feature article about the director of Atlanta’s Bureau of Human Services. Constance Curry was retiring to begin work on a biography on the Civil Rights Movements about “ordinary people” (Ravenel). One of those black families was the Carters, who dared to send their children to the formerly all-white school of tiny Drew, Mississippi, in 1965. It is their story that Constance Curry tells in her book, Silver Rights (Ravenel).
Constance Curry grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and graduated from Agnes Scott College both Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude in 1955. She served as Student Body President. After studying abroad as a Fulbright Scholar, she returned to Atlanta in 1960. She was the first white woman appointed to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) executive board. From 1964 to 1975, she worked as a field representative for the American Friends Services Committee. She worked in Mississippi helping the Carter family and others in the desegregation efforts (jacket cover of Silver Rights). Atlanta’s Director of Human Services from 1975-1990, Curry has also held fellowships at the University of Virginia from Woodrow College of Law and received a certificate from Jerry Farbe’s Comedy Course (Contemporary Authors 128).
As a white American in search of Civil Rights and fair treatment and equal rights for blacks and whites as well as Hispanics and Jews, she has received many awards and honors. Some of these highly distinguished honors are the Fulbright Fellow in France (1955-56), Fellow of Carter G. Woodson Institute, grants from the Southern Regional Council and the Mississippi Humanities Council, both in 1992 (Contemporary Authors, 158).
At one point in her life, Constance Curry decided to retire and write about civil rights in Mississippi. In her book Silver Rights, she tells of one family, the Carter family, in Drew, Mississippi, that struggled with the right to be free and educated (cover of Silver Rights). Since Curry retired as Director of Human Services for the City of Atlanta where she worked from 1975-90, she has also opposed the growth of the U.S. prison system. Although not a Mississippian, she writes about people and places in Mississippi and knows the state and its people well.
Since this biography was written, Constance Curry has added several other books to her credit. These books include Mississippi Harmony: Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter and Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning. She is also the editor of Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. She is the producer/ researcher for documentary The Intolerable Burden, about the failure of public education and the fast-track to prison, particularly for young black men.
A Review of Silver Rights
by Jessica Kennard (SHS)
When God created people, he created them all equal; therefore if we all had abided by this rule, there would not have even been a need for this book to be published. However, things do not always go as planned; therefore this book was written. From the depths of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, there came many broken hearts and unforgettable painful memories. In her book, Constance Curry portrays a family caught up in the middle of all of the excitement. Silver Rights is the story of a struggle for freedom of choice. The book won the Lillian Smith Award for nonfiction in 1996.
In talking about Silver Rights, Vernon Jordan states, “We sometimes forget what prices were paid to defeat segregation in the Mississippi Delta and what courage it took. Constance Curry reminds us all of this with this moving account of Mae Bertha and her family. It’s an important document and an inspiring story” ( From the cover of Silver Rights).
Silver Rights is a true story of clear determination, down home grit, and sweet triumph. It is the story of the Carter family of Sunflower County, Mississippi, who were African-American sharecroppers on a cotton plantation. In 1965, this family sent seven of their thirteen children to desegregate an all-white school system (cover of Silver Rights). The Carter family consisted of Mae Bertha, Matthew Carter and thirteen children. These individuals put their lives on the line from the time Mae Bertha signed the freedom of choice papers for the four younger Carter children to send them to the all-white school. The older children, Larry, Stanley, and Ruth, signed the papers for themselves. The Carter family was abused, shot at, harassed, and almost evicted from their home for standing up for what was right (Curry 130).
As this story begins Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter and their thirteen children live in Sunflower County, Mississippi, nine miles away from Drew, Mississippi. Although Drew was only nine miles away from the Carter’s house, the family had always done most of its shopping, visiting, and church going in Merigold and Cleveland. They knew little of Drew’s long-standing reputation as a violent town and the harassment aimed particularly at Blacks; nevertheless, when Mae Bertha sent her five oldest children to integrate Drew High School and the middle school, Mae Bertha “prayed like she had never prayed before” (Curry 23). Deborah, Beverly, Pearl, Gloria, Stanley, Larry, and Ruth were eager to ride the yellow school bus, to read, study and learn about books that were new. The five Carter children were ready to receive the genuine education for which they had been longing.
On September 3, 1965, the first day of school in Drew, Mississippi, their dreams of freedom come true; however, they were not ready for the consequences of “Freedom of Choice.” This story presents the family’s struggle against society and the conflicts that resulted from the choice to go against society by doing what was right. The Carter family did get support from many organizations that were trying to promote racial equality (Curry 25).
As a closer look is taken into this book, we discover that the Carter family ran into many conflicts, but they overcame them all by stepping over the color lines that others refused to cross. The book tells about Matthew Carter’s unintentional addition to the family’s ongoing agonies. After Matthew Carter regained his job and his health, he became ill again; and a few years later he passed away due to blood clotting and a heart attack (Curry 96).
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys hearing historic events from people who really lived through the events. Constance Curry encourages the reader to put himself or herself in the position of the Carters and to feel to sympathy for the family. Constance Curry has accomplished many things in her lifetime. I agree that the book Silver Rights is “pure gold” ( cover of Silver Rights)
- Biography of Curry on John Chavis Memorial Symposium site where she was a speaker.
- Biography of Constance Curry on Civil Rights Movement Veterans web site.
- Civil Rights Digital Library
- Biography of Constance Curry, Civil Rights Activitist
- Contemporary Authors. Vol. 151 “Constance Curry.” Detroit: Gale Research, 1996.
- Curry, Constance. Silver Rights. Detroit: Algonquin Books, 1995.
- Ravenel, Shannon. “White Girls Don’t Go Such Places.” Algonquin Workman Web. 19 Nov. 1997.