Jane Schutt was almost assassinated, along with the rest of her family, by a dynamite blast for the cause of civil rights in Mississippi.
The white, Episcopalian woman was one of just a few Missippians to make the early step of supporting civil rights for blacks in the state — a step that, along with putting their lives in danger, almost ruined her family.
And it was a step that, for Schutt, began in Atlanta.
“She in about 1958 or 1959 attended the conference of Church Women United in Atlanta, when she met a black woman whose husband was pastor of a church in Jackson, Mississippi, when they became friends,” said Charles Dollar, a resident of The Village at Deaton Creek, who is helping to tell the stories of little-known civil rights activists in Mississippi.
“Schutt was motivated mostly by religious considerations,” Dollar continued. “She became the first female member of the Mississippi committee on civil rights for the Civil Rights Commission. She became a member of that and she was identified by local officials as being a gestapo member because she was turning away from the viewpoint of segregation.”
Schutt is one of dozens of figures whom Dollar is researching for a book on Mississippi civil rights history. She’s among the most well known of the white activists in the state, according to Dollar, but some are almost entirely forgotten — lawyers, businessmen, church women and others who fought for civil rights at a time when it meant public pressure and abuse, economic sanction and possible violence.
Schutt would survive the attempt on her life and went on to chair the Mississippi committee of the Civil Rights Commission.
“She remained a member of that for three years (in the early 1960s) until there was so much economic pressure put on her husband because of the kind of work he did that she chose to resign as chair,” Dollar said.
The researcher picked up his interest in the subject as an archivist in Oxford, Mississippi — the home of Ole Miss — and has followed threads in the years since.
“I started reading about this and it seemed like much of the focus of civil rights literature were on black Mississippians who displayed tremendous courage and determination in achieving their full rights as citizens,” Dollar said. “But there were only a handful of people who were identified in the literature who had played a prominent role in supporting blacks.”
The articles, research and documents Dollar found focused on a few white men who took on the cause of civil rights in the state: Duncan Gray, an Episcopal priest, minister Ed King, Pulitzer Prize-winner Hazel Brendan Smith, Ole Miss history professor Jim Silver.
Now, the Hall County resident has identified 55 figures he’s found worthy of attention and praise for the risks they took for the cause of Civil Rights in Mississippi. He’s writing biographical sketches on each of them for his book.
“Some of them are already well known, but there are others that are totally unknown that I’ve learned about,” Dollar said.
In his research, he’s identified interesting collections of people who traveled in similar circles who opposed segregation and Jim Crow for differing reasons.
Dollar found six lawyers who opposed segregation on the grounds of democracy and the foulness of second-class citizen status in the United States. Various religious leaders supported open churches and an open society across the denominations.
Some, however, “experienced a transformation in their views about race because of their wartime service in World War II,” Dollar said. These were mostly businessmen who returned from the war.
And there’s yet another group of 11 women — two of them were wealthy and couldn’t be economically intimidated — who “were concerned about race relations and they formed a group called Mississippians for Public Education,” Dollar said.
The women formed their group in response to a threat from then-Gov. Ross Burnett’s to close Mississippi’s public schools rather than be forced to integrate them. The group included Protestant, Catholic and Jewish women.
All of the people Dollar has researched faced extreme pressure from a group called the Citizens’ Council, a white supremacist organization, and the Ku Klux Klan. The two groups fought to cost these dozens of people their jobs and shun them from Mississippi society — sometimes with success.
But even with their victories (the owner of the company that employs Schutt’s husband was a member of the Citizens’ Council), the small pockets of civil rights activists would eventually win for their cause.
Schutt herself, after resigning as chair of the Mississippi committee, would remain active in Church Women United and had a lasting impact on the civil rights movement through the 1960s and ‘70s in Jackson, Mississippi.
In March, Dollar won an award from the Mississippi Historical Society for his 2018 article in the Journal of Mississippi History: “Florence Latimer Mars: A Courageous Against Racial Injustice in Neshoba County, Mississippi (1923-2006).”
He’s lived in South Hall with his wife for the past six years after moving from Oxford.