A Chance for Change

Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle

By Crystal R. Sanders

266 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2780-9
    Published: April 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2781-6
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4918-2
    Published: February 2016

John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture

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Awards & distinctions

New Scholar's Book Award, Division F, American Educational Research Association

2017 Critics' Choice Book Award, American Educational Studies Association

In this innovative study, Crystal Sanders explores how working-class black women, in collaboration with the federal government, created the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) in 1965, a Head Start program that not only gave poor black children access to early childhood education but also provided black women with greater opportunities for political activism during a crucial time in the unfolding of the civil rights movement. Women who had previously worked as domestics and sharecroppers secured jobs through CDGM as teachers and support staff and earned higher wages. The availability of jobs independent of the local white power structure afforded these women the freedom to vote in elections and petition officials without fear of reprisal. But CDGM’s success antagonized segregationists at both the local and state levels who eventually defunded it.

Tracing the stories of the more than 2,500 women who staffed Mississippi's CDGM preschool centers, Sanders’s book remembers women who went beyond teaching children their shapes and colors to challenge the state’s closed political system and white supremacist ideology and offers a profound example for future community organizing in the South.

About the Author

Crystal R. Sanders is assistant professor of history and African American Studies at Pennsylvania State University.
For more information about Crystal R. Sanders, visit the Author Page.


“The book has the potential to greatly impact the education and development of teacher educators, teachers, and students in the field of development and early childhood education. For a wide audience. Highly recommended.”—CHOICE

“An exceptional account of a complex localized history with national implications for how federal antipoverty programs are remembered, how black working-class women’s activism is regarded, and how initiatives for quality education could be organized in the future.”—Journal of American History

“An important history for our time and deserves a wide readership.”—Southern Register

"This fascinating, deeply researched book . . . reminds us that education has always been part of the black freedom struggle."—North Carolina Historical Review

“Presents a riveting discussion of the courageous activism of these working-class mothers and former activists who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to help Head Start succeed. . . . [and] expands the definition of what it meant to be an activist during the modern civil rights era.”—Journal of African American History

“In transforming the monographic focus on the CDGM program into a sweeping analysis of black women’s activism, an investigation of grassroots and national politics, and interrogation of the intersections of social, economic, and political freedoms, Sanders’s work is necessary reading for anyone concerned with education, civil rights, and the role of black women in both, and will add breadth and depth to any course where black history in the United States is a guiding theme or topical focus.”--H-Net Reviews

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