The documentary photographs of St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church in Valley View, Mississippi that begin this portfolio reflect a fundamental role that this sharecroppers' church played in the life of its parishioners. Sunday service was the one event in the week when these folks could renew their dignity and self-respect as well as their bonds with their community. In church, they were "Mr. Smith" and "Mrs. Jones," not "Robert" and "Mary," or even "Boy" as their white employers habitually called them. And even the poorest parishioner maintained a carefully pressed suit of clothes for Sunday service. Some even walked the dusty roads to church barefoot, carrying their carefully polished shoes so they would be spotless when they put them on!
Even white churches felt the moral pressure of civil rights. The disconnect between Christian ideals and segregated congregations was difficult for some church members to continence, especially when well-dressed black students from Tougaloo College near Jackson presented themselves regularly at white church doors seeking admission. They were arrested on the church steps and jailed, a quiet protest that hit so deep that it was the single demonstration that police would not allow to be photographed. Any photographer who tried lost his film and risked jail.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes a committee of deeply disturbed white church women met regularly to seek a resolution to this problem. And when school integration came to Jackson several years later, this group was instrumental in pushing city officials to manage the process so that not a single incidence of violence occurred.