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The Reverend James F. McRee, the youngest of twelve children, was born around 1919 in De Soto, Clarke County, Mississippi. His mother, Maggie McRee, died before his third birthday. His father, Jack McRee, was a Methodist minister and farmer. When McRee was four-and-a-half years old, the family moved to Laurel, Jones County, Mississippi. He spent most of his childhood in Laurel. As a teenager, McRee also spent time in Birmingham, Alabama, where his sisters lived.
On August 10, 1940, McRee married Christina Carter, a native of Wayne County, Mississippi. The couple had five children, including Ernestine McRee Flintroy, James C. McRee, and Robert E. McRee.
McRee was drafted into the United States Army in 1943. After completing basic training at Camp Harahan, New Orleans, Louisiana, McRee was assigned to the 498th Port Battalion based in Charleston, South Carolina. In August 1943, he was sent to England, and on June 6, 1944, he participated in the Normandy invasion of France as part of the twenty-fifth wave to land at Utah Beach. The port battalion was changed to an engineer company and remained in France for nine months to guard trains and supply dumps. He was discharged from the army in December 1945.
After his discharge, McRee became a United Methodist minister in 1947. Beginning in 1948, he attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College. He was recalled for service in the Korean War in 1950 and was discharged in 1951.
While serving in the army, McRee decided to attempt to register as a voter when he returned home. From 1963 to 1968, McRee was pastor of Asbury Methodist Church in Canton, Madison County, Mississippi, a city that had strong participation in the civil rights movement. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and the Madison County Movement, a local organization, were all active in Canton during this period. While at Asbury, McRee was chairman of the Madison County Movement when it conducted voter-registration drives. McRee helped lead a Freedom Rally in Canton in May 1964 that featured Victoria Adams Gray, Aaron Henry, David Dennis, and James Farmer. Also in 1964, he hosted a Freedom School and was an alternate delegate of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to the National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. McRee, along with Charles Evers and Aaron Henry, led a voter-registration march to the courthouse in Canton in 1965. He worked with other Madison County leaders, including George Raymond, C. O. Chinn, George Washington, Sr., Otha Williams, Annie Devine, and Wilbert Robinson.
From 1966 to 1967, McRee served as president of the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), one of the first and largest Head Start programs in the state. CDGM was organized in 1965 and initially served approximately 6,000 children in twenty-four counties. Maintaining strong ties to the civil rights movement, CDGM built an anti-poverty program not only to provide pre-school education, but also to facilitate the participation of poor people in creating and administering the program. From its inception, CDGM encountered resistance from Mississippi’s political leaders, particularly its United States senators, James Eastland and John Stennis, who accused the organization of mismanagement and of serving as a vehicle for civil rights activism. McRee presided over the board of CDGM when it sought to address these criticisms and secure a third grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to continue the program. In the fall of 1966, however, OEO failed to renew funding for CDGM, instead awarding the majority of funds to a new Head Start organization called Mississippi Action for Progress (MAP). When OEO partially restored CDGM’s grant months later, the program had been reduced in size and scope. McRee continued to serve on the board until the fall of 1967.
Christina Carter McRee helped to organize the Head Start movement in Madison County and served as chairman of the Asbury Head Start centers. She died on January 2, 1988, in Hinds County. Reverend McRee currently lives in Laurel, Mississippi.
Scope and Content:
The collection documents James F. McRee’s involvement in two civil rights projects, the Madison County Movement and the Child Development Group of Mississippi. It is divided into three series: Madison County Movement records; Child Development Group of Mississippi records; and collected material. It contains correspondence, minutes, typescripts, funding proposals, administrative files, newsclippings, and printed items. Key subjects covered by the collection include voter registration, African-American political activism, Head Start programs, and the Child Development Group of Mississippi.
The Madison County Movement records series is divided into the following subseries: correspondence and project records. The project records consist of voter-registration materials, a mission statement, and project proposals. The series documents the voter-registration and leadership-development efforts of this civil rights organization.
The Child Development Group of Mississippi records series is divided into the following subseries: board of directors records; correspondence; personnel committee records; organizational records; plans and proposals; and newsclippings. This series documents some of CDGM’s activities during 1966, when it sought renewed support from OEO despite attacks by Senators James Eastland and John Stennis.
The collected material series contains printed items concerning civil rights in Mississippi, including “The Mississippi Welfare Rights Handbook” by Marian E. Wright (Edelman) and Henry M. Aronson and a sermon by the Reverend James F. Quimby entitled “Behind the Cotton Curtain.”
This series is divided into the following subseries.
1.1. Correspondence. 1965-1966. 1 folder.This subseries contains six pieces of correspondence received or sent by McRee in his capacities as pastor of Asbury Methodist Church and as president of the Madison County Movement. Most of the correspondence concerns a proposed cooperative-housing-development project in Canton that McRee supported. The subseries also contains a letter about McRee’s visit to Sayville Congregational Church in New York, where he spoke about conditions in Mississippi, and a letter from a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) volunteer who worked with McRee in Canton. Box 1, folder 1
1.2. Project Records. 1950-1955; 1966; n.d. 7 folders.This subseries contains material used by the Madison County Movement in 1966 to canvass and register African-American voters, including a voter-registration list dated 1950-1955. A 1966 mission statement for the Madison County Movement documents the group’s desire to maintain its grassroots character rather than accept leadership from political newcomers. Also included are proposals for several projects involving the Madison County Movement, including the Mississippi-Chicago Project and the Mississippi Leadership Action Project. The Leadership Action Project proposal discusses the Young Democrats, the challenges of rural leadership development, and class divisions among African-Americans. It also includes a photograph of the community center in Bolton, Hinds County, Mississippi, that was burned in 1966.
Box 1, folders 2-8
This series is divided into the following subseries.2.1. Board of Directors Records. 1966; n.d. 2 folders. This subseries contains minutes of two board of directors meetings from July 1966 and other material used by the board during this period. The minutes pertain largely to the question of whether CDGM should contract with General Electric for services in the areas of administrative coordination, reporting, planning, and statistical analysis. Some CDGM staff members opposed hiring General Electric. Another issue addressed in the subseries is CDGM’s struggle to secure renewed funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) during the summer of 1966. Box 1, folders 9-10 2.2. Correspondence. 1966. 1 folder. This subseries consists of correspondence received by McRee as board president, as well as copies of letters between OEO officials, CDGM’s executive director, John Mudd, and Mary Holmes Junior College, Clay County, Mississippi, which sponsored CDGM’s applications for federal funding. The correspondence pertains to budget issues, communication between local and central staff, a proposal for renewed funding, OEO investigations of alleged mismanagement within CDGM, training for CDGM employees, and CDGM’s relationship to local community-action agencies. Box 1, folder 11 2.3. Personnel Committee Records. 1966. 2 folders. This subseries includes meeting minutes of CDGM’s personnel committee from July 1966 and supporting material used by the committee during this period. It contains lists of staff members at area centers and in the central office, personnel reports, and correspondence regarding personnel suspensions and complaints. Box 1, folders 12-13 2.4. Organizational Records. 1966-1967; n.d. 9 folders. This subseries documents some of CDGM’s administrative operations and includes forms, guidelines, contracts, budgets, requisitions, and management-training information. It also reflects CDGM’s efforts to address requirements imposed by OEO, such as documentation of financial transactions and recruitment of white children for Head Start centers, following accusations of mismanagement and discrimination by Senators Stennis and Eastland. The subseries also contains one folder of material from a pre-school curriculum workshop attended by Christina Carter McRee. Box 1, folders 14-22 2.5. Plans and Proposals. 1965-1966; n.d. 6 folders; 6 binders. This subseries contains various plans and proposals relating to CDGM and other Head Start programs. Box 1 contains a shortened version of CDGM’s 1966 funding proposal to OEO, two proposals for independent teacher and leadership-training institutes for CDGM staff, and a draft of a proposal for an OEO-funded Head Start program by an organization in southwest Mississippi called Tri-County Community Action Association. Boxes 2, 3, and 4 contain volumes II through VI of CDGM’s funding proposal from 1966, OEO’s list of approved projects in 1965 (including CDGM’s pilot program), and CDGM’s personnel plan. Box 1, folders 23-26