The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Komisar (Lucy) Civil Rights Collection
Collection Number: M 395
Dates: 1961 – 1964; 1991
Volume: .75 cu ft.
The creator of this collection, Lucy Komisar, is a native of New York who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi while in college. Komisar’s grandparents emigrated from Russia to New York in the early 1900s. Her parents were non-practicing Jews born in New York. Neither parent had a college education. Komisar’s mother, Frances, was a housewife, and her father, David, was a salesman with Krasdale Foods (a canning company). The only girl among three children, Komisar was born in the Bronx in April of 1942. She attended public school in the Bronx and later on Long Island. In school, Komisar was bright and made good grades. Her parents assumed that she would use her intelligence to get a college degree and become a teacher. After graduating fourth in her high school class (1959), Komisar started Queens College. At the time she planned to teach; she felt her only real choice concerning future employment was whether to teach Spanish or French. She did not know the Civil Rights Movement would interrupt her college days, and that her participation in this movement would lead her to a career in journalism.
Upon her arrival in Jackson, Komisar discovered that the Mississippi Free Press needed help badly. The only other person working on the paper, at the time, was Charlie Butts. With Butts managing the publishing duties, Komisar wrote and edited much of the paper herself. She had worked on newspapers in high school and college, but as editor of the Mississippi Free Press the twenty-year-old Komisar began envisioning her life as a journalist. She maintained her position as editor of the Mississippi Free Press for one year before returning to college with a new goal in mind.
After graduating in 1964 and interviewing for different newspaper jobs, Komisar became aware of the widespread job discrimination women faced in the 1960s. She discovered that women were not hired or promoted with the same frequency as men and that men and women with the same jobs often had different duties and privileges. Komisar’s employment hardships coincided with the formative years of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She became active in NOW to push for tougher legislation that would enforce job discrimination laws. When Komisar joined NOW the national president was Betty Friedan. Friedan asked Komisar to work as the group’s public relations person. At the 1970 NOW congress, Komisar was elected vice president of NOW under president, Aileen Hernandez. After serving in this capacity, Komisar decided that working in an organization was not the best fit for her talents, so she focused on speaking and writing about feminism. People who wanted to start their own chapter of NOW or other activist organizations often approached her for advice at the end of her lectures. When feminism became a popular topic in American journalism, Komisar made foreign politics her area of inquiry.
As a journalist and activist Lucy Komisar has many credits. Her freelance work includes articles in: New York Magazine, The Nation, The Progressive, Village Voice, Saturday Review, Washington Monthly, Newsweek Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, The Arizona Republic, and The San Diego Union. She is a member of PEN (organization of poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists) and was on the board of directors of PEN until 1996. Her participation in PEN included many years on the Freedom to Write Committee, which supports writers, editors, and journalists who have been censored, jailed, or persecuted for their writing. Komisar is the author of three books: The New Feminism (1971), Down and Out in the U.S. A.: a History of Public Welfare (1973), and Corazon Aquino: The Story of a Revolution (1987). Most of her recent writings deal with secret offshore banking procedures that relate to corporate money laundering and the funding of terrorist activities.
History of the Mississippi Free Press
Free Press was an alternative newspaper published in Jackson, Mississippi,
during the Civil Rights Era under the copyright of Hico Publishing (1072
Lynch Street, Jackson, MS). Hico Publishing’s application for incorporation
(dated September 30, 1961) lists the main incorporators as William L.
Higgs and Reverend Robert L. T. Smith. Higgs was a young, white attorney
from Jackson. Smith, an African American minister, had recently qualified
as a candidate in the congressional race against Congressman John Bell
Williams. At that time, Hico Publishing boasted a board of officers entirely
comprised of African Americans: Reverend Robert L. T. Smith- president,
Cornelius Turner – vice president, W. J. Thompson – secretary,
and Dr. A. Benjamin Britton – treasurer. During its lifetime, the
Mississippi Free Press had five editors: Charlie Butts, Aaron
Henry, Henry J. Kirksey, Lucy Komisar, and Paul E. Brooks.
Altman, Julie. Interview with Lucy Komisar, 16 October 1991, photocopy of transcript,
Tully – Crenshaw Feminist Oral History Project, Radcliffe College.
“A Newspaper Is Born.” Mississippi Free Press. 16 December 1961, 1.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “Sovereignty Commission Online.” http://mdah.state.ms.us/arlib/contents/er/index.html. accessed September 1, 2004.
The Lucy Komisar Civil Rights Collection brings together nearly four years of news stories by an alternative newspaper in Mississippi during the early 1960s and an historical/ biographical sketch of the creator of the collection. Most of the collection consists of photocopies of issues of the Mississippi Free Press (an incomplete run) that were published in Jackson, Mississippi, between the years of 1961 – 1964. The collection includes an interview with Lucy Komisar and two articles from other newspapers that refer to Komisar and the Mississippi Free Press. To aid researchers in using the collection to its fullest potential, a "Guide to the Issues of the Mississippi Free Press", "Suggested Research Topics in the Mississippi Free Press," "Persons of Interest in the Mississippi Free Press," and an "Inventory of Business Names in Advertisements in the Mississippi Free Press," were created and added to the collection’s finding aids by the processor.
of issues of the Mississippi Free Press are accessible through
Kansas State University, Kent State University, Wisconsin State University,
Tougaloo College, Millsaps College, and the Mississippi Department of
Archives and History.
to the Issues of the Mississippi Free Press”