Community Activism | Civil Rights | Education | Sources

Anti-Communism and Colleges

Letter addressing the dismissal of A.D. Beittel as president of Tougaloo College

In the 1960s, Tougaloo College in Jackson played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement.  The traditionally African American school sponsored speakers, musicians, and activists who spoke out against segregation. 

In 1960, A.D. Beittel was hired as president of the college.  His arrival coincided with an active period in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.  During the first two years of his presidency, he promoted equality at the institution, participated in sit-ins and boycotts, witnessed Tougaloo students getting arrested in demonstrations, and often, bailed these students out of jail.  Beittel never admonished Tougaloo students and faculty for their activism.  At times, he was an active participant in the demonstrations.

Beittel's relaxed stance on activism at Tougaloo upset many people in the state.  His encouragement of activism caused many people to label him a communist. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission believed that Beittel and Tougaloo Chaplain Edwin King Jr. were "veteran supporters of communist causes and communist enterprises."   To be marked a communist was a common side effect of being involved in the move towards integration.  The fact that Beittel welcomed activists and supposed communists (like Carl and Anne Braden and James Dombrowski from the Highlander School) from all over the country to speak at Tougaloo made him a target for anti-communists in the state.

By 1964, several groups were working towards dismissing Beittel and stopping the activism on the Tougaloo campus.  The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission collected information on Beittel in an effort to discover enough information for dismissal.  The Commission took its information to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. to disseminate to the electorate.  Due to the efforts of anti-communist groups in the state, Beittel was asked to resign from his position as president of Tougaloo College. 

To reprimand Tougaloo College for their support of the civil rights movement and their associations with supposed communists, a bill was discussed to change the laws regarding accreditation of colleges.  Up to that point, if a college was accredited by the regional organization (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) then it was automatically given accreditation by the state. The proposed bill changed this by giving the state the ability to refuse accreditation.

With the loss of accreditation, students who graduated from the school could not teach in Mississippi.  The students would be able to teach in other states only after taking supplementary classes to elevate them to the level of accreditation.  With the announcement of Beittel's departure, the idea of passing the accreditation bill faded. 

Anti-Communism in Colleges Images

college-2 college-3 college-4
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Report about Tougaloo College's alleged connection to communists

Memo to Paul B. Johnson, Carroll Gartin, and E.K. Collins from Sovereignty Commission Director Erle Johnston about Tougaloo College, February 25, 1964

Memo to Paul B. Johnson, Carroll Gartin, and E.K. Collins from Sovereignty Commission Director Erle Johnston about Tougaloo College’s supposed link to a communist front organization, March 26, 1964

Confidential report submitted to Sovereignty Commission Director, Erle Johnston, from Attorney Shelby R. Rogers