Harry J. Bowie Papers, 1964-1967


Reverend Harry J. Bowie, Negro Episcopal minister, was pastor of the Chapel of the Annunciation, Lawnside, New Jersey, when he left to go to Mississippi in July 1964, to serve as a volunteer with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in the drive to register Negro voters. After a short absence from Mississippi late that summer, he returned to the state to become minister-counselor representing the National Council of Churches Delta Ministry in McComb, Pike County, Mississippi.

The National Council of Churches became actively associated with the civil rights movement following the murder of Medgar Evers in the summer of 1963. The Delta Ministry was the coordinating agency of the National Council's activities in Mississippi, operating as an interdenominational commitment. The project was planned as a long-term effort to help end the low economic, health, and social conditions of Mississippi's poor. Programming concerns included health and welfare, literacy, citizenship education and voter registration, and the development of community centers.

McComb, with a population of 12,000, was forty-two per cent Negro and the center of an area in southwest Mississippi that was rocked by violence during the early days of the civil rights movement. This was the period when hundreds of young people went into the South to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Council of Churches, and other groups led by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). They lived in the Negro community, taught in the Freedom Schools, canvassed Negro neighborhoods to encourage voter registration, helped to establish community centers, and tried to find ways to help the poor economically. Only about 250 Negroes in Pike County, of which McComb is the county seat, were registered to vote. In November 1964, a group of white citizens, revolted by the bombings and burnings of September, petitioned for law and order, and some restaurants desegregated.