One Year: 1986

Season 3: Episode 4

A Boycott in Mississippi

The civil rights battle that divided a small Southern town, and captivated the nation.


Episode Notes

Black residents of Indianola, Mississippi, were fed up with decades of separate-and-unequal classrooms. When a white outsider got hired as school superintendent, they decided to take a stand. This week, Joel Anderson tells the story of how their boycott of white businesses transformed the community and captivated the nation.

One Year is produced by Evan Chung, Sophie Summergrad, Sam Kim, Madeline Ducharme, and Josh Levin. Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts and Merritt Jacob is senior technical director.

Sources for This Episode


Moye, J. Todd. Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986, University of North Carolina Press, 2004.


“A Letter to Dr. Grissom,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 3, 1986.

Abel, Cameron. “Supt. Merritt reflects on his 35-year career,” Enterprise-Tocsin, June 9, 1994.

“Aldermen call for Grissom’s resignation,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 17, 1986.

“Bi-racial committee members agree with board,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 17, 1986.

“Boycott affected sales tax,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Aug. 7, 1986.

Branston, John. “I had earned that job,” Commercial Appeal, June 15, 1986.

“Carver principal claims discrimination; Dr. Merritt files lawsuit,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Nov. 28, 1985.

Clendinen, Dudley. “White Grip on Southern Schools: Keeping Control,” New York Times, June 23, 1986.

Cooke, Anthony. “Claims of Indianola school illegalities denied,” Commercial Appeal, Nov. 22, 1985.

“First round of school recommendations revealed,” Enterprise-Tocsin, July 10, 1986.

“For superintendent’s job, ‘round 2’; Search nets 19 applicants,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Jan. 16, 1986.

“Gregory now says contract is for three years,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 3, 1986.

Grissom resigns,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 1, 1986.

“Grissom’s lawyer gives details of decision,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 8, 1986.

“Indianola merchants ask for end to black boycott,” Associated Press, March 28, 1986.

“Indianola’s superintendent is 4th highest paid in the state,” Enterprise-Tocsin, March 7, 1985.

“Indianola stores report surge in shoppers,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 8, 1986.

“In superintendent controversy, ‘Hope’ for solution still in air,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 3, 1986.

“Jackson wins school board seat,” Enterprise-Tocsin, March 6, 1986.

“Leaders predict ‘no more boycotts’ here,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 8, 1986.

“Merritt hired; crisis comes to an end,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 8, 1986.

“Merritt outlines his hopes to Lions Club,” Enterprise-Tocsin, June 19, 1986.

“No superintendent yet,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Oct. 17, 1985.

“New superintendent search begins,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Oct. 24, 1985.

“Opinion: Indianola deserves better,” Enterprise-Tocsin, March 27, 1986.

“Opinions on the crisis,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 8, 1986.

“ ‘Outside interests’ may be called; Spurlock hints at boycott spread,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 24, 1986.

“Parents signing letter of feelings,” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 3, 1986.

Richburg, Keith B. “​​Fighting the Status Quo in Indianola,” Washington Post, April 21, 1986.

Rushing, David. “Blacks protest choice; boycott is declared,” Enterprise-Tocsin, March 27, 1986.

Rushing, David. “Indianola principal has lengthy educational record; Applicant’s achievements are many and varied,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Dec. 12, 1985.

Rushing, David. “School officials deny charges,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Nov. 28, 1985.

“Schools may face another boycott of classrooms,”  Enterprise-Tocsin, April 3, 1986.

Shehee, Rebecca. “Superintendent search begins,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 9, 1985.

Shehee, Rebecca. “Supt. D.B. Floyd to retire,” Enterprise-Tocsin, May 2, 1985.

Spurlock Jr., Willie. “School board causing embarrassments,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Oct. 31, 1985.

“State NAACP injects itself into superintendent issue,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Nov. 14, 1985.

“Superintendent controversy ‘may be resolved,’ ” Enterprise-Tocsin, April 10, 1986.

“​​The Citizens’ Council,” American RadioWorks.

“Two will campaign for school board seat,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Jan. 23, 1986.

“Untruths not necessary,” Enterprise-Tocsin, Oct. 24, 1985.

“W.A. Grissom named superintendent,” Enterprise-Tocsin, March 27, 1986.


Mississippi - Indianola: Robert L. Merritt, Southern Journey Oral History Collection, Tulane University Digital Library.


About the Show

The people and struggles that changed America—one year at a time. In each episode, host Josh Levin explores a story you may have forgotten, or one you’ve never heard of before. What were the moments that transformed politics, culture, science, religion, and more? And how does the nation’s past shape our present?

The third season of One Year covers 1986, a year when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, the mystery of Al Capone’s vaults got solved, and a sea lion named Herschel caused chaos in Seattle.

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  • Josh Levin is Slate’s national editor. He is the host of Season 4 of Slow Burn and co-hosts the sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. He is the author of The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth.

  • Joel Anderson is a staff writer at Slate and the host of Seasons 3 and 6 of Slow Burn. Previously, he worked as a reporter on sports, culture, and politics for ESPN and BuzzFeed News.