This Day in History

Dec. 1961: Christmas Shopping Boycott

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship

Aaron Henry in his pharmacy, 1964. (c) McCain Library and Archives, USM.

Christmas, 1961.

Aaron Henry (president of the Mississippi state NAACP, a pharmacist, and drugstore owner) and the Coahoma County NAACP organized an effective Christmas shopping boycott in Clarksdale, Mississippi because the white-owned stores refused to hire Blacks for anything other than the most menial and low-paying jobs. In addition, as noted by Freedom Lifted,

in response to the activism of the NAACP, the bands from two Black high schools were banned from performing in the annual Clarksdale Christmas parade, despite the fact that they had been doing so since the late 1940s. Henry, Medgar Evers, and many others responded by organizing a Christmas boycott of the downtown Clarksdale stores under the slogan, “If we can’t parade downtown, we won’t trade downtown.”

The boycott was economically devastating to the white store-owners. This was in part because community members could participate anonymously.

Henry and half a dozen other Black leaders were arrested and convicted for “Conspiring to withhold trade.” Henry’s business was attacked and his wife Noelle Michael Henry was fired from her teaching job. (Whose side was the local government on?) 

Read more about Aaron Henry at Mississippi History Now and the SNCC Digital Gateway. Find resources for teaching about Mississippi history below.