Head Start was born out of the Civil Rights movement and the ties are clear in 1960s Mississippi. The Child Development Group of Mississippi’s (CDGM) inaugural year was full of obstacles but also strong Black leaders who persevered to bring Head Start to life. As one CDGM teacher Gaynette Flowers wrote in 1966: “There was no way out before CDGM. For the children, CDGM has opened children’s minds and lifted the oppression of segregation from them.”
CDGM teachers like Ms. Flowers were clearly making an impact, but challenges mounted. In 1966, after a trying but successful first year, CDGM lost its Head Start funding through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). The program had challenged the status quo, disrupted white power structures, and the political pressure to defund it reached a tipping point. But Head Start leaders persisted, resulting in the formation of Friends of Children of Mississippi and Head Start’s lasting legacy.
“October 15, 1966 [the day CDGM lost its federal grant] is significant because it marks the beginning of a grassroots organization of empowerment,” says Friends of Children’s program history. CDGM staff harnessed their communities’ power and moved forward with a model that not only focused on early childhood education, but also on family and community involvement.
After two months without funding, these efforts appeared to pay off. Officials at the OEO and CDGM reached an “agreement in principle” to provide funding for another full year’s operation in 19 counties. When finalized, however, six of the 19 counties were excluded. Wanting to deliver the same quality opportunities to children and families in those six counties, community leaders again stepped up, meeting in Jackson, Mississippi.
Despite the absence of resources, these six counties elected to organize an independent, community-based volunteer early childhood education program. From this decision, Friends of Children of Mississippi was born, and Dr. Marvin Hogan was one of the leaders responsible for bringing it to life.
At the time, Dr. Hogan was coaching football in Clarksdale, Mississippi, but he came to Jackson at the request of his father, not knowing that he was about to step into a lifelong career with Head Start. “A group of people got together and they met on Farish Street, the mecca of where all civil rights efforts were generated at that time,” Dr. Hogan recalled. “When they got here to Jackson, they said, ‘Well, what are we going to call ourselves?’ Everyone said, ‘We are all friends and we did come here to support children,’ so one lady said, ‘That’s a good name right there—Friends of Children.’”
Friends of Children operated for 13 weeks with no federal or state funding, relying on their own creativity and fundraising efforts to sustain the program. “The state was not supporting the effort of Head Start, and as a result of that, we started ‘begging,’ pleading with people for donations, contributions, and whatever,” Dr. Hogan said. And this was enough to carry out their mission until, in 1967, they began receiving funding as a delegate agency of Tougaloo College. In 1980 Friends of Children Inc. finally became an independent Head Start grantee. Dr. Hogan led through it all until his well-earned retirement in 2020, and remained involved until his passing in 2021.
When we think about Dr. Hogan’s commitment to Head Start over six decades, and of other leaders who have dedicated 30, 40, 50+ years to their programs, Friends of Children of Mississippi’s story helps us understand why. Head Start is an exceptional early childhood education program, but it is also a community institution built by neighbors and friends who had the heart and the will to organize. In honor of Black History Month, we thank Dr. Hogan and his fellow early Head Start leaders who navigated deep turmoil in order to carry out their vision for Head Start—their vision for their communities.