4. Youth Action and Leadership

4. Youth Action and Leadership


Through the play Beautiful Agitators and accompanying curriculum, students will eplore the life of Vera Mae Pigee and the role of the youth activism in the civil rights movement.

Beautiful Agitators Lesson Plan: Scene 4

Standards: Local & national civil rights history, power relations & social Justice, relationship between local and national movement, relationship between past and present movement, knowing all of the organizations, acronyms and their perspectives, Freedom Summer

Content Strand 4:

A. Identify and explain the significance of the major actors, groups and events of the civil rights movement in the mid 20th century in Mississippi (i.e., Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, James Meredith, Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party).

B. Understand and describe the historical circumstances and conditions that necessitated the development of civil rights and human rights protections and/or activism for various minority groups in Mississippi.

C. Compare and contrast the effects of de jure segregation and the de facto segregation of today.

“De facto' means a state of affairs that is true in fact, but that is not officially sanctioned. In contrast, de jure means a state of affairs that is in accordance with law (i.e. that is officially sanctioned).”

Tactics:Youth participation, intergenerational cooperation, national partnerships & participation, patience & persistence, aligning different political motivations

Counter-Tactics: white power structure tactics: intimidation & violence. terror, murder, threats of violence, perversion of the legal system/arrest to intimidate,

Leaders: Vera Pigee, Mary Jane Pigee, Chief of Police Ben Collins, Senator Eastland, Youth Council, SNCC, CORE

Time Period: August 23, 1961


Provide students with definitions of de facto and de jure segregation.

Provide context for desegregation campaigns with Morgan v Viginia, Boynton v Virginia, Brown v Board of Education Topeka, lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides.


LESSON: Youth Action and Leadership


The civil rights movement expanded to include a new generation of activists in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  This addition helped to grow the movement. Yet, there were tensions between the established leadership of the movement and the new visionaries.  

Mary Jane Pigee and Wilma Jones were both the daughters of dedicated members of the NAACP. They were inspired by the work and activism of their parents.And, they were encouraged to take up the call. Vera Mae Pigee, with her involvement in supporting the Youth Council, recognized the importance of bringing new members into the movement. Inclusion in the movement did not mean that they were integrated into the leadership hierarchy. And,the youth members pushed against this fighting to be included and making waves when they organized their own actions.

The activation of students paved the way to organize on college campuses. Students inspired by lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders of 1961 and other campaigns began to organize their own actions to press for desegregation and voting rights. With youth involvement, came new ideas about how far to push the movement and in new directions.

MARY JANE: I want direct action in response to laws that already exist and I want things to move faster. And it’s not just me, it’s the entire Youth Council. Mama, we need to increase our activities and be more confrontational.


  1. Students will be able to explain de facto segregation vs de jure segregation.
  2. Students will analyze the role of protest in forcing compliance of Supreme Court rulings regarding segregation of public spaces.
  3. Students will examine the cultural shift that happened with the expansion of the movement to include a new generation.
  4. Students will identify the changing demographics of the movement with particular attention paid to demographics regarding age and race.
  5. Students will become familiar with the NAACP Youth Council, SNCC and CORE.

ACTIVITY: Discussion

Have students read "Beautiful Agitators" scene four and Ella Baker's "Bigger Than a Hamburger".

Ask students:

  1. How do both of these texts address cultural shifts or philosophical differences regarding organizational structure and hierarchy of the major civil rights organizations during the 1950s-1960?
  2. Which character in the play serves to voice the goals and philosophy of the youth movement?
  3. What lines in the play help to articulate this message?
  4. What is the purpose of Mary Jane and Wilma’s action at the Depot?
  5. Are Mary Jane and Wilma taking an action against de facto or de jure segregation?

ACTIVITY: Introducing SNCC and CORE

Mary Jane Pigee and Wilma Jones were active members of the Coahoma County NAACP Youth Council.  The NAACP initiated Youth Councils prior to the 1950s but in the late 1950s the push for enrollment in the NAACP and in the Youth Councils strengthened considerably.  During the late 1950s and early 1960s, new youth organizations were formed such as SNCC and CORE.

Divide the class into small groups and assign each group an organization of the civil rights movement to research: SNCC and CORE.

Give each group a packet of /links to primary source documents that relate to their organization.  After reviewing the documents and researching online, students will be asked to present their findings to the class. Students will be expected to answer:

  1. What is the full name of the organization?
  2. When was it founded?
  3. Did this organization have a sponsor organization?
  4. What was the vision of leadership?
  5. What were the tactics used by this organization?
  6. What actions did this organization organize or participate in?
  7. Who were the members of this organization?
  8. How did they recruit members?
  9. Where did these organizations operate?
  10. What was their position on having an integrated movement?
  11. Who are the most well known prominent leaders from this organization during the 1960s

ACTIVITY: Youth Participation Today

Check out what the NAACP is doing today with its youth outreach:

NAACP Youth & College Division

  1. What other organizations are working to engage youth in civil rights work today?
  2. Which organization might you be interested in joining and how would you like to participate?


Students will identify an organization that they would be interested in working within their community.  Students will develop an action plan for how they can get involved. Ex: volunteer, attend a workshop, follow the organization on social media, etc.







Beautiful Agitators Script: Scene 4

 Scene Four

August 1961

The scene opens in the white waiting room at the Clarksdale train station. It is sparse and quiet. Mary Jane Pigee and Wilma sit together on a bench near the window. They each have a  suitcase on the floor next to them. Mary Jane is calm and collected. Wilma tries to maintain her composure, there is a very slight shake in her leg.

WILMA: I can’t feel the air.  Can you?

MARY JANE:: No, it’s like the earth has stopped spinning, just stopped.

WIMLA: It’s heating-up in here. I can feel it.  

MARY JANE: You got that right. Do you hear ‘em whispering behind the counter...they’re fixin to call the police.

After moments of unbearable silence, Wilma speaks out in a shaky voice as if speaking for the first time in a long time. Her leg is noticeably shaking and she tries to hold it down with her hands.

WILMA: Can we go? Can we go? I want to hide my face and never look back.

MARY JANE: Quiet Wilma, breathe deeply and count the tiles on the floor. This feeling will pass. Do you see the chips of marble, quartz and granite?


MARY JANE: buffed and bruised by all the white man's heels that walked across it. It gives me strength. If this floor can stand up to the trampling it has received then so can we. We will be the floor - strong and steady - and we will not be moved.

WILMA: Yes…(pause) It’s too quiet and all I can hear is my heart beating like a racehorse. Mary Jane, can you hear it?

MARY JANE: No. I can’t hear a thing.

WILMA: I was excited to get here and be fearless like you. But the moment we walked in the door, everything changed. It’s the way they looked at us like we were animals that had stood on our hind legs and walked right out  the zoo.

MARY JANE: I’m nervous too and this feeling you're describing is what we have to overcome. It’s fear and when you overcome it that makes you fearless. Look at the floor. If the light catches it just right it shimmers. I think it’s lovely.

WILMA: It looks like it has gold flakes, do you think it does? Would this white room have a golden floor? (hearing something from the clerk)

Oh, look at that little white boy in the window. (PAUSE)

He looks worried... he knows we’re in trouble.

MARY JANE: - I bet he’s thinkin’ “Why are you in trouble when you’re sitting there so still with your best manners.”

WILMA: I want to run away. I want to run to your Mother’s beauty shop and sit with our elders and…listen to their words

MARY JANE: ...disappear into the safety of complacency? To be surrounded by women who should have done what needed to be done before we was born. But, we, the young people, the Emmet Till generation, must take the lead. So, we can’t run away.

The girls sit quietly for a few moments both trying to lose themselves in the room and disconnect from the fear that surrounds them. There is more muffled noise from the clerk and her co-workers behind the counter.

WILMA: What was that? What did she just say? Did she call Sheriff Ross? She did, didn’t she?

MARY JANE: Yes. Let’s hope the newspaper shows up before the Sheriff.

WILMA: So things are still going as planned?

MARY JANE: Yes, but we need to keep silent. Silence confuses them, remember they want an argument and we won’t give it to them.

WILMA: Look,  here comes that little boy again. He can’t take his eyes off you, Mary Jane. He has no idea what is going on. Runaway little boy, go find your mama.

The female clerk crosses the terrazzo floor quickly. The clacking sounds from her shoes echo across the room. She moves to the exit to the train platform and locks the door. She immediately returns to her position behind the counter and makes a phone call speaking in a muffled voice.  

MARY JANE: Wilma. I think something is happening. Stay seated, please whatever they ask you to do, stay quiet and seated.

WILMA: Just like we practiced. I can do it, Mary Jane.

Suddenly Vera Mae Pigee appears at the locked door and tries to enter the room. Pulling at the locked door she looks at Mary Jane and realizes it is locked and she will have to enter the room another way. She disappears around the side of the building.

WILMA: Mrs. Pigee is here! Mrs. Pigee is here!... Where’s she going?

She’ll have to buy a ticket and enter through the white area. She brought the Press Register- look they’ve got their cameraman outside.

MARY JANE: Right on time.

WILMA: He doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, he just lit a cigarette.

MARY JANE: There’s no story ‘til they handcuff us. Won’t that make a pretty picture?

WILMA: I never thought the first time my picture’s in the paper, it would be for getting arrested.

MARY JANE: That’s something to be proud of.

Vera Mae Pigee enters the room in a huff and full of energy. A woman in her late 30’s, she is wearing one of her famous hats and she’s waving her ticket as she speaks.

VERA: This is my ticket, I paid for it just a few minutes ago. I’m going to Memphis. Girls, how are you?

WILMA: Nobody has given us any trouble.

MARY JANE: They called Sheriff Ross a few minutes ago, he should be here soon.

VERA: Yes. I arrived just as the newspaper did. I’m sure they’re hoping for a fight.

MARY JANE: The only fight they’re getting is going to be in court. Wilma and I have been practicing.

WILMA: We won’t let them get the best of us.

VERA: Yes, you girls are well prepared and very impressive. But I question this decision? Why now Mary Jane? Without proper support?

MARY JANE: Mama, I’m not sure how many different ways I can say this. I’m fed up. Things are moving too slow.

VERA: How can you say that? We’re hitting our voter registration numbers - exceeding them.

WILMA: True. And that’s great but we can’t wait for the next election for things to change.

MARY JANE: I want direct action in response to laws that already exist and I want things to move faster. And it’s not just me, it’s the entire Youth Council. Mama, we need to increase our activities and be more confrontational.

WILMA: This is just the first step.

VERA: We have to work with the NAACP.

MARY JANE: You do Mama, but we don’t. The NAACP isn’t interested in the youth voice and it certainly isn’t interested in the female youth voice.

VERA: I agree we should be more open to young people's ideas.

MARY JANE: And leadership!

VERA: Well, yes within reason.

MARY JANE: Mama, do you trust me?

VERA: Yes. Absolutely.

MARY JANE: Have I proven myself to be steadfast and committed to the movement?

VERA: Yes, without question. But you need to know what you are risking. It’s different for you than it is for me.

MARY JANE: I don’t see how. If anything you have more to lose.

VERA: You have your entire life ahead of you - there’s nothing greater to lose. This is a violent business no matter how hard we work to avoid it.

MARY JANE: That’s my point, Mama! We have to stop working to avoid it. We have to confront it.

VERA: I see your point, I do but I fear for you and all of us once this begins.

MARY JANE: If you see our point then you have to help us convince the NAACP to listen.

WILMA: They’ll listen to you Mrs. Pigee.

MARY JANE: Wilma’s right. You’re the advisor to the Youth Council and the secretary for the chapter here. Just imagine what happens if we get the backing from the NAACP. If today is any indication, we’ve shown you we’re ready.

WILMA: We can plan more sit-ins through the Youth Council.

VERA: I’ve always encouraged you to participate in the movement, and you two have done well today. But Mary Jane, it takes strategy and extensive planning to execute this. You have to stay ten steps ahead of them. No matter what I’m still your mother and I will protect you with all that I am. And that means you too Wilma.

MARY JANE: I’m a young adult and I can take care of myself. You said it yourself, you encouraged me to do this work, so let me do what I am called to do.

WILMA: Mrs. Pigee, you can count on us! We’ve planned this out careful.

MARY JANE: Our lawyer is ready to bail us out as soon as the police take us down to the station. Mama, we thought this through.

VERA:  I don’t know where you get this wisdom and strength Mary Jane.

WILMA: She gets it from you Mrs. Pigee, we all do.

MARY JANE: You’ve always told us to have self control, don’t call any unnecessary attention to ourselves and be nonviolent despite the risks involved.

VERA: - I have. And I’m proud of both of you for stepping up. I’ve waited for this moment and I knew the day would come. I agree the youth can lead the charge, but you can’t do it alone.

MARY JANE: Thank you, mama.

VERA: I’ll talk to the NAACP.

Police sirens wail in the background. A smile creeps on Mary Jane's face. Wilma looks at Mary Jane with a confirmation.

MARY JANE: It’s about time they’ve arrived.

VERA: Girls, say it with me.

MARY JANE / WILMA: The United States Constitution explicitly provides for 'the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances' in the First Amendment.

VERA: Alright my girls, I’m leaving, this is your moment. I guess I’ll be heading to the police station instead of Memphis this afternoon.

BLACK OUT End of Scene

Beautiful Agitators

 written by Aallyah Wright, Charles Coleman, Jessica James, Nick Houston and Jennifer Welch

commissioned and produced by StoryWorks, Jennifer Welch, artistic director



Lesson Four Video: Youth Action and Leadership

Lesson Four Video: Youth Action and Leadership