M. Hayes Mizell Papers 1952-2005
| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Front Page 2007 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2007
Melvin Hayes Mizell was born in High Point, North Carolina, on 1 November 1938, to Clyde Mizell (1894-1977) and Julia Hayes Mizell (1911-2002). Mizell’s father, known as Mike, worked for a number of Chrysler dealers throughout the South during Mizell’s childhood. By the age of fourteen, Hayes Mizell had lived in and experienced many different parts of the South. The family lived in North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi before finally moving to Anderson, South Carolina, in January 1952. Although he later would describe his adolescence as "unexceptional," Mizell exhibited an early interest in politics and civic engagement. He got into trouble on at least one occasion for skipping band practice to go hear the speeches of Mississippi politicians such as Hugh White and Paul Johnson. At the age of fourteen Mizell wrote an essay that won first prize in a contest sponsored by the Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper The Commercial Appeal on the grounds that it "showed an understanding and well-expressed sense of the principles of American ideals, democracy, brotherhood and fair play." | Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
In Anderson, Mizell completed his secondary education at the Anderson Boy’s High School. He graduated in 1956 and enrolled in Anderson Junior College as a day student. He served as president of the sophomore class, as columnist for the campus newspaper, The Yodler, as a member of the student council, and as Christian Action Chairman for the campus. During his years in Anderson, Mizell also led an active social life reflected in numerous letters and invitations to dances and other social events he attended. As Mizell would later recall in a 1999 speech, "From the time I was in the ninth grade through my sophomore year in college I was more interested in social acceptance and the emergence of rock and roll than anything else. My academic career was undistinguished and until about 1958 I was largely unconscious of matters of race, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was not conscious of being racially conscious."
The events that led Mizell to become conscious of racial problems in the South began in 1958 when he completed his Associate of Arts degree at Anderson Junior College and transferred to Wofford College, a four-year liberal arts school located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In his first year at Wofford, Mizell was selected to take part in the Methodist Student Movement’s Christian Citizenship Seminar and travel with fifty-nine other students from across the country to New York City and Washington, D.C. On his first trip out of the South, Mizell visited the United Nations and the U.S. Capital and heard such speakers as Eleanor Roosevelt, Congressman John Brademas, and Senators Hubert Humphrey and Jacob Javits. It was also Mizell’s first opportunity to interact with an African-American student his own age. By 1960, when Mizell graduated from Wofford with a B.A. in history, his early civic interests had been renewed and he was actively thinking and writing about issues of politics and race for Wofford’s student newspaper, The Old Gold and Black. In September 1960, Mizell wrote to John F. Kennedy to offer his assistance in the presidential campaign in South Carolina.
Enrolling in the University of South Carolina’s graduate history program in 1960, Mizell’s political interest soon turned to activism. As a student, Mizell roomed with future history professors Dan Carter, Charles Joyner, and Selden Smith. In February 1961, Mizell and Smith joined seventy-five African-American students from Benedict College in a sit-in at a Columbia Woolworth’s. As Mizell’s first direct act of protest against segregation, his participation in the sit-in earned him the approbation of some who knew him but raised eyebrows among others. Both Smith and Mizell were reprimanded by the dean of the graduate school and warned against any future "agitation."
Mizell met some of the Benedict students involved in the sit-in through his membership in the South Carolina Council on Human Relations and as an active participant in its student chapter the South Carolina Student Council on Human Relations (SCSCHR). The aim of the SCSCHR was to bring together African-American and white students and to encourage communication in anticipation of desegregation in South Carolina’s institutions of higher education. Through SCSCHR, Mizell helped organize the Student Committee to Observe Order and Peace (SCOOP), a group intended to promote the peaceful integration of the University of South Carolina and to provide support to Henri Monteith, the African-American student who enrolled in the University in 1963.
While at USC, Mizell also participated in other organizations aimed at promoting civil rights. In 1961, he attended the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. By 1963, Mizell’s interest in desegregation of the South was growing even as his interest in completing his master’s degree in history was waning. Deciding that he was "not cut out to be a historian," Mizell sought work elsewhere. During the summer of 1963, Mizell moved to Washington, D.C., to begin serving as a foreign service trainee with the U.S. Information Agency. A Columbia native, Patricia Berne, was already working in Washington and on 29 November 1963 she and Mizell married.
Government service also failed to provide the professional opportunities to produce real change and advance the rights of others that Mizell was seeking. In 1964, he and Pat moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where Mizell became director of the National Student Association (NSA) Southern Student Human Relations Project. For the next two years, Mizell worked to promote student activism for improved human relations and civil rights on selected college campuses across the South. His activities for the NSA provided him with the opportunity to meet other civil rights advocates and also to work with other groups encouraging student activism, such as the Students for a Democratic Society and the Southern Student Organizing Committee. When the foundation supporting the project did not renew its funding, Mizell left the NSA feeling that he had failed to sustain the project’s momentum initiated by his predecessor. Seeking employment, Mizell became a Program Associate with the American Friends Service Committee’s School Desegregation Task Force that planned to open an office in South Carolina. In 1966, he and Pat returned to Columbia, South Carolina, where they celebrated the birth of their first child, Sally. Their second child, Elizabeth, was born in 1970.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an independent Quaker organization, was founded in 1917 to enable conscientious objectors to provide aid for civilian victims of World War I. Working towards the goals of social justice, peace, and humanitarian service, the AFSC’s School Desegregation Task Force was organized to monitor the implementation of Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, legislation mandating that any agency practicing racial discrimination could not receive federal funding. Mizell began work in 1966 as the only Task Force representative in South Carolina. Working out of a small office in the Columbia Building, Mizell set out to do everything within his power to advance school desegregation. He gathered information about the interaction of local officials and African Americans, recording attempts to frustrate, discourage, or prevent desegregation. Mizell became a vocal and visible figure in Columbia and South Carolina. His letters to the editor and opinion columns were a regular fixture in local and state newspapers such as The Columbia Record, The State, and The News and Courier. Mizell published a newsletter, Your Schools, for parents, students, and concerned members of the community to provide information about education and desegregation. His efforts to inform African-American citizens who otherwise would have had no trustworthy source of information on the topic led him to speak to numerous community meetings, church groups, and at the meetings of almost any organization that would invite him. It was during this period that Mizell began to prepare his speeches as formal text.
In 1966, AFSC changed Mizell’s title to Director of the South Carolina Community Relations Program (SCCRP). During the succeeding ten years, he not only advocated and monitored the desegregation of the state’s public schools, but also engaged in a broad range of other community-based activities to improve the quality of education for all students. He played key roles in building public and political support for the enactment of state school finance reform legislation, increasing citizen involvement in school governance, and developing public support for the creation of South Carolina’s human rights agency. Mizell’s position with the AFSC often enabled him to tackle issues that no other groups and organizations could for fear of financial reprisals. For example, in 1967 numerous civil rights groups and African-American organizations in Columbia protested the consideration of the city for a third All American City Award (an annual honor awarded by the National Civic League and Look magazine). Members of these groups felt that the city should not receive the award due to its lack of progress in the area of race relations. Mizell and a representative of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations were able to travel to Philadelphia to picket the hotel where the Columbia mayor and other city officials were making a final presentation to the award selection committee. Mizell and the SCCHR representative handed out leaflets explaining the concerns of the Columbia protest groups; subsequently, the city did not receive the award.
By 1968, when the election of Richard Nixon prompted speculation that implementation guidelines for Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act might be weakened, Mizell expanded his efforts to make the problems of desegregation in South Carolina visible to the nation at large. Among other activities, he addressed meetings of the National Education Association, wrote articles for such educational publications as the Southern Education Report, participated in conferences of the National Education Association and the National Committee for Support of the Public Schools, and testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare Subcommittee on Education regarding the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He also reverted to his academic interests when historian David Herbert Donald accepted his application to spend a year as a Senior Fellow in Southern and Negro History at the Institute of Southern History at The Johns Hopkins University. While at Johns Hopkins, he drew on his experiences with AFSC to author several major publications and speeches centering on education and civil rights problems in the South and South Carolina in particular. Among them was an article entitled "Public Education and Community Organization" published in New South (Winter, 1969, vol. 24, no. 1) and a speech delivered at the 96th National Conference on Social Welfare, Southern School Desegregation: Reflections on the Consequences of Reform.
Fears and tension about what the Nixon administration might do in regard to civil rights legislation led Mizell and his AFSC counterparts in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to take direct action to attract the administration’s attention. In July 1969, Mizell, his AFSC colleagues, and a chartered bus full of African-American parents from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina drove to Washington, D.C., with the intention of telling their stories of the on-going struggle for desegregation in education directly to Attorney General John Mitchell. Among those on the bus was Victoria DeLee, the African-American daughter of sharecroppers from Ridgeville, South Carolina. Mizell often worked with DeLee, who had been seeking to have her children admitted to Dorchester County School District #3’s all-white schools since 1964. DeLee had continued her struggle despite direct threats to her life and the burning of her house. A tall, strong woman with great native intelligence, she was a particularly intimidating member of the party. The group entered the Attorney General’s office and, when told he was unavailable, insisted on waiting until he was. The ‘sit-in’ lasted most of the day and culminated in DeLee winning a battle of wits with U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Jerris Leonard. Eventually, the group did speak with the Attorney General, and although he issued only "tepid" assurances, the incident and DeLee received national coverage in The New York Times and Newsweek magazine.
Even as Mizell took part in directly confronting government with the problems of desegregation, he also began to attempt to change the system by working from within it. In 1968, Mizell ran for a seat on the Board of School Commissioners of Richland County School District #1. In February of that year he wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal in which he stated: "It was the white citizens of the South who created the dual system and Negroes feel that now the primary responsibility for abolishing that system belongs to the school boards which are representative of today’s white citizenry." A seat on the board represented an opportunity to hasten the end of the system. While Mizell lost his 1968 bid in the primaries, he ran again in 1970 and shocked many Columbia leaders when he was successfully elected to a four-year term. In a campaign flyer, Mizell wrote: "It is my hope that the voters of District #1 will give me the opportunity to demonstrate that…my experience and ability can be valuable assets to the District #1 Board."
As a vocal advocate of desegregation on the Board of School Commissioners, Mizell drew the ire of critics of desegregation. Mizell was referred to in editorials as a "double-dipped integrationist" and accused of being part of "an ultra-liberal minority that wants to control our schools even if they destroy the public school system as we know it." One of Mizell’s most severe detractors was Lower Richland High School football coach Mooney Player, who spearheaded an anti-desegregation, anti-Mizell movement called "Deadline ’72." "Deadline ’72" sought to elect five conservative candidates to the school board to counteract Mizell’s supposed dominance over the board. Their campaign literature pointed up the perceived threat embodied by Mizell. "A split vote will deliver our schools to the ultra-liberal element that wants control of our schools," an open letter to the public warned. Player blamed Mizell "more than anyone" for school closings in the spring of 1972, claiming that Mizell "provided an atmosphere in which riot leaders could get away with them." Though the candidates supported by "Deadline ’72" were elected, Mizell continued to serve on the school board until 1974, when he lost a bid for reelection.
As a school board member and AFSC staff member, Mizell earned recognition in the community for his steadfast defense of desegregation and advocacy for quality education. In 1971, he was awarded the James McBride Dabbs Award by the South Carolina Council on Human Relations. In 1973, he was presented the Distinguished Citizen Award by the South Carolina Branch of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-SC) on whose Board of Directors Mizell served from 1972 to 1978.
Throughout the 1970s, Mizell continued to work for the American Friends Service Committee. In 1975, he was named the Associate Director of the AFSC’s Southeastern Public Education Program (SEPEP) which maintained offices in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. SEPEP began in 1968 as the continuation of the School Desegregation Taskforce. Expanding the focus of the program, SEPEP represented a significant nationwide effort on the part of the AFSC to improve public education. SEPEP goals included increasing government accountability for education quality, informing citizens of their rights in relation to education, and focusing on the issues of discipline, school finance, minimum competency testing, sexism, and parent involvement. Mizell addressed all of these issues in South Carolina while working for the AFSC-SEPEP. In 1980, he was named Co-Director of SEPEP. In 1982, SEPEP became the semi-autonomous Southeastern Public Education Program, Inc., after a shift in AFSC support and focus.
Mizell also began to serve a prominent role in education policy on a national and statewide level. In 1979, he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as Chairman of the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children (NAEDC), and he served until 1982. The NAEDC was created by Congress to oversee the implementation of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In 1979, Mizell was appointed to the South Carolina Basic Skills Advisory Commission (BSAC) by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the South Carolina General Assembly. He went on to serve as Vice-Chairman from 1981 to 1987. Ever active in his own community, in 1982 Mizell ran for and was reelected to the Richland County School District #1 Board of School Commissioners for a second four-year term.
In 1984, after eighteen years of service, Mizell left the AFSC to pursue education reform from within the South Carolina state government. The election of Richard Riley as Governor of South Carolina enabled Mizell to fashion a new role for himself as a legislative advocate for South Carolina school reform. In 1984, he was hired by the Office of the South Carolina Governor as Coordinator of the State Employment Initiatives for Youth Demonstration Project (SEIY). In 1983, South Carolina, under the guidance of Governor Riley, agreed to participate in a demonstration project developed by Public/Private Venture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The goal of the project was to "develop and implement more effective employment and training policies and programs for at-risk youth by mobilizing the State’s capacity for comprehensive planning and programming." Funded by the Ford Foundation, the demonstration project in South Carolina particularly focused on youth whose employability was in jeopardy because of "age, sex, race, poverty, low academic achievement, irregular school attendance, early withdrawal from school, status as a teenage parent, involvement with the juvenile justice or criminal justice systems, or any combination of these and other factors." In the same year that Mizell began work with the SEIY, he was also appointed by Governor Riley to serve on the Joint Subcommittee of the Committee on Financing Excellence in Education and the Business-Education Partnership Committee. From within the Riley Administration, Mizell joined with educators and political and business leaders convened by Governor Riley to develop recommendations that became the basis for South Carolina’s historic Education Improvement Act.
Just as Mizell was making changes in his professional life, changes were occurring in his private life. In 1977, Mizell and Pat Berne were divorced. Subsequently, he was introduced to Kate Swanson, who was working in Cleveland, Ohio, with an education advocacy organization where she studied education policies and vocational education. In 1983, Mizell married Kathleen (Kate) Thomas Swanson, and in July 1985 they celebrated the birth of their first child (Mizell’s third), Mark Swanson Mizell.
In 1987, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation conducted a national search for the director of its Program for Disadvantaged Youth and Mizell got the job. Founded in 1969 by Avon Products heir Edna McConnell Clark and her husband, Van Alan Clark, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation approached philanthropy with a down-to-earth focused set of programs aimed at serving children, the elderly, the poor, and the developing world. Previously directed to help inner-city youth at risk of dropping out of high school or becoming unemployed, the Program for Disadvantaged Youth shifted under Mizell’s direction to focus on providing better educational opportunities to disadvantaged urban youth in the "middle grades" (11 to 15 years old). In 1989, the Program selected five urban school districts to receive long-term grant funding and support. These demonstration school districts formed the core of what would grow to be a network of education organizations, schools, and education advocates and writers working to improve education in the middle grades.
In 1992, the program modified its approach by identifying and providing funding to school systems seeking "district-wide improvements in student learning by advancing reform in all middle schools simultaneously." To reflect this move to encourage system-wide excellence, the program became known in 1994 as the Program for Student Achievement (PSA). Over the next eight years, the Program guided each district in developing and implementing new academic standards as well as improving and expanding staff development programs for principals and teachers. The program also sought to enhance support for the school systems by providing grants to national and community-based organizations to support educational reform, foster professional development and parental involvement in schools, and document and evaluate programs developed by the schools. Districts included urban school systems in Corpus Christi, Long Beach, San Diego, Louisville, Minneapolis, Chattanooga, Milwaukee, Oakland, and Baltimore.
In 2001, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation Board of Trustees voted to shift its grantmaking focus and phase out all existing programs, thereby ending the Program for Student Achievement. An exit strategy for the program was developed, and over the next two years the program wound down until Mizell’s retirement from the Foundation in 2003.
During his years at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, Mizell distinguished himself as a leader in middle school reform. While there, he was affiliated with numerous educational organizations, including, among others, the following: Fairtest’s National Policy Panel (National Center for Fair and Open Testing), Grantmakers for Education Board of Directors, Parents for Public Schools (PPS) Board of Directors, American Forum Board of Directors, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education Advisory Committee, and the Youth Alive! Advisory Committee. In 1999, he was presented the Distinguished Service to American Education Award by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Recognized again in 2000, Mizell became the first non-professional educator to receive the National Staff Development Council’s annual Contribution to Staff Development award. Mizell was often sought as a speaker about education issues, and in 2002 the EMCF published a collection of his speeches entitled Shooting for the Sun: the Message of Middle School Reform. In 2003, Mizell retired from the Clark Foundation and returned to Columbia, South Carolina. Not yet finished with his career, however, in 2003, Mizell was named a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the National Staff Development Council (NSDC), an organization focused on improving professional development of public school educators. Mizell continued much of the work of the Program of Student Achievement in his new position.
Between 1964 and 2005, Melvin Hayes Mizell served his community, state, and nation though an exceptional career of advocacy and action aimed at improving the lives of his fellow man. Throughout his career he played key leadership roles in organizing and developing organizations that he hoped would have an impact beyond his individual contributions. His efforts included helping found the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Citizen’s Coalition for South Carolina Public Schools. At the national level, he collaborated with others to create the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, Grantmakers for Education, and the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform.
A witness to history, Mizell was present at John F. Kennedy’s speech on the steps of the South Carolina State House, at the March on Washington, at the march led by Martin Luther King, Jr., to support the striking South Carolina Hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina (1199B Union strike), and at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. Modest about his role in the civil rights movement and unassuming about his place in history of education reform, Mizell’s unpretentious nature proved to be one of his most useful tools throughout his career. Although Mizell would claim in a 1972 Osceola interview that there was "nothing especially courageous or insightful" about him, others would disagree. In March 1973, John Edgerton and Jack Bass wrote of Hayes Mizell in the Race Relations Reporter:
Looking like a Baptist preacher with owlish horn rims and a somber often unsmiling expression, he came across in person and in the press as an informed, articulate and acerbic critic of anybody and anything in the way of desegregation….Mizell had several things going for him: He worked at getting his facts right, he presented them forcefully, he understood the intricacies of the federal role in desegregation, he was consistent in his attack, and he had the patience to try again when he lost and he usually kept his cool.
South Carolina’s civil rights matriarch, Modjeska Simkins, once said of Mizell: "He’s taken a lot of heat, but he has stood up to the reactionaries in education. He’s all wool and a yard wide."
Mizell possessed a commendable appreciation for the power of memory and history. As early as 1974, he began to donate his personal papers and those relating to his career to the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. As a graduate student at USC, Mizell had worked for the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and was involved in microfilming historic papers. Perhaps Mizell’s work in the Archives inspired him to preserve his papers. In 1982, he wrote to Dr. Lewis P. Jones, a well-known and much beloved Wofford College history professor, about his motives for preserving a record of his work:
I continue to keep my personal archives into which I indiscriminately throw everything on paper that reflects me and my activities….I make no claims as to the value of this stuff; I just want there to be a record in case my children or anyone else ever has any interest in who I was or what I did….My only hope is that the Bomb doesn’t get the papers first.
The M. Hayes Mizell papers consist of ca. 165 linear feet of records, 1952-2005, arranged in rough chronological order. The collection is divided into the following series: personal, American Friends Service Committee, Richland County School District #1, National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children, State Employment Initiatives for Youth, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, speeches, writings, topical files, reference materials, audio/visual materials, and ephemera.
Processing of the papers was made possible through a generous gift from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. A comprehensive finding aid to the collection is available to users via the South Caroliniana Library website.