50 years ago, 15 young men and women, buoyed by the political gains made by the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in its voter registration campaign in the Mississippi Delta, decided that the new found power marshaled in securing voting rights should be used to tackle the intractable issues of inequality and discrimination that had defined the region since slavery. They reasoned that a permanent institution - a community development corporation - could be used to capture and build upon the gains made by the civil rights movement.
It was from this vision that MACE was founded.
Most of the fifteen men and women who came together in 1967 to form MACE were born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, and had personally experienced the challenges facing African-American rural communities and knew the indignity of not being able to participate in any decisions that affected their lives. They were committed to ensuring that disenfranchised communities and their residents were given voice and power. Influenced by SNCC's philosophy of grassroots leadership development, the central thrust of their efforts were focused on community education and building a cadre of skilled local community leaders and training and equipping them with the skills necessary to build a membership base community instructions.
MACE was structured as an organization of organizations - an affiliation of county-based groups. It's original board of directors was made up of the founding members and representatives of these organizations.
At its peak, MACE created a network of eight affiliate organizations that were led by local community activists equipped to sustain the membership institutions and oversee community development efforts. These organizations did not only advance community projects but served as loci for constituent development and training and were a force within the region - claiming a total membership base at one time of over 5,000 persons.
Notably, MACE made an early decisions to separate its training and advocacy work from its economic development activity - choosing instead to locate those activities in a separate organization, the Delta Foundation. Nevertheless, MACE's early successes were impressive and catapulted it to the front of the National CDC movement. In a relatively short space of time, MACE was able to:
- Orchestrate the incorporation of four communities as towns under Mississippi Law; and subsequently provided financial, training and technical assistance to assist those towns in securing in excess of $40 million dollars for vitally needed municipal services, including water and waste water systems, streets, drainage, public safety, affordable housing and industrial development. These development created more than 800 jobs;
- Provide over $2 million dollars to emerging neighborhood groups to support local self-help initiatives to improve conditions in low-income communities;
- Develop more than 300 units of decent and affordable housing for physically handicapped, elderly and other low income persons; and
- Promote cultural heritage and the blues for overall 25 years including its successful annual Delta Blues and Heritage Festival held in September.