Covington

People

Weathersby, Zella

Zella Weathersby, a native of Mount Olive, was the first black teacher at the previously all-white Collins Elementary School in 1968.

Source:
http://www.lib.usm.edu/legacy/spcol/coh/cohweathersbyz.html

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Events

Voter Registration in Covington

(1963-1964) Griffin McLaurin was with the second group of people who attempted to go to the courthouse to register to vote in May of 1963. Included in this group was Ozell Mitchell, Norman Clark, Dan Wesley, Roberta Clark, Shadrach “Crook”Davis, and the Russells. Upon reaching the courthouse and informing those present of their intention to vote, the group was instructed to seek commodities from the Welfare Office. After asserting that they had not come in search of commodities the group was directed to wait out under a tree for several hours. During their wait the group was surrounded by onlookers with guns and big dogs, many of whom had just been deputized in order to assist in the harassment of the would-be voters.

Eventually, the Sheriff and the Registrar along with several other white men came out to inquire as to what the group wanted. Henry McCullogh addressed the group, sending them away. A few days later the group returned and attempted to register again. On this particular encounter, they were asked whether they had paid their poll taxes. Some individuals explained the poll tax to them, and gave them a form with almost 100 questions on it. The group did not know how to fill out all of the questions, all of which were arbitrary and designed to harass black voters.

It took until either August or September of that year and a lawsuit before McLaurin was able to vote. The suit was implemented by Mel Leventhal of the Constitutional Defense Committee. They eventually registered 696 blacks (in beat four there were only 96 registered white voters).

Sources:

http://www.usm.edu/crdp/html/transcripts/manuscript-mclaurin_griffin.shtml

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Groups

Community Center

The original site of many of the voter registration meetings was in the Sanctified Church (presently known as New Jerusalem) prior to being moved to the Community Center. The church also served as the first Head Start center in the county. The church burned down in 1964. A large community center was built on that same place in the fall of 1964.

Initially, it was difficult to convene large meetings of farmers and plantations workers unless they lived on the Marcella, Mileston, Chaw-Chaw, Dawson, or Good Hope plantations. Many of the plantation owners forbade their workers from attending such meetings, thus most of the time one representative from a plantation would attend the meetings and carry the information back to the others. During late 1964-1965 participation from the plantations strengthened. With this surge in attendance came the displacement of sharecropping families at the hands of the plantation owners as punishment for attending voter registration meetings. By some estimates 75-100 people were ejected from the land their ancestors had farmed for two or three generations, their houses burned to the ground. At that time the plantations held anywhere from 110 to 115 families on them. The combined effects of mechanization and participation in voting rights efforts in essence saved the plantation owners costly renovations incurred by compliance with the government’s requirements for habitable housing (including the installation of indoor bathrooms).

The local independent black farming community pulled together with civil rights workers during these evictions to provide farming opportunities and housing for the families whose knowledge and skills outside of farming were very limited. These farmers and workers taught those who were displaced how to apply for welfare and food stamps, to pay bills (light, gas, and water), to file income taxes, and to see to other business that the plantation owner had always handled for them.

Griffin McLaurin, a Covington County activist, recalled his experiences for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History. He said civil rights activists “were guarding all of our houses”and “we formed a little group that was patrolling the community and keeping an eye on our community center.” McLaurin noted that there was still plenty of fear because they received threats on their lives every day. He added that although individual citizens and racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan “blew up a lot of cars on the road going to the center,”they did not succeed in bombing it because they kept a 24-hour watch on the building. McLaurin stated that “they’d come in late at night and try to get to the center, but we had our guards. We stood our ground, and whenever we heard something that we thought wasn’t right, we had our firepower.”

The community center was basically run by members of the local community, including several young ladies with the required knowledge and skills to do the necessary tasks: Rosie Head, Elise Galleon, Zelma Williams, Catherine McLaurin, Rose Berta Clark.

Sources:

http://www.usm.edu/crdp/html/transcripts/manuscript-mclaurin_griffin.shtml

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Documents

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