E.W. Steptoe, born Eldridge Willie Steptoe from Amite County, was owner of a dairy and cotton farm. He founded Amite County’s NAACP chapter in 1953 and recruited nearly 200 members in less than a year. Because of Steptoe and others who assisted him, the chapter was quite active until one night in 1954, after the Brown decision, when Sheriff E. L. Caston interrupted a chapter meeting to confiscate membership lists and records. Steptoe notified the FBI, and Caston returned the papers, but participation drastically decreased. Shortly after the raid, a member was charged with murder. The Amite County NAACP, however, still managed to start its own newsletter, The Informer. Openly continuing his NAACP activities, Steptoe was frequently harassed by local police and his white neighbors, one of whom was E. H. Hurst (a state legislator), and he began heavily arming himself. Steptoe also encountered difficulties selling his milk and obtaining loans. In 1961, after reading an article in Jet magazine about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and its proposed Mississippi project, Steptoe invited SNCC’s Robert “Bob” Moses to initiate a voter registration campaign in Amite County. Moses arrived in August of 1961 and moved in with Steptoe on his farm, which SNCC workers set up as a voter registration school. Steptoe’s arsenal of guns reportedly made some SNCC workers like Moses, who was thoroughly committed to nonviolence, nervous. Steptoe continued to support SNCC and Moses even when the state NAACP wanted the organization to leave Mississippi. He also helped revive the movement in 1964, working with volunteers such as Marshall Ganz on COFO’s summer project, and was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. He bravely testified to the U.S. Justice Department about E.H. Hurst threatening, and then later murdering, local NAACP member Herbert Lee. Mr. Steptoe passed away in 1983.
Dittmer, John. Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi. Champaign,
Illinois: The University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Newfield, Jack. A Prophetic Minority. New York: The New American Library, 1966.
Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the
Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1955.
Zinn, Howard. SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Cambridge Massachusetts: South End Press, 1964.