Leflore – Events

Leflore County Massacre

After the success of the all-white Southern Farmers’ Alliance, a group that organized white farmers and farm workers in numbers that grew to about 80,000 by 1890 in Mississippi, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance formed to create an organization for black farmers and farm workers, who weren’t allowed membership in the Southern Farmers’ Alliance. In Leflore County, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance was organized by Oliver Cromwell, who set up several branches there and gained support of black farmers and laborers. In September 1889, a group of whites in Leflore County retaliated against what they saw as a threat to white businesses by black economic independence, threatening Cromwell, whose supporters responded by organizing a march. A 75 black men who stood up to the threats and vowed to protect Cromwell if he were attacked. There were reportedly 3,000 men ready to defend Cromwell. At the request of the local sheriff, three troops of national guard went to Leflore County, where they arrested dozens of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance’s black supporters. A white “posse” gathered and continued to hunt down others after the sheriff dismissed the national guardsmen. Many white newspapers downplayed the events, claiming no one was killed, but many other reports, particularly in the black press, recount greater violence, claiming that at least six Colored Farmers’ Alliance organizers were killed, including Adolph Horton, Jack Dial, J.M. Dial, and Scott Morris. Some accounts described as many as 100 black people killed, including men, women, and children. There were no accounts of white people being injured or killed.

Sources:

“The Leflore County Massacre and the Demise of the Colored Farmer’s Alliance,” William F. Holmes, Phylon (1960-) Vol. 34, No. 3 (3rd Qtr., 1973), pp. 267-274

“Farmers’ Alliance and Colored Farmers’ Alliance”
https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/farmers-alliance-and-colored-farmers-alliance/

“My Ancestor Died in the Leflore County Massacre”
https://www.theroot.com/my-ancestor-died-in-the-leflore-county-massacre-1790859521

End of the Federal Food Program

In October, 1962, the white county board of supervisors cut off a federal food program, a program that gave 27,000 people in the county, a large part of them black, aid on which to survive. The supervisors were probably reacting to the burgeoning voter registration drives, but they claimed that they could not afford the distribution. In the spring of 1963, this action brought national attention and an outpouring of support of money, food, and clothing. Comedian Dick Gregory and famed Mississippi activist Medgar Evers brought a spotlight to focus on the effort and to the injustices being suffered in the region.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.

Emmett Till’s Murder in Money

On August 24, 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting relatives in Mississippi, went with a group of other children to the Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, Mississippi, to get refreshments after a hot Mississippi day. The store was owned by Roy and Carolyn Bryant. Mrs. Bryant was working behind the counter. Till allegedly whistled at Bryant, now termed a “wolf whistle”in Itta Bena writer Lewis Nordan’s book of the same title. Because it was unacceptable in the minds of white men that a black boy would whistle at a white woman, some local whites became outraged.

On August 28 at about 2:30 a.m., Roy Bryant and his half brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till from his great-uncle Moses Wright’s home. The two men brutally beat Till, shot him in the head, and then attached a large metal gin fan to his neck with barbed wire. Till was then thrown into the Tallahatchie River. The next day the two men were arrested on kidnapping charges and held without bond in Leflore County.

On August 31st, Till’s beaten, lifeless and water-damaged body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River. He was identified by a ring bearing his deceased father’s initials. His mother had given him the ring just before he got on the train for Money. Till’s body was taken back to Chicago for the funeral and burial. His mother requested an open casket so that everyone could see what the men had done. Jet magazine published pictures of the body and the story, sending shocks of outrage throughout the country.

The same day that Till was buried, Bryant and Milam were indicted on kidnapping and murder charges. They both pleaded not guilty and were jailed until the trial. Bryant and Milam were acquitted after a Tallahatchie County jury deliberated for only sixty-seven minutes. One juror was reported as having explained, “It wouldn’t have taken that long but we stopped to drink some pop.”The jury was all white and all male and consisted of nine farmers, two carpenters, and one insurance agent.

Bryant and Milam died in Mississippi of cancer, after living long lives of freedom. Not only were they never punished by the horrific crime they committed, but they actually bragged about murdering Till in a 1956 article in Look magazine.

Sources:

Parker, Frank. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi After 1965.

Payne, Charles. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom.