Pike – Places

McComb

McComb, Mississippi, was one of the main battlegrounds for the struggle for civil rights in the United States. The 1950s set the stage for the Mississippi Movement, and the pivotal years for the state and McComb came in the 1960s.

In 1961 local NAACP leaders teamed with Robert Moses, a young activist with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), to organize voter registration drives in Southwest Mississippi. That October, students at Burglund High School participated in a protest walkout that landed many young people in jail. These two events nurtured a growing group of local activists who helped lead the way for change in Mississippi.

The hold of the Klan over McComb was strong, and progress was slow and hard-wrought. By the summer of 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) committed to an ambitious new campaign in the state called “Freedom Summer,”with projects in McComb and other Mississippi communities. That summer saw the mobilization of hundreds of Movement workers arriving from outside the area and teaming local people. They led “freedom schools,”voter registration drives, and other efforts to support local blacks in the pursuit of civil rights.

Klan sympathizers stepped up their efforts at maintaining white supremacy, trying to intimidate the Movement workers into withdrawing from the area and local activists into retreating in silence and fear. The Klan carried out their terrorism with no repercussions from law enforcement. In a two-month period, there were more than a dozen bombings – so many that McComb became known as “the bombing capital of the world.”Local law enforcement supported the Klan tactics either directly or by concocting so-called crimes and arresting COFO workers and local blacks in punishment for their activism. Many white business leaders used economic punishment against the black people who worked for them. McComb’s white leadership remained silent. Fear had a hold over the area, and white moderates remained passive. In the words of McComb Enterprise-Journal editor Oliver Emmerich, “Almost everybody was hysterically afraid.”

But many local black people organized despite the fear and terror. They continued to demand assistance from the federal government, despite most of their pleas being ignored. Finally, by mid-November, continued pressure by the NAACP, COFO, and the local black community – combined with a “Statement of Principles”denouncing violence printed in the Enterprise-Journal by a group of white citizens – led to a crack down in Klan violence and ushered in a new phase of the Movement.

Sources:

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle by Charles M. Payne

The FBI Story: A Report to the People by Don Whitehead

Freedom Song (movie) directed by Phil Alden Robinson

Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by John Dittmer

Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project by Robert P. Moses and Charles E. Cobb

Reunion: A Memoir by Tom Hayden

So the Heffners Left McComb by Hodding Carter

Two Faces of Janus: The Saga of Deep South Change by J. Oliver Emmerich

www.mccomblegacies.org

Summit Street District

The Summit Street District was a vibrant area of African-American businesses. It included the Lyric Theatre, whose building housed Holmes Ice Cream Parlor on the north side and Holmes Drug Store on the south side. North of the theatre was Holmes Pool Shack and Holmes Chicken Shack. Both places were used as meeting places of Movement workers.

This area included the Desoto Hotel, which housed a thriving restaurant and bar. Another club and restaurant that marked that era was the Ritz. The north end of the district ended with the Elk’s Rest, which was originally the Harlem Nightingale. This establishment had entertainers such as Cab Calloway. It had matinees on Saturday for children and adult entertainment in the evenings.

The Freedom House Complex

The SNCC Workers Freedom House Complex was a trio of houses on Wall and Denwiddie Streets owned by Mrs. Willie Mae Cotton and Mr. Antoine AcNulty. Mrs. Cotton had opened her home to SNCC workers early in the Movement. In preparation for the 1964 Summer Project, she extended housing to additional workers, and later that summer other houses were made available as the project expanded and workers came to teach in the freedom school. The third house also served as the Delta Ministry Office.

A core group of experienced SNCC workers and COFO volunteers lived in these dwellings continuously from early 1964 through the summer of 1966. In July 1964, the Freedom House at 702 Wall Street was bombed, injuring activists Dennis Sweeney and Curtis Hayes.

Flower Mount Baptist Church

On the third Sunday in June of 1870 sixty-five African Americans met under the brush arbor to organize a church. From 1870-1883, church services were held in an old Union army barracks. According to the country records, the land was sold to the Colored Baptist Church of McComb in 1883, purchased from the Mississippi Valley Company, for the price of $200.00. The elected trustees were John Webb, Nolan Green, Henry Kenny, P.A. Preston, Wilford Washington, and George Walker.

In the spring of 1884, the laying of the foundation took place, but the underground barracks were maintained for the safety of Flowery mount and community members who feared retribution by the KKK. While construction was being completed, the church held worship service in a tent on the property. In 1885 – within one year of laying the foundation – members held their first service the building. That wood frame building was destroyed by a storm in 1909, and a concrete block building replaced it.

Civil rights meetings were held at Flowery Mount, but it was not bombed during the rash of attacks in McComb. According to the late Argentine Johnson, it was not bombed because the men of the church took turns during the night standing guard.

Black History Gallery Inc

This gallery was started by Ms. Hilda Casin, and admission is free. It houses a variety of African and African-American artifacts, pictures, books, charts, and historical materials.

Burglund Senior High School

In 1961, 15-year-old Burglund student Brenda Travis along with 20-year-olds Ike Lewis and Bobbie Talbert were arrested and jailed for participating in a sit-in demonstration at the Greyhound bus terminal. The school’s principal, Mr. Commodore Dewey Higgins, suspended Brenda Travis for her arrest, prompting students to request an explanation of his actions. Mr. Higgin’s lack of response led to the October 4 walkout by about 300 Burglund High School students.

As students marched from the school to the SNCC office above the Burglund Super Market, other community people joined in, and the group continued to the steps of the McComb City Hall. There, the demonstrators, mostly students, attempted to pray on the City Hall steps. As they knelt to pray, they were arrested. After each set of arrests, others stepped forward to pray, until 116 people had been arrested. The youngest students were released, although 76 individuals were held in the City Jail for three days. Demonstrators over the age of eighteen were transferred to the County Jail in Magnolia, where they were held for 39 days.

After they were released from the jail, a number of students returned to school but were expelled. They attended the McComb Freedom School for a few weeks, before arrangements were made for those students to continue their education at J.P. Campbell Junior College in Jackson, Mississippi.

Videos referencing the Burglund High School Walkout:

These videos can also be viewed here.

St. Paul United Methodist

St. Paul United Methodist Church was the first church in McComb to open its doors to the McComb Movement. Beginning in 1961, St. Paul was a principal meeting place for voter registration training and Movement meetings. During the summer of 1961 it was the location of McComb Freedom School. That fall, St. Paul served as a temporary high school for the Burglund High School students expelled for their protests, until arrangements were made for them to attend classes at J.P. Campbell Junior College in Jackson.

Burglund Supermarket and Masonic Temple

The Burglund Supermarket was joint business venture established in the 1950s by local black businessmen, Mr. G.W. Martin, Mr. Pete Lewis, Mr. Percy Larry, Mr. Charlie Gavden, and Mr. Jack Morgan.

The Masonic Temple (Eureka Lodge No. 5) was located above the market. It was the site of voter registration classes and housed the SNCC office in the 1960s. The supermarket was bombed on August 17, 1964, when most of the McComb civil rights workers had gone to New Orleans to a dinner for the Hefners, a white family who had been forced to leave McComb because they supported the Movement.

In the fall of 1961, the Masonic Temple and St. Paul United Methodist Church served as a temporary high school for approximately 100 Burglund High School students who had been suspended for participating in a the student walkout. Ninth and tenth grades were held at the Masonic Temple and eleventh and twelfth grades were held at St. Paul.

The owners of the Burglund Supermarket were part of the community network who provided lunches for the protesting students and gave money and food to support other Movement activities.

McComb City Hall

The student walkout from Burglund High School ended at the steps of City Hall by the Broadway entrance, where 116 people were arrested.

Greyhound Bus Station

The McComb Greyhound Bus Station is remembered by Movement people as a place of violence and vicious attacks on black people who tried to exercise their rights to equal accommodations on public transportation. During the early 1960s, when the Freedom Rides were in progress, members of the McComb police force regularly met and boarded buses, roughing up black passengers who did not sit at the back of the bus.

In April 1961, the CORE Freedom Ride that originated in New Orleans and was scheduled to end in Jackson was interrupted by the McComb police and an angry white mob. The police boarded, took the Freedom Riders off the bus, and “lost” them in the crowd, where they were brutally beaten. Members of the McComb Movement took the Freedom Riders to be treated by a doctor and then drove them to their destination in Jackson.

The Bus Station was actually two bus stations: a small, filthy alcove reserved for black people, and a larger, cleaner room for the use of white people. Although efforts to integrate this bus station were successful, many black people in McComb continued to use the “black side” until a new undivided station was built.