Police Conflict

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

Kennard, Clyde

Clyde Kennard (1927-1963) was a pioneer of attempting to desegregate Mississippi’s higher education system. He was an army veteran and had attended University of Chicago, with significant work completed towards a political science degree, when he moved back home to Eatonville, Mississippi, to help his mother on her farm. He attempted to enroll as the first black student at Mississippi Southern College, now University of Southern Mississippi, originally because it was near his home and eventually in the cause of civil rights. He attempted three times–in 1955, 1959, and 1960–but was thwarted each time by the white power structure determined to keep African American students out of all-white colleges and universities.

Directly after his 1959 attempt to register, Forrest County law enforcement arrested Kennard on false charges of “driving at an excessive speed” and “illegal possession of whiskey,” and despite lack of evidence judge T.C. Hobby found him guilty on both counts. In 1960, he was falsely accused of burglary, and after 10 minutes of deliberation by an all-white jury he was given the maximum sentence of seven years in prison. In Parchman Penitentiary, Kennard was treated brutally and refused medical treatment, which eventually resulted in advanced cancer that killed him at age 36.

Kennard’s story and his mistreatment by the higher education system, the legal system, and the brutal prison system is considered one of the gross injustices of Mississippi history.

Sources:

http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/349/clyde-kennard-a-little-known-civil-rights-pioneer

Zinn Education Project

Goodman, Andrew

Andrew Goodman (1943-1964) was a participant in the Freedom Summer movement of 1964.  He originally got his start in the civil rights movement after graduating from Walden School.  He was from the Upper West Side of New York; however, he left New York to train and improve his activism skills at Western College for Women.  At age 20, in June 1964 he took his talents down to Meridian, Mississippi, to help register blacks to vote.  This was a danger for all involved due to community and government members strongly opposing granting this right to blacks.  Furthermore, some of those who were opposed to granting blacks the right to vote and equality were willing to stop anyone involved in the movement by any means necessary.  Through the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, spies were paid to give information about civil rights organizing.  The Commission was especially interested in out of state activists. 

Less than 24 hours after Goodman arrived in Meridian, he went with fellow activists James Chaney and Michael Schwerner to investigate a church burning and violent beatings of church membersin Neshoba County. As they were preparing to leave the area and return to Meridian, the three men were pulled over by local police for a supposed speeding violation. They were taken to a jail in Philadelphia MS but were released later that evening, only to be chased down and murdered by klan members, who had been alerted by local law enforcement about the young men’s release and route back to Meridian. The murderers buried the bodies in an earthen dam in Neshoba County, where they were discovered on August 4, after a federal investigation.

See also “The Murder of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner”

source: andrewgoodman.org/who-we-are/about-andy/

Armstrong III, Thomas Madison: Oral History

Thomas Armstrong participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He says that one of Ross Barnett’s speeches encouraged him to participate in the Freedom Rides, because Barnett said that Mississippian’s were happy with the present conditions. The video was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

 

Thomas Madison Armstrong III from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Thomas Madison Armstrong III

Date: November 10, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Jackson, MS; Naperville, IL; United States Postal Service; family religious background
2:00-4:00 Family reaction to involvement; Tougaloo College; Ross Barnett; Mary Harrison Lee; arrest at Jackson bus station
4:00-6:00 Jackson City Jail; disturbing the peace charges; trial
6:00-8:00 June 23, 1961; reaction to being in jail; Freedom Songs; “We Shall Overcome”
8:00-10:00 SNCC; voter registration; sit-ins
10:00-12:00 Mississippi Freedom Summer; voter registration; McComb, MS
12:00-14:00 McComb, MS; Freedom Riders; Stokely Carmichael; Julian Young; Martin Luther King, Jr.
14:00-16:00 Kansas City, MO; return to Mississippi; influence of involvement on his life
16:00-18:00 Influence of involvement on his life
18:00-20:00 Involvement since movement; participation

 

Lee, Herbert

Herbert Lee, a farmer and the father of nine children, was a charter member of Amite County’s NAACP branch. He remained openly active even after Sheriff E.L. Caston raided the chapter’s membership list and records in 1954. After Robert “Bob” Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arrived in Amite County, Lee volunteered to drive him around the area to contact potential voters. Lee also provided transportation to students in the nearby McComb Movement.

In 1961, Mississippi state legislator E.H. Hurst murdered Lee but was never held accountable. According to witnesses that Bob Moses located and spoke with privately after the incident, on the morning of September 25, 1961, Lee drove to a cotton gin in Liberty with a load of cotton. E.H. Hurst drove up behind Lee in a truck owned by Billy Jack Caston, got out, and went up to Lee’s window. The two men argued, and Hurst pulled out a gun. Lee refused to talk to him unless Hurst put the gun down. Lee got out of the truck on the side away from Hurst, but Hurst ran around the front of the truck, aimed, and fired at Lee, killing him.

The day before the murder, local NAACP leader E.W. Steptoe testified to John Doar of the Justice Department that Hurst had publicly threatened to kill Steptoe, George Reese, and Lee, who had attended voter registration classes and volunteered to attempt to register. Steptoe also told Doar that whites were recording the license plate numbers of cars at meetings.

Around a dozen witnesses, both black and white, were present when Hurst murdered Lee, but Lee’s body remained on the ground for hours. Eventually his body was taken to a McComb funeral home because no one in Liberty would touch it. Louis Allen, who witnessed the murder, was taken from the gin by a white man to the coroner’s jury; on the way there, he was told what to say. None of the African American witnesses were willing to testify against Hurst, and several told Moses that the sheriff instructed them to say that after a dispute over money, Lee attacked Hurst with a tire iron, and Hurst’s gun went off accidentally. Hearing such testimony, the coroner’s jury resolved that Hurst killed Lee in self defense, and Hurst spent no time in jail. When a federal jury began considering an indictment of Hurst in late October, Allen decided to truthfully testify if he was given federal protection. Moses was informed by the Justice Department that they could offer Allen no such protection, so Allen repeated the sheriff’s story to the jury. Louis Allen himself was later murdered, and no one was every prosecuted for the murder.

For some time after Lee’s murder, no African Americans in Amite County were willing to register to vote. Lee is memorialized in Bertha Gober’s song, “We’ll Never Turn Back,”and at least one of his children, Herbert Lee, Jr., was active in the movement in 1965, when he was only 15 years old.

Information on Herbert Lee’s murder is also included in the national registry nomination for the Westbrook Cotton Gin. Click here for the edited nomination form, with photos removed, in the document library for Amite County.

Sources:

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.

Rosenthal, Sam

Sam Rosenthal was the Jewish mayor of Rolling Fork, MS, county seat of Sharkey County. He served uncontested from 1924 to 1969. As mayor, he modernized the town’s electricity and improved the library and school systems.

Sources:
Institute of Southern Jewish Life

Nixon, Sandra: Oral History

Sandra Nixon participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. This video was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Sandra Nixon from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

Her oral history may also be viewed here.

 

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Sandra Nixon

Date: November, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Desire Housing Project, New Orleans; Isaac Thomas; child protection services, New Orleans
2:00-4:00 Fergus & Cecilia Pierre; family history; Southern University; Castle Haley; Doris Haley; Jerome Smith
4:00-6:00 CORE New Orleans; nonviolence training; father WWII vet
6:00-8:00 Family apprehension; May 30, 1961 trip from New Orleans to Jackson, MS by train; arrest
8:00-10:00 Charged with breach of peace; arrest; Jackson City Jail; Hinds County Jail; Parchman Penitentiary; conditions in Parchman
10:00-12:00 Parchman experiences; “Oh Freedom”
12:00-14:00 Personal experience; Strive Towards Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr.; Southern University
14:00-16:00 New Orleans; Jerome Smith; Aretha Haley, Doris Castle; CORE demonstrations; New Orleans City Hall
16:00-18:00 Legacy of involvement
18:00-20:00 Legacy of involvement, movement

 

Steptoe, E.W.

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.

Sources:

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.

Singleton, Robert: Oral History

Robert Singleton participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He describes being arrested in Jackson and the conditions in the city jail. The oral history was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

 

Robert Singleton from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

 

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Dr. Robert Singleton

Date: November 8, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Philadelphia; Los Angeles; UCLA; Army
2:00-4:00 Sit-ins; President of UCLA NAACP; CORE; family background; South Carolina
4:00-6:00 Family concern
6:00-8:00 UCLA; raising bail money; New Orleans orientation; Jackson
8:00-10:00 Arrest; Jackson City Jail; Hinds County Jail; Parchman Penitentiary
10:00-12:00 Parchman; Deputy Tyson; singing in jail
12:00-14:00 Deputy Tyson
14:00-16:00 Parchman experience
16:00-18:00 LA Woolworth’s boycotts
18:00-20:00 Reflections on experience
20:00-22:00 New Orleans; Freedom Songs
22:00-24:00 Parchman experience
24:00-26:00 Release from Parchman; Philadelphia; UCLA
26:00-28:00 Returning home; LA City Schools cases; Serrano vs. Priest; continued education
28:00-30:00 Posterity needs access to this information

 

Filner, Robert: Oral History

United States Representative Robert Filner participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. He explains the conditions at the city jails, the county jails, and Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi. The oral history was filmed for the documentary The Children Shall Lead (link).

Robert Filner from Winter Institute on Vimeo.

His oral history may also be viewed here.

Interview Data

Name of Interviewee: Congressman Bob Fillner

Date: November 10, 2001

Place of Interview: Jackson, MS

 

Time                         Topics/Names/Events Discussed
0:00-2:00 Congressman from California’s 50th District (San Diego) in fifth term; previously city councilman, school board member, professor of European history at San Diego State University
2:00-4:00 Organized students for Student March on Washington in high school; studied at Cornell University; reaction to seeing burning bus in Anniston, AL on television; only two students from Cornell participated in Freedom Rides, travelled to Nashville for day of training and was on one of the first buses to Jackson, MS
4:00-6:00 Sentencing and jail experience, conditions at Hinds County Jail and Parchman Penitentiary
6:00-8:00 Cell mate went stir crazy and had to be removed from cell; called into city police chief’s office
8:00-10:00 Family response to involvement; relationship between Jewish religion and civil rights movement
10:00-12:00 Relation between Jewish American and African American experience
12:00-14:00 His children also politically aware; John Lewis’ pilgrimage with members of Congress to Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham
14:00-16:00 Impact of pilgrimage on his daughter; key changes in the South
16:00-18:00 Most of his fellow Congressional representative from the South are black; housing segregation
18:00-20:00 Strategies of Freedom Riders
20:00-22:00 Wishes for more visible activity in present day movement
22:00-24:00 Ways to get involved
24:00-26:00 Ways to get involved influenced by personal experience
26:00-28:00 Involvement; his work organizing constituents for change
28:00-30:00 Empowerment; continued racism; must find issues everyone can relate to
30:00-32:00 The man who arrested he and John Lewis also became a Democratic Congressman
32:00-34:00 Freedom Riders were ordinary people doing special things and forced to be leaders
34:00-36:00 Changed the course of American History