(1976) The events that caused the Klu Klux Klan and the United League march began on March 18, 1976, when a prisoner in the local jail, Eugene Pasto, alleged he had been beaten by two white policemen, Dale Cruber and Roy Sandifer. Kenneth Mayfield, a Rural Legal Services attorney, took Mr. Pasto’s case, bringing a civil suit against the assailants. Judge Orma Smith found for Mr. Pasto and ordered the defendants to pay Mr. Pasto $2500.
However, this judgment did not meet the satisfaction of the black citizens. Within two weeks, local black citizens met with the Board of Alderman and demanded the dismissal of the two white policemen who allegedly beat Mr. Pasto. The Board did not dismiss the policemen from the force, but instead made two proposals: first, to reduce the rank of the detectives and create a biracial committee to prevent similar instances from occurring. Black citizens found this measure unsatisfactory, so the board then proposed transferring the detectives to the fire department. This proposal only fueled anger.
Skip Robinson, the director of Rural Services as well as an executive with the United League called for a march on downtown Tupelo to protest the City’s failure to remove the officers. On March 11, 1978 the initial march occurred with more than 400 marchers participating.
Robinson called for a second march and a boycott of all downtown white-owned businesses. The boycott came to the surprise of many of the white business leaders including: Jack Reed, Sr., George McLean, editor of the Daily Journal; and Felix Black, President of the Uptown Association. These men had been working from the outset, behind the scenes, to get the city to remove the police officers. In addition to the call for the second march and boycott, Robinson demanded that Tupelo increase the make-up of black workers in the work force to 30%.
Tension increased in Tupelo as the days progressed. The white men who made up the leadership in the town could not reach an agreement about how to deal with Robinson’s demands and Robinson adamantly refused to meet with the biracial committee. Membership in Lee County’s United League rose from a mere 100 citizens to over 1200 in two months. Additionally, the Klu Klux Klan Imperial Wizard, Bill Wilkinson, came to Tupelo to organize. The town’s Community Development Foundation (CDF) met to create a solution to the problem. The CDF issued a statement:
“The Presence of the Klu Klux Klan is distressing and frightening. The Klan represents the worst possible form of racism and hatred. Its presence here is intolerable and must be discouraged and condemned by Tupelo citizens concerned with the well-being and best interest of our people- black or white. The Community Development Foundation stands in absolute, unalterable opposition to Klu Klux Klan and its presence in Tupelo.”
One thousand members pushed back their chairs and rose to express their approval.
Robinson presented more demands and called for another march to occur June 10, 1987. In response, Bill Wilkinson called for a national Klan rally in Tupelo to coincide with the planned march on June 10.
On June 10 representatives from ABC, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, among others were present to cover the march. The United League had scheduled its march for 1:00 p.m. to end at the courthouse. The Klan scheduled their march for 2:00 to also to end at the courthouse. The National Guard was on stand-by, with 65 riot-clad police lining the planned march route, 35 highway patrolmen waiting at the Old Fairgrounds in case of a riot, and the Northeast Mississippi Medical Center emergency room on alert.
Six hundred marchers in support of the United League gathered at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church. They began their march at 12:30 p.m. instead of 1:00. The showdown was avoided. The Klan echoed this trend and did not begin its march until 2:30. The Klan suffered a disappointing turn-out. Only 150 to 200 Klan supporters came to the march in Tupelo with most being non-locals.
While, the confrontation between the Klan and the United League was averted, the boycott did continue. In response, Jim High, the president of the Community Development Foundation asked the city to employ more blacks. This call was supported by Felix Black, the Resident of the Uptown Association, and Jack Reed, a prominent local businessman.
Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community by: Vaughn L. Grisham Â© 1999 Kettrig Foundation pgs. 146-155.
The following was taken from interviews with Jack Reed, Sr., Frances J. Williams, and Vera Dukes. Mr. Jack Reed, Sr., is a prominent Tupelo Businessman whose family has owned Reed’s Department store for over 100 years. He served on the state college board and has been instrumental in keeping public education in Mississippi alive. Frances J. Williams, is a life-long resident of Tupelo. Mrs. Williams served as a Tupelo City Public School teacher, President of the Tupelo Junior Auxiliary and still serves on the boards of several civic organizations. Vera Dukes is also a lifelong resident of Tupelo. Mrs. Dukes was a tenth-grade school teacher the year Tupelo City Schools were integrated. Mrs. Dukes also serves on the boards of several Tupelo organizations and received the city’s Outstanding Citizen Award in 2005. Mrs. Williams, a Caucasian and Mrs. Dukes, an African American, grew up on the same street, Church Street, but never crossed each other’s paths- or not that they remember.