The Civil Rights in Mississippi

Jim Lucas Civil Rights Photos 1964 – 1968

In June, I read a news article out of Natchez pertaining to the photographs of Jim Lucas documenting the Civil Rights in Mississippi.  I have family in Natchez, whom my sister and I have been wanting to visit, but since the death of our grandmother, our father has not wanted to go back.  It is also not that far of a drive, but we’re having complications with autos and I just knew that a trip three hours west would not be happening.  But I really wanted to see these photographs.

Then in July, the monthly newsletter from our local library arrived in my inbox and the feature was that they were hosting the Jim Lucas photo’s.  I was elated.  A trip to the library is definitely do-able.  I would be seeing these photo’s.  I missed the opening night, which I was rather bummed about because they were having two lectures on various aspects of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi.  I had it on my calendar… and I forgot.  But, I did get to see the photos, in fact, I have seen them twice.  The first time I took my sister and mother, the second our friend who is from Philadelphia in Neshoba County.  Which is kind of important and if you are unaware, I’ll discuss that in a minute.

On 13. August I attended the final lecture, which was on the Civil Rights era cold cases.  I knew it would be terrible, but I was drawn to it.  I had to hear this lecture.  I had to go.  I could not forget.  I am glad to report that I did not forget and I will discuss that a bit at the end of this post.

Jim Lucas was from Mississippi, but was working as a journalist with CBS News.  When news broke out of the disappearance of the Civil Rights Workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, he was hired because of his degree in photojournalism and because this was his home state.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holding a photo of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman

During the early 1960s Civil Rights workers were coming to the south, and especially Mississippi to help.  But in 1964, Freedom Summer was established by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which was a coalition of the four main Civil Rights groups; primarily by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but also included the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), as well as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) .  People from these groups came down here & joined people from the Mississippi branches to help the black communities to vote.  Yes, they’d had the vote for a long time but were not really allowed to utilize it.  This organization was going to right that wrong. That is why Schwerner and Goodman (among many other people involved in Freedom Summer) were here.  Chaney was from Meridian, Mississippi.

The burnt remains of Mount Zion [Jim Lucas Estate]
In May of 1964, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were speaking at the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale.  After learning about the talk on voting, the Ku Klux Klan attacked the congregation and burned the church to the ground.  All of it was to lure Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney to Philadelphia to murder them.  Sadly, it worked.  In June they went back to investigate the church burning, telling the Meridian office that if they weren’t back by four pm to search for them.  On their return, they did not take the normal route back to Meridian, they chose what they felt was the faster route; the one that took them straight through Philadelphia.  No one ever saw them alive again.

United States Navy in the search for Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney [Jim Lucas Estate]
Upon entering the Philadelphia city limits one of their tires went flat and they were promptly arrested for having been speeding.  The Meridian CORE office called Neshoba County but were lied to.  They hadn’t seen their boys.  Shwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were released from jail and subsequently chased down Highway 19, where they were forced to pull over.  They were shot at point-blank range with rifles and their bodies dumped in an earthen dam, where they would stay until they were found fourty-four days later.

Transport of bodies [Jim Lucas Estate]
Conspirators were indicted, but released.  Three years later, there was a trial that charged seven men with murder, but none of them started serving their sentences for another three years, and none of them served more than six years each.  One of those men was Klan member and deputy sheriff of Philadelphia, Cecil Price.  He only served four and a half years.

Philadelphia Sheriff Cecil Price [Jim Lucas Estate]
The other asshole was Klan Imperial Wizard Samuel Bowers.  This guy was a right foul git if ever there was one.  He was exceedingly terrible.  Besides being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he was the Imperial Wizard, meaning that he was the big wig.  He terrorized local Jewish communities and burned down synagogues.  He murdered Civil Rights Leader and Hattiesburg NAACP chapter leader Verhon Dahmer.  He only served six years for the murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney.  Later he was sentenced for the synagogue bombings and a life imprisonment for the murder of Verhon Dahmer.  It is perhaps cynical, but I’m wondering why his longest sentence was for that of the murder of Dahmer.  I’m thinking it was because, though an African-American, Dahmer could pass for white (though during his life, he did not).  Did it somehow make it more tragic because people could see him as a white man cut down in his prime?  It may have nothing to do with that, as it took them 32 years to actually charge Bowers with that January 1966 murder.  But it still makes me wonder.

KKK leader Samuel Bowers during arrest [Jim Lucas Estate]
Seriously.  That man makes me want to spit nails.  Makes me want to go back in time and repeatedly slap that smug look off of his face.  It doesn’t even matter that he is dead now.  I’ve never wanted to get rid of anyone’s irritating face more than I do when I see this photo.  It is a good photo.  It captured the true evil of that man.  It sparks great emotion in me, as the viewer.  I hate it, but it doesn’t make it any less moving or worthy of having been captured.

Downtown Philadelphia in Neshoba County [Jim Lucas Estate]
I am too young to really know about the KKK, as in really know the fear they produced; know the atmosphere they created, the suffering oppression they created.  I do not know that world.  I do not know this world that is captured in these photographs.  I feel detached from it all.  It seems, to me, like an imagination gone wrong pouring from someone’s brain into type in a book.  It doesn’t seem real, because I have no idea what any of this is like.  My first and immediate thought upon hearing someone mention the KKK is that I want to laugh at their ridiculousness.  But that is extremely short-lived and I feel afraid.  Very afraid.  Like mentioning the words Ku Klux Klan or the acronym KKK is tantamount to saying Voldemort.  It shouldn’t be uttered.  We shouldn’t be discussing this.  I find it interesting that I feel this way.  Where everything seems like a made-up dream, because it all seems too horrible to be real, yet the era brings me great sadness and the mention of the KKK brings me fear.

Byron De La Beckwith, the murderer of Medgar Evers [Jim Lucas Estate]
As far as great emotion goes, while I was so angry that I wanted to fist-smash the glass to the Samuel Bowers photo, so angry that I wanted to cry, I also had great emotion upon seeing the photo of Medgar Evers’ murderer.  I was so overwhelmed with anguishing sadness you would have thought that I had just been delivered the news that a close family member had died.  I could not control my tears.  I made ugly mourning expressions and big fat drops of salt soaked sadness began flooding down my cheeks.  I hated this man, but instead of wanting to slap him I wanted to shake him to death for taking Medgar Evers away.

Meredith March Against Freedom [Jim Lucas Estate]

In the summer of 1966, James Meredith wanted to march from Memphis, Tennessee to Mississippi’s capital in Jackson, in order to encourage black citizens to vote.  During his second day of marching, he was shot in the back.  He survived, though could not continue his march, but his march had been gaining followers.  They were met with violence in Canton by the Highway Patrol, but the march was able to make it to Jackson.  The SCLC and SNCC were at odds at this time.  The SCLC, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to overcome through peaceful motives.  The SNCC, comprised mainly of young people, thought that was too slow to make change.  They were not violent, but they certainly clashed with the SCLC.

Making sandwiches during the March Against Fear [Jim Lucas Estate]
No Vietcong Ever Called Me “Nigger” [Jim Lucas Estate]

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum of Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson made significant stands against Jim Crow Society.  He ministered to Freedom Riders who had been incarcerated in Parchman Penitentiary.  He also founded the Committee of Concern during Freedom Summer; an organization that consisted of ministers dedicated to rebuilding churches burned in hate.  In 1967, the KKK firebombed Beth Israel as well as Rabbi Nussbaums home, while he and his family were inside.  They also firebombed a fellow member of the Committee of Concerns home; Robert Kochtitzky.

The Kochtitzky’s firebombed residence [Jim Lucas Estate]
Minster led Walk of Penance in protest of the bombings [Jim Lucas Estate]

These last two photos I liked a lot, as in they were very moving.  There wasn’t much typed up about them, but I feel strongly about adding them to this post.  In Star, Mississippi, which is close to the capital, black workers protested for equal pay.  That is all I know, but the photos are still moving, none-the-less.

Protest for Equal Wages in Star [Jim Lucas Estate]
All of the fear [Jim Lucas Estate]

                                       For the jury found them innocent and the brothers they went free                                                            While Emmett’s body floats the foam of a Jim Crow southern sea                                                             If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that’s so unjust                                 Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt, your mind is filled with dust

The lecture I attended was about Civil Rights era cold cases in Mississippi.  The speaker was a university history professor originally from North Carolina.  A journalist contacted him about a cold case wanting information on it, he didn’t really know much about it but said he would look into it, which is how he became so impassioned by studying all of these cold cases and trying, along with others, to help get them solved.  I admired that greatly.

His lecture, while the subject matter was sad, was very interesting and well worth sitting through, I felt.  My only problems were his mispronunciation of things, though it was limited.  It felt trite to be focusing on that when the subject was so greater than the words, but I couldn’t focus on what he was saying.

He was discussing a cold case murder in Amite County.  He would say “am-it” instead of “am-mite”.  Repeatedly using “am-it” when discussing this case and that’s all I could hear.  I can not even tell you now which case that was.  While discussing a case out of Natchez, he like most people farther north, tend to put a great deal of emphasis on the ending.  Natchez rhymes with matches, ya know the one’s you strike against a tinder box to start a fire?  Yeah, those.  He was pronouncing it “Nat-CHEZZZZ”.  They all pronounce it this way and I feel they will break out into Jazz Hands, but they never do.  Folk singer Ani Difranco who hails from Buffalo, NY also says it this way.  I watched a documentary on the city once and she was the narrator.

Wharlest Jackson Funeral [Jim Lucas Estate]

However, I do remember the case pertaining to Natchez.  It was that of Wharlest Jackson.  He had been advocating for equal pay and equal work rights for a while.  He ended up accepting a promotion, which the KKK felt rightfully belonged to a white man, so they murdered him with a car firebomb.

I remember, not because I know it, but because photos of it were featured in the Jim Lucas photographs.  I retained it because I have family in that area.  I will go ahead and say that education on the Civil Rights era is for shit in this state.  While most of this information is nothing knew to my parents who were teenagers at the time, it was pretty much all new to me.  I enjoy learning.  I especially enjoy learning about history from my state; no matter whether it is good or bad history; I want to know it.  I am a little mad that these are things I never knew, but were things that I could have known.

We were taught about the big guns, so to speak; Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X and… that was about it.  In school, the discussion of the Jim Crow Era and segregation was merely glanced over, much like any topic concerning the Indigenous Peoples of North America (Native Americans).  It really was an atrocity to neglect this type of information.  I didn’t know there was so much information missing from my education pertaining to Civil Rights because I did not grow up with a gigantic Readers Digest book about the subject, as I had about Native Americans.

Family members and family friends were no help in Civil Rights education, be them black or white, because most people here do not want to remember, as it was a traumatic time.  I’m certain that is not the case when it comes to including it in the textbooks, however.  But the most I received were hushed words from my parents on the subject.  Fragments of sentences.  “They would burn crosses in the yards…”  “My father said we might be next…”  “Those were the kids found in that dam…” “We used to visit the Dahmer store…”  “This is where Medgar Evers was born…”  “It was terrible.  A terrible time…”

Though my parents’ words were eerie, they still held no meaning for me, because it was a concept I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.  It was like being told that ‘flibberty-jibbets make the marcapose weedle-do’ for about as much sense as it all made to me.  But something has changed in my understanding of this era.  Perhaps that is why I was drawn to see these photos and to hear this lecture.

It was one of those moments we have all had.  Where you’ve heard something a lot, but at this particular time it suddenly all makes sense.  Perhaps it’s the way it was said or shown to you this time, or perhaps all the mechanisms have clicked into place for you to understand.  I’m not saying that I wasn’t told that era was terrible, I just didn’t understand this concept of terrible.  I had nothing in my own life to equate it to.  I had no learned knowledge of this terrible.  It simply hadn’t been shown to me in a way where all the mechanisms clicked into place… until now.

But back to Natchez.  My dad’s family were in Laurel when his was a teenager.  In 1970, my grandfathers job moved him to Natchez, but by this time my mom and dad were already married.  The housing was more affordable across the river in Vidalia, plus it seemed more like my grandparents as they were raised in the Arkansas Delta.  So, while my family is not originally from there, I practically grew up there with all the visiting we did.  Here is history from a place I know.

Mourners at the Wharlest Jackson Funeral [Jim Lucas Estate]

The lecturer, Kevin Greene, discussed a side story about Wharlest Jackson that I found interesting, because it was interesting but because it also included a place I know.  He interviewed a Civil Rights activist.  She is from Hattiesburg, but during the sixties she lived in a Freedom House in Natchez with other people to help with voting rights.  She met Mr. Jackson and his wife, as they stopped by that house one day.  There was tension and fear in the city and in their hearts.  These were all young people who needed to escape reality for a little bit; listen to music, just be young people and not worry.  It was obviously not at all safe in Natchez, so Wharlest Jackson told them of a juke joint across the river in Vidalia that played good music and was basically safe to go to and let off steam.  I found it a nice side story.

Wharlest Jackson’s son during the funeral [Jim Lucas Estate]

During the lecture I found out a lot of things previously unknown to me.  Only two were good.  One pertains to Lil’ Bush, as in George W. Bush, the 43rd President.  I’m constantly hearing Republicans defend him like he’s a god and Democrats seething hated of him as if he were the most evil man on the face of the planet.  I didn’t vote for him either time, but I didn’t find him to be a completely horrible President as far as Presidents go, though I will agree he should never have been President, as he just wasn’t very good at it.  Besides I like the Dali Lama and if the Dali Lama likes him he can’t be a truly bad or “evil” person.  But, now I am glad that he was President.

He signed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act of 2007 into law.  I have no doubt it would have passed under President Obama, but this is something amazing that no one ever talks about.  Ever.  I never knew.  This right here is a good thing that President Bush did.  Perhaps most Republicans would not think so, but I’m wondering why I’ve never heard it mentioned by any Democrats as it is on a topic they can stand by.

The bill was proposed and sponsored by Georgia Representative John Lewis and Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, & co-signed by then Senator Barack Obama, among others, as well as being promoted by the NAACP.  It allotted $10 million dollars to reopen Civil Rights Era cold cases for a ten-year period.  Sadly most of the cases have no new leads as witnesses have died or refuse to talk from instilled fear.  Every year more and more cases close.  This year only 14 out of 126 of the current cases are still open.  My sister was unsure what that meant.  That statute of limitations won’t run out on any of these cases, but basically no one wants to funnel any more money into them since the trails are dead ends and there’s nothing to go on.  It doesn’t mean that if new information comes forward it won’t be collected and with enough information and leads could end up being solved.

Emmett Till – August 1955

The bill was named in honour of Emmett Till, who was down from Chicago to visit family in the northern part of the state in August of 1955.  He supposedly flirted with a white woman, so of course the natural course of events was to drag him to a barn to brutally beat and torture him before shooting him in the head.  Then to tie him to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire and thrown into the river.  He was a fourteen year old boy.  His body was found three days later and sent back to his mother who insisted on an open coffin, public funeral to raise awareness for what her son went through and what so many people went through.  The murderers were never convicted, though after the trial they bragged about killing Till.

This.  This I do not understand.  How can people be this way?  How can people feel they are better than another group of people and then justify that to commit atrocities against them?  How does that switch get flipped in one’s brain?  While I find it tragically sad because he was so young, age doesn’t play a part in the entire calamity of this type of behavior.  I might can see killing someone because they murdered all of your cats that are family to you or murdering your family.  Might, because I simply can not get on board with killings of any kind, but to torture or kill someone, and brutally at that, for nothing?  How can people sleep at night?  How could anyone do this?  I know I am not the first person to ask these questions and I won’t be the last, but I am asking them none-the-less.

Freedom Summer Civil Rights March | Hattiesburg, Miss

Selma Trigg was a Civil Rights activist in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  In January of 1965, her house was set on fire as she was inside.  She was a woman in her seventies.  An elderly woman was burned to death in her own home because her skin colour was wrong.  Are you fucking kidding me?  What is wrong with these people?

Corporal Roman Ducksworth – April 1962

Roman Ducksworth was a corporal and an MP in the United States Army from Taylorsville.  He was granted a pass to come be with his wife during the birth of their child, because it seemed like she might not survive.  In Taylorsville, Police Officer William Kelly boarded the bus and hit Ducksworth awake.  William Kelly then got Ducksworth off the bus, beat him, and shot him through the heart.  Kelly was never charged with his murder.  Kelly assumed that Ducksworth was a Freedom Rider, so of course that was OK.  Seriously?  Freedom Rider or not, there was absolutely no reason this man had to die.  There was no reason any of them had to die.

Reverend George W. Lee – May 1955

George Lee was a Civil Rights leader and minister.  He was the vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and the head of the NAACP branch in Belzoni.  He was giving talks on voting and anti-segregation.  Days after his speech in Mound Bayou, a car pulled up beside his and shot three times.  He died before making it to the hospital.

Vernon Dahmer – January 1966

Vernon Dahmer was a Civil Rights activist who led voter registration drives and the leader of the NAACP chapter in Hattiesburg.  His home was firebombed by the KKK.  He was able to get his wife and children out, but he perished in the explosion.  No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Mack Charles Parker – April 1959

Arrested on trumped-up charges of raping a pregnant white woman, a lynch mob took him from the jail, shot him twice and dumped his body in the river.  I say trumped-up because most of the evidence points the woman accusing any black man to deflect the fact that she was having an illicit affair with a man who was not her husband.  Disgusting.  How could you accuse someone of something like that knowing full well what would happen to them during this time?

The last one, while horrific, did have a happy ending of sorts.

Charles Moore & Henry Dee – May 1964

Charles Moore & Henry Dee were kidnapped in Meadville by the KKK on 02. May 1964.  They were tortured for information on supposed black militants and gun runs into Franklin County.  They were whipped with tree limbs for thirty minutes.  They gave up false information that guns were hidden in a church.  That search proved nothing and Moore and Dee were shoved into the trunk of a car, driven across the border into Louisiana and were murdered.

Henry Dee was tied to a jeep engine and thrown into the Mississippi River.  Charles Moore was tied to a railroad tie with extra weights and thrown in.  They were both still alive.  The lower portions of their bodies were found two months later by fishermen.  Charles Moore was identified by the draft card still in his pocket.  By the end of October of 1964 the torsos of the two boys were finally found.

James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested of the murders in November of 1964, but the case was dismissed by January of 1965.

Thomas Moore

Charles’ brother Thomas and Canadian film maker David Rigden were working together on a documentary about the murders.  By 2005 it was circulated that Seale had died, however going to Franklin county to interview people for the documentary, Moore and Rigden found that Seales death was a lie.  He was alive and well, living in the area.

In August 2007 James Ford Seale was given three life sentences for the murders of Charles Moore & Henry Dee.  In August of 2008, Thomas Moore and Dee’s sister Thelma Collins filed a civil action against Franklin County for its sheriffs department perpetrating the murders in 1964 and keeping it covered up this entire time.  In June of 2010 that won that case.

 

 

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