Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tougaloo Nine

Geraldine Edwards Hollis, one of the Tougaloo Nine, attempted to integrate the public library in Jackson, MS, March 27, 1961. Maternal cousin Meredith Coleman Anding, Jr., was one of the nine. Their actions triggered the civil rights movement in Jackson.

The next post will be my final post (if I don't find additional relatives in files) on the Sovereignty Commission, which will discuss the commission investigation of the nine, their college and college president.

Listen to Mrs Hollis in her own words concerning the sit-in.

Mrs Hollis speaks of growing up in segregated Mississippi.

Sovereignty Commission Online

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Informant to Soverenignty Commission

Love Temple Church of God in Christ
Jackson, MS

The Sovereignty Commission hired investigators and local informants to monitor and disrupt civil right activities across the state of Mississippi. The local informants were white and black. One of those informants was my grandmother's pastor, Reverend J. W. Johnson.

According to the commission, Reverend Johnson was well respected, had no previous record as a trouble maker, and he was well known to many prominent people in Jackson, MS. He was the pastor of Love Temple Church of God in Christ.

My grandmother Gertrude Overton Durr became a member of this church when she first moved to Jackson, in 1962, from her rural community near Hazlehurst, MS. The church was around the corner from her home.

Reverend Johnson came to the attention of the commission because he was soliciting funds for his church from white citizens he knew. One of those citizens reported him to the commission which resulted in Reverend Johnson being investigated. The investigator concluded Johnson used the funds for the purpose he requested.

After a lengthy conversation with Johnson, they hoped he would make a good informant and invited him to visit the Sovereignty Commission office the next day for additional conversation. He was to speak with the investigator and two more men associated with the commission. I wonder if he knew their intentions.

Reverend Johnson was investigated from May 16, 1963, until the report was made June 17, 1963. It was an intense summer of racial tensions in Mississippi. College students from across the nation converged on the state to assist African Americans with voter registration. It was the summer, June 21, 1963, three civil right workers were murdered.

Reverend Johnson was asked to attend a particular civil rights meeting. The report does not reveal any details about the meeting. He attended the meeting and brought back a short written report, which was not helpful. He did bring back a copy of the program and a pamphlet which the commission found beneficial. Johnson was asked to attend a second meeting. He brought back a short written report that had been previously published in the newspaper. The commission was not satisfied.

Reverend Johnson's file ends with the second meeting he attended. There is no additional information concerning his informant activities. I hope he found this type of activity defeatist and made the decision to not participate.
Source:
Sovereignty Commission Online

There were three J. W. Johnson named in Sovereignty Commisson files. All three were preachers, two were black and one was white. One was a civil rights activitist married to a maternal cousin and the other one was my grandmother's pastor.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Appeasing the Negro

The segregationist's credo was "separate but equal."After the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education decision, a light bulb moment occurred to white Mississippians when they began to realize things were not equal. A local newspaper in Brookhaven, MS, editorialized;
"Lets give our colored citizens a fair deal and it will take all the thunder out of them who advocate integration. If our colored citizens are given a fair deal they will prefer to remain as is with their own people."
Services provided by taxpayers dollars were separate and unequal. Brookhaven and the Lincoln County area did not have adequate schools for African Americans students. There was no bus service for children who lived outside the city limits, you got there the best you could. The public library was for whites only. A one room building used for a library for African Americans was community based. A public park and swimming pool did not exist.

The "fair deal" in Brookhaven would be a new public school, a swimming pool, park, and public library for the Negroes. Providing services for Negroes that were already in place for white citizens were meant to appease.

Construction began on the Eva Harris School in 1958, graduating the first class in 1961. Bus services were extended to children who were annexed into the Brookhaven District for the first time in 1961.

The Sovereignty Commission reminded African American leaders of the "progress" that had been made.

Sources:
History of Black Schools-Eva Harris High
Newspaper Article from Sovereignty Commission Online

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Suspected Members of the NAACP

Thadison Shoe Shop
Brookhaven, MS


A thorn in the side of the Sovereignty Commission was the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP was formed in 1909 in response to lynchings and the violent 1908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois. The grassroots based civil rights organization used the legal system to remind America to uphold its constitutional rights to all citizens.

Is this Negro a member of the NAACP? Is there a local chapter in your area? These were questions sent by the investigator to sheriff departments, school authorities, lawyers, judges, and other influential individuals.

Reverend R. T. Thadison, Sr., and his son R. T., Jr., were the proprietors of a shoe store in Brookhaven, MS. Both men were investigated by the commission because they were thought to be members of the NAACP. An investigator stopped by the Rev. Thadison's home feigning looking for directions. He spoke with Thadison and his wife and found the couple to be courteous and friendly but did not ask Rev Thadison and his wife if they were members of the NAACP.

Click on letter to read.

Reverend Thadison associated with several other individuals who were labeled NAACP members. They are named in the above letter from the investigator to the chief of police in Brookhaven. Genoa Sartin, a cousin was named in the letter.

The investigator did not find evidence that a chapter of the NAACP existed in Brookhaven but did think the organization may be underground. One person named in the letter received punishment per the commission files. Pertis H Williams, a funeral home director, was denied a loan because the bank official thought he was suspicious.
NAACP: 100 Years of History
Sovereignty Commission Online
Photograph used with permission from Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Regional Library
100 South Jackson Street
Brookhaven, MS 39601
601-833-3369
http://llf.lib.ms.us/index.htm

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Teachers, Did you Sign Your Statement

The Superintendent of Education in Lincoln County, MS, was asked to submit their list of teachers to the Sovereignty Commission. Several teachers listed from Lincoln County, MS, were maternal relatives: Claudine Aultman, Ollie Bell Coleman, Clarence Johnson, Lou Vella Markham, and Novana Scott.

The Sovereignty Commission was concerned with the attitudes of public school teachers in Mississippi. Did teachers approve of integration of the public schools? Did they plan to encourage Negro parents to enroll their children in white schools?

The commission requested from Superintendents of Education in various Mississippi counties to give them a list of all school teachers employed through the county boards. The commission, also, requested that the Superintendents determine if all their teachers had signed the Employee Statement Under Subversive Activities Act of 1950, and that those statements were notarized.

The Act of 1950 was a result of the McCarthy Era, when fear of communist influence on American institutions was at its height during the 1940s thru late 1950s.
"The Act defines a subversive organization as an entity that engages in or teaches about subversive activities. The Communist Party is declared such an organization. A subversive person is defined as one who commits, aids in the commission of, or advises or teaches another to commit a subversive activity."
Civil Rights organizations and individuals who fought against racial segregation were label by the commission as subversive and communist influenced. Teachers could be terminated if it was determined they supported the integration of public schools. For my counties of interest, I did not see any documents that a teacher had been terminated because of activities in the Civil Rights Movement.
Sources
Sovereignty Commission Online
Bill Analysis Judiciary Committee HB 2251

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter - Mississippi Mass Choir


The Mississippi Mass Choir sings God Gets the Glory with the First Baptist Church of Jackson Choir and Orchestra.

He Lives

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reverend J. W. Johnson
"An Agitator"

Mississippian Fannie Lou Hammer spoke for many disenfranchised African Americans when she said, " I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Reverend J. W. Johnson, a native of Brookhaven, MS, was sick and tied and begin to work for equal rights and opportunities. Johnson was labeled an "agitator" by the Sovereign Commission whose primary mission was to preserve the Jim Crow laws of segregation and he would be investigated for challenging racial segregation.

What were his activities that sparked investigation? He associated with members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The commission considered the NAACP a group of northern trouble makers who came to cause trouble among the content Negro people. Johnson attended meetings of FOCUS, another so called subversive Negro organization.

Johnson lived in Baton Rogue, Louisiana in 1961-63, and his wife Dora lived in Jackson, MS. The couple probably was separated. She told the investigator that her husband rarely came home. On Dec 15, 1961, approximately 2000 people peacefully marched through downtown Baton Rogue to protest the arrest of 23 Southern University students the day before for picketing restaurants that refuse to serve African Americans.

Johnson, along with others, placed an open letter to the citizens of Baton Rogue in a local newspaper criticizing the police department for the manner in which they handle the demonstrators. They used tear gas and police dogs to disperse the crowd.

The commission had in the Johnson file, his addresses to both homes, home telephone number, his wife's place of employment, his driver license number, make, model, color of the car he drove, tag number to the car. They knew of his two traffic tickets and how the tickets were resolved. The name and location of the churches he pastored were known by the commission. The above photo of Johnson came from his file.

The first amendment to the United States Constitution gives citizens, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Johnson's constitutional right to peacefully protest against his government was violated. He was harassed by the commission and the police department. This should never happen.
Reverend Johnson was a native of Brookhaven, MS. He married Dora Mae Markham. She was born April 12 1907 in Caseyville, Lincoln County, MS, the daughter of John and Ida Blue Markham. The couple had one son. She died in 2001. Rev Johnson died before his wife but the date is unknown. Dora was my mother's first cousin.

Sources:
Sovereignty Commission Online
SCR ID # 2-55-11-16-1-1-1
SCR ID # 2-55-11-16-2-1-1
Photos from "The Education of a Black radical"

Photograph re-scan id# 2-55-11-15-1-1-1ph
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Photograph
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records
Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mississippi Sovereignty Commission
Spy Agency
1956-1977

Sovereignty, n. politically independent

Greenville Airforce Base Sit-in, 1966

The Sovereignty Commission was created in March 1956 by an Act of the Mississippi Legislature, in reaction to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education. The court ruled that laws enforcing segregated schools were unconstitutional and called for desegregation of schools. This ruling sent shock waves throughout the South. A remedy was needed to strengthen the Jim Crow laws of segregation, thus the commission was created to protect against federal enforcement of civil rights laws, and the United States Supreme Court rulings, to preserve segregation.

Thousands (87,000) of African Americans, white professionals, teachers, government workers, churches and community organizations who were thought to have involvement with civil rights groups were placed on the commission list. It informed police about planned marches or boycotts, voter registrations, and encouraged police harassment of those who participated. The commission harassed and spied on civil rights activists, branding many of them racial agitators and communist infiltrators.

Since Mississippi government created the agency, its leaders were state government officials. The commission consisted of 12 members. The governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House of Representatives and attorney general were members; each governor during existence of the commission served as chairman.

The commission officially closed in 1977, when then Governor William Waller vetoed funding.

I found several members of my family on the Commission list and plan to share what I found over the next few days. If you have Mississippi roots or a family member who came to Mississippi to participate in the Civil Rights movement, I suggest you search to see if a member of your family is named.

Here is the link to search online. Sovereignty Commission Online
Sources:
Agency History
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission: An Agency History
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission - Wikipedia

Photograph re-scan id# 2-44-1-127-8-1-1ph
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Photograph
Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission Records
Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - McDaniel Sisters
circa 1945

Sisters Bettie Jean and Elnora McDaniel

Maternal cousins married into Bettie and Elnora's family.
Photograph courtesy of Anthony Neal, Bettie's husband.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Amanuensis Monday
The Will of James Markham - 1898

The State of Mississippi
County of Lincoln

Know all men that I James Markham a citizen of the County of Lincoln State of Mississippi being of sound mind and memory do make publish and declare this to be my last will and testament hereby revoking all and every previous testamentary disposite(sp) of my property.

Item 1st I hereby bequeath and devise all of the real and personal estate which I may own at the time of my death to my wife Jane Markham and my two children Catherine Matilda Markham and Mary Viola Markham - to be divided between them equally.

Item 2nd In the event my said wife shall not survive me then it is my will that all of my property shall decend(sp) to my two children named in Item 1st.

Item 3rd The disposition of my property herein before made is intended to include only such as may remain after the payment of all my honest debt.

Item 4th I hereby appoint my friend Max Priebatach and my brother Alexander Markham Executors of this my last will and testament.

James Markham (Seal)

Signed by the Testator in the presence of the undersigned witnesses & by them in the presence of the Testator & in the of each other on this the 18th day of April AD 1879.

Henry Lewenthal
P L Kelly
W W Ramsey

Filed for record Dec 27, 1898
at 9 Oclock AM
Flex May clk


James Markham was born about 1831, a slave on the plantation of David Buie in Caseyville, MS. He obtained over 200 acres and was considered a prosperous farmer. James was my 2nd great grandfather.
Source
Records of Wills
Book 1, Page 49
Lincoln County, Mississippi