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Comments by YACCS
Tuesday, November 16, 2004

An American police state in action

victim of the mississippi police state

The reason I'm pretty harsh on the people talking about leaving America for more politically suitable climes is simple: America hasn't been all that good for black people.

I remember reading Jack Greenberg's autobiography. Now, Jack Greenberg was the head of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund after Thurgood Marshall and his long time deputy.

One of his cases which sticks in my mind is one he had in North Carolina. The state wanted to give him eight years for walking across the street from a white woman and looking at her. That's it. Looking at a white woman. Didn't even whistle at her. When Emmitt Till did , he was beaten, castrated, murdered and tossed from a bridge with a refrigerator tied to his back. At the age of 14.

Unless George Bush brings back segregation, I think fleeing is a severe overreaction. Because many of you really don't understand how hellish America can be. Until 1967, blacks couldn't go into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They would be refused entry by the guards. Thomas Hoving stopped that as one of his first acts as director. That wasn't Alabama, that was New York, three years after my birth.

People forget or are unaware of what a real American police state was like. You can call it Mississippi. When ONE black man, a crazy man named James Meredith, tried to go to Ole Miss, there were days of riots. People died. When little girls wanted to go to a "white" school, they had to bring in the 101st ABN.

The state of Mississippi had a three level repressive network, the white citizens council, state and local police and the sovergnity commission

The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (Commission) was created by an act of the Mississippi legislature on March 29, 1956. The agency was established in the White Millsaps students marching in protest of death of JSU student Ben Brownwake of the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Like other states below the Mason-Dixon Line, Mississippi responded to Brown with legislation to shore up the walls of racial separation. The act creating the Commission provided the agency with broad powers....................

The Commission's activities were shaped by the preference of the governor and skills of its staff............... Ross Barnett had no patience for the muted methods of the Commission. He envisioned an overt and expanded role for the agency, and under his direction, the Commission initiated a Speakers Bureau to travel the nation presenting the Mississippi perspective. The Commission also sponsored a film entitled "Message from Mississippi," which portrayed segregation in glowing terms. Following the integration debacle at the University of Mississippi, the Commission also assisted with the printing and distribution of the Mississippi General Legislative Investigating Committee's report on the incident, as well as sponsoring and distributing a movie on the subject entitled "Oxford USA."5

Commission Investigator A. H. Hopkins investigates activities on the Tougaloo Campus June 4, 1963. SCR ID # 3-74-1-19-3-1-1
Extract from June 4, 1963 Commission Report concerning activities at Tougaloo College

Under Barnett the investigation team was also expanded. The Commission investigated individuals and organizations that challenged the racial status quo. Commission investigators toured the state and compiled reports on civil rights activities in the counties. They also responded to specific requests from local state officials and members of the public. In addition to staff investigators, the Commission also relied heavily upon informants, a practice begun under Coleman that continued throughout the agency's existence. Payment to informants varied from a few dollars to cover expenses to regular monthly sums of $500. In addition, the Commission employed private detectives, who often acted as intermediaries with informants.6

Barnett's expanded role for the Commission also included funding for the Citizens' Councils. In 1960 the Commission voted a grant for $20,000 to the "Council Forum." From this point until December 1964, the Commission documented monthly grants to the Citizens' Council amounting to a total of $193,500.7 The Commission also participated in the national campaign to prevent the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, establishing and providing funds for the Coordinating Committee for Fundamental American Freedoms.8 In addition, the agency donated small amounts to African-American individuals and organizations sympathetic to segregation. In 1965, the Commission developed and promoted the Mississippi Negro Citizenship Association. Through this organization the Commission "launched a quiet campaign to encourage qualified Negroes to make applications to vote," hoping to outmaneuver the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) by attracting those they termed the "thinking Negroes of Mississippi."9

The courtship of African-American conservatives was consistent with Governor Paul B. Johnson's approach to the integration issue. Mississippi had to appear to be law abiding and in compliance with federal regulations. Image was vital to this scheme, and Erle Johnston and the Commission worked with other state agencies to create Mississippi's new identity. Johnston also took measures to clean up the Commission, instructing removal of all "incriminating" reports, especially those that indicated the Commission helped county registrars stop African-Americans from registering to vote.10 Johnston now described the investigative work of the Commission as "preventative medicine" to avoid "bad situations," and he asserted that the Commission was "not a super snooping agency trying to crack down on any Negro who raises his hand."11 Investigators continued to track individuals and groups who challenged racial segregation, although the subjects of investigations were referred to now by the more generic anticommunist term "subversives" rather than the earlier brand "race agitators." The Commission also continued its advisory function, primarily advising how to circumvent civil rights legislation.


The Sovregnity Commission is what a police state does. Not the Patriot Act, not some fundies. Not losing a close election. They interfered in the political process, used police powers against political opponents and covered up criminal acts. Nothing the current administration has done is close to this. But few whites remember it or consider this in their rantings. They didn't build concentration camps, they didn't order murders, they just used the power of the state against those who opposed them. When they weren't attacking protestors, and I don't mean with nets and short term arrests, but with violence.

So how did people respond to this war on their rights?

During the 1960's Fannie Lou Hamer became interested in the civil rights movement. She became involved in voter registration when members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came to Mississippi. She remarked, "One day in early August, I heard that some young people had come to town teaching people how to register to vote. I have always wanted to do something to help myself and my race, but I did not know how to go about it. So, I went to one of the meetings in Ruleville. That night, I was showed how to fill out a form for registration. The next day, August 31, 1962, I went to Indianola, Mississippi to fill out a form at the registrar's office. I took the test."

During this time, African-Americans were deterred from voting in the South. When Hamer and others from her city went to register to vote, they were asked to interpret the state's constitution. So, naturally, being unable to do so, Hamer flunked and was not allowed to register to vote. On the return trip home, the bus in which she and the others were riding was stopped for being "the wrong color." She and the others were jailed and later released. This sort of harassment was a typical experience for blacks in the South. When she returned home, Marlow, her landowner gave her an ultimatum, either stop trying to vote or leave his property. Hamer chose to leave the property and her family. Her husband remained on the property to continue working. Hamer stayed with various friends and neighbors. At each house in which she was staying, night riders caused violence.

In 1963, after her third attempt, Hamer passed the test and became a registered voter. In order to assist other African-Americans in registering to vote, Hamer became a field secretary for SNCC and traveled across the South. On June 9, 1963, during one of the trips to South Carolina, the bus in which she and other SNCC workers was riding was stopped in Winona, Mississippi. When some of the workers went into the "white only" waiting room, the whole group was arrested. While in custody, Hamer and other workers were beaten unmercifully. Hamer suffered extreme injuries, which bothered her throughout the rest of her life. She said of the incident:

"Three white men came into my room. One was a state highway policeman…They said they were going to make me wish I was dead. They made me lay down on my face and they ordered two Negro prisoners to beat me with a blackjack. That was unbearable. The first prisoner beat me until he was exhausted, then the second Negro began to beat me….They beat me until I was hard, 'til I couldn't bend my fingers or get up when they told me to. That's how I got this blood clot in my eye--the sight's nearly gone now. My kidney was injured from the blows they gave me on the back."

SNCC lawyers bailed her and the others out and filed suit against the Winona police. All the whites who were charged were found not guilty. This injustice made Hamer more determined to fight for equal rights in Mississippi. She is famous for the words she said when she awoke in the mornings, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."

1964 was an election year. Unable to attend a local precinct meeting of the Democratic Party, SNCC formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). At the Democratic national convention in Atlantic City, Fannie Hamer and other delegates challenged the Party for not addressing the concerne of the blacks of Mississippi. Hamer spoke to the Credentials Committee during the convention about the injustices of the all-white Democratic delegation. In part of the speech she asked, "Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we are threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings?" A compromise was made in which two seats would be given to the MFDP. The Democratic Party promised never to have an all-white delegation again. In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights act, empowering federal registrars to register African American votes in the South.

Hamer continued to work to better conditions in Mississippi by organizing grass-roots antipoverty projects. She became a sought after national speaker and worked to unite the black and white factions of the Mississippi Democratic party. In 1965, "Mississippi" magazine named her one of six "Women of Influence" in the state. In 1968, she helped create a food cooperative, to help the poor obtain more meat in their diet. In 1969, she founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in which 5,000 people were able to grow their own food and own 680 acres of land. In 1972, she helped found the National Women's Political Caucus. During the last ten years of her life, she worked on issues such as school desegregation, child day-care, and low-income housing.

If you want, you can google the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission and see the hundreds of pages of files they have on her. It might take a while to read through them. This is the kind of thing people really do when they want change. They fight, sometimes against really long odds and they risk themselves.

This isn't theory, this is something I grew up with. These people were heroes because they were heroes. Every time Diana Ross or the Jackson Five came on Ed Sullivan, it was a victory, because you didn't see black faces on TV. You didn't see black anyone.
People's lives stopped because they could see people who looked like them on TV.

The people who fought, became heroes across the country. From Malcolm X to Thurgood Marshall, these people were loved and respected for their struggle.

This reminds me of Bob Moses. He was one of the main organizers of SNCC. He was chased around the south like John Lewis. But unlike Lewis, he left the US, frustrated at the pace of change. He came back in the mid-90's and ran a math program. But his peers who stayed gained political and social power. Once he left, he was forgotten.

People forget what American used to be like. They forget that repression actually didn't just exist in America, it was the law of the land.

Could things get bad? Sure. But you don't whine about it, you fight to change it. These people weren't playing, they weren't talking about adjusting the law, they didn't follow any law and they damn near killed Hamer for asking for the right to vote. They followed her, sent informents on her, used the law to get her.

People forget that if there had been a national vote on segregation, the law would not have changed. The FBI and state police fed every dirty tidbit of info they had on these people, leaked it to the media, tried to pick more suitable leaders. People remember the civil rights strugle from a few key moments, but it was an 11 year fight from Brown to the Civil Right Act of 1965. And even within the black community, challenging the white power structure was not a popular act. It was nasty political battle from day one, and a lot of people sat on their hands or sided with the people in power, and they had good excuses. But they were only excuses.

So when people talk about Bush, I remember America has been a lot worse if you weren't white.

posted by Steve @ 3:09:00 AM

3:09:00 AM

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