- In 1955, Reverend George Lee, vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and NAACP worker, was shot in the face and killed for urging blacks in the Mississippi Delta to vote.
- In August 1955, Lamar Smith, sixty-three-year-old farmer and World War II veteran, was shot in cold blood on the crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote.
- On September 25, 1961, farmer Herbert Lee was shot and killed in Liberty, Mississippi, by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi State Legislature. Hurst murdered Lee because of his participation in the voter registration campaign sweeping through southwest Mississippi.
- NAACP State Director Medgar Evers was gunned down in 1963 in his Jackson driveway by rifle-wielding white Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, Mississippi.
- Perhaps the most notable episode of violence came in Freedom Summer of 1964, when civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner left their base in Meridian, Mississippi, to investigate one of a number of church burnings in the eastern part of the state. The Ku Klux Klan had burned Mount Zion Church because the minister had allowed it to be used as a meeting place for civil rights activists. After the three young men had gone into Neshoba County to investigate, they were subsequently stopped and arrested by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price. After several hours, Price finally released them only to arrest them again shortly after 10 p.m. He then turned the civil rights workers over to his fellow Klansmen. The group took the activists to a remote area, beat them, and then shot them to death. After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Seven Klansmen, including Price, were arrested and tried for the brutal killings. A jury of sympathizers found them all not guilty. Some time later, the federal government charged the murderers with violating the civil rights of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. This time the Klansmen were convicted and served sentences ranging from two to ten years. In addition to these murders, violence persisted through mass arrests, jail beatings, lynchings, and church bombings. Eventually, national public exposure brought about substantive change. Once the cameras began to capture incidents similar to the ones described here, progress in the movement became a reality. President John F. Kennedy, and later President Lyndon Johnson, moved to put a halt to at least some of the violence by supporting the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- In addition to these murders, violence persisted through mass arrests, jail beatings, lynchings, and church bombings. (Information from Mississippi History Now by Curtis J. Austin.)
In 1965 I would have been very uncomfortable – more like terrified – to walk down a dirt road registering blacks to vote. Today I was interviewed by their city newspaper because I wrote a book on the Civil Rights Movement and I’m coming to Clarksdale with a Civil Rights Tour Course.
Later I’ll tell you about the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Marilyn and Glenn Pribus
Steve and Marcia Kent
Smokey Hill Books