Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #17: Man on the Street

“Many of the newsmen were nice and wanted to be friendly as did some of the FBI but we lived in fear that someone would see us being nice to them. I would have enjoyed inviting some of them to come to our home and showing them that all Southerners were not as we were being portrayed across the country, but I did not dare. With so many of the locals who stood on the street corners cussing the media, I felt that reporters never had a chance to meet with and talk to responsible people who felt just as strongly as they did about the Ku Klux Klan.”

“One day when I was covering the Court House I met Nelson Benton with CBS again in the hall. There were CBS photographers in the Circuit Clerk’s offices filming blacks who were registering to vote. He asked me how I felt about the coverage that was being given to the Civil Rights activities in Mississippi. I told him that what bothered me most was that they seemed to always pick out a fellow in overalls standing on the corner to interview and never talked to our leaders in the community, not referring to politicians but businessmen.

“He replied that the reason they picked the man in overalls was because most of them were willing to talk and the leaders were not. I asked him if I gave him several names of prominent Greenwood citizens who I thought would let him interview them would he do see them, and he indicated he would. However, I don’t think he did.

“Just as I thought I was making a point with Nelson, George Smith, the sheriff, walked up and deliberately asked me, ‘What are they doing in there with those coons?’ and I realized all I had said was in vain. George was a very good law enforcement officer, and I credited him many times with keeping things from getting out of hand, but he knew his remark would shock Nelson and he really wasn’t worried about the impression it left.”

About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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