Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #19: Demonstrators and Dogs

“One of the earliest marches was led by a Negro Methodist preacher, the Reverend D.L. Tucker and a large Negro woman, Ida Holland, who wore tight fitting sweaters and caused one of the Commercial Appeal reporters to refer to her on the front page as ‘bouncy buxom Ida Holland.’ She was known for her feisty manner and the string of cuss words she could hurl at the police and city officials.

“As Reverend Tucker’s group headed toward Howard Street in the downtown area they were approached by Policeman James Switzer with his police dog on a leash. I had left the Court House and walked down to the corner of Howard and Market Streets to observe the march. James Kingsley and Barney Sellers of the Commercial Appeal were still in town to report the news. As the dog moved closer to the marchers the reverend urged the group not to run, and it was obvious he was hoping for some sort of confrontation. They moved on down Howard Street and at one point the dog lunged at the preacher’s ankle. Observers said he was not knocked down but fell to the pavement and was helped up by two of the other marchers.

“Kingsley, who was on the scene, said he did not think his [Tucker’s] ankle was hurt but that his silk sock had a run in it. After the incident the group marched on back to one of the Negro churches without further trouble.

“Mama, who was working at the Red Cross on Howard Street, was able to see the commotion and could not believe it since she, unlike most other folks in town who were not on the street to observe, watched the disturbances first hand. She described it in graphic detail.

“There were various accounts of the incident depending on who was doing the reporting. Claude Sitton, who hung around Greenwood for several months representing the New York Times, filed a story concerning the march. I stood with him while we watched the incident, but his version was a little more dramatic than mine and that of the two Commercial Appeal men. His story which appeared in the Times  read:

Policemen set a snarling dog at the heels of 42 Negroes Thursday as they marched homeward after having applied to register as voters. The German Shepherd lunged again and again at the group and seized the left ankle of the Rev. D.L.Tucker. The minister apparently was not bitten seriously. A half dozen policemen and auxiliary policemen armed with nightsticks drove the other Negroes along a sidewalk in the heart of the business section until they had dispersed. White bystanders yelled at the patrolmen handling the dog, “Turn him loose!” and “Sic ’em, sic ’em.” Mayor Charles E. Sampson was asked why police had dispersed the Negroes, who were marching by two’s along the sidewalk and stopping for traffic signals. “They had a report up there that them n—–rs was going to the Alice Cafe for a sit-in,” the mayor replied. The only arrest made was that of Dick Perez, identified by police as a Columbia Broadcasting System television cameraman. He was released without charges after his film of the incident was confiscated. The dispersal of the Negroes was the latest in a series of incidents accompanying a voter registration campaign in this farming and industrial center in the Mississippi Delta. Racial tension, whipped up by the voting drive and attacks on Negroes, has created an explosive situation. City officials readily concede that they are alarmed. Greenwood’s 30-man  police force was reinforced by 24 auxiliary policemen, sheriffs and deputies from Leflore and surrounding counties, and by state highway patrolmen. Two Justice Department attorneys and six or more agents of the FBI moved into this city on the banks of the Yazoo River. Roughly dressed whites stood on sidewalks in the vicinity of the Courthouse and muttered threats. More than 150 gathered at City Hall Thursday afternoon during the trial of nine of 11 Negroes arrested Wednesday while marching toward the Courthouse to protest against the shotgun attack on a Negro’s house Tuesday night. Six of those tried were found guilty on charges of disorderly conduct.’ [End of New York Times article by Claude Sitton].

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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