Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #27:The Courts Weigh In

“In one of the church meetings comedian Dick Gregory, who gained fame by poking fun at the race issue, joked about Governor Ross Barnett’s industrial trips north. ‘He flys to Chicago on an intregrated plane, speaks to an integrated audience, and then comes back and says practice segregation.’

“In an article written by Larry Speakes for the Commercial Appeal and dated March 30 [1963] he stated that Negro leaders of the vote drive said they have asked President Kennedy to come to the Mississippi Delta and walk with Negroes going to the Leflore County Courthouse in their bid to become registered voters.

“After the first arrest of marchers on March 27, 1963, the Justice Department filed an injunction against the city and county, naming in the petition Mayor Charles Sampson, Police Commissioner B.A.Hammond, City Prosecuting Attorney Gray Evans, Chief of Police Curtis Lary, County Attorney John J. Fraiser, Jr. and Deputy Sheriff W.W. Smith. The injunction called for a temporary restraining order against the officials. Federal Judge Claude F. Clayton had scheduled a hearing after earlier denying a government request for the restraining order. He announced at the time that the hearing had been set that an agreement had been reached under which the Justice Department withdrew its request and the City of Greenwood and Leflore County agreed that the sentences of the eight persons found guilty of disorderly conduct would be stayed pending a full hearing and final decision on the merits of the Government’s case.

“Under terms of the agreement the first of those arrested in the Courthouse marches were released from the Washington County jail where they had been transferred the previous afternoon. They were returned to Greenwood after singing several rounds of ‘I Got the Light of Freedom, I’m Gonna Let It Shine’ on the jail lawn in Greenville. While John Doar [of the Justice Department] hovered in the background, the group stood in a circle holding hands with arms crossed as they sang and prayed for other prisoners in the jail. A member of the group, acknowledging that some of the Greenwood applicants could not read or write, countered that ‘if the state is going to register illiterate whites then they should register illiterate Negroes.’ He added that he did not consider people walking to the Court House to register a demonstration.”

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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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