Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #40: Itta Bena Action

“We started off the year [1964] with a case in County Court involving 45 Negroes arrested and convicted in Justice of the Peace Court in Itta Bena the previous June. They had been charged with breach of the peace and were asking for dismissal of the charges on grounds ranging from faulty affidavits to denial of due process of law. We spent several days at the Courthouse covering the hearing.

“The group had marched on the home of Itta Bena’s town marshall, H.E.Weber, one night. Mrs. Weber testified that a group of approximately 100 Negroes gathered and started running into their backyard. She said she heard glass breaking and loud thuds and that windshields were broken and bricks and bottles were thrown everywhere. ‘I heard singing and hollering which sounded like a chant,’ she said. ‘They sang a song “I ain’t gonna let Ed Weber turn me around.”‘

“‘We were marching for freedom, ‘ said one of the group, Lillie Stewart. All 45 were on appeal bonds posted by the National Council of Churches of Christ. Many of the local churches had been upset that they were contributing to the National Council of Churches which was then putting up money for those being arrested. Some people stopped contributing to their churches for this reason.

“A young man was sitting in the Court Room operating a steno-machine to take notes. I asked him who he was taking the notes for and he said the National Council of Churches.”

“Justice of the Peace Joe Rustici of Itta Bena had tried the cases in his court, which was held in a crowded little room in downtown Itta Bena soon after the incident. Russell and I drove over there to cover the hearing, and we were the only two outsiders there. I was a little uncomfortable. Later George Everett, who was an FBI agent at the time, called and said he and another agent would like to question me about the hearing. I was scared to death I was going to get involved as the only witness but after they came by and discussed it with me I never heard any more from them.”

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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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