Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #45: Change in the Wind

“On July 2 [1964] President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act which heralded the beginning of some of Greenwood’s most trying times. The state leaders as well as the local leaders had done everything in their power to pressure their Congressional delegation to stand firm against its passage. In April, Governor Paul Johnson had signed a bill giving a special $50,000 appropriation to the State Sovereignty Commission to aid a propaganda battle against the Civil Rights Bill. The measure had been rushed through the legislature, and the money was supposed to have been turned over to the Coordinating Committee for Fundamental American Freedoms, headed by attorney John Satterfield of Yazoo City, a former president of the American Bar Association.

“Also in April, ‘Operation Freedom Writers’ was launched in Greenwood with the opening of a mailing station in the lobby of the Greenwood Leflore Hotel. The Greenwood Lions Club sponsored the campaign to mail 4000 letters from Leflore County expressing opposition to the civil rights bill before the United States Senate. There were more than 25 cities in Mississippi participating in this program designed to organize opposition to the bill across the nation.

“The day after the Civil Rights Bill was passed we were all filled with apprehension as to how it was going to affect Greenwood. Prior to this time we had a totally segregated society. There were no black employees in stores or businesses except in janitorial or maid capacities. Blacks did not go to white restaurants, theaters and other places of entertainment. Public swimming pools were for white only and black only. They did not use the City Park or participate in any of the summer recreation programs except in their own part of town, which had one park, a swimming pool and a summer playground program sponsored by the Park Commission. The schools were totally segregated, as were the churches. The Negroes did most of their shopping in stores along Johnson Street and Carrollton Avenue and with the Chinese grocery stores located in their area. Very few blacks frequented the better stores on Howard Street, and there were no shopping centers at that time.”

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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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