Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #53: Suits and More Suits

“On September 4 the Justice Department, in a suit released at Greenville Federal Court, charged Greenwood officials with ‘failing to provide adequate police protection for Negroes at an integrated theater and asked a three-judge Federal court to correct the situation.‘ Named as defendants in the action were Greenwood Mayor Charles Sampson, Police Commissioner B.A.Hammond, Police Chief Curtis Lary and Assistant Police Chief Miller Wyatt.

“In an article sent in to the Commercial Appeal by Ed Moore, he said the suits were apparently the last official acts of Robert F. Kennedy prior to his resignation the day before as Attorney General. Mr. Kennedy, who signed the complaint, labeled the case ‘of general public importance.’ Another suit, also invoking a three-judge panel, was filed by the Justice Department against Gulf-State Theaters, the corporation president T.G. Soloman of McComb and Mrs. Elizabeth Rogers, manager of the Paramount Theater in Greenwood. The second Greenwood suit said   it was corporation practice ‘to refuse, and they have refused, admission to Negroes on account of their race and color’ at Mississippi theaters. The department asked for a cessation of discriminatory practices in Greenwood and in other theaters owned and operated by Gulf-States.

“In the suit against the Greenwood officials were outlined charges of beatings, forcible ejection, uncontrolled crowds, tear gas and stink bombs unloosed in the theater, attempts to have criminal charges brought against Jake McGhee and destruction of theater property. The complaint said ‘Mayor Sampson on July 9 knowing of the previous events at the Leflore Theater…ordered Police Chief Curtis Lary not to disperse a crowd of white persons that had gathered near the theater.’ It noted that Negroes on occasion had requested police protection. It stated further that ‘on July 26 the McGhee brothers again entered the theater as a crowd gathered outside and pounded on the doors. Curtis Lary and two officers of the Greenwood Police Department were present and observed the conduct of the crowd. They made no effort to disperse or control the activities of the crow. As a result of the crowd and the failure of the police to take any action with respect to the crowd, the acting manager informed the Negroes that the theater was closed and that they would have to leave.’

“The article said Mayor Sampson replied to Federal charges with: ‘Our police force always maintained law and order and will continue to do so, but we cannot be expected to help the Federal Government integrate public places.’ He continued, ‘The statements made in the suit are ridiculous and untrue. As far as I know the police answered every call they had from the Leflore Theater, but we cannot be expected to stand guard at public places, and especially at that time with all the hoodlums we had in town.’ The suit also charged Greenwood officials with asking Leflore Theater manager Harry Marchand to file criminal charges against Silas McGhee when he became the first of his race to use the theater.”

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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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