Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #54: A City on the Edge

“A mass political rally was held on July 20 as a preliminary event for the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was bringing eight in his party and was to speak at two rallies to be held at the Elks Hall and Turner’s Chapel.

“Trouble continued the rest of the summer at the Leflore Theater, and white patrons had almost quit attending. On July 27 the glass at the ticket office was broken again during the night when someone threw a rock at it. Silas McGhee and his brother Jake received eye injuries from flying glass after the rear window of an automobile was smashed with a bottle as they were leaving the theater around 9:30 p.m. The Negroes and a group of civil rights workers were given an escort from the hospital early the next morning after an appeal for protection.

“That night we followed them to the hospital with Cathy and Mary Carol on the floor in the back of the car. When we went in to the hospital to check on them we ran into some whites who had followed them out there, and De La was in the crowd. A large crowd had gathered in front of the building.

“Stink bombs were thrown into the theater at night and on September 1 the local paper reported the theater had been splattered with bright red paint the night before. The report stated that the paint was splattered on the building by means of light bulbs filled with red paint. In all, eight 100-watt bulbs were thrown into the theater which had been the target of rocks, roller bearings and other missiles during the previous month. One night the theater was the target for pieces of concrete which broke two windows in the lobby doors and also broke the glass candy counter inside the theater.

“Thatcher Walt, who was editor of the Commonwealth, decided he did not want to be intimidated and kept from going to the theater by the roughneck whites and agitating Negroes and so attended a movie there. While he and his family were out of town the next weekend, someone shot into his home. Not long after he resigned his job and moved to Florida, saying he no longer wanted to live here. It was that bad. The decent respectable citizens who comprised most of the population were caught between two groups who were trying to stir up trouble.”

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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2 Responses to Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #54: A City on the Edge

  1. Nancy Webb Phillips says:

    OMG, Mary Carol, do you remember any of this? I don’t! I guess my folks didn’t think I needed to know. This explains a lot. I often wondered why that theater was closed and torn down.

    • sec040121 says:

      I do remember it in bits and pieces. Particularly one night when Reverend Toomey was bringing us all home from a baseball game and blundered into that intersection by the theater. He ordered us all down on the floorboards, but of course Rebecca and I had to peek, and there were men on all three of the other corners with guns. Things were tense at our house, but I never really realized how dangerous this was for my mother. More to come…

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