Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #57: The Never-Ending Summer

“The theater was not the only target during the ‘long hot summer.’ Small grocery stores operated by whites in the Negro section were also targeted, but this time it was the blacks trying to close them up. In August [1964] a crowd of 300 gathered one night at a grocery store on Avenue I operated by police officer A.E.’Slim’ Henderson. Two were arrested for using profanity. Two other Negroes and white summer project workers were arrested for disturbing the peace in the Saturday night episode in front of the store. One was a 20-year-old Harvard student.

“The Commonwealth stated that this incident was the ‘most serious that has occurred this year. The situation was so tense police closed all places selling liquor in the city and county and ordered them to stay closed. The sheriff’s department, auxiliary police, and several units of the Mississippi Highway Patrol were called to the police station to stand by in case they were needed.’ 

“We were in the police station when those arrested were brought in. One, John Handy, a light-colored Negro who had been involved in other incidents during the summer, was standing in the station when Curtis Underwood, one of the policemen, lost his temper and gave him a heavy blow right in his stomach. That was the night [City Prosecuting Attorney] Gray [Evans] set bond at $200 and Hardy Lott [City Attorney] came down to the station and raised it to $500.

“On another night three Negroes and a white man were arrested by police after a crowd gathered for the second consecutive night in front of a grocery store operated by a white woman in the Negro section. Tommie Lee Galloway, Jake McGhee and John Handy, all Negroes, and Michael Arenson, one of the summer project workers, were charged with disturbing the peace. Police officers said there were bottles and bricks thrown by the crowd and and that some windows were broken. Police officers and auxiliary police were on duty two nights to prevent further trouble. The grocery store was one of several which had been harassed by COFO workers during the summer when they attempted to prevent customers from entering the business.

“There were numerous such incidents occurring almost nightly and every so often a report that a Negro church had burned and arson was suspected. All of these churches were in the rural areas.”

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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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