Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #67: An Imperfect System

“When the first election was held after all the new voters had been added, the Justice Department attorney John Doar set up an office for several days in Greenwood to direct federal observers who had been sent here to watch the polling places. He told me ‘We are here to help local officials as well as voters to make elections easier with all the new voters added to the rolls.’ He said the observers were not to interfere but just observe and than any complaints would be reported back to the Justice Department. He said they were Civil Service employees.

“They listed every person voting and made an attempt to determine how many were illiterate. At 11 a.m. one poll watcher said 80 percent of the women and 25 percent of the men at one polling place were illiterate. Voting officials had a real problem deciding what to do with one elderly Negro man who proved not only to be illiterate but also deaf and mute. ‘There was just no way to communicate with him,’ said an official. They called in a Justice Department attorney to give a suggestion. He agreed that the man would have to be sent home without voting unless he could bring an interpreter. One Negro woman, obviously voting for the first time, was being assisted by a local voting official. She was told, ‘You are voting for Senator. Which one do you want to vote for?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she replied. ‘I don’t guess it makes no difference.’

“Local election officials assisted illiterates in the voting booths but had trouble keeping the new voters from conferring with one another while marking their ballots. More than a dozen examiners set up headquarters in the Post Office after the election to hear any complaints which were reported to the Justice Department.”

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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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