Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #70: Sovereignty and Singers

“Many of those who had taken part in the activities in Greenwood were active in the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party) and in newspaper reports which have included some of the activities of the Sovereignty Commission during the ’60s it was stated that the Commission planted spied in the MFDP to gather information that would keep black candidates from winning political office in the 1960s. The article stated : ‘The spies compiled rosters of the party’s supporters, obtained records of its meetings, and wrote elaborate reports about its candidates’ strategies.‘ These revelations came from the personal papers of Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr.

“The MFDP operated from 1964 until 1968 to provide alternative black candidates to the white-controlled regular party that had dominated state politics, according to the article in the Clarion-Ledger. The Freedom Democratic Party held a meeting at the black Masonic Temple in Jackson to pick their candidates and held a convention three weeks later. Then they held a mock election to see how many black people would vote.

“One weekend word got out that there would be an integrated ‘Hootnanny’ with well-known folk singers appearing. It was to be held on Laura McGhee’s property. Laura was the mother of our best-known civil rights activists, Jake and Silas. She lived on Highway 82 East about halfway between the VFW Club on one side and the Moose Lodge on the other. Russell and I went out on a Saturday afternoon to check it out. They had announced that the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez and others would be there. We stayed across the highway with the highway patrolmen, sheriff’s deputies and others and watched and listened.

“None of the better-known performers appeared, but there was loud music, freedom songs and speeches. The location was only a few miles from the Carroll County line, and we felt like Carroll County had some pretty strong Kluxers. Also the Moose Lodge and the VFW livened up on Saturday night. It lasted until almost dark, and we were pretty apprehensive when we thought it might continue after dark. Luckily, it broke up with no incidents.”

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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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