Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #73: Black Power

“About 2 p.m. three of the freedom marchers, all black, were arrested after they attempted to put up tents for the marchers on school grounds. Among the three was Stokely Carmichael, who had been here before and always spelled trouble. He was Executive Secretary of SNCC. They had contacted a Negro school principal the day before and asked permission to pitch tents on the grounds but were told they could not. About 20 persons arrived at the school the next day and began setting up the tents anyway. Chief of Police Curtis Lary talked to them and showed them the school board’s letter, and they folded up the tents and left.

“Later the group showed up on the school grounds again and Police Commissioner [Buff] Hammond and City Commissioner W.G. Mize went to the school and told them not to set up the tents. They told Hammond that Dr. Robert Green, an aide to Martin Luther King, who was accompanying the marchers, had told them to set up anyway. They also said two FBI men told them to put the tents up. They were about to fold the tents up when Carmichael approached and asked if they had problems. They explained to him that they could not put the tents up, and Hammond said Carmichael replied, ‘That’s no problem. Let’s put the tents up.’ The police commissioner said he then told them they would be arrested if they continued to put up the tents and they ignored him. As they left the grounds, Carmichael screamed ‘I want this town turned upside down.’ One of the other marchers told Hammond, ‘That fellow gets out of line sometime.’

“That night a large freedom rally was held in the Negro park, and it was there that Stokely Carmichael shouted to his supporters, ‘We want black power,’ thus coining the phrase oft heard at civil rights gathering thereafter.’

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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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