Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #77: Spring of ’68

“In late 1967 ‘The Greenwood Movement for Progress’ was organized by some of the black activists along with Catholic priests and nuns at the St. Francis of Assisi Center. An effort was made to boycott downtown merchants during the Christmas buying season, in support of the objectives of the Movement. The boycott did not prove to be very successful, but the Movement continued with their activities. Regular meetings were held and some open letters to the community were distributed, advocating removal of racial discrimination, equal courtesy regardless of race, equal employment opportunities, both public and private, equal municipal services, and other aims.

“In early April [1968], when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, no one knew what to expect. Riots were breaking out all over the country, and there were increased fears of violence. I was seated at the teletype machine in my kitchen when Kenneth Toler, head of the Commercial Appeal’s Jackson bureau, typed a note saying he had heard that King had been shot. The Memphis Commercial Appeal office confirmed the report and at about the same time it was flashed on TV.

“We got word the next morning that the blacks were planning a march through downtown Greenwood. The tension and fears that followed the slaying just gave impetus to the programs being advocated by the Movement, which was renamed ‘The Greenwood Movement in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’ A group of Negroes, along with the white nuns and priests from St. Francis, marched down to Howard Street and after a few speeches honoring King, disbursed with no trouble.”

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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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2 Responses to Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #77: Spring of ’68

  1. Nancy Webb Phillips says:

    I remember the day news came that King was dead. We were in the 8th grade at Greenwood Junior High. All of the sudden, parents were coming to the school to get their kids. My daddy came to get me, and I asked him what was going on. He told me that MLK had been shot and killed. I asked him why he came to get me, and he said that he was afraid there was going to be trouble downtown. I honestly didn’t understand what he meant. Of course I do now. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know MLK had even been to Greenwood until I read this blog!!!!

    • sec040121 says:

      That day when the schools were let out was frightening, for sure. Everyone’s parents had come to get them, but of course my mother was tied up with the news coverage and I guess Daddy was out of town. There had been an electrical fire out at Stone Street School and, with the rumor mill going full blast, word got out that the blacks were setting fire to all the schools and were on their way to the Junior High. So I was more than a little worried, standing there on the Church Street sidewalk after everyone had left, wondering what to do. Thank goodness Pauline Short saw that I was out there and took me home. Looking back, it’s just hard to believe what happened in this quiet little town during those days.

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