Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #78: Boycott

“A few days later an open letter to the citizens of Leflore County was widely distributed, urging representatives of the white community, particularly city officials and businessmen, to meet with representatives of the Movement to discuss steps to ‘remove the evils of segregation and discrimination and to insure peace and to promote love and mutual respect.’ They tried to have it published in the Commonwealth with no success and made some personal contacts with the white community. When no response was received they decided to start a boycott on behalf of the goals of the Movement.

“The boycott, or ‘selective buying campaign,’ began on April 10, 1968. Their original goals were described as ‘to eliminate segregation and discrimination; to make all men free; to create fair employment practices.’ Later they added others directed mainly toward city officials concerning city employment and services, things which the merchants had no control over. They carried on a very intensive program of picketing with pickets marching on both sides of Howard Street and on the business side of Carrollton Avenue, the two main business streets. They also boycotted the Highland Park Shopping Center.

“They carried a variety of signs with objectives such as ‘Justice in our Courts,’ ‘Negro history in schools,’ and ‘Negro police.’ Some said such things as ‘God is with us,’ ‘Black is beautiful’ and ‘All men are brothers.’ The Movement officially called for non-violence, but the pickets stopped Negroes who were shopping and threatened them. Sometimes they would go in a store to speak to the Negro customers or to bring them out, and instances were reported of pickets examining purses or bags to see if anything had been purchased.

“There were instances of violence or threatened violence during the boycott, and a fire bomb was thrown into one home whose occupants had shopped. The boycott lasted more than two months, and merchants said there was considerable loss of business, depending on the proportion of Negro business formerly enjoyed by them. Five merchants said their estimated loss of business ranged from 20-50 percent.”

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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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