Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mississippi Cold Case; Louis Allen

Reward offered in 1964 slaying; efforts to find Louis Allen's killer increase after solving other cold cases

Family members of Louis Allen, a Liberty resident shot to death 43 years ago in what the FBI is investigating as a civil rights-era slaying, are offering $20,000 for information leading to the arrest of his killers.

Allen's namesake grandson, Louis Allen Jr., said family members suspect the killer is alive and that other people were involved.

The Allen case is one of more than 100 civil rights-era slaying under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Louis Allen Jr. said he hopes the reward offered by the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference will spark more interest in finding justice for his grandfather.

Efforts to solve the case have gained steam, following prosecutions in other civil rights-era cold cases, including two life sentences handed down this summer to James Ford Seale of Roxie in the May 2, 1964, kidnapping of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The teens were beaten and drowned.

Story Continued --

From Sovereignty Commission files, here are several links

Initial report filed by the investigator, A. L Hopkins

Rev. E. H. Hurst is "cleared of blame"

Five more deaths reported; citizens councils says it is not responsible

More links can be found at the Sovereignty Commission website when searching under Lewis Allen ...

The "mysterious killing of the only witness to the murder of a negro by a white man" report by investigator Tom Scarbrough

More files can be found under both spellings. sk

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Medgar Evers remembered for achievements

KNOWN TODAY more for his struggles for civil rights in Mississippi and his untimely death at the hands of an assassin than for his writings, Medgar Evers nevertheless left behind an impressive record of achievement.

Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and attended school there until he was inducted into the army in 1943. After serving in Normandy, he attended Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University), majoring in business administration.

While at Alcorn, he was a member of the debate team, the college choir, and the football and track teams. He also held several student offices and was editor of the campus newspaper for two years and the annual for one year.

In recognition of his accomplishments at Alcorn, he was listed in Who's Who in American Colleges.

At Alcorn he met Myrlie Beasley of Vicksburg and they married on December 24, 1951. He received his BA degree the following semester and they moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, during which time Evers began to establish local chapters of the NAACP throughout the delta and organising boycotts of gasoline stations that refused to allow Blacks to use their restrooms.

He worked in Mound Bayou as an insurance agent until 1954, the year a Supreme Court decision ruled school segregation unconstitutional.

Continued --
* * * * *
The Sovereignty Commission spent years spying on Medgar Evers and here are just a few examples of records you can find ...

Evers Complains to Civil Rights Commission when Madison County black is shot to death by local sheriff

Medgar Evers makes a "strong NAACP address"

1959 File: Evers labeled "Integration Agitator" by Sov. Comm. Spy

Lots more under three separate batches of files ... all equally disgusting.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

U. S. Rep. John Lewis Fed Up With Justice Dept.

Once a SNCC volunteer protester, U. S. Rep. John Lewis is carried away by police

Wednesday, September 5, 2007, 02:23 PM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

U.S. Rep. John Lewis went before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, tying the disarray in the U.S. Justice Department to Georgia’s voter ID law.

Here’s the gist of his printed remarks:

“During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, we knew that individuals in the Department of Justice were people who we could call any time of day or night….

“And we felt during those years that the civil rights division of the Department of Justice was more than a sympathetic referee, it was on the side of justice, on the side of fairness.

“During the movement, people looked to Washington for justice, for fairness, but today I’m not so sure that the great majority of individuals in the civil rights community can look to the division for that fairness…

Continued --

Lewis had files in the Sovereignty Commission for his early protests.

The Commission's link

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sovereignty Records Could Help Solve Cold Cases

Widows of two civil-rights activists slain in the 1960s in 2006 appealed to Congress yesterday to help bring justice in scores of cold murder cases from that era.

To do so, Myrlie Evers-Williams said, would aid surviving families and tell the nation "that these people's lives were not in vain." She testified on the 44th anniversary of the assassination in Mississippi of her husband, Medgar Evers.

Further prosecutions could help the nation understand its history better in order to heal deep wounds and achieve reconciliation, added Rita Schwerner Bender. Her husband, Michael Schwerner, was killed in Mississippi in 1964.

A House subcommittee unanimously approved a bill to authorize spending $13.5 million a year over 10 years for reopening the cases that have gone cold. Of that, $11.5 million would go to the Justice Department and the remainder to help state and local authorities.
* * *
Don't hold your breath, it never happened.

Yet, Mississippi Sovereignty Commission records were used to convict several people for the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, as well as Medgar Evers (just not everyone involved).

All of these cases, and many others of murder and terrorism against civil rights activists (and people in the wrong place at the wrong time) have files in the Sovereignty Commission. Here are a few links to help you get started in a journey to learn more about Mississippis cold, warm, warmer and hot civil rights cases--

Sov. Comm. funds "book" on Medgar Evers

Early reports by Medgar Evers of young men killed in Corinth and Philadelphia

Medgar Evers constantly "tracked" by the Commission ... for "exploiting" Delta blacks in this file

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blog Across the Mississippi Delta Civil Rights History Tour

* * * * *
AS FREEDOM VOLUNTEERS packed up and left Mississippi in 1964, brutality and murder kept going on. Some stories made it into the news and into later history books, but in smaller Delta towns several hundred miles north of Jackson, many incidents remain only as whispers among those who once picked the cotton ...


Bloggers Set to Revisit Mississippi Delta Civil Rights People and Places

Mount. Pleasant, Iowa (USA), May 29, 2007--Two friends from Cleveland, Mississippi and Mount Pleasant, Iowa, are spending ten days roaming and blogging the Mississippi Delta while visiting civil rights people and places. Their pictures and stories will be placed daily at on the Internet. (Photo at left, courthouse in Belzoni, home of the Rev. George Lee who was murdered in 1955.)

Margaret Block, an early civil rights advocate, and Susan Klopfer, author of Where Rebels Roost; Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited, plan to roam the Mississippi Delta starting June 1, visiting people and places of the modern civil rights movement. “We'll be traveling in and out of the Delta for ten days as we photograph important spots and talk about the region's history,” Klopfer said.

“We plan to visit the towns of Money, Drew, Glendora, Greenwood and other spots connected to the murders of Emmett Till, Birdia Keglar, Adlena Hamlett and Cleve McDowell, among others who were killed for their civil rights activities or just for being black.”

Block, an early SNCC volunteer, spent her first years out of high school in the small town of Charleston where they will kick off their blogging venture by attending a program June 1 honoring Keglar. The NAACP leader was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966 on her way home from a Jackson meeting with Sen. Robert Kennedy. Keglar once saved Block’s life by moving her out of Charleston in a hearse from the funeral home that Keglar managed.

“We have very few scheduled stops, but we will also leave the Delta to attend the funeral of Mrs. Chaney, James Chaney's mother in Meridian,” Block said. The two also plan to visit with Unita Blackwell, Mississippi’s first black woman mayor, and will take pictures as they roam the historical Brooks Farm, Parchman penitentiary, and Clarksdale, home of Aaron Henry, an early civil rights leader who Block also knew.

The two women met when Klopfer was researching a book on the civil rights movement, “Where Rebels Roost; Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited.” Klopfer was living on the grounds of Parchman at the time, where her husband was the chief psychologist.

Susan Klopfer
775-340-3585 (cell)

# # #

Monday, May 28, 2007

Blog Across the Mississippi Delta Civil Rights History Tour

Blog Across Mississippi Civil Rights History Tour

On June 30, I'm leaving for the Mississippi Delta to visit Margaret Block, Unita Blackwell and others involved in the modern civil rights movement. We'll be traveling in and out of the Delta for 10 days as we photograph important spots and talk about the region's history. You are invited to "travel" along on this blog. We have very few scheduled stops, but here are the first two:

June 1 - Charleston, Miss.
Margaret Block and I will attend the program honoring Birdia Keglar, civil rights advocate, who was killed in 1966.

June 2 - Meridian, Miss.
We will attend the funeral of Mrs. Chaney, James Chaney's mother.

Other points we'll be visiting:

Rolling Fork, Drew, Ruleville, the Brooks Farm, Parchman, Clarksdale, Glendora, Holly Springs, Cleveland ... we'll pay special attention to Sovereignty Commission folks.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Indictment in Jimmie Lee Jackson slaying

MARION, Ala. - A 73-year-old retired state trooper was indicted Wednesday in the 1965 shooting death of a black man — a killing that set in motion the historic civil rights protests in Selma and led to passage of the Voting Rights Act.

District Attorney Michael Jackson said a grand jury returned an indictment in the case. He would not identify the person charged or specify the offense until the indictment is served, which could take a few days. But a lawyer for former Trooper James Bonard Fowler said he had been informed that the retired lawman had been charged.

It took the grand jury only two hours to return the indictment in the slaying of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was shot by Fowler during a civil rights protest that turned into a club-swinging melee.

The case was little-known as a civil rights-era cold case but had major historical consequences.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mississippi Governor blocked documents, FBI says

From CBC News

Documents obtained by CBC News show that the Mississippi governor at the time of the 1964 race killings of two African-American teenagers censored a news release related to the case and kept photos of their remains from the media at the height of the civil rights movement.

Paul B. Johnson Jr., who died last year, became governor of Mississippi in January 1964. The Democratic politician was known for his support of segregation, and had personally blocked the way of James Meredith, the first black student to register at the University of Mississippi, as Meredith tried to make his way on campus.

FBI documents show that Johnson personally influenced aspects of the Charles Moore and Henry Dee case.

Continued ..
HOWEVER, it was Gov. Ross Barnett who blocked Meredith in his attempt to enter Ole Miss, not Gov. Johnson as CBC reports.

Meanwhile, Sovereignty Commission records are few with respect to Mr. Moore and Mr. Dee. Here are several

Charges dropped against two men accused of "Torso Slayings"

Klansman Seale questioned about murder of Moore and Dee

Photos of Klansmen, including Seale

What's interesting, is all of the investigation records that appear to be missing. Where are they? Could they still be in individual homes? Are they included among Sen. James Eastland's files housed at Ole Miss???

Monday, April 30, 2007

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson touts public's right to know

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson urged members of the Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters Association to remain vigilant in their efforts to uncover wrongdoing and preserve the public's right to know in an era of eroding rights.

Thompson, who lives in Bolton and represents the state's 2nd Congressional District, spoke for 20 minutes Saturday on several topics. He told a crowd of about 80 at the group's annual meeting that efforts to curtail the rights of the media must be vigorously fought.

"I firmly believe that a free press is important but also that the press and the public has a right to know," Thompson said. "It appears that some of our public officials have forgotten that. So I want to encourage you to keep pursuing that. That is a fundamental principle that this country was founded upon."


Rep. Thompson, himself, knows the power of the Sovereignty Commission. You will find quite a few entries regarding his brave history of civil rights activism. Here are a few ...

As an alderman, complains FBI not pursuring beating in his hometown of Bolton

Charges Selective Service System Black Conspiracy

Charges of Brutality, Intimidation and Harassment Toward Blacks by Police

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Klan on the upswing

The Ku Klux Klan, which just a few years ago seemed static or even moribund compared to other white supremacist movements such as the Neo-Nazis, experienced "a surprising and troubling resurgence" during the past year due largely to the successful exploitation of hot button issues including immigration, gay marriage and urban crime according to the Anti Defamation League (ADL).
(from The Black Voice News)

When researching the Mississippi Delta for my book, Where Rebels Roost, I often ran into stories about the Klan and its activities. Following the Civil War, President Grant had sent federal troops to restore law and order to many of the most violent areas in the South afflicted by the newly formed group and Grant’s disruptions of Klan activities bought him both friends and foes since most states had either advocated Klan interests or were too intimidated to confront the KKK.

(Interestingly, no information regarding the Klan and its place in Radical Reconstruction is mentioned on the White House “official” web page of presidential history where Grant is described, instead, as having “neither vigor nor reform” and seeming “bewildered.” The site concludes “Grant allowed Radical Reconstruction to run its course in the South, bolstering it at times with military force.”)

In the Mississippi Delta, Klan members often stirred violent disruptions. In 1869, for instance, a party of Ku Klux Klan night riders burned a two-story Coahoma County residence belonging to James Alcorn, Mississippi’s first elected Republican governor. Alcorn had previously served in the state legislature of Kentucky and Mississippi, and had risen to the rank of general in the Confederate military service during the Civil War.

The arson also destroyed a valuable steam cotton gin and all of the resident blacks’ quarters, including a smokehouse. The St. Louis Democrat reported: “The cause of this outrage was that General Alcorn…believes that the Republican Party is now the only national party and the only friend of the South. His persecution is an evidence of the intolerant and cowardly spirit of the Mississippi Ku Klux.”

After more stories appeared in newspapers around the entire country, I finally found another account from the Friars Point newspaper that called other reports misleading:

We have refrained from saying anything about the burning … ashamed that such an act of vandalism had been perpetrated in the county, but since the newspapers have taken hold of it we will state the facts. The plantation, which was the scene of the disgraceful act, was not being cultivated by [the] General. It was subject to flood and for that reason was not cultivated. Some trusty freedmen proposed to rent it of him and pay their rent in improvements. The farm was rented. No sooner was it discovered that this had been done than the Ku Klux sallied forth in the night time and burned every house on the premise…. That the hated General … should presume to rent land to freedmen was a little more than the chivalric and sensitive Ku Klux could stand.

* * * * *
There are a host of files on Klansmen and their activities in the Sovereignty Commission files. For instance

An article by Drew Pearson on the Klan and Mississippi, written in 1953

A "Tell All" Report by the Mississippi White Caps

A Sovereignty Commission "report" on the Pike County Klan, Unit 783

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Jimmy Lee Jackson Murder; DA Promises Grand Jury

Jimmy Lee Jackson

Prosecutor vows to find justice in civil rights killing

By Jerry Mitchell
Gannett News Service

The shooting death of a Vietnam veteran that sparked the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" march in Selma will be the next civil rights-era crime to make it to a jury's hands, an Alabama prosecutor vowed Friday.

Speaking at a conference at Harvard Law School, Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma said he would be presenting evidence to a grand jury May 9 in the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson in the west Alabama town of Marion 42 years ago.


And another journalist, Ben Greenberg, writes for The Black Commentator
Jimmie Lee Jackson did not live to see his grandfather, Cager Lee, finally receive a voting card in his early 80s at the Marion, Alabama Town Hall, August 20, 1965. The day came just two weeks after the Voting Rights Act had been signed into law by President Johnson. Congress might not have passed the law in 1965 without the pressure it felt as the whole world watched the spectacle of the Selma to Montgomery March five months earlier.


Of course, Sovereignty Commission files are plenty -- here are several links to get you started

Memorial Service pamphlet found by investigator

Copy of Hand-drawn Memorial Srvice announcement

CORE's "Partical List of Racial Murders in the South in the Past Two Years"

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Birdia Keglar Memorial Highway??

Some very interesting news from the Mississippi Legislature

- “Birdia Keglar Memorial Highway,” a portion of Highway 35 in Tallahatchie County. Keglar, a voting rights advocate, was murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen on her way home to Charleston after meeting with Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in Jackson in 1966.

More on this story from the Associated Press --

Here is a link to the story of Birdia Keglar and Adlena Hamlett

You will find files on both women in the Sovereignty Commission archives. Note their names are often mispelled (i.e., Bridie Kegler, Adlema Hamlet, etc.).

It looks like Birdia's relatives are working very hard to see that her story is remembered. If anyone has the ability to help move this along, please do so. sk

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

June Johnson, Mississippi civil rights hero, dies

One more civil rights hero has died ...

June Johnson

Miss. civil rights activist June E. Johnson dies
Associated Press Writer

In June 1963, on the way back from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina, June Johnson, then 15, was arrested at a Winona, Miss., bus station along with civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and others.

The Montgomery County sheriff asked Johnson if she was a member of the NAACP. When she answered yes, he hit her on the cheek and chin, and then as she raised her hand to shield her face, he punched her in the stomach. The sheriff and three other white men continued to beat her.

"I raised my head and the white man hit me in the back of the head with a club wrapped in black leather," Johnson said in the sworn statement in historian John Dittmer's 1994 book "Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi."

"They made me get up. My dress was torn off and my slip was coming off. Blood was streaming down the back of my head and my dress was all bloody," she said. (Posted April 18, 2007)

Story Continued --

Files in the Sovereignty Commission can be found at

Here are several links ...

Ramparts Magazine published an account of the incident and a copy of the 65-page article is found in the files ...

The Sovereignty Commission report on "alleged police brutality" against Mrs. Johnson and others ...

File copy of a newspaper account ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Remember the names Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner? Killen?

A new documentary helps fill in the mystery of why anyone would believe that justice has reigned with respect to the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner:

Contact: Anna Morshedi, Programming Coordinator
The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies
Central Arkansas Library System
Tel: 501.918.3049, Email:

Why Only Killen?
A documentary that reopens the question of the adequacy of justice brought to the
Mississippi civil rights murders of 1964

Little Rock, AR – April 16, 2007 – In the recently released documentary, Why Only Killen?, the Arkansas Delta Truth and Justice Center reopens the question of the adequacy of justice rendered by the state of Mississippi in the Neshoba County civil rights murders case of 1964. “After more than 40 years it is long past the time to reveal the truth and obtain a full measure of justice in the Neshoba murders case. It is late, but it is never too late to reveal truth and render justice.” says John Gibson, co-producer of the documentary.

In June 2005, Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen was convicted of manslaughter by a Mississippi jury, 41 years after the murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. It is widely believed that there are many others who were complicit in the murders, yet Mississippi has never prosecuted any of these people.

Please join the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies for a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30 pm in the Darragh Center of the Main Library. This event will begin with an introduction describing how the documentary came to be made. Freedom singer and veteran of the civil rights movement Margaret Block will share memories of her friends James Chaney and Michael Schwerner and lead the crowd in freedom singing.

What: Documentary screening of Why Only Killen?
Where: Darragh Center - Main Library
(100 Rock Street, Little Rock)
When: Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 pm

The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, a department of the Central Arkansas Library System, was created in 1997 through an endowment by the late Richard C. Butler, Sr., of Little Rock, for the purpose of promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of Arkansas history, literature, art, and culture. For more information, please contact Anna Morshedi at (501) 918-3049.


You can view numerous Sovereignty Commission records on these murders, including

Names of those originally charged with "violating the civil rights workers' civil rights"

FBI's photographs of the 21 originally arrested

Names of those orginally accused

There are quite a few more records on Killen and others. You can find them at the online archives.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Birdia Keglar, Adlena Hamlett; Interest in Mississippi Cold Case Murder Builds

"Lest we forget ..."

Adlena Hamlett

Birdia Keglar

At last -- there is finally some interest building in the murders of Birdia Keglar and Adlena Hamlett, both killed in 1966 in the Delta, outside of Greenwood. Quite possible, now, the FBI will take on this closed case. Let's hope. Here's a story from the London Guardian:

This is a Mississippi story. On January 11 1966, a gold-toned Plymouth Fury carrying a group of voting-rights activists crashed on a stretch of road near the small town of Sidon in the west of the state. Two African-American women, Birdia Keglar and Adlena Hamlett, were killed on that day. That much is certain. But in their deaths is buried a painful question that has gnawed at three generations of their families. Was this an ordinary car wreck, or were the two women, who had previously been threatened, shot at and burned in effigy because of their efforts to register black voters, targetted on that road? Engineered car crashes were a known tactic by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in the 1950s and 60s. Violent crimes against African-Americans were rarely investigated or punished. And even if the women were murdered by white supremacists, was it better, as some members of Keglar's own family believed, to leave such suspicions left unspoken?

Now, 41 years after that crash, Keglar's cousin, Gwen Dailey, is campaigning for the FBI to open an investigation into her death. Despite the passage of time, the lack of recorded evidence, and the death of what few witnesses there may have been to that accident long ago, it is not an entirely unreasonable hope.

Continued --

You can find Sovereignty Commission records on both women and others involved. Names are not spelled correctly, however, and so you have to play a little with the index. Here are a couple of files ...

Names on a voting list

Investigator's report

Lwsuit over voting rights

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gordon Lackey dies in Greenwood; Klansman involved in Evers slaying

The man who may have killed Medgar Evers or at least who had a role in the assassination died died Wednesday, March 21, 2007, at Greenwood Leflore Hospital.

When Medgar Evers was killed, rumors quickly spread that more than one Klansman was involved, including Gordon Mims Lackey. Several years ago, when tracking down this story, Becky Rouse of Sidon told me she had worked as a waitress and restaurant manager in Greenburg at the “Cottonpatch” Restaurant in the mid 1990s where a small group of men frequently met for breakfast.

“There were about eight of them and they talked freely around me, I guess because I was from Michigan and they wanted to get my reaction,” Rouse said. “Also, I’m a history buff and I could get them talking.”

When the final Byron De La Beckwith trial began, one of the older men, Gordon Lackey, “liked to brag” about his role in the murder, Rouse said. “Lackey said he killed Evers – that he was the triggerman – and not Beckwith. Lackey said that Beckwith knew he was dying and agreed to [turn himself in]…but Lackey said he flew a helicopter down to Jackson, shot Evers and came back early that morning. One of Lackey’s friends, ‘Buddy,’ would drink coffee with him and confirmed what Gordon Lackey was saying,” according to Rouse.

Interestingly, Lackey sometimes flew as an agricultural pilot, according to Greenwood aviation history buff, Allan Hammons. While there were no commercial helicopters in the region at the time, Lackey was a member of the National Reserves and the Guard, Hammons said. Further, the Klan owned its own airplane, and so Lackey would have had aviation access.

Rouse said the old Klansmen also talked about the Emmett Till murder and said she believes, from comments made by Lackey, “he might have been involved in that murder, too.”

Adam Nossitor, who wrote “Of Long Memory,” described Lackey, a small-time motorcycle repairman and charter member of the White Knights as “Beckwith’s old friend.” (137-139) Lackey had helped Sam Bowers draft a constitution for the new organization, according to
Nossiter, and in August 1965, “he recruited Beckwith into the Klan.”

It was Lackey who “proposed blowing up the SNCC headquarters in Greenwood, a plan that was later dropped because of FBI presence around the office,” Nossiter wrote.

A White Knight Kleagle or recruiter in August of 1965, Lackey later joined the United Klans of America. He appeared before HUAC on January 13, 1966, as did Beckwith, also of Greenwood. Lackey, who earlier helped write the 40-page constitution of the White Knights,the state’s most secret Klan organization, refused to answer questions, invoking the Fifth Amendment. Various Sovereignty Commission files hold newspaper clippings that give these details.

For the record, Lackey’s obituary stated the following:

He was a businessman, and operated several area businesses over the years. A native and lifelong resident of Greenwood, he was born Sept. 12, 1936, to the late Lyman A. and Rena Mims Lackey. He attended the Greenwood city schools, and was a graduate of Greenwood High School. He continued his education at Mississippi State University.

Mr. Lackey's work ethic was firmly established during his teen years when he worked for master machinist Horace Kitchell, and later for Jimmy Landers. During his life he owned and operated a motorcycle dealership, and introduced the Ducati motorcycle to the area.

In his later years, he became an airplane pilot trained by Gilmore Sims. He became an agriculture pilot and owned Spray Inc. During the course of his flying career, he served as president of the Agriculture Pilots Association. In the off-season, he worked in the family business, Lackey's Café, on what is now Park Avenue in Greenwood.

After a period of time, Mr. Lackey bought Greenwood Irrigation, and was a dealer for Lindsey Center Pivots. He also designed, sold and installed irrigation systems for home lawns and commercial property.

He was an avid reader who read for pleasure as well as knowledge reading everything from Socrates for Ayn Rand, and thousands of books in between.

His family says that those who knew him well realized that he was a philosopher at mind and heart, optimistic by nature, compassionate of spirit and wise. He was a staunch conservative who served the Republican Party whenever and however he was asked to do so.

Mr. Lackey was a Methodist and a 32nd degree Mason. He conferred Scottish Rites upon Sen. John C. Stennis. He was a skilled woodsman and an accomplished shot. His passion for pistol shooting wa a driving influence in his youth. For many years he was an active member of Gumbo Hunting Club, and memories of times spent afield at the club were dear to him. He also served in the Mississippi National Guard for six years.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Mulvihill Lackey of Greenwood; a son, Gordon M. "Beau" Lackey Jr. and his wife, Jennifer Weir, of Hattiesburg; a stepson, John Robert Capelle III of Greenwood; a stepdaughter, Teresa Gail Capelle Lay and her husband, Wallace A. Lay III, of Trenton, Ga.; one brother, Lyman A. Lackey Jr. of Lawton, Okla.; three grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and numerous cousins, primarily in Leflore and Carroll counties.

The Rev. Bobby Polk of Vicksburg will officiate at the services.

Burial will be in Odd Fellows Cemetery.
* * *

Looks like they left out a little … sk

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ten Years After the Murder of a Mississippi Civil Rights Lawyer –No One Talks About Cleve McDowell

(Photo at left, young Cleve McDowell at the University of Mississippi in 1963)

By Susan Klopfer

Ten years have come and gone since former Mississippi NAACP leader Cleve McDowell was killed on March 17, 1997. Even though his slaying is too contemporary for investigation under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named after the 14-year-old African American from Chicago who was killed back in 1955, a second look is still justified since all official records of McDowell’s murder remain sealed and unanswered questions linger.

Ten years ago a black criminal lawyer was shot to death in his Mississippi Delta home.

On the morning of March 17, 1997 the naked lifeless body of Cleve McDowell was discovered propped up against an upstairs bathroom wall by his youngest sister.

Throughout his home, dozens of powerful handguns and rifles – “always one within his reach” – had been strategically placed by McDowell for self-protection. Why didn’t he use one of his guns to save his life?

On the tenth year anniversary questions still surround the death of an important but forgotten civil rights leader:

What happened to bullets taken from McDowell’s body during the state’s autopsy? Would such evidence show if more than one shooter was involved? What happened to McDowell’s guns? Why do county officials maintain a gag order on all investigation records of this murder? And what happened to all of McDowell’s investigative files?

For over forty years, McDowell studied hate crimes and murders taking place during the modern civil rights movement. Where is all of the information he collected about the murders of Emmet Till, Medgar Evers and so many others?

Learning of McDowell’s murder, the Associated Press first reported

McDowell, 56, was found dead in an upstairs bathroom early that morning after relatives called police to say the door to his apartment was open and his car missing. Police continued to look for McDowell's Cadillac for two days before discovering it in a small, nearby town.


McDowell with Rev. Jesse Jackson, campaigning in the cotton dust of the Delta

McDowell had been a public defender in Sunflower County for three decades. He was part of a group of black leaders organizing to pressure district attorneys and revive interest in many never-prosecuted cases in which blacks were killed for doing civil rights work . . .

IN 1956, TWO YEARS AFTER Brown v. Topeka Board of Education and one year following the Delta murder of young Emmett Till, Mississippi legislators had installed a quiet and effective spy agency over their concerns of “forced integration” and related race issues. The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission did not close its doors until 1977.

Only in 1998, after twenty-one years of legal wrangling, United States District Court Judge William H. Barbour, Jr. ordered all Commission records not involved in litigation to be opened to the public.

McDowell was killed exactly one year to the day before this first court-ordered release of secret records – records that had been gathered on private citizens by former FBI, CIA and military intelligence agents performing their clandestine work during some of Mississippi’s most tumultuous years of civil rights strife.

When these secret records were first handed over to the public, many of the Sovereignty Commission’s files were considered missing by investigative journalists and other longtime civil rights observers.

Hence, McDowell’s extensive private collection of his own criminal and civil rights investigations – papers stored in high stacks of cardboard boxes and in his office safe – could have filled in some of the gaps, had his files been available.

But McDowell’s investigation records officially disappeared between the time of his murder and the official release of Sovereignty Commission files when fire engulfed his old law office where all of his papers were stored. Family members later told reporters McDowell’s records were in his former office when the fire started – after McDowell’s death – because they wanted someday to turn the office into a civil rights museum.

McDowell’s records could have easily filled such a museum, say friends and colleagues who saw the mounds of boxes grow higher each successive year until McDowell’s life was ended by gunshot wounds.

AS THE CIVIL Rights Movement years waned, McDowell never quit looking into Mississippi’s race-based murders and other hate crimes. His interest in Till’s murder remained strong; coincidentally, he and Till were born two weeks apart in the summer of 1941 and young Till’s murder influenced McDowell’s decision to study law and then investigate Till’s and other hate crimes against blacks.

Till was kidnapped from a nearby Tallahatchie County relative’s home in the small cotton town of Money back in 1955 and taken to a Sunflower County plantation outside of Drew where he was beaten, tortured and slain. Till’s body was taken to a neighboring county and thrown into the Tallahatchie River from a bridge. Ironically, McDowell would be killed in his Drew home forty-two years later, less than five miles from Till’s murder site.

And over the years, stacked boxes of papers and files on the Till case grew high in McDowell’s office while other papers were stored in his locked office safe as well as at home, his former office manager said.


While he was busy writing down notes, McDowell “looked away and quietly said that people in this state would be surprised if they knew about all the politicians and their families who have murdered people.”


“Cleve never let me go through any of those papers. So I don’t know exactly what he had. But Cleve often spoke to Emmett’s mother and promised he would find out what happened to her son and who was involved in his murder,” Nettie Davis said.

“I know Cleve talked to her on the phone just a month before he was killed.” Davis was McDowell’s office manager and had known him since high school days in Drew.

Kwasi McDowell, McDowell’s godson, also knew about his uncle’s investigations and said his uncle was always very quiet about what he was working on but “it was evident that his investigations were serious.” McDowell’s nephew said he once worked on a civil rights paper for school that required his uncle’s help.

While he was busy writing down notes, McDowell “looked away and quietly said that people in this state would be surprised if they knew about all the politicians and their families who have murdered people.”

“He didn’t say anything else, but he looked upset,” Kwasi McDowell recalled. “Cleve may have been working with two lawyers in Texas at one time to track down civil rights murderers…. I think both of those lawyers died in car wrecks, but I don’t recall any specifics,” McDowell’s nephew said.

ONE OF CLEVE MCDOWELL’S CLIENTS was quickly arrested and charged with capital murder – those charges were reduced to manslaughter in return for Juarez Webb’s confession. Webb, a Delta black, later retracted his admission but was convicted of the lesser charges and remains locked up in a state maximum security prison.

Within several hours of discovering McDowell’s body, a county judge placed gag order on the ensuing investigation; one decade later the same order remains on all public records of McDowell’s slaying, including records on a fire that destroyed his office and criminal investigative papers.

The decision was to keep a local police chief from damaging the crime scene and from spreading inflammatory rumors, Davis said. “But I don’t understand why these records stayed closed.”

Davis remembered how unusual McDowell’s home appeared when she first entered it with his sister; together, they discovered his body:

“The strangest thing to me was how neat the coffee table looked. I went into the house with Cleve’s sister and that was the first thing I noticed. It was always a mess, with papers, files, and books stacked up and even falling off. Everyone who knew him would remember that table. But this morning it looked like it had been cleaned up when we went into the house. Every paper was stacked neatly in a pile.

“There were these neat piles all over the table. My eye caught the coffee table immediately, as soon as I walked in. I had never seen it like this before.”
Even the dirty dishes that “usually filled the kitchen sink,” had been washed and this also struck Davis as odd.

Woodrow Jackson of nearby Tutwiler also finds it “intriguing” that his old friend’s coffee table was cleaned up and the dishes washed. Jackson, a retired funeral home employee, had embalmed Till’s body before it was returned to his mother in Chicago and knew McDowell through their shared interest in the murder.

“I knew Cleve very well. I didn’t embalm his body. I believe it was someone from Cleveland who did. But Cleve was a good lawyer and we often spoke about Emmett Till because he was very interested in finding all who were involved in the murder.

“Cleve kept boxes of records in his office. I know because I saw them. I remember a year or so ago before Cleve was murdered he brought Emmett Till up again and still seemed upset, but he would never give out any details. When his office burned down after he was murdered, a lot of important papers had to have been lost.”

Still one more person who knew McDowell was surprised after hearing about the clean coffee table. “Now that means something,” Margaret Block said. The former SNCC activist was preparing to have McDowell do some legal work for her when she heard he was murdered. Block and her brother, Sam, had both known McDowell beginning in the early 1960s when they were all involved in voting rights activities throughout the Delta.

Davis also asks why the town police chief was allowed to disturb and even “tear up” the crime scene. “He came to the house and told us all to leave – all of us including the police officer – and he stayed in the house for a long time, tearing up the floors and walls – like he was looking for something.

“He walked out with a small sack, but I don’t know what he had. It was obvious that he messed up the crime scene before the state investigators could even get there."
Twenty minutes after the police chief’s departure, Sunflower County Circuit Judge Gray Evans filed an order to seal McDowell’s residence making discussions of any findings or evidence from the crime scene illegal for any officers and personnel working the crime scene, Davis said.

Evans’ gag order remains in effect, even though the investigation was closed years ago, asserts the Sunflower County assistant district attorney who refused access to any of the police investigation or court records stored in the courthouse basement in Indianola, even though the gag order never covered court officers.

"The family would have to approve first," stated a Sunflower County judge who backed the ADA’s denial of a request for McDowell’s records.

"The police chief was saying awful things about Cleve when he came out of the house. I know that Judge Gray was just trying to tone things down before the gossip got out of hand," Davis said. "But I wouldn’t think he meant for the gag order never to be lifted."

While McDowell’s records remain unavailable, Webb’s case files kept in the courthouse were accessible and indicated

--An autopsy performed in Jackson the night of March 17, 1997 on McDowell by Steven T. Hayne, M.D., the state’s deputy coroner, indicated "negative" signs of any drug abuse.
--Cause of death was given as a "gunshot wound of the left neck, distant and perforating."
--The death was listed as a homicide.
--Three gunshot wounds fired in "close temporal proximity" but not at close range, “perhaps up to a distance of 15 feet” were described by the coroner:

a "nonlethal" wound consisting of a "nonlethal distant and perforating gunshot wound of the left back," a "nonlethal distant and perforating gunshot of the left shoulder with re-entry penetrating gunshot wound of the left temple" and a "lethal distant and perforating gunshot wound of the left neck."

These descriptions could not be put into sequential order, the report stated.

The autopsy report did not give information regarding the range from which the gun was fired, but in 2004, a physician practicing forensic medicine was asked to read the report and give his opinion. The physician said that shots could have been fired from fifteen feet away. The physician also speculated there could have been more than one shooter, given the angles of the three shots. But information about each of the bullets causing these wounds was not available in the report, making it difficult to reach a specific conclusion.
* * * * *

EARLY ON, MCDOWELL distinguished himself academically – as an outstanding Drew High School speech and debate competitor who continued his studies on a scholarship at Jackson State University in the state’s capital city of Jackson.

In the fall of 1963, McDowell was the first black student after James Meredith to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, and the first ever to study law at the James O. Eastland School of Law, named after the Delta’s late segregationist U.S. senator whose home was seven miles from Drew in the cotton town of Ruleville (also home to civil rights leader Fanny Lou Hamer, a friend of McDowell’s).

Soon after the murder of his mentor, civil rights leader Medgar Evers, McDowell learned that he and his college roommate James Meredith were next in line for assassination, he told Owen Brooks during an oral history interview in 1996.

Self defense became an issue for McDowell after the few U.S. marshals who had been living on the campus to protect Meredith left after his graduation in August. McDowell bought a mail order gun and applied for a permit to carry it, telling a school chaplain that he had purchased the gun because he was “scared” and “afraid somebody might kill him.”

"Most everybody else had one," McDowell told a civil rights historian in a 1996 oral history interview. "But when mine was discovered, I was expelled." (Sheriff Joe Ford who arrested McDowell also headed the Oxford, Mississippi White Citizens Council and was tipped off about McDowell’s pistol according to Sovereignty Commission records.)

Praised in a recommendation letter by the University of Mississippi’s liberal law school dean, who was upset over his student’s dismissal, McDowell transferred to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Texas, a "better and safer" place to be,” where he was class president and an honors graduate. The University of Mississippi’s current law school dean refused to provide a copy of the letter for this report or acknowledge its existence -- but a staff member said she had seen the letter.

It was a good move since the Texas law school was emphasizing civil rights law while the University of Mississippi was far behind, McDowell told interviewer Owen Brooks. Transcripts of this interview are not available according to state archive officials.

McDowell was not a radical reformer; there are few Sovereignty Commission records mentioning him except for his short time spent at the University of Mississippi and later as a civil rights movement participant and a Headstart coordinator. He was not a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but remained an active member of the more conservative NAACP, serving in later years as state field director of the Mississippi Conference. McDowell also represented clients in various social justice and civil rights cases over three decades.

But the Drew attorney and community leader quietly set records for black achievement: he was named to the state Penitentiary Board from 1971 until 1976 and named by the governor as state director for Head Start from 1972 to 1976. No other black Mississippians had held such influential state positions for over 100 years, since Reconstruction. In his own community, McDowell was elected vice-mayor to the town council and served on the school board.

Cleveland McDowell also served as a Sunflower County judge from 1978 to 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 1978 and 1987. His friend, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, appeared in the Delta to help with the campaign. For a short time, McDowell was a legislative aide to conservative U. S. Senator Trent Lott. He later became a minister and organized a small church in Drew where he spent most of his days in the last three years of his life.
* * * * *

ON AUGUST 21, 1997 nineteen-year-old Juarez Webb of Indianola was indicted by Sunflower County grand jurors on charges of capital murder and robbery of McDowell. Recently, McDowell had been Webb’s court-appointed attorney on burglary charges.
"The police thought Webb killed Cleve to steal his Cadillac, money and jewelry. It was all missing from his home when his body was found. They said Webb confessed to the killing when he was arrested," Davis says.

Five months later, Webb filed a petition to reduce his plea from capital murder to manslaughter, claiming he "shot and killed Cleve McDowell, without malice, in the heat of passion" and "not in necessary self-defense." At Webb’s preliminary hearing Drew Police Chief Burner Smith had testified that Webb told police "McDowell had thrown him on the floor and tried to pull his pants down to sexually assault him," reported the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Webb’s plea was accepted and charges were reduced. "District Attorney Carlton said accepting Webb’s plea was the best decision" since the case was "not iron-clad" and that McDowell "needed to be remembered for what he did as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement at a time when that wasn’t too popular," the Clarion-Ledger reported.

But then in July, Webb reversed himself again and filed a jailhouse petition to withdraw the manslaughter plea, citing "a series of interrogations, threats and promises [made to him] by various law enforcement officials" and "a series of statements of an incriminating nature [that were] obtained … in taped, written and oral form against the Petitioner’s will and conscent [sic]."

Interrogations, Webb claimed, were "unsolicited" and "initiated by … the instance [sic] of arresting officers and other varies [sic] courthouse officials." Webb said he did not waive his rights to silence or counsel or self-incrimination, but that he was forced unwillingly and without counsel present to answer questions.

Webb said that his family was "repeatedly harassed by law enforcement officials and was told by his attorneys that he would get the death penalty if he did not take a plea for a lesser charge of manslaughter."

And Webb asserted the charge of capital murder was dropped to manslaughter "due to the pressure and threats and unlawful statements obtained as well as other evidence and unlawful arrest against his will."

Webb admitted giving "false statements in court to end the truma [sic] and nightmare and to protect his family from further threats and harassments … [the] guilty pleas was made unwillingly, involuntarily and [he] was coerced to give his plea to avoid a big trial and publicity on his family."

Webb asked to withdraw his plea of guilty and to prove his innocence "so that the real suspect can be caught."

Webb asserted that he was "coerced" into pleading guilty to manslaughter by his attorneys:

"They told me I wasn’t going to be able – I wasn’t going to be able to get nowhere in this case, that I might as well go ahead and take a plea; otherwise, it would be over with me…. I guess they were talking about my life,” Webb stated in his petition.

On July 9, 1999 Circuit Judge Gray Evans denied and dismissed Webb’s motion writing that it had "probably" been a "wise" recommendation by Webb’s attorney to urge Webb to plead guilty to manslaughter rather than face the possibility of a death sentence from a conviction of capital murder.

MEANWHILE, SIX MONTHS after McDowell’s murder, a fire occurred in downtown Drew, devastating the town’s largest department store and the lawyer’s vacant office next door. All of McDowell’s records collected for years on unsolved race-based murders, lynching and related crimes were reportedly destroyed.

Flames were so high that some Cleveland residents could see the "lighted sky" eleven miles away from Drew, according to news accounts. Some Drew residents reported hearing an "explosion" in Drew at the beginning of the fire.

Drew police chief Burner Smith refused to release the records of the fire asserting they are at the Sunflower County Courthouse in Indianola. Smith has since retired.
Hailey Gail Bridges, the Sunflower County assistant district attorney, stated the records, “if they are at the courthouse,” were not available to the public.

Bridges, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, never did get along with McDowell, several former colleagues said. "He would beat her nearly every time in court. And then he would make fun of her. She really hated him," Nettie Davis said.

Like so many other blacks working for voting rights (and pro-integration whites, as well), McDowell was a Sovereignty Commission target and a moderate number of records remain in the commission’s files on him. McDowell had received advance copies of his Sovereignty Commission files “to look over before they were made public” – just one week before he was murdered. McDowell did not appear disturbed over what he saw, Davis said.

One record gave the name of a possible Jackson "homosexual partner" of McDowell’s while him as a young black man on the rise – someone who impressed the Governor. Another record placed him with James Meredith in a homosexual encounter.
* * * * *

SOMEHOW, MCDOWELL KNEW OF his preeminent death; he told his Drew minister, Rev. Jesse Gresham that he expected to die and asked Gresham to conduct the funeral service.

The minister believes McDowell’s murder could have been related to a very large settlement he won for a client who lived near Tunica and “may have involved something to do with a utility company.”

McDowell had had invited Gresham and his wife to dinner shortly before he was murdered. "He said he had won ‘the big’ case he’d been working on and for once had lots of money. I didn’t know much of anything about this case, but I did hear that no attorney in Memphis would take it. Some say there might have been mob involvement."

But Gresham offered another story adding further mystery to McDowell’s murder. Two of McDowell’s close friends independently recalled this same incident that occurred several years before his death:

McDowell learned that a close friend, Henry S. Mims, an Alabama lawyer who also grew up in Drew, was dead – that he “committed suicide.” But McDowell did not believe Mims would kill himself – this was not in his personality.

McDowell and friends decided to drive to Alabama for the funeral, but McDowell said he would "go out first and try to find out what happened" and then call back to give an update before the others left town.

When McDowell arrived, Mims’ widow would not let him view his friend’s body and he learned she was demanding a closed casket during the funeral.

McDowell would not have taken such news sitting down, but most likely went to the funeral home to examine the body himself, Gresham believes. "Cleve would have worked to find out what happened to Mims and he would never take ‘no’ for an answer."

By telephone, McDowell reported Mims’ body displayed "cuts and broken fingers." Something was very wrong with the suicide story, McDowell told Gresham. "It made no sense."

McDowell sounded shaken and said he would not stay for the funeral; he also suggested that his friends not drive to Alabama, as planned, Gresham said.
But McDowell’s friends drove out to the funeral and were surprised at "all of the California people" who attended. "So many, that most of his Mississippi friends could not get inside of the church." Mims was a graduate of the City College of Los Angeles, and apparently had maintained contact with the Californians.

When McDowell and his minister got together back in Drew, McDowell again asserted there was no evidence of a suicide and that Mims showed definite signs of torture; Mims had been found by his wife, "hanging from a ladder inside of his garage," but "the whole thing looked like a setup to make his murder look like a suicide."
And then McDowell said something strange, something "out of character."

“He asked me to promise I would conduct his funeral when the time should come – and he meant it,” Gresham said.

"I thought he was kidding at first, and I told him I would be dying before he would since I’m quite a bit older. But he was serious and he looked scared. I asked him if he knew what happened to Mims and if he knew who did it. He said yes, and then looked down and said nothing else."

For the next several years, McDowell – also a Baptist minister – rigorously decreased time spent working in his law office to build up his church congregation.
"He spent more time picking out the dishes and other special purchases for the church than coming to work," recounted Davis, who with her husband, now deceased, confirmed the Mims story.

"Sometime I’d get worried about Cleve’s absence from the office and tell Cleve ‘we’ might get sued,’" she laughed, explaining that she did a good share of the office work via McDowell’s telephone instructions.

"He just really changed after the Alabama trip, and it was so important for him that everything be done exactly right for the new church. That mattered to him more than anything else."

Mims had visited friends and family in Drew only a few weeks before he died. "He looked fine. He was happy then and I remember we all had dinner together," Davis’ husband said, adding he could not imagine Mims committing suicide.

Mims’ relatives in Drew all refused interviews. One family member said they were afraid to talk, adding “….but don’t give my name.”

Most of McDowell’s friends contacted asked not to be named if they talked about his murder. A former Parchman prison guard explained: "Most of us know that Cleve’s death was not just a matter of a young kid shooting him because he thought Cleve was trying to molest him. Molestation would be impossible, anyway, because Webb was too old, legally, to be molested.

"But, there had been FBI hanging around here, and I personally think Cleve had to be one of the reasons why … his family and friends, I think, are still afraid to talk. They know what it is still like in the Delta, and so do I [since] I know how some of the richest people work."

In 1962, when James Meredith was attempting to enter the University of Mississippi, a "rich, white planter" approached him and "tried to hire me to kill Meredith." Even though the event took place over 40 years ago, the retired guard would not give the planter’s name.

"He wanted me to ‘do something’ about Meredith. Of course, I said no. But that is how it has always been around here – rich white people paying off others, including blacks, to murder black people. They think this keeps us in line. And this has not stopped – it still goes on."
* * * * *

CLEVE MCDOWELL BEGAN his public life as the quieter of two black students breaking grounds at the University of Mississippi. James Meredith in 1972 became the school’s first black student during a pivotal moment in civil rights leading to violence that left two dead and dozens of soldiers and federal marshals wounded. Then in 1966 Meredith was shot while walking from Memphis to Jackson, Miss., to protest racism. Throughout his lifetime, Meredith was known as an outspoken conservative who could easily upset liberals as well as conservatives.

McDowell never made such a splash on the civil rights scene. He was “the briefcase guy” during undergraduate days at Jackson State University where he quietly assisted freedom riders who were coming into Jackson bus stations. And unlike Meredith, his entrance to the University of Mississippi’s law school was quiet and uninterrupted; the Sovereignty Commission spies tried to find evidence to block his application – combing through grade school and high school files, interviewing teachers and family friends – but nothing of any use was found, according to their files.

But through the years, as civil rights heroes Medgar Evers, President John F. Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King, and Sen. Robert Kennedy were all slain, McDowell became more outspoken. Evers, his early mentor, had persuaded him to apply to law school, and through his years of state and national NAACP involvement, McDowell met Rev. King who once visited him in Drew. Rev. Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and a host of others also stopped by McDowell’s office when coming into the region.

McDowell gave countless interviews to the national press about resolution of civil rights murders:

In 1988 he told of his sense of devastation following the murder of Evers for a twenty-fifth anniversary story published by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and called for a watchdog organization to locate and identify persons responsible for civil rights murders, “just as Nazi war criminals were prosecuted.”

“There ought to be some organization to track them down…. Right now some of those people are smiling and grinning in our faces and asking us to vote for them.” McDowell did not elaborate, but stacked in the corner of his Drew office was a growing mound of boxes filled with files holding notes and reports. The same was true of his coffee table at home: between the two sites were every piece of paper McDowell had collected that had to do with a murder, lynching or some other civil rights-based crime, Davis said.

McDowell and two other lawyers (“…. perhaps Texans who went to school with Cleve,” Kwasi McDowell said), were doing their own investigations, by then – from the murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers and forward, gathering every piece of information they could lay their hands on to solve crimes against black people, local, state and national.

In the fall of 1991, McDowell told National Public Radio reporter Vicki Monks there had been “a meticulous effort to reconstruct many of these murders and many of these people are in fact known, but it’s just a question of whether you can get to them legally.”

McDowell was referring specifically to the 1966 murder of an NAACP voting rights organizer whose Hattiesburg store and home were bombed by Klansmen. Appearing with Vernon Damer’s son, Dennis, and a former county district attorney, Jim Dukes, McDowell asserted there was “enough new evidence and enough of a change in attitudes that it’s now possible to get conviction.”

While Duke disagreed, citing passage of time, evidence, deceased witnesses and “the legal constitutional question of speedy trial,” McDowell asserted that convictions were not the point. That it was a matter of making the attempt to address old injustices.

Three years before McDowell was murdered, he spoke to The Philadelphia Inquirer’ Washington Bureau reporter Donna St. George shortly after prosecutors opened their third trial in the Evers case – attempting for the third time to prove that Byron De La Beckwith was the midnight sniper who killed Evers. Two earlier trials had been a “sham,” McDowell told St. George.

THERE IS NO QUESTION that McDowell and several other "well-known" civil rights veterans were quietly gay. It was a time of forced anonymity since gays were considered immoral if not communistic. Their lives would have been in peril had they practiced homosexuality in the open, a London researcher from Queen’s College explained.

Sovereignty Commission files show that agents reported by name any alleged gay behavior of blacks (including a brief mention of McDowell). And yet long-established rumors still circulate throughout Mississippi that Governor Ross Barnett, white and a Citizens Council member, was gay and "slept with at least one well-known black activist." Barnett was governor at the time of Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi and the name usually associated with the late governor is Aaron Henry, a well-known black activist who died in 1996. But no Sovereignty Commission reports regarding Barnett’s sexual behavior – if such records exist – have seen the light of day. Though Commission records alleging Henry’s gay sexual behavior are easily found.

Professor John Howard offered an insight to gay activities in the Mississippi Delta during the Civil Rights Movement in his thesis on "[T]he love that dare not speak its name in the Bible belt."

“Generally speaking, before the 1960s, [gay] Southerners, black and white, participated in similar practices and networks. But they were doing so in two parallel, segregated worlds.”

Howard was not surprised that any of McDowell’s family or friends would share knowledge of McDowell’s secret gay life, and did not question his murder because of their embarrassment.
“A deep-rooted and longstanding homosexual homicide mythology associates gay men with dangerous lifestyles and disgraceful deaths.” Up until the late 1960s, homosexuality in the South was “largely accommodated with pretence of ignorance, a system of mutual discretion in which much was understood but left unsaid,” Howard said.

“….many …. [prefer] silence or subtlety over open confrontation, despite all the whooping and hollering of evangelical ministers.”

Howard questioned rumors that McDowell was a pedophile. “Of course, his enemies would have wanted that sort of idea to circulate. But do you have proof that he had sexual intercourse with children? With pre-pubescent youth? It’s worth mentioning that the legal age of consent here in Great Britain is sixteen for both heterosexual and homosexual sex.”

The professor questioned if McDowell’s partners were “….incapable of consenting? I mention this because such accusations are a classic form of intimidation by white supremacists.

“Bill Higgs [a well-known, white Mississippi civil rights attorney], as you know, was accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old. This may have been true. But it also may have involved what I would refer to as a set of consensual acts. You need only look back several decades to find a time when the age of consent in Southern states was what would now be seen as shockingly low. [The statutory age of sexual consent was increased from 14 to 16 in Mississippi as of January 1, 2000.]

But McDowell’s ghost is fading – helpful for the state of Mississippi and for many of his old friends and family members who appear embarrassed over aspects of his life. The Mississippi civil rights collection housed at the William Winters Library in Jackson shows no records on file for McDowell (even though he was appointed to several state positions by former governor Winters) and curators said they had never heard of him.

Officials from the James O. Eastland School of Law at the University of Mississippi refused to share any records about his short attendance there. When asked for a copy of a letter praising McDowell (its existence acknowledged by a staff member), the school’s dean said the letter did not exist.

Charles McLauren of Indianola, an active civil rights advocate and SNCC member, who knew McDowell well, said he did not want to talk about him and deferred questions to McDowell’s family. Conceding that family members would not talk about McDowell either, McLaurin offered, "They think it’s better to let a sleeping dog lie," before quickly ending the phone call.

One Drew friend of McDowell’s confirmed that she often accompanied the attorney to statewide events, serving as his female companion for appearance sake – “so people wouldn’t know he was gay.” She did not want to give her name.

A young man from McDowell’s home town claimed he was "molested" by McDowell "for years" and "wish I’d shot him, myself." But the Drew native who did not want to state his name said that an attempt in later years to "make [McDowell] look like a pedophile" was a “set-up.” Cleveland parents of a young child made the accusation, he said, “but no charges were ever filed.”

He remembered the day McDowell was murdered. FBI personnel were in Drew "by noon" after McDowell’s body was discovered. "They had been watching him," he said, but gave no details.

Mississippi attorney Constance Slaughter, who’d known McDowell professionally and personally over the years, told Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reporter Eric Stringfellow that

"[Cleve McDowell] has a place in history. I thought he was a person who felt that he had paid his dues and one who knew that he made quite a few sacrifices to try to achieve equality for everybody. He stood up when it was crucial." Slaughter refused to be interviewed for this story, though.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, told Stringfellow that she first met McDowell when he studied at Jackson State University and was involved in the NAACP; the long-time friend was described as speechless when told of McDowell’s death.

Her strongest memories of McDowell were “when [Cleve] applied to Ole Miss and the difficulties and the harassment and how proud I think the entire community was.
"He was one of the few who would mention Medgar as a role model, and he did it during a time when others wouldn’t mention Medgar – either they had forgotten or chose to forget. Whenever Cleve would speak, he would always mention something about Medgar," she said.
* * * * *

THE FAMILIAR SMELL of pan-fried catfish and steamy greens float into the air as an old friend of McDowell’s talked about the man he’d known for so many years.
"The streets are quieter now in Drew. Cleve was so bright and he was a true character.”

Walter Scurlock stopped preparing lunch for a moment at his restaurant on the center block of Drew’s Main Street near McDowell’s former law office and chuckle about his old friend as he recounted several stories of this small town’s first black city councilman and former Masonic leader.

“He would always make sure that everyone’s Masonic dues were paid every year. He would pay them himself just to see that no one lost their membership. He was a conscientious leader.”

Scurlock’s voice warmed when remembering how the small town lawyer would ‘fire’ his secretary every so often. “Oh, she’d stomp home, carrying her pink purse. I can see it now. Sometimes Cleve called out after her, saying he was really sorry and asking her to come back. Other times he walked to her house – sort of like he was crawling there – begging her to come back to the office.”

"Old Cleve was a special kind of guy," Scurlock said with a smile as he set out the day’s fare of deep-fried catfish, collard greens, fried okra and sweet tea.

"I sure miss him – We all do."

Copyright 2007--Susan Klopfer ("Where Rebels Roost; Mississippi Civil Rights Revisisted," )

Monday, February 19, 2007

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth spent time in Mississippi

A 1956 photo of Rev. Shuttlesworth from the Associated Press.

Charlotte Young of Black College Wire has written a brief article on Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth for The News Argus published by Winston-Salem State University.

In 1957, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth joined Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and Bayard Rustin to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which assisted local organizations that helped blacks in the struggle for equality.

Shuttlesworth was one of the key figures in planning the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965. He helped the Congress of Racial Equality organize its Freedom Rides.

He also spent time in the Mississippi Delta where he was often the target of the Sovereignty Commission. Little has been written about the time spent in Mississippi, however.

Here are several Sovereignty Commission links on Rev. Shuttlesworth -- of course, there are many more.

* Rev. Shuttlesworth and Julian Bond are reported attending a conference at Mt. Beulah.

* Rev. Shuttlesworth comes into Jackson as an SLCL representative after protestors are locked up at the state's fairgrounds.

* State spy comments on the Rev. Shuttlesworth

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cleve McDowell worked to discover all of Emmett Till's murderers

Slain sttorney Cleve McDowell and Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign in the Mississippi Delta (as the cotton dust flies through the air). McDowell was murdered in 1997 and questions remain.

With February’s announcement of a second attempt by the U.S. Congress to open civil rights cold case files, questions re-surface over the more recent murder of a Mississippi Delta lawyer and civil rights warrior.

Cleve McDowell was killed just ten years ago – an act too recent to be investigated under the pretext of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named after the 14-year-old African American from Chicago who was killed in 1955. Investigation and court records of McDowell’s death remain sealed.


Ten years ago on March 17 friends and family of a Mississippi attorney and civil rights veteran discovered his dead body slumped against the bathroom wall.

Cleve McDowell had been shot to death in his own home.

A Sunflower County judge slapped a gag order on the ensuing investigation and a decade later the same order remains on all public records of McDowell’s slaying – even though McDowell’s murderer was caught and convicted before the year was over.

McDowell was the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi law school. And once a lawyer, he never gave up investigating Emmett Till’s racially motivated murder that took place only several miles away from McDowell’s childhood home – plus the murders of countless others caught up in Mississippi’s civil rights battles of the 1950s and beyond.

The Drew, Mississippi native’s body was surrounded by dozens of guns – powerful handguns and rifles – all purchased over the years by McDowell for self-protection.

Initial news reports of McDowell’s murder from the Associated Press indicated

McDowell, 56, was found dead in an upstairs bathroom early that morning after relatives called police to say the door to his apartment was open and his car missing. Police continued to look for McDowell's Cadillac for two days before discovering it in a small, nearby town.

McDowell had been a public defender in Sunflower County for three decades. He was part of a group of black leaders organizing to pressure district attorneys and revive interest in many never-prosecuted cases in which blacks were killed for doing civil rights work.

During the 1980s, McDowell was the executive field director of the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

* * *

Yet no journalists’ stories have ever revealed that McDowell was killed one week before the first public release of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files, secret government records kept on private citizens officially spied on by state officials from 1954 until 1972.

After losing a 21-year battle with the American Civil Liberties Union, Mississippi was forced into turning over thousands of Commission records that would eventually aid in solving the murders of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and others who’d worked for social justice during those turbulent years, including Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

Many of the Sovereignty Commission’s most secret records are believed to be missing, however, and McDowell’s private collection of his own investigations might have helped to fill in some of the blanks. McDowell had looked into a number of murders and other crimes over the past thirty years and stored these personal records in his Drew office.

Six months after McDowell’s death, those papers disappeared at the time of an office fire in downtown Drew.

McDowell’s former office manager states that files on the Emmett Till case were undoubtedly included in her boss’s collection of stacked boxes and in his locked office safe.

“He never let me go through any of those papers. So I don’t really know what he had. But he often spoke to Emmett’s mother and promised he would find out what happened to her son and who was involved in his murder. I know Cleve talked to her just a month before he was killed,” Nettie Davis said.

Here are some old McDowell links. Of course, there are more for you to discover. sk

Link 1/photo

Link 2/news story of entry to U of Miss.