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.

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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.
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Looks like they left out a little … sk