Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Searching for Information on John D. Sullivan

Cold weather is great for reading books. And I've been holed up for the past week doing just that while trying to learn more about John D. Sullivan, a Vicksburg, Miss. private detective and former FBI agent, who "committed suicide" Oct. 23, 1966, three years after the assassination of JFK.

El tiempo frío es grande para los libros de la lectura. Y para la última semana intenta aprender más sobre Juan D. Sullivan, un Vicksburg, Mississippi detective privado y agente anterior de FBI, que “suicidio confiado” Oct. 23, 1966, tres años después del asesinato de JFK.Por coincidencia, el Sr. Sullivan fue un empleado de Guy Banister de Nueva Orleans y Banister fue un empleado de FBI

Sullivan, who often performed contract work for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a hunting accident -- shooting himself in the groin with a rifle and then bleeding to death(no kidding).

By coincidence, Mr. Sullivan had been working under contract for Guy Banister of New Orleans.

For those who do not recall Banister, this former FBI agent in 1963 began working for Mafia criminal defense lawyer G. Wray Gill and Gill's client, Carlos Marcello.

Marcello was the New Orleans-based Godfather of the American Mafia Family whose operations were centered in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.

Bannister's involvement with Marcello centered on attempts to block Marcello's deportation, ordered by Robert F. Kennedy.

"Upon being named Attorney General by his brother, RFK had his agents arrest Carlos Marcello and deport the Godfather to the country of his alleged birth, Guatemala. Literally dumped into the jungles of South America, Marcello somehow fought his way out of this dilemma, possibly with the help of pilot David Ferrie, and soon returned to the United States. Once back home in the swamps of Louisiana, the Godfather reportedly vowed Vengeance against the Kennedys, uttering the following Sicilian curse: "LIVARSI NA PIETRA DI LA SCARPA!" (rough translation: "Take the stone from my shoe!")."

Did Sullivan know too much? Some who were close to the Mississippian believe this is so.

Anyone out there with information on Sullivan? Pictures?


Early Sov Comm report on Clarksdale filed by Zack J. VanLandingham

Landingham was a retired FBI agent.

Sullivan running for Cohoma County Sheriff

Sullivan had frequent contact with U.S. Senator James O. Eastland

Soon after the Kennedy assassination, Sullivan suggested the Sovereignty Commission hire Guy Bannister [sic] to beef up the commission's work.

When Sullivan died, the Sovereignty Commission wanted his records ...

Oops, Mrs. Sullivan "burned" his files ...

Spying on the Mennonites for the state's General Legislative Investigative Committee

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Who Planned JFK's Assassination?

In his fascinating book on the JFK assassination, Michael Collins Piper writes in Final Judgment that Carlos Marcello "has become a favorite target for JFK assassination researchers who like to claim that 'The Mafia Killed JFK'."

But Piper asserts that Marcello was only "one cog" in the Meyer Lansky Syndicate. "[Marcello's] key placement in New Orleans -- scene of much of the pre-assassination planning -- makes him the perfect fall guy...There's a lot more to the Marcello story that meets the eye."
Here's an interesting Marcello link in the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Files.

*Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Who Killed President John F. Kennedy? Civil Rights Activists Blamed Segregationists


Who killed President John F. Kennedy? In Mississippi, members of the Jackson Movement, an organization constantly spied on by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, put out a report after the death of JFK listing segregationists and "Communist Hate Team" as part of the "long list of murderers."

Here is a link to the Commission's record -- a copy of the Jackson Movement Report ...

The Jackson Movement also wrote of the murder of Medgar Evers, Mississippi's first NAACP Field Secretary. Sovereignty Commission spies frequently spied on and harassed Evers.

In this Sovereignty Commission 1959 record, agent Zack Van Landingham informs his boss on the current activities of Evers and others.

Here is a link to the above picture/flyer written about President Kennedy the San Diego Patriotic Society (blaming communists and the ACLU for Kennedy's murder.) Or click directly on the picture to bring up the record.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

JFK. Parkland. Trauma Room One.

Chief anesthesiologist for 33 years at Parkland Hospital, M. T. Jenkins, M.D., led the medical efforts to revive President John F. Kennedy. Jenkins' daughter, Christie Jenkins, shares the story told by her father -- a version that contradicts that of Dr. Charles Crenshaw, a gunshot expert, also a member of the treatment team on that fateful day, Nov. 22, 1963.

Crenshaw tells his own version in Trauma Room One: The JFK Medical Coverup Exposed

Ready to look at the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission's Kennedy records?

Go to the Mississippi Sovereignty Site and search for
Kennedy, John Fitzgerald
Also John F., John, Jack
Also Jacquie and Jacqueline

Here is one record, under Jack Kennedy, to get started. A minister has written to the Sovereignty Commission complaining about the president.

The letter, written to director Erle Johnston, is dated Nov. 21, 1963

JFK Assassination Tour: Where Lee Harvey Oswald Was Shot By Jack Ruby

Where the trail ends?

Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed as he walked through the area behind the brown doors,across the street.Some believe Jack Ruby was acting strictly out of anger, something for which Ruby was known. Further, Ruby had left his small dogs waiting for him in his car -- pets he always took to work. Would he have brought the dogs with him if he knew he would be arrested?

But what about Ruby' documented Chicago mob affiliations?

That's one of many topics discussed by retired FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen in To Kill A President: Finally---An Ex-FBI Agent rips aside the veil of secrecy that killed JFK and in FBI Secrets: An Agents Expose

The author served in the US Navy and holds a BA from Ohio State. Swearingen received the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice President's Award for Courage, Commitment, Unswerving Faith and United Effort to overcome racism.

Search Sovereignty Commission files for Jack Ruby files here

Meanwhile, here's a Sovereignty Commission link on the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

JFK Assassination Conference: Where Oswald Questioned

Old City Hall where Oswald was questioned on the third floor.

Was Oswald ever in Mississippi?

Letter to the Sovereignty Commission by University of Mississippi professor

Follow up memo to FBI

Both documents were found in the Mary Ferrell archives.

JFK Assassination Tour: Following the Trail?

Location and spot where this photo of Lee Harvey Oswald with his rifle; the photograph was purportedly taken by Marina Oswald of her husband and appeared on cover of LIFE Magazine Feb. 21,1964.
This spot was another Dallas residence for the Oswald family.
But where did the other shooters come from? Chicago? France?
And is this photo for real or is it just another attempt to manufacture the Oswald story?

Was there a connection between Oswald and Jack Ruby? Here's an article posted in the Sovereignty Commission files that explores this question.

A Dallas Apartment Where Oswalds Once Lived

The Texas Theatre

Theatre where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested within the hour of the shooting of JFK. Oswald's eye- witnessed killing of Officer Tippit took place about one mile away from the Texas Theatre, about 30 minutes before he was arrested.

JFKConference: Taking a Tour of Landmarks

The Dallas rooming house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived.

What was the extent of the CIA's involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald? Why was Oswald's file tampered with before the assassination of John F. Kennedy? And why did significant documents from that file mysteriously disappear?

Oswald and the CIA: The Documented Truth Anout the Unknown Relationship Between the U.S. Government and the Alleged Killer of JFK

Legacy of Secrecy: New Info RFK, JFK, MLK

Blogging from the JFK Lancer annual meeting: Author Lamar Waldron is talking about links to JFK and RFK assassinations to mobster Carlos Marcello. Says new documents to be linked to www.maryferrell.org and are on his book site at legacyofsecret.com.

Found that FBI targeted more than a dozen of Marcello associates and family members but Marcello's name is never mentioned in the Warren Commission report.

Waldron has now found evidence of Marcello involvement in MLK using Joseph Peltier of Quinton, Georgia. James Earl Ray went to Atlanta before leaving the country. Why? To ask for Peltier's help, Waldron says.

All that secrecy of 1963 and JFK assassination boomeranged against MLK.

Waldron wants all assassination records made open now. "We need hearings on the JFK Act."

Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination

Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK

Day 3 JFK Conference: RFK Assassination

Larry Hancock, key JFK researcher and author of "Someone Would Have Talked" says in Robert Kennedy's murder, conspiracy aspects are very possible but in his research found no MKULTRA contacts. Hancock recently published a study of the RFK assassination titled "Incomplete Justice" in conjunction with the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

Someone Would Have Talked: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Conspiracy to Mislead History

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jim Marrs, author of Crossfire speaks on JFK Assassination

Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy

JFK remembered: Dallas Nov. 22, 2008

Why JFK on a Mississippi Sovereignty Commission page? In these files are records on John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Allen Dulles, J. Edgar Hoover, Lee Harvey Oswald, Guy Bannister, John D. Sullivan, James Eastland, and others.

Take a look for yourself at http://mdah.state.ms.us/arlib/contents/er/sovcom

JFK: The grassy knoll

The Overpass

Where did the shots come from and where did they hit? How many shots were fired?

Which Building?

Numerous controversies surround findings of the Warren Commission. Take a look at http://historymatters.com
This photo shows the Texas School Book Depository,left, and the DalTex building, right. Where did the shots come from?

Friday, November 21, 2008

JFK Lancer Dinner


Ongoing Blog ... Notes from Lancer JFK Conference in Dallas.

"The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin.."
Nicholas Katzenbach

"There has to be more to it."
Ted Kennedy

"We really blew it on the Kennedy assassination."
Dan Rather

"Hoover lied his eyes out."
Hale Boggs

"He looked far ahead and he wanted to change a great deal. Perhaps that is the key to the mystery of the death of President John F. Kennedy."
Mikhail Gorbechev

Why Did Hoover Own Stock in DalTex Business? Author Shares Strange Story

Larry Hancock,leading JFK researcher, is presenting on the Mystery of the DalTex building. Photos taken show police officers looking at this building when shots were first fired. In his research, Hancock found a business, Dallas Uranium and Oil, with no assets, business or employees. It was a shell. One of Jack Ruby's employees also worked in the same building at the time.

Today the business has turned into -- another shell business.

"You can lose lots of sleep at night over this stuff."

The DalTex is a building where a shot could have been fired from, Hancock believes. Especially since in his research he found one stockholder listed for the Dallas Uranium and Oil Company--J. Edgar Hoover owned one share.

Author of New Book "To Kill a President": 21-Year FBI Veteran

Wes Swearingen is speaking quietly. The author of FBI Secrets said he knew JFK was going to be killed before it happened and tried to get his superiors to so something about it but got nowhere.

A Cuban exile said the CIA was going to do it. "At first I thought he was crazy."

But he had received credible information before from Ramon about the CIA and the Bay of Pigs.

A handful of rogue CIA agents did it, Swearingen said. Decided to tell what he knows after the death of E. Howard Hunt.

JFK Conference: Crime Scene Expert Reconstructs Crime Scene

Sherry Fiester, a certified crime scene investgator is explaining the science of ballistics. Must look at angular orientation to wounds in relation to car. Showing all possible trajectories. "Evidence supports shot from grassy knoll."

Who Found Gun? JFK Conference Speaker -- Brit Detective -- Shares Findings

Who found the rifle?
I am at the annual JFK conference sponsored by Lancer Publications.
Current speaker, British crime researcher Ian Griggs, has studied this crime for 35 years.
P. K. Wilkins, the officer who assisted with the search, was introduced by Griggs as the correct officer. There has been dispute over this for years and Griggs has gone through an analysis of all candidates to make his case.
Why am I posting here? There are many Mississippi links and ties that I will be sharing. Start with John D. Sullivan. See what you can find!

More later,


Monday, November 17, 2008

SCLC Mississippi Volunteer; 'Cannon Fodder in the Cold War'

When college student Jo Freemen volunteered to go into Mississippi as a field worker for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), little did she know that she would be spied upon.

"Not until 1997 did I discover that the actual source of the editorial and photos was the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, an official state agency of which I was completely unaware in 1966. And only after extensive research did I realize that I and others like me were not just foot soldiers in the civil rights movement, but cannon fodder in the Cold War," Freeman wrote for a history journal.

Her article, a detailed history of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, is fascinating. At least 28 files appear with her name --

Hre's a handwritten letter to the Sovereignty Commission about Freeman


To find more links, visit the archives at http://www.mdah.state.ms.us/arlib/contents/er/sovcom/

Fannie Lou Hamer: Frequent Target of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony [Democratic National Convention, 1964] wasn't the whole truth. A recent biography of Hamer, "For Freedom's Sake," by University of Georgia professor Chana Kai Lee, reveals that she omitted a key fact: She had also been sexually abused by the law enforcement officers.

Lee implies that Hamer did not tell the Credentials Committee that she was sexually abused because she was a "modest and dignified" woman, but I think it also must have been in her mind that if she testified on national television that the Mississippi police had also sexually abused her that day, she probably would have been murdered when she returned from the convention.

Continued --


There are a host of links to Mrs. Hamer in Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files. Name spellings vary, i.e., Fanie, Fannie L, Fannie Lou, Fanny, Mrs. Hamer, etc.

Here is one

Hamer linked to Communism

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sen. John McCain: Mississippi Roots

I ran into a fascinating article about Sen. John McCain --

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article and accompanying video about the McCain families in Carroll County, Mississippi: the descendants of John McCain's ancestors who still remain in the area where those ancestors owned a cotton plantation (Teoc), and the descendants of the slaves who worked that plantation and took their owners' surname. The McCains have a biannual reunion where family members of both groups of descendants meet.

Charles McCain, grandson of a slave at Teoc, the white McCain plantation, was active in the Civil Rights Movement:

Charles McCain was a central figure in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. When civil-rights workers swarmed Mississippi in 1964, the black McCains housed white activists and received bomb threats and harassing calls.

Continued --

Link to Charles McCain record in the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Link to Charlie McCain

To find all McCain Links -- Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Roy Moore: FBI agent who pursued Ku Klux Klan killers

Nothing in Moore’s career could have prepared him for the challenge of protecting civil rights workers in the South. Born in Oregon in 1914, his early life was spent about as far from the Deep South as was possible for an American child. As a young man he served in the Marine Corps, before joining the FBI in 1938 as a clerk. In 1940 he became an agent, progressing quickly through the ranks.

By 1960, Moore had been promoted to the “number one man” in charge of training and inspection at FBI headquarters. From there he was dispatched to the hottest spots in the Southern civil rights movement, ending up in Birmingham and then Mississippi. Here, Moore became determined to break the Ku Klux Klan. He offered one informant 25000, which led to the discovery of the corpses. His team found that 25 people had been involved in the plot, including two Neshoba County officers.

But local law enforcement agencies refused to co-operate. In 1966, Martin Luther King spoke at a rally in Neshoba County and complained that “the murderers of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner are no doubt within the range of my voice”. A voice from a group of white men replied: “Ya damn right. We’re right here behind you.”

In 1967, governor Paul Johnson jnr — who opposed the Klan — agreed with Moore that the FBI agents should give their evidence to the federal government rather than to the Neshoba County authorities. The federal government tried 19 men for violation of civil rights. An all-white jury found seven men guilty. The suspected mastermind, Edgar Killen, was found not guilty.
Continued --

I found SOV COMM files that pull up under Roy Moore and Roy K. Moore.

Link to search Name Files

Thursday, November 06, 2008

45 Years Ago JFK Assassinated; Were There Mississippi Roots?

Few structures remain in Doddsville, Miss., plantation home of Sen. James O. Eastland.

On Friday November 22, 1963, news bulletins hit the airwaves as rifle shots interrupted President John F. Kennedy's Dallas motorcade. The resulting three-day news marathon concluded only after the young president was buried.

Reporters moved on to the investigative phase of JFK's assassination but finally left the topic for fresh news. Yet conspiracy theorists and others have kept the debate alive over what happened forty-two years ago, who was involved, and why.

Interestingly, there are numerous asides to Mississippi's civil rights story but perhaps none quite so compelling (and less known) as this: Seven years before JFK was assassinated, the magnolia state's Sen. James O. Eastland met for the first time with Guy Banister, a controversial CIA operative and retired FBI agent in charge of the Chicago bureau.

Banister -- remember him as the man who "pistol-whipped" David Ferrie in Oliver Stone's film "JFK" -- was later linked to Lee Harvey Oswald and Mississippi's senator through Eastland's Senate Internal Security Subcommittee or SISS (sometimes called "SISSY").

The New Orleans Times-Picayune on March 23, 1956, reported that Robert Morrison, a former chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy's House Unamerican Activities Committee or HUAC, and Banister traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, to confer personally with Senator Eastland for more than three hours. Describing the conference as "completely satisfactory," Morrison told the reporter that "Mr. Banister has complete liaison with the committee's staff which was the main object of our trip."

Apparently cozying up to Eastland and "SISSY" was Banister's goal. And it worked.

Known as a notorious political extremist who was later described as the impetus for James Garrison’s 1967-1970 Kennedy assassination probe, Banister earlier became a brief focus of Mississippi's secret spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission, when it was suggested Banister should be hired to set up an "even tighter" domestic spying system throughout the state.

A second Eastland operative, private investigator John D. Sullivan of Vicksburg, made this suggestion to the commission just months after the JFK assasination, according to released Sovereignty Commission records.

Former FBI agent Sullivan had worked under Banister (both inside the FBI and privately) and as a private self-employed investigator who often did work for hire for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; the private white Citizens Councils, of which he was an active member; and for SISS, as had Banister and Lee Harvey Oswald.

When Sullivan reportedly committed suicide following the assassination, Sovereignty Commission investigators tried to acquire his library and files, but most of his confidential files were either reportedly burned by his widow or they had been lent out, and she "could not remember" who had them, Sovereignty Commission files disclose.

Then some twenty-nine years later, in testimony before the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board during a Dallas hearing on November 18, 1994, the late Senator Eastland was directly implicated in the president’s assassination by one of the author/theorists invited to testify.

“Lee Harvey Oswald was quite possibly an agent of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and he was doing the bidding of [Sen. Thomas J.] Dodd and Eastland and Morrison,” author John McLaughlin swore.

Documentation that could support or even discredit such assertions could perhaps be present in the Eastland archives at the University of Mississippi, but no objective scholar has been allowed to search these archives since the day they arrived on campus. Instead, Eastland's records were managed for years by a former associate and devoté who followed the papers from Washington, D.C. to Oxford.

Finally in 2005, after an unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request by this author, a historian was hired to organize the archives based in the James O. Eastland School of Law at Ole Miss. But there would still be a waiting period before any of the files could be viewed, according to the school's dean.

The plan was to release first all press releases, according to the historian who also confirmed that"many important files" were probably missing -- that the files looked “cleaned out.”

(The Dean of the law school, when presented a FOIA for access to Eastland archives, asked while laughing if he could “just show the rejection letter written to the last person who asked for this information." Later it came back to this author that “people at Ole Miss were really angry” over the FOIA request.)


[1] “Banister, FBI Chief Since February, to Leave Post Nov. 30,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov 19, 1954, Part 2, Page 12.

[2] Citation for this newspaper article (“NOTP, March 23, 1956, p. 1”) comes from the online Jerry P. Shinley Archive “Re: Jim Garrison and the SCEF Raids.”

[3] William Davy, “Let Justice Be Done,” (Jordan Publication, May 12, 1999), 1. On the weekend of the assassination, Banister pistol-whipped his employee Jack Martin, after Martin accused him of killing Kennedy. Martin eventually spoke to authorities.

[4] Sovereignty Commission documents SCR ID # 7-0-8-89-1-1-1 and SCR ID # 2-56-1-20-1-1-1.

[5] Sovereignty Commission documents SCR ID # 99-36-0-2-1-1-1 SCR ID # 1-16-1-21-1-1-1, SCR ID # 1-26-0-5-2-1-1, SCR ID # 2-2-0-19-1-1-1, SCR ID # 1-24-0-11-1-1-1

[6] After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, A. J. Weberman, a “Dylanologist,” “garbologist” and Kennedy conspiracist wrote that he received this communication from Sullivan's grandson, Jeremy Sullivan: "I was told that he commited suicide but my dad didn't think so. He told me there was an investigation and the FBI was involved. They deemed it suicide. The story I heard had changed depending on who told it, I believe that they had been out fishing all day and John Daniel had been drinking. After they got home, he was alone in his room and there was a gunshot and he was found dead." Also, Weberman stated that Jim Garrison had an undisclosed case against Sullivan in 1961. Per a “Memo for the Director” by Betsy Palmer on April 19, 1978, regarding the “HSCA.” From A.J. ajweberman and Michael Canfield, “Coup D'Etat in America, The CIA and the Assassination of John Kennedy,” (New York City, The Third Press, 1975) Nodule II.

[7] Online minutes of testimony before the Assassination Records Review Board, November 18, 1994. Dallas, Texas. Testimony of John McLaughlin aka John Bevilaqua, Harvard University graduate and systems analyst, also a Kennedy assassination theorist. McLaughlin was testifying why he needed to see documents from HUAC and SISS. He had also requested military records of Wycliff P. Draper, head of the Draper Committees and Pioneer Fund. Mississippi had been the benefactor of Draper money in its fight against the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and in funding of private white academies per Sovereignty Commission reports.

[8] Eastland’s name has also been associated with the murder of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King, U. S. Senator Robert Kennedy and with the mass murder at a U. S. Army base located in Mississippi of potentially 1,000 black soldiers during World War II.

[9] The former Eastland aid has since retired.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rev. George Lee: Sovereignty Commission Investigated the Slain Minister

The Rev. George Lee, voting rights advocate, murdered in Belzoni, Miss.

Some voters who stood in lines to elect this country's first black president, may have spent some of the long hours remembering stories people who gave their lives for this moment.

The story of Rev. George Washington Lee of Belzoni, Miss., would surely be one to remember.

Lee, the first black person to register to vote in Humphreys County since Reconstruction, was shot to death on a neighborhood street while driving his car on the night of May 7, 1955.

Those who knew Lee -- and there were many -- say the Baptist minister was brutalized and killed by white men angered over his voting rights advocacy.

BOTH LEE AND his friend Gus Courts ran small grocery businesses and were targets of Belzoni's White Citizen's Councils, formally organized Klan-influenced organizations initiated in the Delta in 1954 to scare black citizens away from the polls and keep integration from taking place.

Lee often used his pulpit and his printing press to urge others to take action and vote. White officials once offered protection on the condition he end his voter registration efforts, but Lee refused.

Heading the town's new NAACP Chapter, Courts was ordered by his banker to turn over all NAACP books and when he refused, Courts was told to leave town. But he stayed. Courts once was handed a list of ninety-five blacks registered in Humphreys County by a Citizens Council member who warned that anyone not removing their name from the voting list would lose their job. He later testified about his experiences before a Congressional Committee.

Both men had tried for years to pay poll taxes in order to vote and were finally allowed to sign the register only after the county sheriff feared federal prosecution. Casting a ballot required a separate battle.

THE DAY OF REV. LEE'S murder, almost a year after Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education and three months before the lynching of Emmett Till in nearby Sunflower County, he and Courts met and talked about the latest warning.

Lee had received an anonymous death threat demanding he remove his name from the voting list and told Courts that he had a strange feeling about this particular threat.

That night as Reverend Lee drove his car along Belzoni's Church Street, two gun blasts shattered the night stillness, and the minister's Buick sedan swerved over the curb and rammed into a frame house. With the lower left side of his face gone, Rev. Lee staggered from the wreckage but died as he was being driven to the Humphreys County Memorial Hospital. When NAACP leader Medgar Evers arrived from Jackson to investigate Lee's murder, he was told by Sheriff Ike Shelton that Lee lost control of his car and died from the crash; the lead pellets found in his jaw tissues were dental fillings.

An autopsy was not necessary for the "freak accident," Shelton said.

But at Mrs. Lee's insistence, two black physicians examined her husband's body and reported the tissues contained pellets "fired at close range from a high-powered gun." They also found powder burns. Over the next few days, Evers and two national NAACP representatives met with eyewitnesses and the full story emerged:

Lee had been followed by three men in another car. His right rear tire was punctured by a rifle shot and as he slowed, the second car "pulled parallel and a shotgun was fired point-blank into his face. There were also descriptions of the three men, with tentative identifications."

Evers always doubted that any FBI investigation took place, since there was never any public report "or even a solid rumor" as to what was in the report.

Rev. Lee's murder was a cold-blooded answer to demands for equal treatment coming from more Mississippi blacks and was backed by the lies of the sheriff and local police, Evers later reported; Evers was assassinated ten years later in his Jackson driveway by a Delta Klansman and member of the white Citizens Council. Questions remain over Evers' murder.

Aaron Henry,a popular civil rights leader (who lived long enough to die a natural death), asserted, "We felt we needed protection because the past had taught us that when one Negro is killed, stay out of town if your skin is black."

But surprisingly, no protection was needed at the public funeral that took place in Belzoni.

"There wasn't a white man on the streets the day of the service, except for the press. There was a great turnout of Negroes for the funeral. This large presence of Negroes and absence of whites marked a turning point," Henry reported. As Henry predicted, the murder of Rev. Lee became a critical turning point back in 1955; his untimely death would help prompt later passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) -- one of the most successful civil rights laws in American history, guaranteeing millions of minority voters the equal

VRA ended literacy tests, poll taxes and other methods of keeping blacks from voting that had long poisoned the roots of this country's democracy. In 1964, only 300 African Americans served in public office nationwide, including just three in Congress. But recently, more than 9,100 black elected officials were serving, including 43 members of Congress, the largest number ever, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. often simply called Inc.

WOULD BARACK OBAMA know the story of Rev. George Lee. "Oh, I'm very sure he know this story," said Margaret Block, the sister of civil rights advocate Sam Block and a civil rights veteran, herself.

"The story of Rev. George Lee is one that we simply do not forget. It is so important to this country's history. And I'm very certain that our new president knows of Rev. Lee and much more about the brave men and women, black and white, who fought so hard for this day to come."

Some interesting links ...

Letter to Atty. Gen. from NAACP


Other records











Susan Klopfer, journalist and author, writes on civil rights in Mississippi. Her newest books, "Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited" and "The Emmett Till Book" are now in print. "Where Rebels Roost" focuses on the Delta, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Amzie Moore and many other civil rights foot soldiers. Emphasis on unsolved murders of Delta blacks from mid 1950s on...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Socialist? Term Often Linked to Blacks

Part II: Shame on McCain, Palin for using an old code word for black

By Lewis Diuguid, Kansas City Star Editorial Page columnist

The PBS documentary, “Soldiers Without Swords” shows heroic scenes of black World War I and World War II soldiers and touching moments of black people celebrating in the streets of America at the end of the Second World War. Until that film debuted in the 1990s, I and a lot of African Americans had never seen such moving, memorable footage. It had been excluded from the history we studied in school and from the mainstream media.

So it is no surprise to me that tens of thousands of white people spoke with one thunderous roar against my Oct. 21 Midwest Voices blog post, criticizing Sen. John McCain and his GOP presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for dredging up the old “socialist” label to apply to their Democratic rival for the White House, Sen. Barack Obama.

I wrote that the word “socialist” had long ugly historical roots. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, used the term liberally to label white and black leaders as “un-American” because they dared to fight for equality. The news media and eventually textbooks reported on white people who became enveloped in Hoover’s crusade against socialists and communists during the Red scare. But the stories of how the FBI damaged black leaders didn’t make the press just as the everyday and success stories of African Americans were excluded from mainstream coverage.

Continued --

Here's a Sovereignty Commission Link with a "report" on Socialists ...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Emmett Till TV Program Set Oct. 5

A note from civil rights film producer Keith Beauchamp --

Dear Friends,

Please remember to watch, "Murder in Black and White" hosted by Al Sharpton Oct. 5th - 8th on TV One 10pm EST (9pm CST).


Keith A. Beauchamp
Executive Producer/ Director
"Murder in Black and White"


Emmett Till Crime Bill Passes Senate; 3 Years Delay

Sumner, Miss., site of the trial of Emmett Till's murderers. The Tallahatchie County Courthouse appears in the distance.Emmett Till,from Chicago,was visiting his uncle in the small cotton town of Money when he was murdered. The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, named for him, passed the U.S. Senate unanimously, Sept. 24.

by Ronni Mott
October 1, 2008

If there is any doubt that the wheels of power grind slowly, the U.S. Senate proved the point this week, when, after more than three years of delays, it unanimously passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which will strengthen federal and local agencies’ abilities to investigate and prosecute unsolved civil rights era murders.

The act, which was first proposed in July 2005, after the Senate passed a resolution to apologize for lynching, passed in the House June 20, 2007, with nearly unanimous approval (422-2). Since then, it has languished for more than 15 months in the Senate due entirely to the “hold” put on the bill by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., which the Democratic Caucus’s Senate Journal Web site characterized as “petty procedural maneuvers.”

Continued in the Jackson Free Press

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Park Honors Emmett Till

The grocery store in Glendora, Miss., where Till whistled at the grocer's wife.

Emmett Till Park to open in Mississippi Delta town
By TIMOTHY R. BROWN | Associated Press Writer
1:53 PM CDT, September 16, 2008

JACKSON, Miss. - A 20-acre park and nature trail in memory of Emmett Till will open Friday in the tiny Mississippi Delta town of Glendora, almost 53 years to the day after an all-white jury acquitted two white men in the brutal murder of the black teenager.

The Emmett Till Memorial Park & Interpretive Nature Trail is an extension of a museum honoring the Chicago 14-year-old whose death helped bring national attention to the brutality of segregation. The park will include picnic pavilions, a baseball field and an outdoor stage.

Till was kidnapped Aug. 28, 1955, from his uncle's home in the rural community of Money after being accused of whistling at a white woman. Three days later, a fisherman spotted Till's mangled body in the Tallahatchie River.

The teen's body was unrecognizable, except for a ring. Till's mother insisted on a public viewing and funeral in Chicago. Pictures of the brutalized body shocked the world.

Story Continued --

Glendora is the same town where Clinton Melton was murdered, soon after the trial ended that found Till's murderers innocent.
* * *

Once the 1955 J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant trial ended in Sumner, Mississippi for the murder of Emmett Till, less than a month later in the nearby small cotton town of Glendora, a black service station attendant and father of four children was killed by a friend of Milam’s.

Elmer Kimball murdered Clinton Melton and then nineteen days later, Melton’s young wife was killed, only a week before Kimball’s murder trial opened.

Fourteen-year-old Till of Chicago was visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta at the end of August when he was kidnapped, tortured and killed after he was accused of whistling at a white store clerk.

* * * * *
Check out the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files at http://mdah.state.ms.us/arlib/contents/er/sovcom/
where you will find numerous files under Emmett Till and Clinton Melton.

* * * * *

Then in December, Clinton Melton was murdered only four miles from where Emmett Till’s body was dumped into the Tallahatchie River six months earlier. Kimball, Milam's friend, had lived in Glendora for a short time, managing a local cotton gin, and had an account at the gas station where Melton worked.

On the day of the murder, Kimball, 35, was driving a car borrowed from his friend, J.W. Milam, one of the two men accused and acquitted of killing Till, when he drove to the gas station and asked for a fill-up. Melton’s daughter, Deloris Melton Gresham, was a toddler when her parents were killed, but she later was told what occurred at the service station:

"When Kimball drove up to the station, my father’s boss told my father to go out and fill up his car. But when he was done filling the car, Kimball went into a rage and said he only wanted a dollar’s worth of gas, and that he was going to go home and get his gun to shoot him. The gas station owner tried to talk him down, but couldn’t. He told him my father was a good negro and that he did not deserve to be hurt. He really pleaded with Kimball."

As soon as Kimball left, his boss told him that he had better leave, fast. But his car was out of gas and he had to fill it first. Kimball came right back and began shooting at my father. Another man was in his car with him, and yelled for him not to shoot. He jumped out of the car and ran into the station to hide. On arrest, Kimball claimed Melton shot at him first. McGarrh [the white owner of the gas station] denied this, adding that Melton did not have a gun at any time during the quarrel. A bullet hole was found in the windshield of Melton's parked car.

An angry Southern newspaper publisher, Hodding Carter, reacted to the murder of one of "Mississippi’s own," comparing it to the Till case in a Delta-Times editorial:

[Melton] was no out-of-state smart alec. He was home-grown and "highly respected.".... There was no question of an insult to Southern womanhood. There was only an argument about … gasoline. There was no pressure by the NAACP, "credited" with the outcome of the Till trial.... So another "not guilty" verdict was written at Sumner this week. And it served to cement the opinion of the world that no matter how strong the evidence, nor how flagrant is the apparent crime, a white man cannot be convicted in Mississippi for killing a negro.

LITTLE ATTENTION was given to the death of Gresham’s mother that occurred on or around December 21, 1955, approximately nineteen days after Clinton Melton was killed on December 3. Officially, her mother’s death was blamed on faulty driving. "Later, a relative told me that was not true, that everyone knew she was run off the road," Gresham said.

Gresham, a toddler at the time, recalled being trapped inside her mother’s car as it sank to the bottom of a murky bayou near Glendora. A relative driving by saved her life and that of her baby brother. But Beulah Melton drowned.

"My mother was a pretty woman, known for being bright and outspoken," Gresham said. "People who knew her have told me we are very much alike – both in looks and in personality."

Beulah Melton had been picking up information on her husband’s death and would have been a "problem" for Kimball at the trial, Gresham said.

From news accounts and the talk around Glendora, there was no provocation of her father’s killing. It was outright murder, according to white witnesses, including the white service station owner. The Melton family was well known in Glendora. Clinton Melton had lived there all his life and, "for once, white people spoke out against the killing of a negro. The local Lions Club adopted a resolution branding the murder ‘an outrage’ [and pledging to donate $400 to the family]," Myrlie Evers, the wife of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, later wrote.

Melton’s widow told Medgar Evers she feared justice would not be done if the NAACP interested itself in the case, and asked him not to become involved. "Her wishes were respected."

In a later investigation after her death, Medgar Evers discovered the club had given the widow only twenty-six dollars and that a local white minister had given her sixty dollars of his own.

Relatives took in Delores Melton Gresham and her siblings, and Gresham continued to live in Glendora with her grandmother. "My grandfather was so upset, he left Glendora and never came back."

Unlike some earlier Mississippi white on black murders, Kimball was charged for the murder and although not convicted, spent some time in jail:

Kimball Loses Bid for Freedom on Bond

Sumner, Miss. (AP) –December 28, 1955 – Elmer Kimball today lost his bid for freedom on bond while awaiting grand jury action on a charge of murdering a Negro man.

Three justices of the peace held a preliminary hearing for the white gin operator and refused bond. Officers returned Kimball to jail to await action of the grand jury which meets next March. The hearing was held in the little courthouse where the sensational Emmett Till trial was held. Bond usually is refused in cases where a person is accused of a crime which carries a possible death sentence upon conviction.

Kimball is charged with murder in the shotgun slaying of Clinton Melton, Negro service station attendant at nearby Glendora and father of four children. The accused man testified he fired in self-defense after someone shot at him three times. Kimball said he didn’t know who fired until he returned the fire and killed Melton.

Lee McGarrh, Melton’s employer, testified that Kimball fired without provocation, and Melton was unarmed. He said Kimball became angry at the Negro during an argument over gasoline for Kimball’s car. McGarrh said Kimball declared he was going home for his gun and [sic] kill Melton. ***

ONE WIRE SERVICE sent a staff member to cover the Kimball trial, and the only Mississippi newspaper that sent a staffer was Carter’s Greenville Delta Democrat-Times. Reporter David Halberstam remained in Mississippi after the Milam-Bryant trial and wrote as a freelancer.

This time cameras were barred, not only from the courtroom but also from the entire courthouse property, and no press table was set up. The sentiment [for conviction] was particularly strong in the Glendora community where Kimball shot Melton and where both the deceased and the defendant were well known, according to Halberstam: "Elsewhere in Talahatchie County, of course, it tended to become the usual matter of a white man and a black man."

Defining "Good" and "Bad"

Halberstam assessed the environment before the trial got started:

"A friend of mine divides the white population of Mississippi into two categories. The first and largest contains the good people of Mississippi, as they are affectionately called by editorial writers, politi­cians, and themselves. The other group is a smaller but in many ways more conspicuous faction called the peckerwoods.

"The good people will generally agree that the peckerwoods are troublemakers, and indeed several good people have told me they joined the Citizens Councils because otherwise the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely. It is the good people who will tell you that their town has enjoyed racial harmony for many years, while it is the peckerwoods who may confide that they know how to keep the niggers in their place; it is the good people who say and mean, "We love our nigras," and it is the peckerwoods who say and mean, "If any big buck gets in my way it’ll be too damn bad."

"But while the good people would not act with the rashness of and are not governed by the hatred of the peckerwood, they are reluctant to apply society’s normal remedies to the peckerwood. Thus it is the peckerwoods who kill Negroes and the good people who acquit the peckerwoods..."

DESPITE HIS PLEAS of self-defense, Kimball was denied bond in two preliminary hearings. The biggest problem at the trial facing District Attorney Roy Johnson and County Attorney Hamilton Caldwell, according to Halberstam, was swearing in fair and impartial jurors [from] a group "sworn by birthright to pro­tecting the interest and life of the white."

The state had produced three witnesses.

First was McGarrh, "a stern little man who was a member of one of Glendora’s most respected families." McGarrh, Halberstam wrote, stuck to the same story he had told at the earlier hearings.

"He said he saw Kimball shoot the unarmed Melton. He went unshaken under cross examina­tion. The only weakness in his story is that although Kimball had given prior warning of his intention Mc­Garrh stayed inside the station with his shot gun.’

The next witness was John Henry Wilson, "a Negro in whom Kimball said he had a great deal of confidence. Wilson did not witness the shooting, but he dam­aged the self defense theory. He was standing outside the station when Kimball returned with a gun. He asked Kimball what he was going to do.

"I’m going to kill that nigger," Kimball said. "Please, sir, don’t shoot that boy. He ain’t done nothing to you," Wil­son said. "Get back or I’ll kill you too," said Kimball. Wilson ran to the back of the station."

The last witness for the state, George Woodson, testified that he was staning about ten feet away from the scene and saw Kimball walk around the side of the station with a gun, and that he did not see any gun in Melton’s hand.

"The defense lacked eye witnesses and thus tried to shake the testimony of the state’s witnesses. Its witnesses came up with only minor points," according to Halberstam.

"But more significant than their testimony were their positions—a sheriff, a deputy sheriff, and a chief of police."

Apparently Kimball did the most damage to himself when he got on the stand, as Halberstam told it:

"[He] got up there before those twelve Mississippians and told them a story about his relations with Melton that flatly contradicts all the Mississippi mores…. Kimball said he went inside and told McGarrh that Clinton was getting pretty nasty and asked him to total up his account and he’d be back and settle up; when he returned a few minutes later someone started firing at him, hit him, and he went back to his car and got his shot gun.

"Kimball’s story would be hard for any jury to believe, because they would know…. "[You] cannot provoke a Negro attendant to talk like that no matter how much you irritate him, particularly a trusted Negro such as Clinton Melton."

"The jury also knew that "no white peckerwood gin manager, the best friend of J. W. Milam, would let a Negro talk like that without doing a little whupping right there on the spot."

AFTER FOUR AND one-half hours, the jurors walked in and announced their decision to acquit:

Sumner, Miss. (AP) – Elmer Otis Kimball was acquitted of murder late yesterday in the shotgun slaying of a 33-year-old Negro. "I wasn’t sure justice would be done," said the 35-year-old white Glendora cotton gin operator, "but I should have known." A 12-man, all-white jury, made up mostly of farmers, deliberated more than four hours before freeing Kimball.

Two witnesses testified they saw Kimball blast Clinton Melton three times with a shotgun December 3 at a Glendora service station. Witnesses said the shooting was an aftermath of an argument between Kimball and Melton over gasoline to be put into Kimball’s car. Kimball testified that Melton cursed him during the argument. Defense Atty. J. W. Kellum said Kimball fired the fatal shots in self-defense. Kimball said three shots were fired at him before he opened fire, one wounding him in the shoulder. He showed a scar and brought in a doctor who verified the gunshot wound.

But neither Lee McGarrh, white owner of the service station, not George Woodson, Negro, who said he witnessed the slaying, said they saw or heard Melton fire. No weapon was found on Melton’s body or in his car. The trial took place in the same courtroom where half-brothers J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were found innocent six months ago of the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, Chicago Negro. Kellum was one of five defense attorneys in the Till case.


Times were now more dangerous for Mississippi’s African Americans. One white Glendora resident, asked by a reporter for his opinion of both the Till and Melton murders told him "There’s open season on the Negroes now. They’ve got no protection, and any peckerwood who wants can go out and shoot himself one."

Clinton and Beulah Melton’s daughter never moved from the Delta. She keeps a picture of her mother who looks like she could be her twin. While she has never owned a picture of her father, Gresham said she would have liked to know him better and continues to question what happened to her mother on that frightening day.

Yet her story had a happy note. In 2003, Keith Beauchamp, a New York filmmaker, discovered a copy of an old newsreel showing the story of Clinton Melton’s murder. Beauchamp incorporated the reel into a documentary on Emmett Till, and made sure that Gresham had a copy for her family.

The following year, Beauchamp's documentary was shown on a Chicago television station, resulting quite by chance in one of Gresham’s brothers discovering his sister. A family reunion took place that summer.

"It was joyous," Delores Gresham said. "We talk to each other on the phone several times a week, and I’m meeting other relatives through my brother."

(An excerpt from "Where Rebels Roost, Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited," by Susan Klopfer. Copyright 2005 Susan Klopfer.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fifth Circuit vacates conviction of James Ford Seale

A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has vacated the conviction of former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member James Ford Seale for his involvement in the 1964 deaths of two 19-year-old black teens. Seale was sentenced to three life terms in August 2007, two months after his conviction in Mississippi federal court. AP has more.

Seale was convicted in June 2007 of kidnapping and conspiracy in the abductions of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19, who disappeared from Franklin County in Mississippi May 2, 1964. Their decomposed bodies were later pulled from the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.

The 20-page ruling noted the alleged crimes occurred in 1964 and the indictment against Seale was issued in 2007.


Wickipedia carries a summary of this incident in which the Mississippi teens were killed ..

Klansmen abducted the two African American men, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19, as they were hitchhiking on May 2, 1964, on their way to a party. According to F.B.I. records, Seale suspected Dee of civil-rights activity and told the young men he was a revenue agent, investigating moonshine stills, and then drove them into the Homochitto National Forest between Meadville and Natchez. Other Klansmen followed, and as Seale held a sawed-off shotgun, the other men tied the young men to a tree and severely beat them with long, skinny sticks (called "bean sticks" in Mississippi because they're often used to "stalk" beans in gardens). According to the January 2007 indictment, the Klansmen then took the pair, who were reportedly still alive, to a nearby farm where Seale reportedly duct-taped their mouths and hands. Then the Klansmen wrapped the bloody pair in a plastic tarp and put them into the trunk of another Klansman's red Ford (the deceased Ernest Parker, according to FBI records) and drove almost 100 miles to the Ole River near Tallulah, Louisiana. They had to drive through Louisiana to get there, but the backwater was actually located in Warren County, Mississippi, meaning that they were killed in Mississippi.

There the pair were tied to an old Jeep engine block and sections of railroad track rails with chains before being dumped in the river, reportedly while they were still alive.[5] According to a Klan informant, Seale would say later that he would have shot them first, but didn't want to get blood all over the boat.

The bodies of the pair were found two months later during the search for three missing civil rights workers. The FBI launched an investigation, and presented their findings to local District Attorney Lenox Forman. FBI agents and Mississippi Highway Patrol officers arrested Seale and fellow Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards on Nov. 6, 1964, shortly after the discovery of the bodies, based on informant tips. They were released on Nov. 11, after family members posted $5,000 bond each. On Jan. 11, 1965, District Attorney Lenox Forman filed a “motion to dismiss affidavits” with Justice of the Peace Willie Bedford, who signed the motion the same day. The motions state: “… that in the interest of justice and in order to fully develop the facts in this case, the affidavits against James Seale and Charles Edwards should be dismissed by this Court without prejudice to the Defendants or to the State of Mississippi at this time in order that the investigation may be continued and completed for presentation to a Grand Jury at some later date.”

More from Wickipedia ..

From the Sovereignty Commission files, in a brief search, I was able to find a 1966 AP story naming Edwards as a Klan leader..

An AP story about the probe under Dee's name ..

More from the Mississippi Eyewitness (an interesting 65 page document)

Another newspaper article from Meadville as the two KKK members were released "in the interest of justice" ...

An article under Seale ..

And I'm sure if we keep digging, there MIGHT be more...

Aha! Investigative reports under Forman's files ... (search under L. L. Forman, the district attorney)

Probably there's more. Let me know what you dig out of these files. sk

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Filmmaker collaborating with FBI on civil rights cases for TV show

JACKSON, Miss. — As an African-American teenager in Louisiana, Keith Beauchamp tried interracial dating - behaviour that prompted his parents to tell him the grisly tale of Emmett Till, who was murdered for whistling at a white woman.

The story of Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who had come to Mississippi to visit his uncle in August 1955, was seared into Beauchamp's mind and, when he moved to New York to begin his career as a filmmaker, the slaying was his first major project.

Beauchamp's 2005 documentary on Till, in large part, led the federal government to reopen the 1955 murder case. Last year, a grand jury declined to indict Carolyn Bryant Donham, the object of the whistle, on a manslaughter charge. The two men who brutally beat the teen and dumped his body in a river died years ago.

Still, Beauchamp's documentary expertise and his ability to persuade people to talk about buried secrets of the civil rights era have earned him a rare collaboration with the FBI.

Now, Beauchamp is filming a series of documentaries based on civil rights killings for the cable channel History as well as TV One. Any new evidence Beauchamp uncovers is shared with the FBI for its Cold Case Unit that focuses on crimes that have gone unpunished from that era.

In turn, the FBI is arranging interviews for Beauchamp with veteran agents who covered the cases and other contacts, said agency spokesman Ernie Porter.

Sovereignty Commission files on Clinton Melton, murdered shortly after the Emmett Till trial ended ...

A second Sovereignty Commission file regarding Melton's murder

Files on Birdia Keglar

"Birdie Kilgar" [Birdia Keglar, also listed as Elizabeth Keglar]
* * * * *


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

CSI Mississippi: Group Calls For Removal of Steven Hayne's Medical License

Innocence Project Asks State Board to Revoke Steven Hayne’s Medical License Based on Repeated Autopsy Misconduct

1,000-page formal allegation with Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure seeks to stop Hayne from conducting autopsies and practicing medicine

* * * * *
--Performed Cleve McDowell's Autopsy: Where were the bullets?
* * * * *

(JACKSON, MS; April 8, 2008) – Based on evidence that Steven Hayne, who conducts 80% of autopsies in Mississippi, has committed fraud and misconduct that sent an unknown number of innocent people to prison, the Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project today filed a formal allegation to revoke his license to practice medicine in Mississippi.

The allegation filed today with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure outlines several violations – spanning two decades – of the Mississippi state law that regulates medical practice. Hayne’s practices have been questioned for several years and have come under increasing scrutiny after two men – Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both of Noxubee County, Mississippi – were exonerated this year, 15 years after Hayne’s testimony helped convict them of capital crimes they did not commit.

If the State Board of Medical Licensure revokes Hayne’s medical license, he will not be able to conduct any autopsies for law enforcement in Mississippi or practice medicine in any other context in the state. Under the law, a doctor’s medical license is revoked if he or she engages in “incompetent professional practice, unprofessional conduct, [and] other dishonorable or unethical conduct that is likely to deceive, defraud, or harm the public.” The law also requires doctors to be “honest in all professional interactions including his or her medical expert activities” and directs medical experts “not [to] make or use any false, fraudulent, or forged statement or document.”

“Steven Hayne’s long history of misconduct, incompetence and fraud has sent truly innocent people to death row or to prison for life. This is precisely why regulations are in place to revoke medical licenses. Steven Hayne should never practice medicine in Mississippi again, and the complaint we filed today is an important step toward restoring integrity in forensic science statewide – and restoring confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project is a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law; the Mississippi Innocence Project is based at the University of Mississippi School of Law.

The allegation filed today with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure includes a 14-page summary letter and 1,000 pages of supporting documents, including trial transcripts and autopsy reports from several cases. The allegations that merit revoking Hayne’s medical license include:

Hayne misrepresents his credentials, claiming under oath to be the “chief state pathologist for the Department of Public Safety” (a position that does not exist) and claiming under oath to be “board-certified” in “forensic pathology” (when in fact he is not properly board-certified in forensic pathology). Papers filed with the Board today include several transcripts of testimony where Hayne has made these false claims.

Hayne testified falsely in Levon Brooks’ trial, leading to his wrongful conviction and sentence of life in prison without parole. The victim in the case had marks on her body, and the prosecution’s central theory of the crime was that they were human bite marks inflicted before the victim died. Hayne testified that marks on the victim’s hand in the case occurred prior to her death – a conclusion that is “simply wrong,” according to the allegation, and has no scientific basis.

Hayne testified falsely in Kennedy Brewer’s trial, leading to his wrongful conviction and death sentence. Just as it was in Brooks’ case, Hayne’s motive was to falsely claim that marks on the child’s body were inflicted by the assailant before she died. Even though the marks clearly were caused after the victim died, Hayne’s false assertion would support the prosecution’s central theory of the case. Hayne claimed in the autopsy report that he took biopsies from the so-called bite marks (to determine whether they occurred prior to her death), but testified at Brewer’s trial that he didn’t take biopsies of the marks. The most logical conclusion is that Hayne realized the biopsies would not support the false theory that the marks occurred before the victim’s death, so Hayne improperly stopped analyzing them. Hayne also testified in Brewer’s trial that the marks were caused by human teeth, rather than the expected decomposition or insect activity that regularly occurs after death. There was no scientific basis for Hayne’s testimony.

Hayne testified falsely in Tyler Edmonds’ trial, leading to his conviction and death sentence. Hayne claimed that he could tell from a bullet wound in the victim’s head that it was more likely that two people (rather than one person) had fired the fatal shot together. The Mississippi Supreme Court found Hayne’s testimony in the case “scientifically unfounded” and noted that his conclusion was not based on scientific methods or procedures.

Hayne issued an autopsy report – with no medical or scientific basis – supporting the prosecution case against Tina Funderburk, who is being charged with her daughter’s murder. An expert who Hayne himself brought into the case said the cause and manner of death could not be determined, but Hayne nevertheless examined the meager skeletal remains and said the child died from compression of the head and suffocation.

In four other cases, Hayne may have made false findings and potentially testified falsely under oath. In two of those cases, Hayne examined skeletons and said he could tell that the victims were strangled (even though the skeletons had no muscles). In another one of the cases, Hayne claimed in an autopsy report that he examined organs – when in fact it appeared the organs had not been touched.

“We have only presented the tip of the iceberg to the State Board of Medical Licensure, but this evidence shows Steven Hayne’s unprofessional, dishonorable and unethical conduct that has deceived, defrauded and harmed the public,” said W. Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.

The complaint filed today says, “We believe the conduct in this complaint alone is sufficient to justify immediate revocation of Dr. Hayne’s license … His work compromises the accuracy and integrity of medicine and criminal justice throughout the state. We urge you to put an end to his misconduct through an expeditious, thorough investigation of his work and revocation of his license.”

The Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project continue asking the state’s Commissioner of Public Safety to appoint and help secure funding for a State Medical Examiner. The State Legislature created the position in the 1980s to provide assistance and oversight for medical examiners across the state. The position has been vacant for over a decade, leaving no oversight of Hayne’s autopsies and no system for training and recruiting qualified pathologists to conduct autopsies in Mississippi.

For the summary letter of today’s allegation, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/Letter_to_Medical_Board.pdf

For more on the Brewer and Brooks cases, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/1175.php

For the letter from the Innocence Project and the Mississippi Innocence Project to the Commissioner of Public Safety, urging him to fill and help fund the State Medical Examiner position, go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/1173.php

For an op-ed earlier this month from a former Commissioner of Public Safety, calling on officials to fill and fund the State Medical Examiner position, go to: http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080330/OPINION/803300302/1046

For more background on Steven Hayne, see “CSI Mississippi,” a Reason Magazine investigative report by Senior Editor Radley Balko, at http://www.reason.com/news/show/122458.html.


Eric Ferrero
Director of Communications
The Innocence Project
Office: 212-364-5346
Cell: 646-342-9310
100 Fifth Ave., 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10011

MORE on Hayne ... Reason Magazine, November 2007

In a remarkable capital murder case earlier this year, the Mississippi Supreme Court, by an 8-to-1 vote, tossed out the expert testimony of Steven Hayne. The defendant was Tyler Edmonds, a 13-year-old boy accused of killing his sister’s husband. Hayne, Mississippi’s quasi-official state medical examiner, had testified that the victim’s bullet wounds supported the prosecution’s theory that Edmonds and his sister had shot the man together, each putting a hand on the weapon and pulling the trigger at the same time.

“I would favor that a second party be involved in that positioning of the weapon,” Hayne told the jury. “It would be consistent with two people involved. I can’t exclude one, but I think that would be less likely.”

Testifying that you can tell from an autopsy how many hands were on the gun that fired a bullet is like saying you can tell the color of a killer’s eyes from a series of stab wounds. It’s absurd. The Mississippi Supreme Court said Hayne’s testimony was “scientifically unfounded” and should not have been admitted. Based on this and other errors, it ordered a new trial for Edmonds.

MORE on Hayne ... Reason Magazine, November 2007

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Who Killed Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, authors of an upcoming book, "Seeking Armageddon: The Effort to Kill Martin Luther King Jr.," are exploring evidence that members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi were involved.

"It's becoming more and more evident they had the motive, the means and the opportunity to assassinate Dr. King, and in fact, that had been a major goal of theirs for years," Wexler said.

Some proof can be found in FBI and Miami police documents that suggest White Knights members may have helped jam Memphis police radios when King was shot on April 4, 1968.

Vivian is among civil rights leaders gathering today in Memphis to remember

King and to sign their support for legislation that would create a Justice Department unit aimed at solving the unpunished killings from the civil rights era.

The House passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act by an overwhelming margin of 422-2, but the bill has stalled in the Senate, where U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has put a "hold" on the legislation, putting it in limbo. He has cited the cost - $10 million a year to examine civil rights killings before 1970 and $3.5 million to help local law enforcement conduct investigations.

In the '50s and '60s, King was friends with Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers.

In 1963, a member of the White Knights shot Evers in the back outside his Jackson home, and King attended the funeral.

Continued, from the Hattiesburg American

And from Sovereignty Commission records, there were many files kept on MLK and some on the White Knights, too.

Here are a few posts.

A memo on King dated Jan. 18, 1963 from Carl Braden: "...people ... the CORE group are very jealous of Martin's connection with a group like ours ..."

"Reward for the bodies of" Martin Luther King and others...

List of Civil Rights Disturbances in Mississippi over a decade

Memo to governor, Nov. 1957, Martin Luther King to attend meeting in Mound Bayou

White Knights "no cause for concern" to Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Monday, March 24, 2008

Investigator of Emmett Till's Murder Dies in Greenwood, Miss.

GREENWOOD, Miss. - John Ed Cothran, a former sheriff’s deputy who investigated the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till, which galvanized the civil rights movement, has died of heart failure. He was 93.

Cothran died Saturday at Grace Health and Rehab in Grenada, according to officials with Wilson & Knight Funeral Home in Greenwood.
Continued --

Photo taken September 27, 1962, Oxford, Mississippi.

Left to right: Sheriff John Henry Spencer, Pittsboro. Sheriff James Ira Grimsley, Pascagoula. Sheriff Bob Waller, Hattiesburg. Sheriff Billy Ferrell, Natchez (holding club). Sheriff Jimmy Middleton, Port Gibson. Deputy Sheriff James Wesley Garrison, Oxford. Sheriff John Ed Cothran, Greenwood.

Burial story --

Here are some links to Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files that mention Cothran's involvement in various investigations--

October 6, 1960, visit to Leflore County over voting issues

Feb. 19, 1965, news story on complaints of violence/federal police force

Meeting, April 7, 1961 with Sovereignty Commission investigator, Tom Scarbrough

March 17, 1961, Cothran warned by Sovereignty Commission that a group of Yale students will soon arrive for sit-ins

Feb. 7, 1963 Cothan warned of impending visit by Dick Gregory

Sovereignty Commission name search page (for 12 more records)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cleve McDowell Murdered 11 years ago, March 13, 1997; Questions remain

Cleve McDowell, Mississippi lawyer murdered in 1997, with friend Rev. Jesse Jackson. McDowell was campaigning for state office when this photo was taken.

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

On the morning of March 13, 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 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 MODERN 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.

"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 of his uncle's quiet investigations and said his uncle was always very unobtrusive about what he was working on, but "it was evident that his investigations were serious."

The 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 a 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 six months later that would allegedly destroy 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, too, struck Davis as odd.

Woodrow Jackson of nearby Tutwiler 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 another friend of McDowell's 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, Nettie 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 Sunflower County 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.
* * *

Dr. Hayne, the state's coroner, has not gone without criticism for his "Mississippi" autopsey record. In October of 2007, senior editor for Reason, Radley Balko, wrote in an article for the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger, that "Dr. Steven Hayne, the man who over the last 20 years has come to dominate Mississippi's autopsy business."

Hayne has testified in court and in depositions that he personally does between 1,200 and 1,800 autopsies per year. That range breaks down to three to five autopsies per day, assuming Hayne works every day of the year, with no time off for weekends, holidays, sick time, or personal vacations. For much of his career, Hayne has juggled this astonishing workload while also holding two administrative jobs at a local hospital and at a research facility - jobs he's said could take up to an additional 50 hours of his time each week. Hayne also testifies in court 2-4 times per week all over the state of Mississippi. Because of these other commitments, Hayne has done most of his autopsies at night and on weekends. Until only recently, he did them in a funeral home owned by Rankin County Coroner Jimmy Roberts.

According to the National Association of Medical Examiners, a single doctor should try to do no more than 250 autopsies per year. After 325, the group will no longer certify a doctor's practice. "You can't do it," says Dr. Vincent DiMaio of Hayne's workload. "After 250 autopsies, you start making small mistakes. At 300, you're going to get mental and physical strains on your body. Over 350, and you're talking about major fatigue and major mistakes."

Hayne maintains that such standards are arbitrary, and don't account for his own work ethic. When questioned about his workload in a 2003 deposition, Hayne answered that he's simply an extraordinary physician. "If you want to compare me with the average forensic pathologist, I think it's an insult to me," he said.

Balko interviewed Dr. Leroy Riddick, "a well-respected medical examiner in Alabama who has opposed Hayne at trial in the past." Riddick, he wrote, "is more blunt."

"All of the prosecutors in Mississippi know that if you want to be sure you get the autopsy results you want, you take the body to Dr. Hayne," he says. J.D. Sanders, former police chief for Columbus, Miss., has tried for years to draw attention to Dr. Hayne's practices. "Prosecutors love him, because he'll testify to whatever they need him to testify to," he says.

* * *

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 Mississippi 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.

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, once kept by the Tougaloo College Archives and turned over to the state of Mississippi, are not available according to Mississippi 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.

In honor of his contributions, The Mississippi state legislature honored McDowell with this Resolution:


1997 Regular Session

To: Rules

By: Senator(s) Simmons, Turner, Jordan (24th), Horhn, Walls, Frazier

Senate Concurrent Resolution 642


WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was born on August 6, 1941, in Drew, Mississippi, and departed this life on Thursday, March 13, 1997; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was an honor graduate of the Drew Public Schools, where he served as class president, editor of the school newspaper, captain of the debating team, and a member of several varsity sports teams; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was also an honor graduate of Jackson State University in 1963, and while at Jackson State University he worked as a student assistant under the late Medgar Evers; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was a courageous pioneer in the civil rights movement, and was the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi Law School with the aid of a federal court order and United States Army troops in June of 1963; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell later enrolled in Texas Southern University Law School in Houston, Texas, where he became President of the Student Bar Association and received several merit awards; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell later worked on the Field Staff for the Mississippi State Conference and then later the Chicago Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served on committees of the National Youth Development of the NAACP as a program director in community relations in Houston, Texas, and as a Subscribing Life Member, McDowell also served as a three-term member of the National Youth Work Committee of the NAACP and served on the committees of the Mississippi State Conference and acted as legal advisor to several branches; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell, a man of deep and abiding faith, was the Senior Pastor of the Greater Holly Grove Missionary Baptist Church of Drew, Mississippi, and a member of Sunflower County General Association; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was an active member of his local community and served as a member of the School Board of the City of Drew, Mississippi, Chairman of the Sunflower County, Mississippi, State Democratic Party, and also served as the Public Defender for Sunflower County, Mississippi, Public Defender for the City of Drew, Mississippi, and also served as a member of the Board of Aldermen and past Vice-Mayor of the City of Drew, Mississippi; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was a member of the Mississippi State Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Magnolia Bar Association, and was admitted to practice in the Northern and Southern United States District Courts, Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals and the Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals; and

WHEREAS, in April 1969, Dr. Cleve McDowell joined the Mississippi Head Start Training Coordinating Council as its Executive Director, and in 1973 he joined the Governor's Office of Human Resources and OEO as the Head Start Coordinator for the State of Mississippi, and in May of 1974 Dr. Cleve McDowell became Associate Director of the Mississippi Bar Legal Services Program where he served until he started his private practice of Law in Drew, Mississippi, in 1975; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell served as Managing Attorney for the North Mississippi Rural Legal Service in Clarksdale, Mississippi, from 1977 to 1979, and later served as a member of the Mississippi State Penitentiary Board of Directors before he was elected to serve as Tunica County Judge in 1978; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell was an active member of Epsilon Xi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and was Worshipful Master of Drew Lodge Number 6 of the Most Worshipful Stringer Masonic Grand Lodge (Prince Hall) of Mississippi, and was also a member of the Knights Templars, Royal Arch, a Thirty-Second Degree and Shriner Masonic Units; and

WHEREAS, Dr. Cleve McDowell is survived by five sisters, Mabel Brown of Chicago, Illinois, Juanita McDowell, Gennette (W. L., Jr.) Smith, Nellie (Lacy) Wilson of Drew, Mississippi, and Betty Adams of Los Angeles, California; and four brothers, Willie Adams of Los Angeles, California, Douglas McDowell of Memphis, Tennessee, Robert Wells of Chicago, Illinois, and Otis McDowell of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky; and

WHEREAS, it is the policy of this Legislature to commend excellence in leadership, especially when it is exhibited by one who has served diligently as a spiritual leader of his community:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN, That we do hereby commend the life and accomplishments of Dr. Cleve McDowell and express the Legislature's deepest sympathy upon his passing.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be furnished to the family of Dr. Cleve McDowell.

* * *

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 said.

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," the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.

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."

Webb reversed himself again in July 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]." This information comes from Webb's files in the Sunflower County courthouse.

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.
* * *

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 he was a "young black man on the rise – someone who impressed the Governor." Another record placed him with James Meredith in a "homosexual encounter."
* * *

MCDOWELL SEEMED TO KNOW he was going to die. He told his Drew minister, Rev. Jesse Gresham, that he expected this 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 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 McDowell's 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 told others he did not believe Mims would have killed himself – that it was not in his personality.
* * *

McDowell and several close friends quickly decided to drive to Alabama for Mims's funeral, but McDowell then 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's 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, unusual for him, 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 body 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 to his friend, 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's husband said, adding he could not imagine Mims committing suicide.

Mims's 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, as 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 campus violence that left two dead and dozens of soldiers and federal marshals wounded.

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 self-ascribed "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; 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 McDowell to apply to law school; through his years of state and national NAACP involvement, McDowell met Rev. King who once visited him in his Drew law office. Rev. Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and a host of other civil rights leaders also stopped by McDowell's office when coming into the region.

As the years moved forward, 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. This is what several friends suggested.

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’s Washington Bureau reporter Donna St. George shortly after prosecutors opened their third trial in the Evers case – attempting once again 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 staunch 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 Clarksdale 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 said he 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, even when he was presented with a Freedom of Information Act request or FOIA.

Charles McLauren of Indianola, an active civil rights advocate and SNCC member, who knew McDowell well, said he did not want to talk about McDowell 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 spoke on conditions of anonymity.

A young man from McDowell's hometown claimed he was "molested" by McDowell "for years" and "wish I'd shot him, myself." But the Drew native who also did not want his name published 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 recalled 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.

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 chuckled 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 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 2008-2009 by Susan Klopfer