Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Scott Sisters; Not the First Time Mississippi Has Mistreated Ill, Black Prisoners

Clyde Kennard, (Photo from Northeastern University archives

Mississippi had a similar, infamous case when it kept a prisoner with cancer working in the fields. He suffered greatly and was finally released just before he died.

Clyde Kennard of Hattiesburg was arrested September 15, 1959 for illegal possession of liquor and speeding. This happened shortly after Kennard was rejected the second time for admission to Mississippi Southern College, now the University of Southern Mississippi.
The Scott Sisters, Jamie and Gladys, were sentenced to double life terms each in prison after being convicted of armed robbery where transcripts conflictingly state that $11 could have been netted. A 14 year old witness for the state testified to being threatened to be made into a woman at Parchman Penitentiary if he did not implicate the sisters. They have served 16 years of this sentence to date.

While Mississippi Sovereignty Commission records show authorities once considered placing dynamite in his car (and a Hattiesburg lawyer offering to run him out of the country), the state finally succeeded in its quest to punish the poultry farmer and U. S. Army veteran when thirteen months later, on November 21, 1960 Kennard was convicted on charges of stealing chicken feed. He was sentenced to Parchman Penitentiary for the maximum penalty of seven years.

NAACP leader Medgar Evers heard of the verdict and told a reporter Kennard’s conviction was “a mockery of justice” for which Evers was arrested, charged with contempt and sentenced to thirty days in jail. The Supreme Court later overturned the conviction. But Kennard was literally beaten and worked to death at Parchman and after becoming seriously ill, he was diagnosed with cancer by the University of Mississippi Hospital.

Returned to Parchman, Kennard was dragged out to work in the fields each day despite his growing weakness. Prison authorities canceled his appointment for a medical checkup and he was not allowed to see his lawyer, Jess Brown. The Jackson attorney asked to receive Kennard’s medical reports but never got them. Tougaloo students mobilized to try and free Kennard, a friend of one of their instructors.

The story was picked up nationally as Dick Gregory and Dr. Martin Luther King demanded Kennard’s release. Finally, in 1963, Governor Barnett ordered Kennard’s release, concerned over potential bad publicity for the state if Kennard died at Parchman. Kennard underwent surgery in Chicago and soon died at Billings Hospital, shortly after he was paroled.

Was it an administrative oversight? Or was it deliberate negligence because of his connection with school integration? These questions, asked by Kennard’s attorney, were never answered. “No one can say for sure. You have to draw your own conclusions,” Jess Brown said.

Clyde Kennard died at the age of thirty-six on July 4, 1963.

Footnote: In one 1959 memorandum found in Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files, commission investigator Zack VanLandingham tells of a conversation he had with a Hattiesburg lawyer, Dudley Connor, about Kennard in the late 1950s.

"If the Sovereignty Commission wanted that Negro out of the community and out of the state they would take care of the situation," VanLandingham quoted Connor as saying. "And when asked what he meant by that, Connor stated that Kennard's carcould be hit by a train or he could have some accident on the highway and nobody would ever know the difference."

In another memo, written by VanLandingham to Gov. J.P. Coleman in 1959, the investigator relates a conversation he had with John Reiter, a campus police officer. "Reiter had several weeks ago told me that when Kennard was attempting to enter Mississippi Southern College in December 1958 that he had been approached by individuals with possible plans to prevent Kennard's going through with his attempt," he wrote.

"One of the plans was to put dynamite to the starter of Kennard's Mercury. Another plan was to have some liquor planted in Kennard's car and then he would be arrested."

So for the Scott Sisters, it appears to be just one more chapter of Mississippi Goddam.
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Some Sovereignty Commission Links Relating To Kennard ...

NAACP Fund Raising Letter For Kennard

Medgar Evers and Kennard

Newspaper clipping on Kennard's Guilty Verdict

Kennard's attempt to enroll in state college

Letter to editor written by Kennard

Kennard's file is large, so there are many more articles to view.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Scott Sisters Update

Message from group aiding the Scott Sisters:

The MWM is spearheading a Press Conference on 3/26 outside of the Capitol in Jackson, MS at 12 noon. Details are available by contacting them at 267-636-3802 or e-mail: nationalmwm@aol.com or BWDL7@aol.com. Many people in the area are excited and ready for this to happen, so please do make plans to attend if you're able to be in the area on that day!

More information at the Scott Sisters site.

Please visit the site and help pass on information about the upcoming event.
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From the official site:

Jamie Scott's temporary catheter (for the purpose of dialysis) has been moved to her chest and is plugged up with green fluid and pus. Her hands and feet are swollen and she is in tremendous pain. She is very, very weak. This is at least her fourth catheter infection and this one is extremely bad. Jamie is doing very poorly. The prison is aware of her current condition yet, she remains in the prison infirmary. Jamie needs to be carried to the hospital and she needs to remain there until this infection is cleared.

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Could Oprah Fare Better on Cold Cases Than FBI? Is the Idea Really So Far-Fetched?

Nina Zachery-Black, 73, is sitting home alone today in Minneapolis-St. Paul, admittedly frustrated over the lack of help she's received from the FBI in trying to find out what happened to her grandmother.

Forty-four years ago, Adlena Hamlett and Hamlett’s friend, Birdia Keglar, were both killed after their car was hit head-on by a drunk driver in Sidon, Mississippi. The women were on their way home from a civil rights-related meeting in Jackson.

Family members of both women reported seeing "something very wrong" at the funeral home when it appeared the women's body parts had been severed.

“The first woman I spoke with at the Minneapolis FBI office was sympathetic but she didn’t know much at all about what the times were like when my grandmother was living in Charleston, Miss. She had no idea of how frightened people were then -- and even now -- to talk about this incident and everything else they faced when they tried to vote or went up against Jim Crow,” she said.

But Zachery-Black started to believe the FBI might actually take some interest in her grandmother and Keglar when they called her again last week and said they were going to transfer and reinvestigate this case in Jackson, after all, as a cold case.

The second call from the FBI came after Zachery-Black contacted her freshman senator, Al Franken, and complained how the first agent told her the cold case happened too long ago to investigate and would have had to occur on federal land.

Stunned at this explanation, Zachary-Black says she recorded the agent’s later phone message that repeated the message and even chided her because the family didn’t call the police and complain at the time of the deaths.

Other family members actually wrote a letter to the U.S. Dept. of Justice over their concerns back in 1966 but received no answer, she confirms.

Hamlett and Keglar, the former a school teacher and the later a funeral home business manager, were known around Charleston, Mississippi for their brave acts as they first tried to integrate the public schools in the early 1950s. Achieving little success, they moved on to voting rights.

“They had to be very brave women. When anyone showed concern about their safety, my grandmother would say she had reared her own children and her grandchildren were of an age they could move on without her. She knew that she might very well be killed for what she was doing.”

Hamlett’s daughter, Louise McKinley, would often call her mother and beg her to leave Mississippi, fearing her imminent death. But her mother remained firm. “She would tell us, this is my home and my life and I’m not going to leave. I am going to do what I can to make things better.”

Keglar was working to form the first NAACP chapter for Tallahatchie County at the time of her death and was chosen to work with John Doar and the Justice Department on Doar’s first Mississippi voter registration test case -- and they won.

It was Doar and U.S. Marshals who escorted James Meredith to class at the University of Mississippi. Doar later contributed to drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

According to Mississippi’s Sovereignty Commission files, the local prosecutor and sheriff were particularly angry with Keglar over her testimony. The Commission was a state agency funded to keep Mississippi segregated and was know to have close ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Later, it would be found that some deputy sheriff’s in Tallahatchie County also belonged to the Klan.

When the two women decided to work on voter rights, “...that’s when my grandmother was hanged in effigy.”

Despite the dangerous environment, Zachery-Black was allowed to spend summers in Charleston with her grandmother, with whom she had a close relationship. She recalls that her grandmother “...always marched up to the courthouse to vote in every national election. She was called ‘nigger Adlena’ and people would say ‘Here comes nigger Adlena to vote.’ They would tear up her ballot and put it in the garbage can.”

On one trip to the courthouse when she accompanied her grandmother,” They were poking fun at her and calling her names. I asked her why were they so mean and she said it was okay because one day her vote would be counted. She reminded me it was her constitutional right to vote.”

After the death of his mother, Birdia Keglar’s son James Keglar returned home from the military on early leave to investigate. Keglar told others he spoke with FBI agents in Clarksdale and said they gave him a special telephone number to call. Three months later, he was arrested and put into the Clarksdale jail. Keglar was apparently released around midnight and returned to Charleston where he was found dead the next morning when his house burned to the ground.

Where are the FBI records? One Keglar family member says she has repeatedly asked for this information, but to no avail.

As far as Zachery-Black is concerned, it’s going to take something much bigger than the FBI to learn what happened to her grandmother. “I want to know what happened and why before I die. I am nearing her age and I want an answer.”

The retired Minneapolis teacher, who recently taught classes of Somali children who were newly immigrated into the U.S., says she believes this country owes answers to her and all other families of victims, but concedes they may never come if it is up to the FBI to conduct investigations.

“I asked one agent if she knew about Sen. James O. Eastland, a powerful Delta senator who was tied to the Klan and had connections everywhere, including the Sovereignty Commission. She stopped for a moment, and said she thought she’d read something about him.”

Agents she has come in contact with are “too young” and “don’t seem to understand any civil rights history or how bad it was back in those days,” she asserts.

Zachery-Black also admits she sometimes toys with calling Oprah Winfrey. “At least I know she would care.”
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Again, check your spellings when you look for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files. You will find Keglar and Kegler; Birdia, Birde, Bridie, Elizabeth and perhaps even more. I've never found single records on Adlena Hamlett.

Got to http://mdah.state.ms.us/ and choose Archives and Records Services. Select Digital Archives and then Sovereignty Commmission Online.

Here are a few files to get you started:

Dec. 5, 1961, a report to the Sovereignty Commission on Keglar's complaint to the U.S. Civil Rights Department.

Newspaper clipping on voter registration suit

Suit with U.S. Justice

List of Mississippi Democrat Freedom Party members by county

"Etheridge" "Ethridge" "Ethredge"; Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Files Not So Easy to Research

When the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission kept files on various people, the names often were misspelled. Thus, you will need to do multiple name guesses and searches. A good example are the files kept on a Clarion-Ledge columnist.

You will need to look under the names Etheridge, Ethredge, and Ethridge. Here are a few to play with -- these were found under Tom Ethridge.


Letter from Sovereignty Commission Director re the Ole Miss Law School that mentions the reporter


Letter to the editor re an angry Methodist Youth Minister over a column written by “Ethridge”


Letter about “Ethridge” column from The Methodist Interboard Council

These are fascinating files that give a good feeling for this segregationist reporter who was apparently throught quite well of by the state's spy agency -- the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission.
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Monday, March 08, 2010

Medgar Evers Was Targeted By Mississippi Sovereignty Commission; 2010 80th Anniversary of Evers's Birth

Medgar Evers, Mississippi's first NAACP leader. 2010 eightieth anniversary of his birth.

Blogger Rev. Gerald Britt pays hommage to Medgar Evers, Mississippi's first NAACP leader who was murdered in the driveway of his home:

This year is the 80th anniversary of the birth of Medgar Evers, one of our country's most significant Civil Rights freedom fighters.
Recognition of Evers often gets lost between that given Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, yet for 10 years, ending with his assassination in 1963, Medgar Evers was a prominent figure in the struggle for equal rights, serving as field secretary for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples) in Jackson, Mississippi.
Rev. Britt is the Vice President of Public Policy & Community Program Development of Central Dallas Ministries. He is also the author of a monthly column for The Dallas Morning News.

At his site, Britt shows two important film clips..."The excerpt from the documentary 'Eyes on the Prize', gives the context of the movement - the institutionalization of the culture of injustice, the intimidation of those who sought to register to vote (briefly shown is an example of the 'literacy test' given to actually disqualify voters. The same type of test recommended by Tom Tancredo at the recent TEA Party Convention). It also shows how the legal system gave cover to those who committed such heinous crimes, such as the assassination of Evers."

The second clip is of Myrlie Evers-Williams at the Martin Luther King dinner.

Of course the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission digital database was filled with files on Evers. Here are just a few to get your started:

Info on Evers's auto

Integration Agitator/Medgar Evers

Report on NAAACP efforts in Laurel
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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Margaret Block Remembers Charleston, Mississippi and Birdia Keglar

Margaret Block and I spent the afternoon with Robert Keglar, the late Birdia Keglar's son. While the state of Mississippi officially recognizes that civil rights activist Birdia Kelgar was murdered in 1966 and has dedicated a portion of Highway 35 south between Charleston city limits and the Panola county line as "The Birdia Keglar Memorial Highway," the FBI has consistently refused to classify Keglar's murder as a cold case.

Block's life was once saved by Keglar's quick thinking while Block was working as a SNCC worker in Charleston. Keglar, a funeral home manager, learned the Ku Klux Klan had targeted Block and was able to get her out of town quickly in the back of a hearse.

Margaret has several files online via the state's collection. So do her brother Sam, as well as Robert and Birdia Keglar. Be sure to look for multiple spellings (i.e., Birdie Keglar).

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Civil Rights Cold Cases Dumped by the FBI; Join Me On a Quick Trip to the Delta

Getting ready (packing) for my trip to Mississippi to work on several cold cases that seem to be shunned by the FBI and others. Actually, the FBI has thrown in the towel and apparently won't be using the $8 million they were awarded to investigate these killings of black people like Birdia Keglar, Adlena Hamlett, James Keglar, and others (all have Sovereignty Commission records). Or maybe they already ran out of money!

Click the audio clip, above, and I'll fill you in on the trip. Along the way I'll be blogging with audio and video and will appreciate you comments, questions and suggestions. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sovereignty Commission files show a 'slice of life'; North-South relationship formed via U.S.mail

Mississippi's Sovereignty Commission received mail from around the world -- the few files that remain typicaly show positive comments. Here are six files that show the request of a New York senior to learn more about the Southern way of life (he said he supported it). The young man follows up with a request for information and a pen pal (white). And the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission comes up with a buddy. You can follow the budding relationship here ...

1. Postcard to Sovereignty Commission

2. Writer requests help in learning more about the Southern way of life.

3. Sovereignty Commission responds.

4. Young writer asks for a white pen pal.

5.Sovereignty Commission sets up pen pal for N.Y. high school student.

6. Photo of pen pal.
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