Sunday, March 30, 2008

Selma march remembered

Today's Los Angeles Times features an article about people in Selma remembering the march 43 years ago:

The Rev. Frederick D. Reese was in a packed church, reading Scripture to the bruised and battered congregants, when the phone rang in the pastor's study.

It was the evening of March 7, 1965 -- "Bloody Sunday" in Selma. Most of the 600 civil-rights marchers who had been attacked by Alabama state troopers that afternoon had retreated to hear Reese at the Brown Chapel AME Church, home of the movement in Selma. When Reese picked up the phone, the voice on the other end said, "I understand you had a little trouble down there." It was a fellow preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calling from Atlanta.

"Dr. King, that's a huge understatement," Reese remembers replying. He now chuckles as he tells the story, but back in those dark days of the mid-'60s, there was nothing funny about it.

"The state troopers had billy clubs in both hands. They literally went down the line, toppling the marchers over as if you were toppling bowling pins in a bowling alley," the pastor, now 79, remembers in an interview.

King told Reese he was mobilizing ministers from around the country to make their way to Selma. They did, along with thousands of other people. What followed two weeks later was a turning point in black America's struggle for equality: the voting-rights march from the Brown Chapel AME Church to the state Capitol, 50 miles away in Montgomery. Reese was in the front row of marchers, next to King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fingerprint expert who played key role in Medgar Evers assasination investigation dead at 88

Today's Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger has a feature on Ralph Hargrove Sr., a Jackson police fingerprint expert who died at age 88:

But the people of Jackson - and the people of Mississippi - should remember Ralph Hargrove Sr. for one simple fact - he was a white cop who did his duty in trying to bring a white racist to justice for the murder of a black civil rights leader in 1963.

Doing so wasn't easy and wasn't popular, but it was right. People who knew him said Hargrove was nobody's big-bellied, tobacco-chewing stereotype of a Southern lawman. They said he was a stand-up guy with courage and a conscience.

W.C. "Dub" Shoemaker, now a retired newspaper publisher in Kosciusko, reminded me this week of Hargrove's quiet courage. In 1963, Shoemaker was a reporter covering the police beat and civil rights stories for The Jackson Daily News in those difficult days.

One of the stories that Shoemaker covered was the assassination of NAACP Field Director Medgar Evers in his Jackson home on the night of June 12, 1963.

Shoemaker recalled how then-JPD Capt. Hargrove and Detective John Chamblee dutifully, doggedly worked the Evers crime scene looking for evidence.

Chamblee and Hargrove's investigation led them to discover a 1918 .3 0/06 Enfield rifle with a Goldenhawk six-power telescopic sight hidden in a clump of honeysuckle vines across Guynes Street from the Evers home.

From the scope of that Enfield rifle, Hargrove was eventually able to lift a "fresh" index fingerprint. The print was eventually matched in the FBI lab in Washington to the military records of Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist and erstwhile fertilizer salesman.

Hargrove's evidence led to unsuccessful 1964 prosecutions of Beckwith that ended in mistrials. But in 1994, new evidence emerged that resulted in a third trial of Beckwith.

This time, Beckwith was convicted of Evers' murder and would spend the rest of his life in a Mississippi prison. He died in 2001 at the age of 80.

At the time of Beckwith's conviction, prosecutors praised Hargrove, saying that the judicial process was indebted to people like Hargrove, who in retirement had kept the negatives of most of the pictures used as evidence in the first trial and again cooperated.

A lot of dominoes had to fall for Beckwith to ultimately pay for his crimes. But without this honest cop's diligence, the key link to Beckwith might have been lost to intolerance and indifference.

Rest well, Capt. Hargrove.

Minniejean Brown Trickey recalls Little Rock Nine

The only member of the Little Rock Nine who did not make it through the 1957-58 school year at Central High School relived her memories of that year in an interview in the March 22 Carleton University newspaper, the Charlatan, in Canada:

“I was 15 and I didn’t know that it was going to be historical. Fifty years later, I find out that it was pivotal American history that really, probably, brought about major change. So, wow, what an honour to be a part of that,” she says.

The nine students tried to enter the school, which was theoretically desegregated after a U.S. Supreme Court decision stated segregated schools were unconstitutional. The students, however, were stopped.

“As we approached the front of the school, soldiers in the Arkansas National Guard closed ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder to block the entrance of the black children and standing aside for the entrance of the white children,” Trickey recalls.

What happened that day was publicized around the world and the black students were dubbed the Little Rock Nine.

“The path to desegregation was raucous and violent, supported by armed soldiers, in plain view for the world to see,” says Trickey.

It was not until two weeks later, after President Dwight W. Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to implement desegregation, that the students returned to school.

Trickey described how the black students were sandwiched between guards and a mob of white people screaming obscenities and death threats.

“The Little Rock desegregation crisis was a pivotal event in United States history which spread to the world, and it had an important twist. That history was made by 14 and 15-year-olds,” she says. “We were not special. We were just kids and we wanted something that was inherently evil to change.”

South Middle School eighth grader receives letter from civil rights pioneer

One of the highlights of this year's third quarter civil rights research project in Mr. Randy Turner's eighth grade communication arts class was when Raycee Thompson received a letter from Carl Holmes, one of the attorneys who helped conduct the research that helped the NAACP present the winning case in the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.

Raycee wrote a letter to Carl Holmes, whom she had met briefly two years ago at an event in South Dakota.

"I received a reply letter from Carl Holmes. He was one of the attorneys who helped to do research for the Brown v. Board of Education case. The sad thing is he has bladder cancer, but he still decided to reply.

"In the letter, he answered my questions over the case. He told me that he researched the question, "Is the 14th Amendment being obstructed by school segregation?" He did the research because he felt it was the right thing to do and by doing the research he was treated differently; with more respect from his friends. He said initially he did have some doubts about winning the case, but he knew it would workout. The one thing I thought was the most important from this letter is the lesson Mr. Holmes thought teens should know:

"The roadblocks of hate and injustice can be set aside by serious study, hard work, and unflagging determination."

The content of the letter is printed below:

Dear Raycee:

We got your letter and unfortunately, Carl Holmes is in the hospital right now. He has bladder cancer. I took your letter to him and he dictated the following answers:

1. Did you believe the case had a chance of winning with a white Supreme Court making the decision?

Initially, I did not.

2. What kind of information did you research for the NAACP?

What evidence is there that the Congress which enacted, and the state legislators which ratified the 14th Amendment, understood or did not understand, contemplated or did not contemplate, that it would eventually abolish segregation in the public schools. This question, propounded by the Supreme Court, is the one that I worked on the summer of 1953.

3. When schools first began to desegregate, did you have any second thoughts?

No, because it was the beginning of change, even though I knew there would be problems.

4. Did people treat you differently because you volunteered to help research information for the case?

Yes. My friends thought it was a good thing to do, and in time as the significance of the decision achieved national attention, they were proud of my efforts.

5.How did the segregated schools affect you when you were younger and in school?

Not at all. I went to schools in New York City where there was no segregation by law.

6. Why did you volunteer to do research for the NAACP?

Because I felt it was the right thing to do at the time- I had just graduated from law school.

7.Recently, Sen. Ernie Chambers from Omaha, Nebraska, suggested that the schools be segregated again. How did it feel to hear an important African-American leader make such a suggestion?

I was greatly disheartened and I totally disagree with San. Chambers.

8. What do you feel is the most important lesson today's youth can learn from your generation's struggle?

The roadblocks of hate and injustice can be set aside by serious study, hard work and unflagging determination.

9. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you, Raycee, for your lovely letter and may you succeed in all future endeavors.