Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Hattiesburg, Mississippi, kept from having trouble with Freedom Riders

Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, who continues to offer one remarkable story after another about the American civil rights movement, has another one in today's edition.

In it, Mitchell reveals the previously untold story of how Hattiesburg,Mississippi kept from having trouble with the Freedom Riders, with an interview of longtime Hattiesburg civil leader Bobby Chain:

Chain said the idea was simple: Let the Freedom Riders hold protests and provocations in peace. There would be no angry mob scenes, no retaliation.

"We met every morning at 7 o'clock to plan for the day's events," Chain said. "The places where we knew these people would go, we visited privately with (the owners/managers/proprietors), whichever one of us could best talk with them. We said, 'Now look, if (Freedom Riders) come talk to you, you be nice to them and no problems.'
"We got the bus stations to take down the 'white only' signs. We got the right people to see to that, too. This group we had, these were powerful men."

A search of issues of the Hattiesburg American from May though August 1961 had front-page news of the Riders - "mixers" as they also were referred to in the headlines - and their arrests in Jackson and other Southern cities.

But there were no stories of arrests or incidents involving the Riders during that summer in Hattiesburg.

Chain said the group stayed mostly behind the scenes. Had word gotten out, "(t)his probably wouldn't have been popular with some segment of our population, had they known what we were doing, but it never got out, and we kept this group together for two or three years because we didn't know how long (the Riders) would keep coming, and we had a few stragglers in the years after that."

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