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CHAPTER 2. FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE AND SOLVE
INCIDENTS OF RACIAL VIOLENCE
Local officials in Mississippi today retain primary responsibility for law enforcement as they have since the organization of the Mississippi Territory. During 1963 and 1964 law enforcement officials were confronted with severe outbreaks of racial violence in many parts of the State and, for the most part, failed to apprehend the persons responsible for these acts. The Commission investigated the reasons for such failures at its Mississippi hearing by questioning under subpena sheriffs and police chiefs from counties where there were frequent and serious incidents of violence.
Adams County, in the southwestern corner of the State bordering on the Mississippi River, has a population that is 50 percent Negro. The white community in Adams County has been intensely hostile to any form of civil rights activity. The grand wizard of a State Ku Klux Klan group lives in Natchez, the county seat, and the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, another extremist group, was founded there. Although there was little civil rights activity in Adams County in 1964,
Federal law enforcement officers were also active in Mississippi during this period. See, e.g., p. 162, infra. See generally FBI Appropriation 1966, 81–86 (FBI reprint, 1965).
* Hearings in Jackson, Miss., Before The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, February 16–20, 1965, Vol. II, at 153 (1965). [The transcript of the public session is hereinafter cited as “T.” and the transcript of the Executive Session is hereinafter cited as “T.E.").
* Charter of Incorporation, Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, June 25, 1963, on file in the office of the Secretary of State, Jackson, Miss., Book 143, at 25.
efforts of civil rights groups elsewhere in the State touched off series of violent attacks against local Negroes who were apparently selected at random. In addition, whites in the community who employed Negroes in other than traditional positions, or who were suspected of sympathy with their demands, were harassed or boycotted.* An apparent purpose of this violence was to prevent any assertion of rights to equality by local Negroes.
From September 1963 to September 1964, in Adams County and the surrounding area, four Negroes were whipped and a white civil rights worker assaulted; one Negro was shot and seriously injured, and at least one Negro was murdered. There were also cross-burnings on several occasions and arson attempts on two Negro homes, as well as destruction by fire of four Negro churches and a Negro cafe. A climax was reached on the night of September 26, 1964, when the homes of the mayor of Natchez and a prominent Negro contractor were bombed. Law enforcement authorities failed to solve
of these cases."
Two Negroes who were victims of whippings by gangs of hooded men in Adams County testified before the Commission. Alfred Whitley, a 52-year-old Negro janitor at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant in Natchez, testified that on February 6, 1964, when returning from work, he was stopped near his home by a group of armed and hooded men who blindfolded him and took him in a car to Homochitto National Forest. There they stripped him, told him they knew he was the “leading nigger in Natchez, in the NAACP, and the Masonic Lodge” and demanded to know the identity of his "white leader.” When Whitley, who was not a member of either of these organizations, was unable to give them any information, they beat him with a bull whip, lashed his face with a leather strap, and
* No testimony was heard concerning these incidents. The victims were unwilling to testify because of fear of reprisal. See U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Staff Report of Investigation of Incidents of Racial Violence, Adams County, Mississippi, September 1963–1965, January 31, 1965 (hereinafter cited as Adams County Report] T. 461, 468.
5 Adams County Report, T. 461-68.
threatened to kill him with a shotgun. After the beating, Whitley was told to run, was shot at, but managed to escape. He required hospital treatment for his injuries.*
Several days later, on February 15, Archie Curtis, a 56-yearold Negro undertaker who was chairman of the local Negro voter registration drive, received an emergency ambulance call. When he and his helper, Willie Jackson, arrived at the designated place, several armed and hooded men appeared and took them at gunpoint to a remote part of the county. Curtis was ordered to hand over his NAACP card. When he denied membership in the organization, he was partially stripped and whipped. His assistant was also beaten. After warning Curtis to tell no one of the incident, the gang left. He required medical care for his injuries."
The law enforcement officer responsible for investigating these cases was Sheriff Odell Anders of Adams County. His investigations appear to have been brief and unproductive, and no arrests were made.
While in the hospital Whitley was interviewed by Sheriff Anders. Although he was unable to identify any of his assailants, he did name a man who had been driving in front of him in a suspicious way just before he was abducted. The sheriff's investigation records, produced in response to the Commission's subpena, consist of 24 typewritten lines, undated, recording only his interview with Whitley. No interview with the man named by Whitley or any other possible witness or suspect is recorded. The half-page report closes with the statement: "We followed every lead and found nothing.". When asked whether he had interviewed the man named by Whitley, Sheriff Anders testi
T. 96-101. ?T. 91-95.
8 After Curtis' beating Sheriff Anders requested and received the assistance of agents from the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol. T. 137. Patrol investigators apparently participated in some investigations, but, with two exceptions, kept no records. Testimony of T. B. Birdsong, Commissioner of Public Safety, T. 438–40. For a discussion of the powers of Highway Patrol, see ch. 5, note 2, infra.
Investigation Report of the beating of Alfred Whitley, undated, T. 497.
fied that he had seen the man, as well as 25 to 40 other men who worked at the Armstrong plant, but destroyed the records which, he said, were unrelated to the case "so that it won't incriminate these people.
The sheriff's office also investigated the beatings of Archie Curtis and Willie Jackson. Deputies interviewed Curtis and Jackson and examined the ground at the scene of the beating. The victims were unable to give any identifying information." Again the sheriff's investigation records consist of a single, undated, typewritten page recording the original interview. No interviews with possible suspects are recorded."
The records in other cases in Adams County reflect equally limited investigations. For example, the sheriff's investigation of the burning of two Negro churches on the night of July 12, 1964, is recorded in a report consisting of some 10 typewritten lines, dated the day of the fires. It describes the sheriff's trip to the site of both churches, his contact with other law enforcement agencies, and includes the following statement:
A number of people were contacted. No motive was ever
10 T. 138.
1Investigation Report of the bearing of Archie C. Curtis and Willie Jackson, undated, T. 496.
13 Investigation Report of the burning of Jerusalem Baptist and Bethel A.M.E. Churches, T. 497. The report originally read “63 people were contacted.” The words “a number of" were inserted in pencil.
14 T. 140.
others were members of the Ku Klux Klan,15 but testified that he had “no idea" of the strength or activities of this organization."
Almost half the incidents of violence which occurred in Adams County during 1964 took place in the city of Natchez. The city's police chief, J. T. Robinson, testified that despite great effort he had been unable to solve a single one of the cases of racial violence. As he explained: “The witnesses don't give you any clues at all, and there are very few witnesses that you can come up with.” 17 Although he thought he knew who was responsible for racial violence, he had not made any arrests because, “I don't think we can make a case stick.'
There was no indication that Chief Robinson investigated any extremist groups although he said he knew they were operating in the area. He did not know the names of these groups or whether any were known as the Ku Klux Klan; 19 neither did he know their objectives or whether he had interviewed any of their members in investigating incidents of violence.20 He did not know whether the Klan was responsible for cross-burnings, or what the burning crosses meant, except that he had been told they stood for “unity.
He testified that he was not aware of any meetings of these groups in the county, except for one held by the Klan, at which he was a spectator, and another by the Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, at which he was the principal speaker.22 He found the Klan meeting and speeches “very impressive” and commented that “I couldn't see anything that night that would make you think that they were anything but upstanding people.”
T. 155, 158. Chief Robinson's topic was “What the general public could do to assist law enforcement."
23 T. 158.