Fifty-three years ago today, on April 7, 1963, the following article appeared in the pages of The Worker, a predecessor publication of People’s World. The author, James E. Jackson, was a founder of the Southern Negro Youth Congress, WWII veteran, Smith Act defendant, long-time leader of the Communist Party, and editor of the paper at that time. In this article, written at the height of the Civil Rights struggle, Jackson details the fight of African-Americans in the state of Mississippi to secure their right to vote. Given today’s ongoing struggles to protect voting rights and stop police violence, as well as Mississippi’s return to headlines this week over its new anti-LGBT law, PW is proud to present this article from our archives.
A cabal of racist madmen are in power in Mississippi. All the agencies of law and order from the local police chiefs, county sheriffs and local departments of the FBI, to the Federal District Court Judges and Gov. Ross Barnett and the state officials are using all instruments of “law and order” to wage a bloody war against that half of the state’s population who are Negro Americans.
What is the offense of the Negroes? They are acting on the assurances of the U.S. Supreme Court and the declaration of President Kennedy and the Attorney General that the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Civil Rights law protect them in the exercise of their citizenship rights. They have been endeavoring to assert the most elementary right of citizens – to register as voters.
The response of the white supremacist minions of “law and order” to the modest petition of Negro citizens of Greenwood and elsewhere in Mississippi has been an unmatched display of racist savagery. Negroes have been jailed by the score, they have been shot down in cold blood; unarmed men, women and youth have been beaten in broad daylight by policemen who unleashed German police dogs against them.
All this has been done under the eyes of agents of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI who, consistent with their record of never having brought to justice a single lyncher or assailant of a Negro in the history of the FBI, raised not one word of protest or made a single intervention to protect the lives or liberties of a single victim of the “official”-led mobsters.
The nation can turn at its own peril a deaf ear to the cries of anguish from the valiant Negro freedom fighters. The challenge Mississippi has thrown to Washington and liberty-loving Americans everywhere is inescapable.
The unions, the churches, all the democratic forces of the nation are called upon to act in solidarity with the Negro people of Mississippi to secure their rights against the criminal state officials who are waging a murderous war against them.
President John F. Kennedy must declare a state of emergency and send in a full complement of Federal police authorities to enforce the total equal rights of the nearly one million Negro citizens there, and bring about the imprisonment of the officials guilty of violating their oaths of office by carrying out this reign of terror against Negro citizens.
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy should go at once to Greenwood, and deputize several hundreds of Negro citizens as deputy U.S. marshals with arms and mandates to secure law and order and safeguard the lives, liberties and properties of the people of Mississippi from the racist madmen who are in open revolt against all norms of civilization and the laws of the United States.
All aid to the just struggle of the Negro people of Mississippi.
The struggle in Greenwood and the rest of Mississippi around voter registration continued for a number of years. In 1964, when local authorities still refused to allow African-Americans to register and vote, the “Freedom Ballot” was established under the slogan of “One Man, One Vote” by SNCC activists. Though not legally binding, the campaign was a crucial part of the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which brought the segregation issue right into the heart of the Democratic National Convention. Robert F. Kennedy also eventually came to Mississippi, as a U.S. Senator, in 1967. Prominent children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman, who was then a civil rights attorney at the Justice Department, said that after seeing the poverty of African-Americans, Kennedy instructed her to contact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about bringing Mississippi’s poor to Washington. The following year, under Dr. King’s leadership, the Poor People’s Campaign came to the National Mall with a massive march and tent city.
Readers interested in more of Jackson’s coverage of this critical period can pick up his book, The Bold, Bad ’60s, available in paperback from International Publishers.
Photo: Florida Holocaust Museum, “This Light of Ours” exhibit