On January 6th, 2020, a statue of slain civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer was unveiled at Hattiesburg City Hall.
In this episode, taken from her 1974 COHCH interview, Ellie J. Dahmer remembers her husband as a Christian man who helped everyone regardless of race. As a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Vernon Dahmer received death threats, daily. Ellie Dahmer recalls the extreme measures she and her husband took to protect their family.
On the night of January 10, 1966, Vernon Dahmer attended church and then returned home to prepare for another week of hard work. Ellie Dahmer describes waking up to gunfire and trying to rescue her children as bullets riddled their burning home.
Vernon Dahmer died January 10, 1966 from injuries sustained when his home was firebombed by the KKK. Ellie Dahmer discusses her husband’s legacy and why she thinks he would do it all again.
(note: in the podcast and broadcast, the statue dedication date was incorrectly given as January 4th, not January 6th)
As a young man, Fred Clark of Jackson traveled to Midway, Georgia, to attend a series of meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King. In this episode, he recalls fearing for his safety as the group planned protests across the Jim Crow South.
The Freedom Riders were protesters who rode interstate buses to challenge southern segregation laws. Clark describes being arrested in Jackson in June of 1961 for trying to buy a ticket from the whites-only window. So many Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, many were taken to Parchman to handle the overflow. Clark remembers how their nonstop singing led to severe reprisals by prison officials.
PODCAST BONUS: In order to break the spirit of the protesters, prison guards resorted to putting them in windowless iron holding cells known as hotboxes. Unable to breath in the sweltering heat, Clark describes feelings of panic and being ridiculed by the guards.
PHOTO: MS Dept. of Archives and History
Fred Clark, Sr. grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1950s and 60s. In this episode, the first of two parts, he recalls the death of Emmett Till and how fear dominated the black community at that time. As events unfolded around him, Clark was determined to overcome his fear and work to make things better.
During the Civil Rights Movement, local organizers would hold events called Mass Meetings. Clark explains how these gatherings satisfied a variety of needs within the community. After the meetings, he would often catch a ride with civil rights leader Medgar Evers. He describes the sense of dread he felt riding with Evers, even as he marveled at the man’s bravery.
The culture of fear used to maintain social order in the Jim Crow South was deeply ingrained in everyone. Clark explains how being part of a greater movement inspired everyone to do their part.
For many young people, participation in the Civil Rights Movement began with a membership in the NAACP. In this episode, Franzetta Sanders of Moss Point recalls joining the group and the work they did to promote Equality for all. During the 1960s, members of the NAACP would test local businesses for compliance with new Civil Rights laws. Franzetta Sanders describes their work in Moss Point and how the community reacted.
In the Jim Crow South, there were separate public restrooms marked for “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only.” Sanders recounts how a stopover at the Hattiesburg bus station resulted in their bus being surrounded by police.
Most Mississippi public schools did not begin to fully integrate until 1970. As the mother of six children, Sanders worked to make sure they had the best educational opportunities possible. She remembers those difficult early days and how things eventually got better.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Sanders worked diligently to break down racial barriers. She expresses frustration at the apathy of young people who are reluctant to join the NAACP.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Lucas Somers, and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
PHOTO: USM Digital Collections – Herbert Randall
Billy Ferrell became Sheriff of Adams County in January of 1960. In this episode, he describes the rising tensions brought on by the Civil Rights Movement during the second half of his first term in office. During the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate anyone they perceived as supporting civil rights. Ferrell remembers countering threats against his family with some intimidation of his own.
While campaigning for a second term as sheriff, Ferrell was asked to give a political speech to a group of local Klansmen. He explains his reasons for agreeing to meet with the group and discusses how completely they had been infiltrated by the FBI.
On September 25, 1964, Klansmen bombed and damaged the home of Natchez Mayor John Nosser. Ferrell recalls going to check on the mayor afterwards and being questioned by the FBI.
THIS EPISODE CONTAINS MILD PROFANITY.
In 1959 Dr. Gilbert Mason was the only black physician on the staff of the new Biloxi Hospital. At that time, the 26 mile man-made Biloxi beach, paid for with Federal funding, was designated for whites only, in violation of the original agreement. In this episode, Mason explains his decision to try and integrate the beach.
After he was arrested, Mason and group of black citizens petitioned the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to make the beach available to all citizens. The board refused and the group made a second attempt in April of 1960. Mason describes being attacked by an angry mob while police watched the violence unfold.
In response, NAACP President Medgar Evers gathered citizen complaints to present to the U.S. Justice Department, who then filed suit against the board. Three years later, seventy protesters returned to the beach carrying black flags in honor of Evers who had been assassinated the week before.
The original group arrested for trespassing on the beach in 1960 was awaiting their verdict in county court the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mason recalls how they honored the slain President. The case eventually made it all the way to the US Supreme Court and in 1968, Harrison County was forced to desegregate Biloxi Beach, making it available for use by all its citizens.
Amzie Moore of Cleveland, Mississippi, had to fend for himself from the time he was fourteen years old. In this episode, he recalls wondering why there was such economic disparity between the white and black communities. To his young mind, there must have been something special about white people that allowed them to attain a higher standard of living than blacks. It was only after serving in Europe during WWII Moore realized this was not the case. He came home determined to work towards a better life for himself and his community. He got financing to open his own Pan-Am service station, the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg that allowed black customers to use the restrooms. And he became politically active, first with the Black and Tan Republicans and later joining the Democratic Party. He also joined the NAACP.
In September of 1955, while serving as NAACP President for Bolivar County, Moore received a call from the grandfather of a boy named Emmett Till. He explains how Till’s death marked a turning point in Mississippi. Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, Southern states used poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise poor minority voters. Moore discusses how they worked to overcome those obstacles through the formation of the Freedom Democratic Party. Later, as leader of Project Head Start, he fought to bring affordable housing and new job opportunities to poor people in the Mississippi Delta. Moore looks back with pride at all they were able to accomplish.
In 1948, Gladys Noel Bates agreed to be the named plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the black Mississippi Teachers Association against the state of Mississippi to demand equal pay for black teachers, knowing that she and her husband would most likely lose their jobs.
After news of the suit made headlines, Bates remembers the other teachers avoided being seen with her for fear of reprisals. She describes how being blacklisted by the state prevented the couple from teaching anywhere in the South.
Bates and her husband left Mississippi in 1960 and became teachers in Denver, Colorado. She recalls how their plan to keep a low profile was thwarted by a desire to improve racial relations. Soon, Bates had developed a reputation in the Denver public school system as someone who could work with people of all races. She gives several examples of the strategies she used to unite parents and students in the common goal of a better education for all.
CONTAINS RACIAL EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In October of 1966, Father Peter Quinn became pastor of Holy Rosary, a small, black, parish in Hattiesburg. Interested in working with the youth of the community, he formed a group that would later become the Catholic Youth Organization. In this episode, he describes how their young people participated in picketing and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement.
As an activist priest in Hattiesburg in the 1960s, Quinn often received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. One night, his station wagon was fired on by men in two pickup trucks who tried to force him off the road. Afterwards, he was protected by a group of volunteers called the Deacons of Defense.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept a grueling schedule of personal appearances during the Movement. Father Quinn recalls how on King’s last trip to Hattiesburg, just ten days before his assassination, he borrowed Quinn’s bed for a much-needed nap. After King was killed, violence erupted across the nation. Quinn describes leading a protest march through downtown Hattiesburg after pleading with the kids to leave their knives and guns at home.
PHOTO: Huffington Post
Former Governor William Winter was first elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1947. In this episode, he remembers how the verdict in Brown versus the Board of Education solidified opposition to desegregation throughout the South. Gov. Winter was running for State Treasurer in 1963 when he learned of the assassination of civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. He recalls being shocked by the news and even more shocked by the reaction of a respected church elder.
In 1997, Gov. Winter was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race. He reflects on his work with the Board and the things that are important to most Americans.
Today, the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss, supports harmony and wholeness among all Mississippians. He explains how each of us have a role to play and why it’s so important.
In March 2008, Governor Winter was given the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for his work in advancing education and racial reconciliation.
Prior to the end of slavery in the United States, educating African-Americans was discouraged or prohibited by law throughout the South. After emancipation, opportunities for blacks to attend school were still scarce, but began to improve during the Reformation. Lounett Gore’s father was born a slave, but emancipated while still an infant. In this episode, she describes how he was educated by his mother’s former master.
As the youngest child of a sharecropper’s family, Gore was kept by her big sister while their parents worked. She remembers sitting in a classroom, as a toddler, while her sister attended school, and learning along with the older children.
During WWI, many African-Americans migrated from the southern states, northward, in search of better jobs. Gore recalls how her father went to St. Louis and earned enough money to buy his own farm. This gave them the chance to: improve their diet by growing their own food, keep all the profits their farm produced, and raise their standard of living. Even so, because black children were needed during planting and harvesting, their school year was only three months long.
PODCAST EXTRA: Prior to WWI, Home Demonstration Clubs were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These clubs taught young women food preparation and other homemaking skills. Gore explains how belonging to a Home Demonstration Club gave her the opportunity to attend Tougaloo College—a historic black school, founded just north of Jackson, Mississippi in 1869 by New York–based Christian missionaries for the education of freed slaves and their offspring.
PHOTO: The Mansion at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/FreedomNow/scans/TJ0071.jpg
On Friday morning, Feb. 2, 2018, an unveiling ceremony was held on the USM campus for a new historical marker detailing the efforts of Clyde Kennard to enroll at Mississippi Southern College.
Kennard had tried to enroll as a student at Southern Miss multiple times in the late 1950s, but was denied admission because of his race. He was later arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. In this episode, Raylawni Branch of Hattiesburg recalls Kennard’s attempts to integrate the all-white college. Branch was active in the Civil Rights Movement between 1959 and 1965. She describes her work with the NAACP and the limited opportunities for black people in Hattiesburg.
In 1965, Branch was a young mother, trying to make ends meet. She remembers being offered the chance to become one of the first African-American students at Southern Miss. Shortly afterwards, Vernon Dahmer, a popular businessman who led the local effort to register black voters, died from injuries he sustained when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his home at Kelly Settlement. Branch recalls Dahmer’s generosity and how he died fighting back.
When Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch became the first black students at USM, they were assigned six bodyguards for protection. Branch reflects on how they were accepted by the other students.
In the Jim Crow South, African-Americans had limited access to doctors and hospitals. One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to improve healthcare for blacks in segregated states like Mississippi. In this episode, taken from a series of interviews conducted in 1998, Dr. Gilbert Mason recounts conditions as they existed in 1955, when he came to the Gulf Coast as a young doctor. He explains how black patients were crammed into a two-room annex in the New Biloxi Hospital. As a black physician, Mason was prevented from becoming a member of the hospital staff or joining the Mississippi State Medical Association. He recalls the struggle for recognition by his white colleagues.
As a civil rights activist, Mason is best known for leading a series of wade-ins on segregated Biloxi beach, but he also worked to improve healthcare for black Mississippians. He remembers Dr. Bob Smith, who led the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP Medical Committee for Civil Rights.
In 1965, the Biloxi School District was ordered to completely desegregate all its schools. Mason describes being attacked by a white man with scalding hot coffee after the ruling came down. When asked why he became a civil rights activist, Mason would credit his training as a boy scout and a physician. In his view, medicine and civil rights share an inseparable bond.
In this episode, we hear from Jobie Martin, a Jackson broadcasting pioneer who broke through the racial barriers of the day with his smooth vocals, jovial personality, and kindhearted nature. The only child of a single mom, Martin grew up in Mississippi at a time when job prospects for African-Americans were limited largely to menial labor. He takes us through his unlikely journey into broadcasting, gives us a sample of his disc jockey radio persona, discusses the challenge of selling advertising on the first black-hosted TV show in Mississippi, and lists some of his famous guests like Mohammad Ali, James Earl Jones, and Mahalia Jackson.
Jobie L. Martin was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1919. His father, George Martin, died in a car accident when Jobie was an infant. His mother, Leona Scott Martin, scrubbed floors to provide for her son and Jobie recalls her as a strict and protective single parent, not allowing him to play sports for fear of injury. He spent time growing up in Gulfport and Hattiesburg, attending Eureka High School.
While waiting to be called into service during WWII, he traveled to Chicago and enrolled in Worsham mortician school. After his military service, he returned to Chicago and graduated as a mortician, but didn’t like the work, taking a job at St. Luke’s Hospital as an assistant pathologist. He also joined Pilgrim Baptist Church Gospel Choir, under the direction of famed composer Thomas A. Dorsey, and sang with such notable gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson.
The following excerpt is from an article published in the Clarion Ledger on April 1, 2011:
“After returning home to Mississippi to assist family, Jobie worked as an airport porter, but his smooth voice drew the attention of supervisors' who had him announcing the airport's flights over the loud speaker.
From there he sought the job of a radio announcer. Instead, he was sent out to sell ads to black businessmen. He did so well, he was hired for the same job at Jackson's WOKJ. It was in Memphis that Jobie auditioned again for a disc jockey's job and was on the air for eight months until new owners came and spun Jobie back to Jackson.
He settled in as a Disc Jockey at WOKJ where he was known as "the loud mouth of the South". At the urging of his wife, Dorothy, Jobie enrolled in Jackson State College and earned his undergraduate degree. He also played on the Jackson State College football team earning the nickname "the Flash". [at the age of 39!]
Jobie taught school for ten years at Westside Elementary School where he taught Special Education and rehabilitation.
He opened two restaurants in Jackson, Valerie's and Jobie's Restaurant. He also hosted the Jobie Martin Show, becoming the first African American to have a commercial paid television show in Mississippi. He has served on the Board of Hinds Community College for the past 20 years.
His awards includes, Jackson State University Alumni Association Hall of Fame, Jackson State University's Sports Hall of Fame, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Mu Sigma Chapter, L. T. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award, Living Legend, and Mississippi's 2007 Outstanding Older Worker, just to name a few. However he was most proud of his work after retirement as a substitute teacher for the Jackson Public Schools where he continued to be a drum major for a whole new generation of students.”
Jobie Martin died in a car crash in March of 2011, at the age of 93.
Last week, Mississippi lost a legend of the Civil Rights Movement. Peggy Jean Connor of Hattiesburg owned a beauty shop on Mobile Street in the early 1960s. In this episode, she shares some of her memories of joining the Movement, like becoming a citizenship teacher after hearing a speech by Fannie Lou Hamer, being arrested in Hattiesburg for picketing for voter rights and spending a week in jail, and going to visit Civil Rights activist, Vernon Dahmer at Forrest General Hospital after his home was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966.
After Mississippi’s public schools were forced to integrate in 1970, Connor enrolled her daughter in a white Hattiesburg school. She recounts the experience as a positive one.
Peggy Jean Connor passed away on January 13th, 2018
Founded in 1941, Church Women United is an ecumenical group with local chapters across the US. In this episode, Jane Schutt of Florence, Mississippi, recalls how the group's progressive stand on racial equality caused many chapters in the South to fold. Schutt served as state president of Church Women United from 1960 to 1963. She describes the group’s national program for racial reconciliation introduced by the Methodist members called “Assignment Race” and the daunting task assigned to the Mississippi delegation.
In 1962, Schutt was appointed to the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. Later, when she was named chairperson of the Advisory Committee, her name began appearing in national and local news stories. Schutt explains how that exposure made life difficult for her husband and children. She also remembers the support she received from the Episcopal Church and Church Women United.
Jane Schutt received many awards including the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from the Prentiss Institute, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference Award, and the Church Women United’s Valiant Woman Award.
Vernon Dahmer was a Hattiesburg businessman and civil rights activist who helped blacks register to vote. Dahmer’s house was riddled with bullets and firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of January 10, 1966. Holding off the attackers while his family escaped out the back of the house, Dahmer’s lungs were damaged by the flames and he died the next day. After confessing to Dahmer’s murder, one of the Klansmen agreed to turn state’s evidence against the rest. Buck Wells served as a juror in one of the trials. In this episode, Wells discusses why Dahmer’s efforts put him at odds with the Ku Klux Klan despite being well-liked within the community. He recalls some details of the crime and how the district attorney built an ironclad case.
Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, all-white juries rarely convicted whites of crimes against blacks. Wells explains how their jury drew inspiration from a higher power to reach a guilty verdict. After the jury voted to convict the defendant, the names of the jurors were published in the newspaper. Wells describes the harassing phone calls, as well as, words of support.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American – Ellie Dahmer holds photo of her late husband
Judge Harvey Ross grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the 1920s when racial segregation was absolute and unquestioned. After college, Ross joined his brother’s law firm and represented many black clients. During this time, his own views on race and segregation evolved. As demand for civil rights began to grow, a Japanese Episcopal priest, Daisuke Kitagawa, came to Clarksdale to help ease racial tensions. In this episode, Ross remembers the meetings Kitagawa hosted between white and black community leaders and how those meeting laid the groundwork for future projects.
Ross was served in the State House of Representatives from 1948 to 1956. During that time, the White Citizens Council was formed by Robert “Tut” Patterson, to maintain segregation in the South. Ross recalls the group’s initial popularity and their office in Greenwood.
Coahoma Opportunities, Inc. was organized in 1965 with grant money from a Community Action program, set up by the Kennedy administration. Ross discusses the challenges of dealing with the all-white county board of supervisors. And he looks back with pride at the positive effect that C.O.I. has had on the entire community.
The Council of Federated Organizations or COFO, was organized in 1961, to promote voter registration in Mississippi. In this episode, Benton County, Mississippi native Ernestine Scott recalls joining the group as a teenager. She also remembers one civil rights worker arrested for attending a basketball game.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act, election officials used reading comprehension tests to prevent blacks from registering to vote. Ernestine Scott describes how they worked to prepare for the test.
Growing up in Benton County, Mississippi in the 1950s, Ernestine Scott had limited contact with white people. Her father would shield his children from visitors to their farm to protect them. Her first impressions of the outside world and the role of African-Americans in it came from television programs of the day. In response to depictions of blacks as porters and maids and personified by such characters as Amos and Andy, Scott’s father would tell her that black people were better than that and someday, whites would understand the need to show them in a better light.
In this episode, Scott shares her memories of that time, like being chastised by a white man for drinking from the wrong water fountain, how her mother warned her of the need to be careful when speaking to a white person, and her father’s prediction for a better future. She also recalls riding 12 miles on an overcrowded bus to reach the county’s one black school each day.
PHOTO: Benton County courthouse
Hubert Wesley was only five when his family left the Choctaw reservation and became sharecroppers. In this episode, he shares his memories of how they came to live in Noxubee county and the hard times they endured. As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper, Wesley worked year-round, cutting timber and chopping cotton. He recalls the primitive lifestyle and the spirit of cooperation it fostered within the Choctaw community.
After Wesley’s family harvested their crops each fall, they were paid to help the white farmers. He explains how the Choctaws were treated differently from their white coworkers and recounts paying ten cents for a ride to Macon and sitting with black customers at the cinema.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
In 1969, two professors from Millsaps and Tougaloo, Jim Loewen and Charles Sallis, decided to write a Mississippi History textbook with the help of their graduate students. Mississippi: Conflict and Change was considered a ground-breaking textbook when it was published in 1974. Despite receiving universal critical acclaim, the book was banned from use in Mississippi classrooms by the State Textbook Purchasing Board.
In this episode, Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, a member of the team of graduate students who assisted in writing the book, discusses the felt need for a more inclusive narrative in teaching Mississippi history. She also recalls their efforts to convince the State to reconsider its ruling and the decision to file a lawsuit against the Board.
Podcast Extra: Thirty-five years after winning their lawsuit against the State Textbook Purchasing Board, Hairston reflects on the judge’s ruling and the importance of history in making Mississippi a better place to live.
Prior to desegregation in 1968, black students in Ocean Springs, Mississippi attended Keys High School. In this episode, Jeanne Meggs remembers the dedicated teachers there and how they pushed her to succeed. She also recalls how the schools were separate, but not equal when it came to resources. And she explains how issues still arose as to the treatment of black students, even after the schools in Ocean Springs integrated.
Even so, Meggs looks back favorably on her childhood in Ocean Springs. Despite the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, the one constant she recalls, was the caring and charitable nature of the people who lived there. Since retiring, Meggs has returned to Ocean Springs. She describes it as a community with a historically progressive outlook. Finally, she reflects on how growing up there gave her the confidence to achieve her goals.
PHOTO - msmohp.com
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans across the South were denied the right to vote through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics of suppression. In 1964, David Kendall was a 20-year-old Indiana college student. In this episode, he recalls coming to Mississippi to participate in the voter registration drive known as Freedom Summer.
Over the course of that summer, Kendall would be jailed multiple times. He shares his memories of that first arrest and being introduced to the best cheeseburger in Holly Springs. In preparing for Freedom Summer, Civil Rights workers received extensive training in a variety of tactics, but he explains how growing up on a farm proved surprisingly useful in helping to gain the confidence of black farmers in the Delta.
Image: Voter Registration Holly Springs, McCain Library & Archives, USM
Joseph Wroten of Greenville was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1951. During his three terms in office, his progressive views on issues like civil rights often put him in opposition to the rest of the legislature, so much so that he was dubbed “The Great Dissenter” by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
In this episode, Wroten reflects on Washington County’s history of Progressivism. He discusses the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission—created by the legislature in 1956 to promote continued racial segregation—and why he first supported and then opposed the agency’s formation.
Wroten details how his liberal views often made him the target of threats and hate speech and how his support for the admission of James Meredith to Ole’ Miss cost him a fourth term in office.
PODCAST EXTRA: As a minister’s son, Wroten grew up Methodist in segregated Mississippi. He remembers how the United Methodist Church sought to lead by example during the Civil Rights Movement.