The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we look at the career of civil rights attorney R. Jess Brown. Brown originally came to Mississippi in 1946 as a public-school teacher. After Gladys Noel Bates was fired and black-listed from teaching in Mississippi for agreeing to be the plaintiff in a landmark civil rights lawsuit, Brown volunteered to take her place. When his teaching contract was not renewed, he left the state to attend law school at Texas Southern University. He passed the Mississippi Bar Examination in 1954 and established his law practice that same year.
1972 – At the time this interview was conducted in the Jackson law office of R. Jess Brown on April 2, 1972, Brown was still an active, practicing attorney. Brown was born in Coffeeville, Kansas in 1912. In this episode, he explains how growing up in Oklahoma inspired him to become a civil rights attorney. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the early 60s, activists were often targeted by police. Brown recalls representing these defendants against a variety of charges.
In preparing for the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, workers received training on how to protect themselves both physically and legally. Brown remembers going to Oxford, Ohio, to warn them of the hazards they would likely face.
During the Civil Rights Movement, some black citizens feared reprisals after the activists went home. Jess Brown discusses the strategy of direct confrontation versus a protracted legal battle.
WARNING: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.