* Code added to make Google search more likely. Mississippi Civil Rights--One Man, One Story: October 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It Can Be Lonely in the Middle



Pictured above are James Silver and Zoya Zeman. I know of James Silver, the author of "Mississippi: The Closed Society", and I have found an oral history transcript on Zoya Zeman that I haven't had a chance to read. I checked out the book "Running Scared, Silver in Mississippi" by James Silver yesterday at the main Jackson library. It had been on the shelf so long that it still had one of the cards the librarians once used when they hand stamped the due date. This book was last due back on July 13, 1989. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that despite sending this blog address out to about a hundred people, the typical day has less than 10 hits. I don't think many people really want to relive or remember this era in our history.

Personally, I'm finding it fascinating and I look forward to the time when I can read more. I'm discovering that I have never really understood the time period, the deep feelings, the conflicts between groups on the same side of the issue, and much more. While this blog started out about my dad and I seem to veer away from his story most of the time, I'm getting a better understanding of what he did and what he went through as I learn more about Mississippi in the mid-1960's. I have just glanced through the James Silver book and I immediately found a section that illustrates the difficult middle ground that whites like my dad and James Silver inhabited during these times.

The following comes from page 85 of the book and it must be in 1964 or 1965. James Silver is already well known as an Ole Miss professor who has put himself in a dangerous situation by his speeches, writings and actions in favor of Civil Rights. It would have been hard to find many who had gone so far out on a limb in Mississippi. He was teaching during the summer at Emory University in Atlanta and this is what he wrote:

"In August came an invitation to address a training group of SNCC partisans on the campus of Atlanta University. By then I had written exactly sixteen pages of my prospective speech to the Southern Historical Association and I figured this would be an auspicious occasion to try them out. So I drove out to the campus after supper, finding my mixed audience still playing softball in the evening glow.

Finally, shirtless men and women in shorts came in from the warm athletic field, I presumed to listen to my words of wisdom. But each time I girded myself for oratory as I thought my introduction imminent, someone in the back of the room would start up another chorus of "We Shall Overcome." When I did get up to speak, I had long since despaired of reading even the Gospel to such a wildly demonstrative audience, and so I made a few remarks regarding what I thought I had learned in Mississippi.

A question period brought pertinent inquiries, including one about whether they was any way "they" (Bill's "enemy") could get to me. Without much thought, I answered that I certainly was vulnerable through my nine-year-old daughter. Immediately, a large black shouted at me the impossible question: "Ya mean ya wouldn't sacrifice your daughter for the cause?" My reaction was somewhat emotional, to the effect that I wouldn't sacrifice Gail for all the Negroes in America, and I may have added Africa to boot.

The room temperature dropped to the point of refrigeration, and I was later told that occasionally thereafter I was referred to as "Uncle Tom Silver." When I had calmed down, I realized that Negroes had sacrificed, unwillingly, their daughters for two centuries, but I'm afraid the episode only added to my perplexity as to how to get along with blacks."

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Here's a man who was literally risking his life to speak out for Civil Rights, and those he is trying to help shun him because he is not willing to also risk the life of his 9-year-old daughter. When you consider how little the men like James Silver and my dad had to gain, how much they had to lose, and how they were subject to criticism from both sides of the issue, it took an amazing amount of courage and convictions to one's principles to stand in that middle ground.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Look at 'Head Start'

I'm looking forward to having the time to delve into some of the Civil Rights stuff more deeply when I finally work through the giant batch of photos I took at the Millsaps Homecoming. In the meantime, here's the text of an editorial that appeared in the "Jackson Daily News" on May 21, 1965. It was written by editor James W. Ward. It's another example of just how wide the gap between the races actually was 42 years ago.


A Look at ‘Head Start’

There is a disquieting aura, almost terrifying in its ultimate projection, hovering wraith-like above the Head Start phase of the federal government’s poverty program.

Head Start is specifically designed to include children, of all races and both sexes, from one to six years of age, considered underprivileged and in need of guidance and direction in pre-school preparation.

On the face of this undertaking, it appears to be most wholesome and humane, appealing to the most tender senses in assisting infant youngsters who otherwise might be relegated to slum dwelling influence, undesirable home background and lack of basic necessities.

However, as all federal programs are now designed, here is one of the most subtle mediums for instilling the acceptance of racial integration and ultimate mongrelization ever perpetrated in this country.

The most formative years of a child’s life are in this particular area, from 1 to 6, and the mixing of children of both races, and both sexes, will be of paramount importance in this program, with the children subconsciously registering such associations as natural and an indelible way of life in future years.

Naturally, the do-gooders and racists will immediately raise the loudest screams and sanctimonious objections to any such advanced objections, because such a program fits into the scheme of total integration and overlapping of the races which is being preached and taught throughout the United States today.

The most frightening parallel to these so-called Head Start programs, and they certainly are a head start toward a thorough conditioning of the young to the new race-thinking endorsed and encouraged by the federal government, are some similar programs which have been a part of some anti-American countries for years.

Soviet Russia has operated a children’s commune for years, this as a part of the education of both the pre-school child and the family, conditioning them to total Communism and dedication to the state.

Red China takes the young child, separating parent and children, for their peculiar brand of schooling, utilizing the early and impressionable years to instill the doctrine of blind obedience to designated leaders.

Hitler’s Germany built its most infamous Youth Corps and Nazi bullies from the children’s camps and goose-stepping schools of rigid political doctrine, and a constantly-taught regimentation.

Somewhere in this Head Start program, affecting the precious lives and minds of the most impressionable youth of this country, there is an ugliness which keeps making itself felt, well over the sound of crisp dollars being rustled as a conscience-appeaser.

The character of those officials designated to administer these projects, from the highest-placed post to the local day-to-day teacher, and their background should be of the highest, unquestioned dedication to the best interest of the children.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Photo of Change



Photo: What a stir the above photo would have caused in the late 50's or early 60's. Think about all the things that would be "wrong" with this photo back in that era: Start with the handshake between a white woman and a black man in the middle of a very public celebration. The fact that the women is the President of Millsaps College would have been very unusual if not totally unthinkable. The fact that the black man is the father of a student at Millsaps College would have created an uproar that might threaten the existence of the school. The idea that a young black woman, even if she was allowed at Millsaps as a student, would be named Homecoming Queen over a group of white students was just an impossibility.

Thought: While the 1960's brought about the dramatic opposition between those who favored equality for all and those who wanted the status quo to continue, there was also opposition within the side that was pushing for Civil Rights. Without a doubt, some thought my father and those like him were not pushing hard enough and fast enough, and I know my father believed that some were pushing for too much change too soon, and the resulting wall of resentment would hinder the movement in the long run. I'm not sure if there was a right or wrong approach in this discussion, and probably both sides were needed to balance the other.

Things get really complicated when I get into the area of Headstart. At the moment I'm reading bits and pieces of "The Devil Has Slippery Shoes" by Polly Greenberg. It tells a fascinating account of just how these factions in the Civil Rights movement were competing for control. I only know about the book because I search on "Polly Greenberg" after seeing her name in a mysterious document that seems to be the minutes from a meeting. In it, Charles Evers warns the group about people like my father who are only involved in a program like Headstart because "all they really want is the money they can get out of the program". In that statement Charles Evers specifically mentions Colonel Davis, Mr. Ezell, and Mr. Huhn. The minutes further indicate that Charles Evers had wired OEO in Atlanta requesting that they stop all funding for the Jackson Headstart program, the program my father help to start at the Bethlehem Center.

While Polly Greenberg sounds like she was far, far to the left of my father, this letter also recommends that she be fired, and in the foreword of her book, Polly writes a direct note to "Charles". It's interesting stuff, but I'm afraid that I have to just leave you with that tease of posts to come in the near future. The above photo is one of about 3,000 I took in a 48 hour period at Millsaps this weekend and I am somewhat exhausted and facing a mountain of work to process the photos. Therefore, the blog may suffer in quality some this week as I stretch myself thinner than Twiggy on a diet, but I will get a post of some sort here every day and hopefully get back to more substantial stuff next week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Chamber of Commerce Statement



Photo: The above is a photo of my father in the December 8, 1964 Clarion-Ledger, announcing the start of his term as President of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. By the way, the announcement mentions that he is the first second-generation president of the Chamber, following his father who was president in 1937. You might be able to read the headline in the center that says, "Minister Says Klan Rules Area". That's an article quoting the Rev. Clay Lee whom most of you know. He was a 34 year old minister in Phildelphia, MS at the time.

Post: It may seem backwards to have posted the KKK newsletter first, followed by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce statement. I think you'll understand my reason when you read the statement. In today's context, the statement put out by the Chamber is a racist statement and I think it helps put it into the context of 1964 by having shown how this statement was view by some in 1964 as "just to appease the demands of Martin Luther King and his communist rabble". Here's the statement which is dated one day after the signing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964:

Policy Statement as Approved by the Board of Directors
Jackson Chamber of Commerce
Friday, July 3, 1964

In view of the passage by the Congress and the signing by the President of the Civil Rights Act, the Board of Directors of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce makes the following statement:

1) The Board of Directors of the Chamber, acting as the policy making body for this organization of business and professional people, officially opposed the Civil Rights Bill, and encouraged opposition to it during the period that it was under consideration in the Congress.

2) Now that the bill has been passed, the Chamber Board recommends that businesses affected comply with the law, pending tests of its constitutionality in court. The citizens of Jackson have earned a reputation as a law abiding community, and the business and professional leadership of the city, and our elected city officials, have always encouraged all of our people of both races to abide by the law of the land. We may not be in sympathy with all of the laws of the land, but we must maintain our standing as a community which abides by the law.

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Wow! What a stunning cry for equality for all--the Chamber was against the Civil Rights Act, the Chamber doesn't like the Civil Rights Act and we think it may be unconstitutional, but our hands are tied because we are law abiding citizens. It's interesting that this was a statement that was widely condemmed in 1964 as the talk of an liberal, communist group, and in 2007 this statement would be condemned as being racist and hateful. A lot has changed in 43 years.

Earlier this week, I thought that my version of family history must have been wrong. I thought my dad was the president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1964, and as such, he had guided this call for compliance through the Chamber. Then I discovered he was just the president-elect in 1964, so maybe I was giving him more credit than he was due. The answer to this mystery comes once again from the oral history interview done by my dad in 1965:

INTERVIEWER: So then you were president-elect as of December, 1963.
EZELLE: That's right.
INTERVIEWER: You were, then, among the leadership of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce at the time they issued a statement urging compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were you not?
EZELLE: That's correct.
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell us something about the origin of that statement?
EZELLE: Yes. Actually, I presided at both the executive and the board meeting at which the statement was adopted because Mr. Clarence Lott, who was then president, was out of town....

There's a good bit more after the above, discussing the sqeeze that was being put on Jackson businesses from both sides, meetings with the mayor and a couple of the bank presidents, etc. This oral history interview is 25 pages long (double spaced) and I'll get it on the blog at some point in the future.

Let me just finish up the post and this week with a personal observation. There are places in this world today where seemingly small things are very dangerous things to do. In some places, a woman going out in public without being completely covered is risking being stoned to death. In some American neighborhoods, a youth wearing the wrong colors can be a very dangerous thing to do. In countries around the world, speaking out against the government results in time spent in jail. Small things at the wrong time and in the wrong place can be dangerous. That's what it was like in Mississippi in the 1960's. Blacks and whites meeting together, someone trying to register people to vote, an intergrated group sitting at a lunch counter, advocating that people should follow the law--normal day-to-day things that we've all done for years were acts of bravery 40+ years ago. It was a totally different world back then, a fact that has to be kept in mind when reading any of the information from that era.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chamber of Commerce Element Our Worst Enemy



I was less familiar with this KKK newsletter even though I must have read it in the past when I was sorting through the box of items that Mother gave me. I'm sure the other newsletter was more firmly in my mind because of the experience of finding them in our neighborhood. What follows is the newsletter and then some notes I have added at the end:



CHAMBER OF COMMERCE ELEMENT OUR WORST ENEMY

The Holy Bible says, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to go to heaven.” Of course, the real meaning here is that the rich live only for their money and in most cases turn back on God, Race and Country. The best example of this can be found here in the South.
In recent weeks our local newspapers have been carrying ads written and paid for by local businessmen and their Chamber of Commerce. They plead with the White people to obey the Civil Rights Laws, and to keep the peace and help quietly integrate all communities. They cannot stand the thought of losing a single dollar from any Negro boycott. In fact, they are so frightened by the thought of any Negro CORE picket line, they want to surrender in advance. They are in a big rush to hire Negro clerks, cashiers, even white collar workers, place Negroes in supervisory positions over White workers, just to appease the demands of Martin Luther King and his communist rabble.
The rich businessmen know that they can afford to live in wealthy areas of a city where the Negro cannot move, they have their rich private country clubs and golf links and swimming pools and private schools. THEY ARE SELFISH AND VICIOUS IN DEMANDING THAT THE WHITE WORKING CLASS MIX WITH BLACK UN-CIVILIZED ANIMALS JUST SO THAT THEY MAY MAKE MONEY OFF THEIR NEGRO CUSTOMERS!
It is time that we single out the main leaders of these “surrender all White Rights at any cost just so I can make money” business leaders and boycott them to the hilt. Let’s cut off their White trade and put them in the bread lines with negroes where they would like to place OUR people. SPEAK UP, WHITE MAN, TELL THESE SELL-OUT TRAITORS TO EITHER STAND AND FIGHT WITH THE WHITE RACE, OR PACK UP THEIR CARPETBAGS AND MOVE IN WITH THE NEGROES BECAUSE THEY ARE GOING TO LOSE ALL THEIR WHITE TRADE. SINCE THEIR PRINCIPLES ARE BANKRUPT, LET THEIR BANK ACCOUNTS ALSO BE BANKRUPT.

The above is an exact copy of a recent article in the conservative publication “Thunderbolt”. We wish to point out the following: There are some different tactics being used on our local scene.
Robert L. Ezell, Jr., president of our Chamber of Commerce and Mississippi Bedding (Mattress) Co., has had a lot of people sound asleep, but not with the use of his mattresses. This motley master was a Millsaps Major in the mid 30’s, followed in a couple of years by Robert Mayo and Nat S. Rogers, and all of them follow the socialist lines. Also, there has been a “finger” in the pie in more recent years.
The Chamber, with “Big Robert” at the head, has remained primarily in the background for almost one year, or ever since they came out with their outright compliance in absolute defiance of the principles and people they are supposed to represent. The Miss. Manufactures Association and the Miss. Economic Council have been used as the somewhat open supporters of the communist-backed movement to bring about complete abolition of our Christian beliefs and way of life.
If you can recall or assemble the recent comments and announcements from our liberal press, you will readily see how many phases of activity the Miss. Economic Council has delved into (business, social, civic, churches, schools, even roads, etc.), nothing short of dictating policies to all of these organizations.
We invite and humbly request that you take notice and ask questions about “Big Robert” and this situation. There will be more, and THEN, think about these comments and announcements, and you will readily realize the seriousness of the sell-out that has taken and is taking place, and what can and will be done about it.


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Various notes from Frank:

--I assume the line about a “finger” in the pie is a reference to Ellis Finger who was the President at Millsaps College from 1952-1964.
--I’ve seen several copies of this newsletter, but none have any information regarding the date of the newsletter, where it was distributed, etc. The first half of the newsletter quotes a story from the “Thunderbolt” that must have been written in 1964 since it refers to ads placed in local newspapers. This would have been soon after the passage of the Civil Rights Law in 1964. The second half of the newsletter refers to Robert Ezelle as the president of the Chamber of Commerce and says the Chamber has been in the background for almost one year so the newsletter had to have come out in 1965.
--At first the above newsletter didn’t make much sense to me since it said "Big Robert" and the Chamber had been fairly quiet. Instead they focus on the work of the Miss. Manufacturers Association and the Miss. Economic Council. I didn’t see the connection to my father until I reread an Oral History interview that he did in the summer of 1965. Here’s part of that interview:

INTERVIEWER: Are you also a member of the Mississippi Economic Council?
EZELLE: Yes, we have membership here in this firm.
INTERVIEWER: Did you participate in any way or are you familiar with the origin of their statement, which, as I recall, was issued somewhat after the Chamber’s statement?
EZELLE: I’m familiar with it. I was in on the development of it. I knew about it. I was informed about it and the Jackson Chamber was informed so that, if it was issued, they hoped that we would back them up on it. And so, after it was issued, we were among the first organizations to back them up with another statement that we endorsed their statement.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Taking a Stand Behind Senator John Stennis



Photo: The standing position in this photo was probably the only time my father was "behind Senator Stennis" when it came to anything regarding Civil Rights. This photo was provided by the Office of John Stennis and it came with the following cutlines:

From The Office of Senator John Stennis
April 30, 1964
For Immediate Release

JACKSON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE DELEGATION MEETS SENATOR JOHN STENNIS during their visit to Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Conferring with Senator Stennis in the Senate Visitors' Reception Room, just outside the Senate Chamber where the civil rights debate was in full swing, are (left to right) Chamber General Manager Mendell Davis, Chamber President Clarence Lott, Mrs. Robert Hearin, Mrs. Tom Scott, President-elect Robert Ezelle, Senator Stennis, Tom Scott, Mrs. Clarence Lott, and Mrs. Mendell Davis. Many other Jackson delegates were not present for this picture. Senator Stennis, one of the Southern team captains, had charge of the floor debate on this particular day, and delivered a major speech against the bill.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wendell Mottley--The Rest of the Story



Yesterday I reprinted a story from 1961 about the efforts of 5 students from the University of Virginia who wanted the Yale chapter of the Delta Psi fraternity to dismiss their plans to initiate a black student named Wendall Mottley. Apparently the University of Virginia students felt Mr. Mottley wasn't worthy of being a Delta Psi member. Above is a photo of Wendall Mottley, number 613 on the left, as he runs to a silver medal finish in the 400m race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He missed the gold medal by one tenth of a second. He also won a bronze medal in Tokyo as a member of the Trinidad & Tobago 4x400 meter relay team.

Since track was not a viable profession at that time, Mottley had to move on to other fields like becoming the Financial Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, and now his current position as Senior Advisor and investment banker at Credit Suisse in New York. You can do your own search on "Wendell Mottley" and you will find many other impressive credentials about the man, enough to make me think that his achievements alone have probably topped the combined achievements of the 5 students who felt compelled to have Wendell Mottley barred from the Delta Psi fraternity. How were we ever at a point where the color of skin meant so much and the qualities of a person meant so little?

While researching the above, I did another Google search. There were just over 2,000,000results when I searched on "civil rights Mississippi". Just about everything you want to know about that era has been written and posted somewhere, making me feel like what I'm doing here is probably 99.9% redundant in some way. In a way, that's a great relief.

My gut feeling, plus the low numbers on the blog hit counter, tells me that not a lot of people will be coming to this site to learn about Civil Rights in Mississippi. With that being the case, why not make it more interesting for me and the people most likely to read the blog? I saw an interesting article on the Rev. Clay Lee that I'd like to post--I didn't know that he was a minister in Philadelphia, MS at the time of the 3 horrific murders. I've seen fascinating stories in the newspaper clippings that I'd like to share--I had forgotten just how different the world was back then. And of course, I will have the family stories in the mix as they fit in with all the rest. This is still a blog about my dad during an amazing period of time, but the family stories really need to be told within the context of the overall picture of that time in our country.

I hope those of you who are reading this will continue to visit the site every now and then. I have a feeling that the things that I find interesting will also be interesting to most of you. Plus, we still have that second KKK newsletter coming up later this Thursday and that's worth sticking around for a few more days.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Trying to Find the Pieces to the Puzzle

Imagine starting work on a jigsaw puzzle with just some pieces in a ziplock bag. The original box is long gone, so you'll have to work off a vague remembrance of the actual photo. Very few of the pieces ever made it to the ziplock bag, so you'll have to keep your eyes opened throughout the day, searching for pieces that have become scattered here and there. That's how I feel at the moment. It's amazing just how little I actually have. In this era before photocopies, you either had the original letter or a carbon copy for your records. I've found very few of these things that my father either sent or received.

If you have some of the scattered pieces, please let me know and maybe get me a copy. The object here is to complete a picture, not for one person with a fading memory to just give his version of the story. There's a comment option at the end of each post and my email address (frankezelle@yahoo.com) is listed in the intro at the top of the blog. Also, please feel free to leave a comment to anything I write. The comment section is set up so anyone can leave a comment and you can sign as much or as little of your name as you'd like.

Some of the greatest anger towards my father came from his activity with the Jackson Chamber of Commerce and a statement put out by the Chamber. I always thought my dad was President of the Chamber in the summer of 1964, but he was the President-elect that year. I always thought the Chamber statement came out in 1964 and now I'm not so sure. It shows you just how little I have to work with at the moment. In the few file folders I have, there are often newspaper clippings that were saved. The surrounding stories are usually more interesting than the stories about my dad and they give an idea of just what it was like in the 1960's. If you don't understand what it was like in the 1960's, then you won't understand how the Chamber statement, which would be considered racist today, caused such an outrage with the KKK. I'll post the statement and the KKK newsletter later this week.

In the files there is a page torn from the October 28, 1961 "State Times" newspaper, basically just 46 years ago. I'm sure it was saved because of the story, "Nine New Directors Are Elected By City Chamber", with my dad being one of the nine. I found the adjoining story more interesting and telling. This is what was written under, "Yale Fraternity Takes In Negro Track Star":

"NEW HAVEN, Conn. (UPI)--A Negro student from Trinidad was initiated into the Yale chaper of a national fraternity today over the objection of University of Virginia Members who flew here to protest.

The reverse twist of Southern students coming North to try to keep the Negro out of the otherwise all white Delta Psi fraternity was conducted in utmost secrecy without any banners or picketing.

But the five-man group which flew here from Charlottesville, Va., late Thursday in a twin-engined chartered plane obviously got a flat rejection of their opposition to the Yale chapter taking in Wendell A. Mottley, a sophomore track star.

The Delta Psi fraternity--also known as St. Anthony Hall--announced the 25 pledges including Mottley had undergone the final initiation rites and were now full members.

The Southern students were closeted with the Yale members for almost four hours. They declined to comment on what had transpired, but it was expected they would fly back today and that the Virginia chapter must now decide whether it wants to stay in the national fraternity."

Note that the above story was written by a UPI reporter from New Haven. I would hate to see how the story would have been written by a local Jackson reporter. This was just 46 years ago and it involved a Virginia school, not one from the Deep South, but it shows you just how deep the feelings went in regards to opposing intergration. A black fraternity member at Yale would have no bearing on fraternity life for a student in Virginia, and yet this Virgina chapter went to great lengths to try and prevent the initiation and then they were considering leaving the national organization because it now had one black member. Some people might see this as ancient history, but keep in mind that when this happened Elvis was already a star and the Beatles were just about ready to invade America. I consider those things rather recent events in our American culture.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Day at the Woolworth Lunch Counter--May 28, 1963



Photo: I knew I wanted to use this photo from the infamous Jackson, MS, Woolworth Counter Sit-in for today's post. It's easy to find and "borrow" a copy of this image on the internet and I hope your first reaction was the same as I had when the search engine displayed the image--I felt a sickness in my stomach.

There are a lot of ugly things that have gone on throughout this world over the course of time. There were a lot of ugly things that went on in Mississippi during this era. The "tectonic plates" of our culture had been pushing against each other for decades, and in the 1960's that energy was released in an earthquake of emotions and violence. It brought out the worst in some and the best in others. Do we need to rehash these things and open old wounds, or do we put these things to rest and move forward together into the future? I don't know where the balance is on this question and I will probably struggle with it on future posts. My focus will be on those who risked and sacrificed for positive changes, but to tell those stories you have to also include the ugliness.

Yesterday I received an email from Hunter Gray. In 1963 Hunter Gray was known as Professor John R. Slater, Jr. of Tougaloo College. On May 28, 1963, Professor Slater was sitting with two of his students at this Woolworth counter in Jackson, MS, the trio being abused in the above photo. You can read Hunter's first hand account of the incident at this link. I swapped emails with Hunter in 2006 regarding a bit of family history so he was among those who received my email about this blog, and I appreciate the words of encouragement he sent about the blog. It was an interesting bit of timing since I had already planned to use this photo prior to receiving his email.

Hunter and my father first met in 1979 at a symposium held by Tougaloo College and Millsaps College to mark the 15th anniversary of the events of 1964. It was their first and last meeting as my father passed away a few weeks later. My guess is that Hunter and Robert greatly respected the other for their courage and commitment, they basically agreed on the goals that needed to be achieved, and they disagreed on the methods needed to achieve those goals. That's okay. Hunter pushed the envelope and my dad felt the need for a less explosive approach. It took a multitude of methods to deal with a problem of this magnitude and there was no absolute right or wrong method.

As I continue to post in the future, I don't want anyone to think that I feel my dad's way was the best way or the only way. He did things in a manner that fit his beliefs, personality and opportunities. My father would have never taken Hunter's approach and Hunter would have never taken my father's approach--fortunately we had many people in all walks of life fighting to correct the injustices of the past. My goal is expressed in the title of this blog, I want to primarily focus on one man and how he did what he could to right a wrong.

Post: Here's just a quick post to go along with all of the above commentary. In hindsight, amazingly small things were causes for great uproars in the 60's. My father's volunteerism in numerous community organizations gave him the opportunity to make seemingly subtle changes that were actually seen as great offenses at the time. In his role as President at Goodwill Industries, his decision to remove the signs referring to race from the bathroom doors inspired an unknown poet to write the following:

"Robert took the signs down,
At Goodwill we are told;
To lessen racial friction,
How could he be so bold?

The thing that really happened
Is that Robert saw the need
To take the signs off bathrooms
So that integration could proceed.

Robert's just the same as all the rest
Of all the business men
Who are content to ride the crest
That ends no telling when.

They are content to sit around
And let the liberal left
Completely ruin this mighty town
With all their gradualness.

The subject that we have to face
Is what we're going to do.
Will Merle and Robert have the place
To integrate us, too?

They tell me that the two are true
To mixing as ideal.
I say let's let'em mix anew
Their own to show their zeal."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Midnight Messanger's Take on "Big Robert"



Photo: My brothers and I had an early morning, neighborhood paper route in the mid-60's. Occasionally we would see mimeographed flyers thrown out overnight by the KKK and usually we would pick up a few to take home and show our parents. When this flyer came out about our dad, we came home with over 50 flyers, picking up all that we could find along the route.

Post: A few notes about the flyer:

-----There's a reference to a letter written by my dad to James Silver (Silver was teaching at Notre Dame at the time). That letter was intercepted somewhere in the Mississippi postal system, either because someone saw it was coming from my dad or because it was going to James Silver or both. My family later took a weekend vacation trip to Destin, Florida with the primary purpose being to mail a second letter to James Silver that would not be intercepted.
-----I have a copy of the nine page letter sent to James Silver and I'll post that at a future date along with a prediction from James Silver that unfortunately has proven to be true. I also have a copy of what Daddy said at the Senate Sub-Committee hearing and I'll get that posted in the future.
-----I don't think we ever saw the "Scoop Sheet" referred to in this flyer. I'd love to know what they wrote about "Big Robert" in that one. I do have another flyer that is more hateful than the one pictured above and listed below and I'll try to get to it next week.
-----And finally, I copied the flyer as it was written, with all capitals and long rambling sentences. While they didn't get all of their facts exactly right, their last sentence is 100% accurate. Here is a copy of the "Midnight Messanger" put out in mid or late 1965 (The Senate hearing was in February, 1965 and the cross burning was in May, 1965--there's a funny family story that goes along with the cross burning and I'll get to it soon):

MIDNIGHT MESSANGER

ROBERT L. EZELL, JR. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN VERY QUIET IN THE IMMEDIATE PAST. THE PUBLIC SHOULD RECALL A FEW FACTS ABOUT THIS CHARACTER, BUT TO REFRESH OUR MEMORIES WE QUITE JUST A FEW, MOST OF WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN PUBLISHED BY OUR LIBERAL PRESS. BIG ROBERT HAD A CROSS BURNED ON HIS LAWN SOME MONTHS AGO, THIS WAS ANNOUNCED ON RADIO, ON THAT WEEKEND AND THEY QUOTED HIM AS SAYING “THIS DID NOT BOTHER HIM AT ALL, THAT HE HAD NO IDEA “WHY” THE CROSS WAS BURNED ON HIS LAWN, THAT HE WAS NOT REALLY CONCERNED ABOUT IT.” IT HAS BEEN RELIABLY REPORTED THAT THE FOLLOWING MONDAY, HE HAD HIS ENTIRE OFFICE IN AN UPROAR, HAD CALLED IN THE LOCAL OFFICIALS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT AND WAS VERY UPSET AND CRITICAL. BACK IN FEBRUARY OF THIS YEAR, BIG ROBERT WENT BEFORE THE CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION HEARING HELD AT THE V.A. HOSPITAL IN JACKSON AND HE REALLY GAVE A GOOD REPORT FOR OUR PEOPLE AND OUR CHRISTIAN BELIEFS AND WAY OF LIFE, JUST ABOUT LIKE OUR REPRESENTATIVES AT THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION LAST YEAR, WITH THE EXCEPTION THAT HE WAS MOST PRECISE IN WHAT HE SAID AND THAT WAS “MISSISSIPPI AND ALL HER CUSTOMS HAVE BEEN WRONG, PLEASE GIVE US TIME, WE ADMIT WE HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY WRONG AND WE WILL PROVE TO YOU WE WILL COMPLETELY CHANGE. ABOUT THIS SAME TIME BIG ROBERT WROTE PROFESSOR JAMES SILVER OF OLE MISS (PROMOTER OF L.B.J.’S GREAT SOCIETY AND FAMED FOR HIS BOOK “MISSISSIPPI, THE CLOSED SOCIETY”) A NINE PAGE LETTER. WE ARE SURE THAT BIG ROBERT WILL NOT DIVULGE TO ANYONE WHAT HE REPORTED TO THE PROF., BUT IT SHOULD NOT BE LONG BEFORE THE PROF. INCLUDES HIM IN PRAISE AS HE SAID IN HIS BOOK “IN MORE THAN A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AT THE UNIVERSITY IT HAS BEEN MY GOOD FORTUNE TO KNOW SOME TRULY REMARKABLE NATIVE MISSISSIPPIANS, AMONG THEM DAVID T. COHN, ROBT. J. FARLEY, JAMES P. COLEMAN, JAMES HOWARD MERIDITH, AARON HENRY, AND WILLIAM FAULKNER. THESE SIX MEN, BEYOND ALL OTHERS, HAVE INFLUENCED MY THOUGHT AND ACTION.”

THERE WAS A SCOOP SHEET PUT OUT OVER ENTIRE CITY OF JACKSON SOME WEEKS AGO ON “BIG ROBERT” AND TO REFRESH YOU MEMORY, WE QUOTE A PART OF IT.

WE DO NOT WISH TO GIVE THE IMPRESSION THAT ROBT. L. EZELL, JR’S BETRAYAL TO MISSISSIPPIANS BEGAN IN FEB. OF THIS YEAR. WE COULD TELL YOU HOW HE HELPED SUPPLY THE LIST, INTICE THE BUSINESS MEN IN THIS STATE WHO SUPPORTED THE INTEGRATING OF OUR ONCE GRAND UNIVERSITY, OLE MISS, BY NEGRO JAMES MERIDITH IN 1962. IN FACT WE COULD WRITE A BOOK ON BIG ROBERT.

WE FEEL WE MUST DIVULGE TO THE PEOPLE, THAT SOME OF “BIG ROBERTS” CLOSE OBSERVERS FEEL THAT HE IS JUST NOT TOO SHARP AND HAS BEEN TAKEN IN BY THE COMMUNIST INSPIRED ELEMENTS, IN FACT A COUPLE OF HIS LIFE LONG ASSOCIATES FEEL THIS IS THE CASE, AT FIRST THEY FELT THAT SOME FACTS WHICH WERE BROUGHT TO THEIR ATTENTION WERE NOT TRUE AND UNFOUNDED, UNTIL SAME WAS PROVED TO THEM. BUT, THE VAST MAJORITY WHO HAVE FOLLOWED HIM CLOSELY FEEL THAT HE COULD NOT BE SO STUPID TO NOT REALIZE AND BELIEVE IN WHAT HE HAS BEEN DOING FOR SO LONG.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Robert L. Ezelle, Jr.--A Biography



Photo: I'll have to work this weekend on building up a photo library for this blog. Of the few photos that I have on my computer at the moment, this was the perfect selection for the first post. This was taken when my mother first arrived in Jackson in 1946 after marrying my father in her native land of Belgium in 1945. Needless to say, without Mother's support, encouragement and blessings, Daddy would have found it impossible to accomplish all that he did in his life. As Mother has half jokingly said in the past, her giving to the community was to let them have so much of Daddy's time, and it did reach the point where Daddy having a meeting at night was the norm instead of the exception.

Post: I can think of no better way to start off than by presenting a short biography written about my father. The occasion was an awards ceremony by the Bethlehem Center in Jackson, MS in the 1993. The Bethlehem Center has been in existence for 70 years and this is a copy of the “Who We Are” on their website:

“The Bethlehem Center is a National Mission Institution related to the United Methodist Church. A non-profit agency located in Jackson, Mississippi, the Center serves low-income families and individuals through affordable quality childcare, a free income tax assistance program, a counseling center, and various community development initiatives.”

It doesn’t mention race in the above statement, but in the 1960’s it was an all-black community service organizations in a poor section of town. My father did quite a bit to support the Bethlehem Center, so none of us in the family were surprised that they wanted to honor my dad posthumously with an award. What did surprise us was the story in the biography about the school bus. It was the first time any of us had heard the story which is fairly typical of my father’s nature. It would be hard to guess just how many acts of goodwill he did in his life where the recipient and my father were the only ones to know of that kindness. Here is the Robert L. Ezelle, Jr. biography written by the people at the Bethlehem Center:

"Robert L. Ezelle, Jr., born in Birmingham, AL in 1913 and moving to Jackson in 1921, lived during a time of major philosophical and political change in the American South. As a businessman and civic leader, Ezelle chose the difficult path of Christian charity and activism. Although his is not one of the names we automatically think of when we recall the tumultuous 60s, Ezelle contributed to improving the quality of life of those who were disenfranchised and disempowered in our society.

A member of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church and a Graduate of Millsaps College, Ezelle has been described as a quiet man who lived by his convictions. As president of Mississippi Bedding Company and president and/or member of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, Jackson Rotary Club, Hinds County American Red Cross, Goodwill Industries and the United Givers Fund, he risked social and economic ostracism. Ezelle never backed down from the belief that all Americans are entitled to their individual rights under our Constitution.

As president of Mississippians for Public Education, a group whose purpose was to work toward a smooth transition from a segregated school system through court ordered desegregation, Ezelle personally suffered public criticism in the local press and racist terrorism in the form of cross burning. In 1969, when the Supreme Court ordered that the schools desegregate, the Black low income children of Jackson’s Mid-Town area were sent mid-year to attend Powers and Bailey Public Schools on Riverside Drive.

The school system did not provide transportation, citing budget constraints as their reason. The parents, restricted by limited resources and inflexible employment, turned to Bethlehem Center for help in transporting the children to school daily. Through Bethlehem Center, a bus was chartered, at a weekly cost of $225. Eight weeks into the school term the parents were unable to raise the entire fee. Robert Ezelle, hearing of their plight, volunteered to subsidize this project for the remainder of the school year. His contribution insured that these children had access to the public education to which they were legally entitled.

Shortly before his death in 1979, Robert Ezelle participated in a conference sponsored by Tougaloo and Millsaps Colleges called “Look Back at Freedom Summer”. This retrospective brought together many well known historical figures of the recent past, such as Bob Moses and Unita Blackwell, with those too young to remember the summer of 1964. The sessions were divided between Tougaloo and Millsaps’ campuses and provided many an opportunity to commune with those who were there. Bob Ezelle was there, not standing on his laurels, but sharing his experiences of a man who chose to do the right thing.

Journalist Bill Minor wrote in the Capital Reporter of Ezelle in 1979, “Bob Ezelle never sought to take the popular course, he took the course which his Christian conscience dictated. And in his quiet, persistent manner, he was very effective…His was a voice of reason, of compassion, and conscience.”

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Let me just close today’s blog entry by saying that I’m a person who rarely is moved to tears, but typing the above did caused my eyes to water. My dad would never have described himself as anything special or as being the least bit heroic, but he was a was a rarity and few can match him when it comes to giving to others. He was a person who truly made a difference in this world.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Brief Overview of this Blog

My father, Robert L. Ezelle, Jr., was 50 years old in the summer of 1964 and the President of the Jackson (Mississippi) Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he had served or was serving the Jackson community is a number of civic roles. While he had long been a believer in equal rights for all races, there was little that he could do to further that goal until the major Civil Rights push in the mid-1960's. Being white was no safeguard from retaliation for those who pushed too hard against the norm of the day.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the increased presences of FBI agents in Mississippi created an opening for people like my father to push harder for change. It was still dangerous and my father and others like him were faced with tremendous pressure from those who opposed change. In the case of my father, that meant bomb threats, death threats, phone calls in the middle of the night, a cross burned on the front lawn, being the subject of KKK newsletters, and more. It was not an easy stand to take and it is understandable that many who were sympathetic to the movement still stayed on the sideline instead of risking much to help others. But while some chose to remain neutral, it is important to remember the contributions of those who took the risks. I can't speak for all of those heroes, but I can speak for my father through this blog and I can hope that the stories of others will somehow be told instead of fading out with the passage of time.

My father, who passed away in 1979 at the age of 66, was never one to keep a lot of paperwork. I have a couple of boxes of letters, reports, newspaper clippings, and the like, and I'm sure that Mother was mostly responsible for keeping those items. It's a shame that he kept so little, but this tip of the iceberg gives a revealing glimpse into what Mississippi was like some 45 years ago and what it was like for a white Mississippian to try and make a change for the better. I hope you find the future posts to this blog interesting and informative, and I'll try to keep my comments to a minimum and let the documents tell the story.