* Code added to make Google search more likely. Mississippi Civil Rights--One Man, One Story: The Chamber of Commerce Statement

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.


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.

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