Just Another Church | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Just Another Church

Methodist minister Ed King worked and lived Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. The Vicksburg native ran for lieutenant governor on the Freedom Vote mock election ballot while Aaron Henry was the gubernatorial candidate. The two were pitted against actual candidates. The Freedom Vote's two main goals—to show whites in Mississippi and America that African Americans wanted to vote; and to give African Americans, many of whom had never voted, a chance to practice casting a ballot—were met when 93,000 voted on mock Election Day in November and Freedom Party candidates won. Mr. King vividly remembers how journalists of the day covered the atmosphere in Mississippi that eventful summer. The following is a chapter in an as-yet-unpublished manuscript on Freedom Summer that King hopes to publish.

The violence in Neshoba was the most publicized matter in the whole Freedom Summer.

Although no other killings were directly related to the program, the summer was a time of terror. Mississippi, as expected, did its worst, and the movement was able to face it, to survive, to endure. Even as the old staff grew weary, the local people grew strong and proud. This is surely part of what it means to overcome.

There had been little publicity for the growing white violence during the winter and spring. After Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner disappeared in Neshoba, even the Mississippi press began reporting some things: "Examine Ashes in Grim Probe," "Burned Car Located," "Missing Men Hunted," "Begin Searching in Dense Swamp."

The widespread search for the Neshoba men uncovered bodies of other black victims of the Klan, such as the Alcorn College student expelled from college for demonstrating and his friend (Charles Moore and Henry Dee), killed in late May. Their bodies were dismembered in a sawmill and dropped into the Mississippi River. Since they were black, little attention was paid to them once it was clear they were not the more famous missing Neshoba men. The Jackson Daily News reported this development: "Searches Make Grisly Catch, Identify Second Negro's Corpse."

The first sentence of this headline article stated: "A second headless body found in the Mississippi River …." It could be an awkward thing if there is too much poking around in Mississippi. Bombings, burnings, beatings and shootings were easier to handle: "Crosses Burn Around City," "Explosions Rip Negro Buildings in 2 Cities," "Negro Grocery Hit by Blast," "Fire Destroys Negro House in Monticello," "Integrator Is Shot in Greenwood," "Beaten Iowa Pastor Says He'll Come Back," "Negro Man Is Wounded on Lynch," "Midnight Fire Destroys Rankin Negro Church," "'Freedom School' Church Destroyed," "Pike Negro Church Burned," "Second Pike Negro Church Burned Down."

Finally, church bombings became so routine that the headlines no longer needed to describe the locale; it could be anywhere in Mississippi: "Another Negro Church Burns."

The violence was so widespread as to be unpredictable. I had thought that the Klan would never be tolerated in my hometown, Vicksburg. If any area of the state still had any significant "moderate" influence, it was here, yet local Klan activity sounded like a literal repeat of old Reconstruction horror stories. In the rural community of Oak Ridge, near the plantation home of my 95-year-old aunt, Em Tucker Henry, hooded Klansmen shot into black homes and then took a black man who had been active in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, his wife and his neighbor into the woods, tied them to trees and severely beat all three. In the next few months there were burnings and bombings ranging from a church near Bovina to the midtown Vicksburg COFO office.

In this wave of violence and terrorism, it was surprising that the state headquarters of COFO at 1017 Lynch St. was not bombed. I later heard that this was because the office was never empty. People worked there throughout the night, printing literature and propaganda, and, especially, maintaining the constant emergency radio and telephone contact with all local Freedom centers in the state. One young Klansman I had befriended told me, a few years later, that he convinced his fellows that the COFO headquarters should not be bombed unless the building was empty; people would be killed. Not all Klansmen were alike.

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