It was nearing 11 p.m. as Hank Allen and his cousin, John Horton, drove east along Highway 24. The two young men, 17 and 16 years old, respectively, had attended a party in Gloster that Friday, Jan. 31, 1964, and were heading back to Hank's family's home, a few miles outside the small town of Liberty in southwest Mississippi.
Hank made the left turn into the Allen family's driveway and drove his '54 DeSoto up to the "gap," the gate in the barbed wire fence that Hank's father, Louis, had built to keep the family's chickens, mules and other animals nearby. Louis' bobtailed Ford logging truck was sitting just outside the gap. The engine wasn't running, but the headlights were on.
The son wondered why his father would block the driveway. He got out of the DeSoto and called to his father. Hearing no response, he walked around the truck, climbed into the cab and tried to start the engine. The battery was dead. As he climbed down from the cab, he stepped on something.
It was his father's right hand.
Hank pulled his DeSoto back and shone its headlights underneath the truck. Louis Allen was lying facedown, his left hand covering holes in his face and head, like he was trying to hold in his brains.
The son reached for his father to see if he was alive, but John pulled him away. John knew that they couldn't touch the body before the authorities arrived. Instead, they got into their car and drove two miles east, to the house of Amite County Sheriff Daniel Jones. Hank hoped that they could take him to the hospital once the sheriff saw his father.
They arrived at Jones' house near midnight. As Hank approached Jones' back door, he heard what sounded like someone pumping a shotgun. Hank told the sheriff that someone had shot his father.
"Is he dead?" Jones asked. Hank replied that he hoped not. As he and John walked to his car, Hank heard the shotgun pump again.
Jones got in his car and followed the two young men back to the Allen home. Hank floored the accelerator.
When they reached the house, Jones told the two young men, "Let me see if I can find what caused the problem." He searched Allen's pockets, pulled out his wallet and riffled through his cash and cards. When he reached Louis' NAACP membership card, Jones stopped and told Hank that he would need to take the wallet home. When he returned it the next day, the NAACP card was missing.
Also in Allen's pocket was a brief letter of recommendation from Lloyd King, his former boss. "To Whom It May Concern," the note read. "I know Lewis[sic] Allen was a good truck driver also cat operator as he worked for me several years ago and I was pleased with his work."
King had given Louis the note earlier that evening. Louis was planning to leave Liberty the next day for Milwaukee, Wis. His brother Morris had offered to help him find a job. He was tired, he told his family, of being "picked on."
Louis Allen was buried two days later, in a church graveyard about 20 minutes outside Liberty on Old Compromise Road. It would be 25 years before his wife Elizabeth was laid to rest beside him. Today, the silver paint on his gravestone is faded and discolored, while his wife's is even and bright.
Daniel Jones assembled a coroner's jury at Allen's house early Saturday morning. It determined that "an assailant or assailants unknown" had killed him. Dr. William Bridges, called to the scene by the sheriff, determined that Allen was likely shot twice in the head with buckshot and probably died instantly.
By noon Saturday, news of the murder had traveled far. Representatives from several civil-rights organizations, including the NAACP, CORE and SNCC, arrived in Liberty to investigate the circumstances of Allen's murder. Among them was Bob Moses, a leader of SNCC's voter-registration efforts in Mississippi. His presence did not go unnoticed by the McComb Enterprise-Journal, which remarked that the "New York City Negro, a former teacher in schools of that city, was also involved in racial events of that time in Liberty" and that he was "the mainspring in the McComb racial turmoil of 1961."
Despite the suspicion of civil-rights groups, Sheriff Jones repeatedly told reporters that he knew of no reason for Allen's murder. A Feb. 2, 1964, article in The Clarion-Ledger quoted Jones as saying Louis Allen "had not been involved in any civil rights activities."
In Milwaukee, Louis' brother Morris contradicted Jones. Morris told the Associated Press that Louis had been involved in civil-rights work and that he had been subjected to harassment for his role as a witness in the 1961 murder trial of E. H. Hurst, a former Mississippi state representative, now deceased.
Such allegations by Morris and others led St. John Barrett, an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, to call the FBI Saturday afternoon, Feb. 1, requesting an investigation into the murder. The focus of the investigation was to discern "the nature and extent of Allen's voter registration activities, whether an autopsy was performed and whether (a) local investigation (was) being conducted."
For 10 days, the "G-men" interviewed Elizabeth Allen, Lloyd King, Daniel Jones and others.
According to FBI records, Elizabeth told them that her husband had not been involved in voter-registration work. Jones told the feds that Louis had never registered to vote and suggested that the murder might have been the result of a domestic dispute between Elizabeth and Louis.
The suggestion that Louis was not involved in civil-rights work still outrages Hank. He often drove Louis to NAACP meetings himself, he says. Making sure he wasn't being followed, Hank would flick his headlights repeatedly before picking his father up from the clandestine meetings in the woods outside Liberty, where black men would teach each other to read and write.
Nevertheless, after 10 days of investigation, the FBI decided that Louis had not been involved in voter registration and submitted their report to FBI headquarters in Washington. Because the murder did not appear civil-rights-related, the FBI had no jurisdiction and would have to leave the investigation to local authorities.
"Interviews with the Sheriff, members of the victim's family and acquaintances of the victim as well as voter registration workers indicate that the victim is not a registered voter, has never been active in voter registration work and there has been no voter registration activity in Amite county in the past two or three years," investigators wrote.
Sheriff Jones' investigation proved inconclusive as well. The McComb Enterprise-Journal's Feb. 3 story bore the headline "Ambush Killing of Negro, 44, Puzzles Amite Officers."
"Whoever gunned Louis Allen to death Friday night mortally frightened him first," staff writer Charles Gordon wrote. "He had lifted the top loop of the gap when, apparently, he became suddenly, terrifyingly aware of the approach of doom."
In the absence of answers, Louis Allen became nothing more than a victima scared man, murdered in cold blood.
The notion that Louis was scared, even in death, was offensive to the Allens. They all knew him to be brave, even stubbornly so.
Hank says that his father always believed he was any white person's equal. Though born to black parents, Louis spent most of his childhood in the care of a prosperous white family, the Aaronses. Soon after Louis was born, "Old Man Tom" Aarons, the family patriarch, told Louis' mother, Anna, that he wanted one of her sons to help around the house. Because Louis' older brother Morris was half-white, he was a kind of status symbol for the family. Anna Allen let her darker son live with the Aarons family.
In 1943, at age 23, Louis enlisted in the Army. He drove ammunition trucks in New Guinea during World War II. While there, Louis also started boxing. His burly 5-foot-8-inch, 220-pound frame made him a formidable fighter. In July 1944, he received an honorable discharge. According to his discharge papers, his character was rated "excellent." The Army gave Louis $300 in "mustering out pay."
Back in Liberty, Louis returned to the tenuous privilege of being a black person favored by the whites of his community. He established a successful logging business with loyal customers of both races. His fortunes changed, however, on Sept. 25, 1961.
That day, Louis drove to a cotton gin over in Osyka, about 30 miles from Liberty. Waiting in line at the gin, Louis witnessed an altercation between state Rep. E.H. Hurst and Herbert Lee. Once childhood playmates, race and power now separated Hurst and Lee. Lee was a successful dairy farmer and among the first black men in Amite County to attempt to register to vote.
Louis Allen and a dozen others in line watched Hurst get out of his truck and angrily approach Lee with a .38 caliber pistol. Sitting in his own truck, Lee refused to talk until Hurst put his gun away. Hurst lowered the gun, but as Lee stepped down from the passenger's side, he drew it again and fired once at Lee's head, killing him.
Authorities rounded up five witnesses following Lee's murder, including Louis Allen. He was told to testify at a coroner's inquest that Lee had a tire iron in his hand and that he had threatened Hurst with it. At first, Louis said that he wouldn't testify to something he didn't see.
But after authorities told Louis that they would kill his entire family if he didn't cooperate, he changed his story. In a courtroom packed with armed white men, on the same day that E.H. Hurst shot Herbert Lee dead, Louis Allen and four other witnesses testified that Lee had threatened Hurst with a tire iron. The all-white coroner's jury found that Hurst had acted in self-defense, and Hurst left the courtroom without serving a minute in jail.
Allen's conscience would not let him rest, however. He contacted Bob Moses of SNCC and told him that, in exchange for protection, he'd "let the hide go with the hair" to a federal grand jury.
"If he knew of a live person he told a story on, he could ask to be forgiven, but if it was a dead person, he couldn't ask, so his conscience was clipping him," Elizabeth Allen said later, in a June 1964 deposition taken by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
SNCC workers contacted the U.S. Department of Justice. But the feds could not offer any protection, they were told.
Word got out that Louis intended to tell the truth about Lee's murder. Whites around Liberty boycotted Louis' logging business. Louis began driving to Louisiana to buy gas and sought out customers far from Liberty who didn't know his past. Daniel Joneswho was then deputy sheriffand Sheriff E.L. Caston threatened to kill Louis, as his testimony would call into question their investigation of Lee's murder.
An internal FBI memo that followed Elizabeth Allen's congressional testimony confirmed that on Oct. 16, 1961, a "Negro active in voter registration matters in Mississippi telephonically advised that information was received that Allen was to be killed and the local Sheriff was involved in the plot to kill Allen."
The memo contended that the callerwhose name was redacted"did not request protection for Allen nor were any other requests for protection received from Allen himself."
was promptly furnished to the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol since the Sheriff was allegedly involved," the memo said.
Caston is now deceased. Reached by telephone last Sunday at his home in Liberty, Daniel Jones, now 78, declined to comment.
"No, we can't talk about it," he said, before hanging up.
The Arm of the Law
Law enforcement and racism were braided together in Amite County. Americans for the Preservation of the White Race, a front organization for the Ku Klux Klan, had members throughout the police force. According to files from the State Sovereignty Commission, a Mississippi state spy agency created in 1956 to protect segregation, Bryant JonesDaniel Jones' fatherwas president of the Liberty APWR chapter. Charles Ravencraft, Daniel Jones' deputy, was vice president. Gene Butler, APWR secretary, had a brother, Donald, in the highway patrol.
A few months after Louis Allen's murder, Percy Hazelwood, a white grocery store owner in Liberty, realized the extent of cooperation between the APWR and the sheriff when he suffered a boycott organized by the APWR on the suspicion that one of his black clerks had tried to register to vote.
In a statement to the Sovereignty Commission, Hazelwood said Daniel Jones served as an intermediary in the incident. Jones hosted APWR leaders in the sheriff's office, Hazelwood said.
"Sheriff came in and said committee was satisfied with what they knew," Hazelwood said in his statement. "He (the clerk) was guilty."
The grocery store owner was sufficiently intimidated that he fired the clerk, despite believing him "innocent" of ever trying to register. Hazelwood went so far as to call on Daniel Jones after he fired the clerk, in order to prevent a boycott.
Whites still boycotted, however. Hazelwood's sister received phone calls with nothing but silence on the other end.
"We noticed men over at Bryant Jones' place, watching our front door all day long," Hazelwood stated.
"Sheriff admitted that he made the statement, 'I will go up there and pay my bill and never go in that store again," he added in the statement.
In June 1962, Jones arrested Allen on charges of "interfering" with the law. Hank was at home when Jones came to arrest his father. He says that Jones handcuffed Louis.
"Can I have my hat?" Hank's father responded.
"No," he remembers Jones saying.
"Well, can my son bring me my hat?" Louis asked the deputy sheriff.
Then, Hank says, Jones hit Louis with his flashlight, breaking Louis' jaw. Still undeterred, two months later, Louis tried to register to vote at the courthouse in Liberty. Gunshots and a mysterious "power outage" kept him from actually registering, though.
In November 1963, Jones arrested Louis again, for writing a check with insufficient funds and carrying a concealed weapon.
"I think the check was two dollars overdrawn or three dollars overdrawn, but they just wanted him out of the way," Hank remembers.
Hank's older brother Tommie worried that the arrest was just an excuse to lynch their father.
"We better make sure that they put the old man in jail," Hank remembers Tommie saying.
The brothers took two old guns with them to the Liberty jail, next to the courthouse. All through their father's first night in jail, the brothers took turns standing in front of the black outhouse watching the front door of the jail for intruders while the other slept in the car.
After about 20 days, other NAACP members gathered the $800 needed for Louis' bond and got him out of jail.
After his second arrest, Louis took the threats to his life and his family's safety more seriously. He resolved to leave Liberty for Milwaukee. His parents, who lived in a new house on his property, were ailing, though, and Louis could not leave them easily. Then his mother died Wednesday, Jan. 22. Louis resolved to leave the next Saturday.
A Father's Orders
The last time Hank heard his father speak, he was leaving for the party in Gloster, and Louis was going to visit Lloyd King. Hank held the gate open for his father, followed him out and then closed it behind them.
"Whatever you do, son, you look out for your mom and your little sister," Louis told him. "Daddy's gonna go up there, go to work. In about three weeks, I'll be sending for y'all."
Now 63, Hank says he's tried to follow those instructions. "That was my whole life," he says. "I did it until both of them died. Even after I got my own family, I always looked after my mom and my little sister. That was his orders."
Louis was buried on Monday morning. Star Hill Baptist Church was so full, Hank remembers, it "couldn't hold half of the people" in attendance. That evening, Elizabeth took Hank and his little sister Mary to Scotlandville, La., where she had relatives.
For six months, Hank worked odd jobs "like a little Hebrew slave," he says, to support his mother and sister until their government assistance and VA checks started coming in. He would drive out to the Mississippi River and hook scrap iron for $8 a day. In September, his mother made him go back to school to finish his senior year. Hank didn't want to, but she told him that his father would have wanted him to graduate.
Hank went to school in Baton Rouge until one evening in January, almost a year after his father's assassination, when he came home to find his mother scared. She had dreamed that people in Liberty were going to kill him. He needed to move north, to Milwaukee, she said. That same night, Hank traveled to New Orleans and caught a train to Milwaukee.
Hank didn't want to leave the South, his home, but he gradually built a life in Wisconsin. He finished high school in Milwaukee and drove trucks, hauling beef to points as far east as New York and Philadelphia, Pa. He started a family with a woman from Milwaukee and bought a 13-acre farm near the Wisconsin Dells. But in 1976, Elizabeth Allen called her son back down south. Hank's sister Mary, now a teenager, was headstrong and becoming difficult to manage. Hank moved back to Louisiana, and his wife and children soon followed.
The move transformed life for Hank's children, replacing chirping birds and the fields of their farm with the sound of crickets and the scent of honeysuckle. Louis Jr., Hank's oldest son, recalls the sting of being punished with a switch for the first time by his grandmother.
Hank and his wife divorced soon after the move, in 1977. Work kept Hank away frequently, and when he was home, he was not always a comforting presence for his children. He suffered sharp mood swings, especially in the winter, around the date of his own father's death, when he would sink into a dark depression, retreating to his room and sometimes drinking excessively.
With their father often absent, the children spent much of their time in Elizabeth Allen's care. In the 1970s and '80s, Elizabeth lived much as did when her husband was still alive. Although she had an electric washer and dryer, the children were forbidden to use it except for special occasions. They used a rub-board and hung their clothes on a line. The boys picked all the mustard greens, okra and purple-hulled peas for their dinner from the field behind their house. On some Fridays and special occasionsif the boys had been goodthey were allowed to play a record in the room where Elizabeth entertained guests.
Despite her strict attitudes toward child-rearing, Elizabeth was also quick to protect her grandchildren. When the family first moved back to Louisiana, Hank's children stayed with Dixie, Elizabeth's aunt, on a few occasions when Elizabeth was out of town.
"Aunt Dixie would tell you ain't nothing a black man could tell her but which way a white man went," Hank remembers.
A light-skinned black woman, Dixie would let all of Hank's children eat at the table with her except for the second-oldest, Kevin, who had the darkest skin. "She'd put the rest of the light-skins around the table and tell him, 'You go on over to that newspaper, and you sit there and eat on the floor,' Hank says.
Louis Jr., having been taught to stick with his brother, would join Kevin on the floor. When Elizabeth heard how Dixie was treating her grandchildren, "she chewed her up alive," Louis Jr. says.
Elizabeth also tried to shield Kevin from the neighborhood children who teased him for his dark skin. She kept him inside whenever possible and taught him how to can and pickle vegetables and how to make jelly cakes. Still, when Kevin left the house he would face the familiar "black so-and-so" insults and, more often than not, he would end up fighting.
Playing a Coward
One morning when Kevin was in eighth grade, a rival group of boys ambushed him on the school bus. The frightened bus driver closed the door and drove off, but not before Louis Jr., who was still outside, jumped to an open window and climbed in to defend his brother. Louis Jr. knocked a knife out of one boy's hand, and the brawl spilled out the back of the bus, into the middle of Highway 19, north of Baton Rouge. The episode ended up in the local newspaper.
Hank found out that his sons had been fighting when a police officer pulled him over on his morning commute. His boys were sitting in the back of the patrol car. Louis was quiet and polite, but Kevin was still silently seething.
"In my house, you weren't allowed to start a fight, but you would be punished severely if you were a coward," Louis Jr. says. "This is like the biggest dishonor
you could ever possibly be."
Louis Jr. remembers one occasion when his father beat Kevin for watching Louis Jr. fight some other neighborhood boys and not joining the brawl himself. Hank often let his boys and their neighbors settle disputes by fighting, if they refused to calm down. Occasionally, he would toss out some pairs of boxing gloves and tell the kids to "glove up."
"My father didn't say anything," Louis Jr. remembers. "He let us continue the fight.
But afterward he called Kevin in and tore him up.
And told him he wasn't going to be a coward."
Louis Jr. thinks that incident led to an especially turbulent phase for Kevin. On three separate occasions in the seventh grade, Kevin punched kids so hard that he knocked their teeth out. After the third time, Hank told him that he had to stop fighting. He didn't.
After coming home after the bus fightfor which he eventually spent an entire month out of schoolKevin saw his grandmother on the porch. Elizabeth was reading her Bible. She knew he had been in a fight, she said.
"It's gonna kill you, son," she said.
"Well, Madea," Kevin told her, "that's what they gonna have to do."
"A wise man can play a fool," Elizabeth replied, "but a fool can't play like he's wise. And a brave man can play a coward, but a coward can't play like he's brave."
When Kevin asked her why anyone would want to "play a coward," Elizabeth slammed her Bible shut. Where was his grandfather? she asked.
"Louis didn't know how to play scared," Elizabeth told Kevin.
She called her grandson over to her and opened her Bible to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes.
"You need to read this here. Every day," she said, pointing a gnarled finger at the third verse.
The words said that there is a time for all things: "A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up."
"I understand it now, but growing up I didn't understand that there," Kevin says.
In 1988, Kevin passed through Liberty on his way to visit his father. Traveling with him was a woman who had grown up in Liberty. In passing, she mentioned that Daniel Jones was still alive and worked in town at a hardware store.
Kevin drove his Pontiac Grand Am to the hardware store to see the man he blames for his grandfather's death, but who has not been confirmed as a suspect. A barrel outside the front door held ax handles, which Kevin believed were for dealing with any black people who got out of hand. He pushed the door open and walked inside. Jones was talking to another man. Kevin approached him.
"You thought you killed Louis Allen, but you multiplied him," Kevin remembers telling the former sheriff. "There was one; now there are several."
Kevin says that Jones didn't say anything, but grabbed his chest "like he was having a heart attack."
The grandson of Louis Allen said nothing more. He walked out of the store, got into his car and drove off.
Don't Duck No Damn Body
Kevin Allen runs a boxing gym, Hands of Stone, north of Baton Rouge.
"I used to have a flyer," he says, "and it said, 'Bout It, Bout It, Inc.' and 'Don't Talk About It, Be About It.' That's still on there. And on the bottom of that it said, 'We Don't Duck No Damn Body."
"My wife made me take it off of there," Kevin adds. She was concerned that the tone might put off some children and parents.
"I said, 'Why do people raise their children for Disneyland?' The world is very, very real."
Kevin started boxing while the family was still in Wisconsin. With his boots and bellbottoms, he drew frequent teasing from the kids in Milwaukee, who wore jeans, T-shirts and sneakers. Nicknamed "Country" for his southern attire, he fought to earn respect. The manager of the local boys' club eventually convinced Kevin to do his fighting in the ring.
Louis Allen's grandson took to boxing quickly and picked up wrestling in high school. His successful amateur career was cut short, though, in the 1988 U.S. Olympic trials, when he broke his hand.
Other than the occasional sparring match with one of his fighters, Kevin doesn't box anymore, but he still looks at the world through a fighter's eyes.
When we met him at an International House of Pancakes in Baton Rouge, he only ordered tea. He eats once a day, he told us, in the evening. Kevin often checks up on his youngest son, Henry, and his fightersmany of whom have no father in the homeat their middle school.
"I'll stick my head in the door, and I'll tell them some things," Kevin says. "Things like this: 'Mom and dad ain't going to live always. That's real.' See, I shock them a little bit.
'What do you think about your mom or your father in a casket?' No one wants to think about that there. You want them to live forever.
Then I say, 'The good son or daughter does what the mother or father would have them do, whether they're present or not present."
"A lot of people disagree with the way I handle things," Kevin admits. "But I say, 'Look at the product. I don't have problems out of none of my fighters.'
I know what little boys think. They see a little gray; they think you're getting old. If they see the least bit of weakness, they want to exploit that there. They want to see if you're going to do anything in front of them, so they can use it as leverage."
Kevin spends a lot of his time training son Henry.
At age 11, Henry has more than 80 fights under his belt, 10 times the experience of most kids his age. Kevin thinks he has a good chance of qualifying for the next two Olympics and even boxing professionally.
Every morning before school, Henry runs a mile and does 100 pushups. After school and homework, he runs another two or three miles, does 150 pushups and works 15 rounds on a punching bag.
Kevin has filled two albums with photos of Henry's boxing career thus far. There are pictures of him posing with trophies, mugging for the camera in a van with Kevin's other fighters and standing with boxing celebritiespromoter Don King, Muhammad Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee.
"He's the one who told me to stop standing beside him," Kevin says.
"You ever notice in all the pictures of Shane Mosley, they cut his daddy out of the picture? Roy Jonescut his daddy out of the picture. Floyd Mayweather. He said, 'If you stand beside me, they'll cut you out of the picture. Stand behind me.' Pulled it up on the Internet and showed it to me. All the pictures of when they were young, they cut them out."
As Louis Jr. sees it, he and Kevin inherited different sides of their grandfather's personality. Kevin is the fighter, Louis Jr. says, and he is the activist.
Louis Jr. chafed under his grandmother's authority and eventually moved out of the house when he was 17.
"All the years that I lived with my grandmother, I could never sit on the bed," Louis Jr. says. "Because it was against the house rules to sit on the bed. You sat in chairs, not beds."
He spent three years at Southern University in Baton Rouge but still felt that he needed to escape his grandmother's severity and his father's moodiness. The Air Force offered a chance to escape while providing for his young son, Louis III, born in 1986. He enlisted in 1987 and stayed in the Air Force until 1991.
Louis Jr. remembers the surprise he felt when he first sat down on his bed at an Air Force base in Homestead, Fla. He jumped up reflexively, afraid someone had noticed. Then he remembered: This was his bed, his apartment.
Hank had told Louis Jr. that he should never join the white man's military, that fighting for his country hadn't helped Louis Jr.'s grandfather.
But the military helped Louis Jr. grow up. Traveling with the Air Force, at a distance from his family, he began to understand his father and grandmother better. He took up boxing. He started piecing together Elizabeth's countless stories about growing up in Liberty, about black people getting beaten for laughing in front of a white person, about her familythe Taplinsand their fight to keep their land in the 19th century.
"After I joined the military, I started becoming more conscious," Louis Jr. says. "All of these stories, they had great meaning to me. It felt like they were jewels."
Now Louis Jr. is a voracious student of history and a compulsive educator. On Sunday evenings, he hosts a radio show called "The Community Defender" on Max 94.1, a hip-hop and R&B station in Baton Rouge. On air, he is Brother Louis Ali, "the only man on the radio not afraid to say 'Farrakhan."
"InjusticeMinister Farrakhan was right when he said that injustice can drive you insane," Louis Jr. says.
In retrospect, he says, he understands his father's mood swings and single-minded hatred of cowardice for what they arethe scars of a wound that never properly healed. Hank, too, acknowledges that his life has been marked by the Friday night he found his father's body.
"It took a hell of a toll on me," he says. "I know I'm half nuts."
Within minutes of meeting him for the first time, Louis Jr. tells us to visit "The Good Darky," a statue on the grounds of LSU's Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge that paid tribute to slaves who sided with their masters during the Civil War.
"You know how some people say 'lactose intolerant'?" Louis Jr. asks. "I'm 'Uncle Tom-intolerant.'"
"The Good Darky" is a weathered bronze statue of an elderly black man, tipping his hat and bowing subserviently to an invisible master.
Standing in front of the statue the next day, Louis is less outraged than contemplative.
"If you try to make a change, what they do is they sweep your name out of history, so that young people can't read your history and be inspired," he remarks.
"All of the 'good darkies' get rewards. But I guess the 'bad darkies'the ones who oppose people holding you in bondagethey sweep their names out of people's memory."
'RIP Louis Allen'
Kevin has a hard time arranging fights for Henry because of his son's experience. In late September, he finds a boy willing to fight his son and invites us to Baker, La., to watch.
Henry's is the last bout scheduled. Wearing shorts adorned with gold sequins and a matching hooded top, Henry bounds around the gym, waiting for his fight to begin. He has folded down the tops of his Adidas boxing boots so that they flop over his feet.
As he does before every fight, Henry is wearing a white bandana with the words "RIP Louis Allen" printed between two boxing gloves, a tribute to his great-grandfather.
Hank shows up with his wife, Earlene, picks a front-row seat and watches the early fights intently.
"We didn't come here to see y'all dance!" he yells during a particularly cautious match.
Louis Jr. arrives a little later and stands a healthy distance from the ring, arms folded. Within minutes, he diagnoses the problem with the current fight. "He's stepping straight into him," he says.
One of the boys in this fight is much smaller, with a shorter reach. If he wants to have any sort of chance, Louis explains, he needs to move around.
When his fight is announced, Henry climbs into the ring. He walks to each side and throws a quick punch. Then he drops to one knee in a corner and prays. Henry's opponent is a taller, pudgier, slightly cross-eyed boy.
"Let's see what Grandpa's lil' man gonna do," Hank says .
Immediately after the bell sounds, Henry drops his gloves and does a stutter-step. The bigger kid attacks first. He's sloppy, but with a longer reach and the advantage of 15 pounds, he locks Henry up several times and pushes him back against the ropes.
At the end of the first round, Henry looks surprised and even a little scared.
Henry moves more in the second round, but the other boy is still pushing him around, albeit unskillfully. By the third round, both boys are exhausted. Kevin's face is contorted, with tendons standing out on his neck, as he urges his son to keep punching. Hank is out of his seat. Louis Jr. shouts encouragement from the other side of the ring.
With only seconds left in the round, both boys release from a clinch and appear too tired to attack. Kevin leans toward the ring, shouting and punching the air. Henry lands a powerful uppercut in the last melee before the bell sounds.
When the judges announce their decision, and the referee raises Henry's left arm in victory, the other boy stalks sullenly around the ring. The fight was close.
Henry climbs the ropes in the northwest corner and flexes for the crowd. Then, perhaps thinking better of that display, he hands his opponent the trophy. The other boy takes it, but looks even more dejected with it in his hands.
Hank is beaming as he congratulates his grandson. He shakes hands and greets family for a few minutes and then exits the gym.
In the parking lot, Hank grows somber and guarded when talk turns to his father. He brings up James Ford Seale's recent conviction in 2007 for kidnapping two black teenagers in Meadville, 30 miles north of Liberty, in 1964, just a few months after Louis Allen's murder.
That conviction was overturned Sept. 9, 2008, due to a statute-of-limitations issue.
"Any time a man has already been put in prison for what he did, and then they're going to let him out? I don't trust the bastards," Hank says.
"They ain't going to do nothing but what they're doing. Now, the wrath of God would take care of it, and I think it will," he adds.
When we see him next, two months later, Hank is feeling less confident. What he wants for the man he personally blames for his father's death, he's not sure God will deliver.
"I heard that Daniel (Jones) has cancer," he says. "And if he does, I don't want God to kill him. I don't want nothing to happen. I want him to just suffer.
Let him live.
"Let that bastard live. I'd like to see him live 'til he gets himself down to about 20 pounds."
"I wonder sometimes: Do people really reap what they sow?" he asks.
"I try to make sure I sow a good seed, 'cause I want to make sure I reap a good harvest. But sometimes I wonder. You take them lowdown people: they live to be 80, 90 years old. Take Bryant Jones, Daniel's daddy:
[T]his bastard just laid down in the bed one night and went to sleep. How much more of an easier death would you want? How did he suffer?
It makes you wonder if some of that junk ain't a big joke in that Bible. And I do believe in God."
Hank says that he has contacted U.S. district attorneys and the Mississippi attorney general, but that no one has seemed genuinely committed to his father's case.
"It looks like each generation's got a struggle to go through," Hank says. "And I never was the type to give up. I might walk away from it for a little bit, but I don't give up. I think this here thing might be what's keeping me alive."
Additional reporting by Matthew Caston.
If you have information on the Louis Allen murder, please call Ward Schaefer at 601-362-6121, ext. 2, or e-mail him at [email protected]
- Great story Ward and Matthew. Unfortunately, there are many untold ones just like this one. It hurts me deeply to see old racists commit acts like these and get away with it completely. The justice system, town folks and society are guilty too as far as I'm concerned.
I thank God that no one did any thing like this to any of my close relatives that I'm aware of because I would have always been tempted to get revenge no matter how old or frail the perpertrators had gotten or the personal cost to me.
I despise my relatives or other blacks who have allowed the cruelty, barbarism, racism and white supremacy of whites to cause them to lose their humanity as well. For years, I hated nearly all light-skinned blacks - those in my family and those not - for their assumed superiority and gross ignorance concerning the worth of light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks. Although I'm not dark myself I still have a obvious prejudice toward light-skinned blacks because I've met too few who aren't prejudice or hateful themselves against dark-skinned blacks.
Some people would say let's forget the past and not waste time on those old cases. Too often, if not always, the persons taking this position are whites who were/are raised by racists, or racist or prejucie people themselves, or people who haven't suffered any comparable lost. I will forget these cases when the victims say let forget about those old cases. I know of few things worse than dying this way and having a corrupt system and society aid the killers by not investigating or prosecuting the crimes.
- Ward and Matt, awesome job.
Just curious, do you know if Louis Allen, Jr. is still offering a reward for information in Louis Allen's death?
- Well done Ward and Matt. Walt is correct in saying that there are many stories like this; however, I do understand WHY some/most family members did not take an active role in trying to punish those who punished/killed/cheated/raped their love ones.
One wonders how one white man, his wife and three children could control a whole plantation of slaves - hundreds of them. These people were fed by black folks and could have been killed many times over. One must first understand the imprisoned MIND set coupled with the fear of losing more.
My uncle went "up town" one afternood in Fayette, MS. A white man, only 25 years old spat in his face. After reporting his story, my father asked him why would he ALLOW this to happen and he simply said, "I decied that this was not the day that I wanted to DIE."
- I do understand why someone or some people would accept these acts 40 years ago without revenge on the premise of safety for their families and self. I don't understand why anyone would now let these acts go unpunished. I'm not opposed to punishing someone now for something they did 40 years ago unless they show me great remorse, sorrow and change or transforamtion, and I doubt I'm easily convinced by any claim of remorse, sorrow or transformation.
My father tried to conform to the times too, but he had a limited or short threshhold for misbehavior. So do I and all my brothers.