Monday, April 07, 2014


Jackson, Mississippi reporter Jerry Mitchel often writes about Emmett Till

Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., runs Journey to Justice, a blog that explores the intersection of justice and culture in this place we call the United States​. 

Jerry Mitchell's work has helped put four Klansmen behind bars, including the assassin of NAACP leader Medgar Evers in 1963 and the man who orchestrated the Klan's 1964 killings of three civil rights workers. His latest stories have helped lead to the arrest of serial killer suspect Felix Vail — the last known person seen with three women. 

Mitchell, a 2009 MacArthur fellow, is writing a book on cold cases from the civil rights era.

His Blog -- 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

From the Land of Emmett Till: Guest Blog HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]

Hunter Bear  (April 6 2014)

Dr. John Salter, sociologist and civil rights activist and author

For the past several months, we've been getting a fair amount of attention with respect to my several years of very successful grassroots organizing in the Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt back in the '60s.  We accomplished a great  many tangible things in that vast setting. And we have a number of Web Pages on that epic struggle -- and they are heavily visited these days, sometimes generating strong appreciation by readers.   Some of this interest stems from the contemporary civil rights struggle in the state, named Moral Monday. (I sometimes refer to it -- in obviously complimentary fashion --as the New Moral Majority.)  Some of the interest comes from academic quarters -- professors and students. North Carolina's historic and truly huge KKK movement back in our day is very much an object of interest and I gave a long telephone interview on that quite recently. Here is an excerpt from one of our North Carolina pages -- and I list our main North Carolina links at the bottom.  Note Floyd McKissick's book -- and his kind inscription to me.  "Mack's" book, among other things, makes a strong case for the right to keep and bear arms.

Yesterday, in an RBB discussion, someone wondered, in a not unfriendly fashion, if I were concerned about what people sometimes thought of me.  My response:
"If I had worried one iota about what other people think of me, I would never have accomplished that which I have and, God willing, that which I may yet accomplish."
Unlike some radicals, I have never used an alias. It's totally foreign to my nature. (If others do it, fine.)  In my early journalism for the IWW's Industrial Worker, out of Tucson, I used the handle, Cactus Jack -- but my real name was often attached to the column. Twice, during our North Carolina work, I found myself in counties outside our project area and wanting a motel.  The Klan was pervasively thick in much of the whole region.  The United Klan's newspaper, The Fiery Cross, out of Tuscaloosa, occasionally ran a hate column on me.  In our Blackbelt, there were a vast number of homes at which I could stay.  But in these two out-side county situations, I did use another name as I registered at the two motels.  Otherwise, to me, an alias is anathema.  (H)

(2002 and updated 2011)

I still hear from people in the Northeastern North Carolina Black-Belt.  A good friend indeed, the late Attorney Floyd B. McKissick of Durham, N.C.,  at one time National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality and later CORE's Executive Director,  commented to me  years later, "You'll always be welcome, John, in every Black home in the [N.C.] Black-Belt. Any and everyone will always be glad to see you."
We've always kept in touch with Willa Johnson Cofield,   the very courageous teacher activist of Halifax County.  After her major   teacher rights victory in the high Federal courts, Willa eventually moved to New Jersey and got her PhD in Urban Planning at Rutgers.  In the fall of 1998, she visited us in Idaho -- well aware that we were having some very strange experiences at Pocatello with so-called "lawmen" and racist characters.  Several years earlier, February 26, 1995, she had written a very long letter to the Dakota Student, official student newspaper of the University of North Dakota.  I had retired as a full professor and former departmental chair only a few months before and Willa was aware that not everyone there -- and not everyone in Grand Forks where we continued to live for some years -- was a friend of mine by any means.  Here is a portion of her kind letter and related written comment:
". . .I'd like to share my own impression of John Salter, whom I first saw on a 1963 television newscast being mercilessly pummeled by a group of white men.  The attack took place during a Black student demonstration in Jackson, Mississippi.  A few months later, John appeared in my rural, eastern North Carolina community, where we Black people were staging our own demonstrations.
Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona and part-Indian, he was young, intense, smart and completely committed to social justice.
Salter's civil rights record, his obvious sincerity, as well as his willingness to take on the local racists, soon won over the most skeptical among us.  For over a year, he worked in our community, facing daily death threats, abuse, and the virulent hatred of local white people.
With John Salter's help, we initiated a countywide voter registration drive, and when local officials set up obstacles, John convinced a battery of topnotch lawyers to challenge the county board of elections in court.  Our side won.   For the first time since the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the late nineteenth century, thousands of eastern North Carolina Blacks registered.
In the 1980s, those voters helped send two Black men to the North Carolina Legislature.  Two years ago, they sent Eva Clayton, a Black woman, to Congress.
John Salter was not present for the victory celebration or for the happy bus trip to Raleigh for the inauguration of Thomas C. Hardaway as Representative from our District, but many of the bus passengers recalled Salter's courageous work during the 1960s. He had helped break the fierce Southern wall of resistance, thereby setting the stage for the Voting Rights Act and the election of Black people to local, state, and federal legislative bodies.
John drove with us the morning six of our children, including my own six-year-daughter, integrated the local white school.  He found lawyers and financial support, and we successfully battled the school officials and politicians who tried to kill our movement by firing Black teachers.
In communities throughout the South, John Salter is remembered for his selfless leadership and courage and as a man deeply and passionately opposed to injustice.
Since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, I have met many of his former Tougaloo College students.  All remember him with the greatest respect and admiration.  It is sad to hear that in another place and time [University of North Dakota and Grand Forks] one of the most courageous leaders of the civil rights struggle is maligned rather than honored.
John has never flinched from taking  unpopular positions.  Those of us who benefited from his determination to act upon what he believed right consider that very quality a key factor in making him one of the truly great leaders of our time.
Willa M. Cofield, Ph.D.
Enfield, North Carolina and Plainfield,  New Jersey
And in a note on my copy of the letter, Willa Cofield wrote: "John -- You have successfully weathered worse storms.  Don't let the Bastards get you down.  Love - Willa "
We fought on. And we fight on.

Floyd McKissick: 

Attorney Floyd McKissick ["Mack"], a North Carolinian, Chair of the Congress of Racial Equality and later its Executive Director, was a strong and dependable friend always, "through thick and thin."  His daughter, Joycelyn, was a special friend of Eldri and myself.  I have many "McKissick stories" -- all very positive!  We met the first time early in 1964.  I had been jailed in a small North Carolina town -- the cell was cold and the food, of course, almost nil.  Called by local leaders, McKissick came fast to get me out, and he was successful. Outside, he asked if I was hungry?  "Damn hungry" was my reply.  "The only place around here we can eat," said he, "serves only soul food.  How do you feel about that?"  And I told him, "Take me there."  We ate heartily.  Then he told me something interesting:  "You had no sooner gotten here to North Carolina," he said, "then the damned FBI came to see me.  They warned me about you -- said you were a radical."  He added, "They also said there were white people all over the South who would kill you in a minute."  I grinned at him.  "That's no news," said I.  "And that's why I often have my .38 Special Smith & Wesson right handy."  Now McKissick grinned.  "Smart kid," he said.  "And any man the FBI doesn't like because he's too radical is a friend of mine."
And we were friends all the way through.  In 1969, Mack made a point of personally presenting me with a just-out copy of his excellent book, Three Fifths of a Man [New York:  Macmillan, 1969] -- with a foreword by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.  The book, very timely to this moment, is a clearly written  blunt and candid work which, attacking racism in intricate detail, examines the U.S. Constitution  and its relationship to American minority people -- with especial emphasis on the Constitution's great uses in the struggle for economic justice and full freedom.  And the book strongly supports the right to bear arms -- pointing out the great importance of firearms ownership to Southern Blacks with particular emphasis on protection against racists and hunting for food.  I've always appreciated the kind inscription  -- " To John Salter   A Friend and a Damn Good Fighter" -- that he wrote in my copy:

McK.jpg (286093 bytes)

North Carolina Black-Belt Campaign: Link to about two dozen sequential pages including photographs 
And for anti-poverty
St. Francis Abenaki / St. Regis Mohawk
Member, National Writers Union AFL-CIO
Check out our massive social justice  The site is dedicated to our
one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray, and to Sky Gray:
ORGANIZER -- AND AN EFFECTIVE ONE (Mississippi et al.):
page -- with a great deal of practical material:
See my  new expanded/updated "Organizer's Book,"
JACKSON MISSISSIPPI -- with a new 10,000 word
introduction by me. This page lists many reviews.
And this book is also an activist's how-to manual:  
The Stormy Adoption of an Indian Child [My Father]:

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Emmett Till Book Now Available in eBook Formats; (Plus Two FREE Bonus Audio and eBooks)

Many have asked if THE EMMETT TILL BOOK, BY SUSAN KLOPFER, my most popular CIVIL RIGHTS NONFICTION book on the murder of this young Chicago boy, is available as an eBook for PDF, Nook and/or Mac (ePub).

The answer is YES! I have listed these online bookstores below followed by two free bonuses (a free version of Who Killed Emmett Till on Scribd, and an audio version of Who Killed Emmett Till on my website,

(Of course, THE EMMETT TILL BOOK continues to be available as a print book at Amazon, where you can take a look inside and download a free sample. Click Here for Amazon print book. Print versions are also available at Barnes and Noble and at Lulu.)

The Emmett Till Book is available as an eBook at various online bookstores, including


The Emmett Till Book


  • EPUB: This is a standardized electronic publication format featuring reflowable text suitable for use on most eReader devices except the Amazon Kindle, which uses the MOBI eBook format (see below for Kindle instructions). EPUB files can also be opened and read on your computer if you have installed eReader software on your computer, such as the free Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions readers.
  • PDF: This is a file that can be downloaded, opened, and viewed on your computer, laptop, or tablet, using the free Adobe Reader. All eReader devices (Kindle, NOOK, iPad, Kobo, etc.) can also open PDF files once the file is added to your eReader’s library.


The Emmett Till Book


The Emmett Till Book


The eBook version of Who Killed Emmett Till is FREE on Scribd
The AudioBook version of Who Killed Emmett Till is FREE at my website



7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Put it Down! October 6, 2005
You won't be ready to stop reading until you finish and then I read it several more times. It's a part of history that I lived through and the story just hasn't been told like this before. Her interviews and descriptions made me feel like I was there both during and after. I have a feeling I'm still not ready to put this book down.
Comment | 

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth Telling October 16, 2005
The Emmet Till Book is a significant expansion of some of the matter covered in Susan Klopfer's longer book on Mississippi civil rights, Where Rebels Roost . . . Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited. Therefore what I said in the foreword of Where Rebels Roost also applies to The Emmet Till Story:

"Following [the June 21] conviction of Edgar Ray Killen on three charges of manslaughter for the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in Neshoba County, Mississippi, it has been typical to hear triumphant declarations such as this one by Jim Prince III, editor of The Neshoba Democrat: 'We pronounce a new dawn in Mississippi, one in which the chains of cynicism and racism have been broken and we are free, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last!'

"It is at best delusional and at worst a deception to view Killen's conviction as meaningful expiation for Mississippi's notorious racist crimes. To begin with, there are nine other living suspects whom the prosecution did not pursue. More to the point, however, are the lines of culpability that extend well beyond Killen and well beyond the Neshoba County klavern of the White Knights. We must look instead to the racist state government of Mississippi of the 1950s, 60s and 70s and to federal complicity in the state's crimes.... Susan Klopfer is determined to tell the truth about Mississippi and about America and she does a great deal of that truth telling in the pages of this book.

"Klopfer's book is one of the first to look closely at the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the state spy agency whose anti-civil rights activities included providing intelligence and money to the Klan. Klopfer also examines the roles of powerful people like Senator James O.
Read more ›
Comment 1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Hand Look at the Truth August 4, 2009
By Pat Fua
Susan Klopfer has conducted in-depth personal research for her civil rights writings. She has walked the land where these atrocities occurred and still occur. Susan has experienced the pain and secrecy felt in these stories as she conducted first hand interviews with relatives of victims. All well worth reading, Susan Klopfer tells it like it is, and like it was.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bradford Huie, Look Magazine and the Shocking Murder of Emmett Till

"The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi ignited the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, this story is still not taught in many school history books, or the most important details are often left out." Susan Klopfer, Emmett Till historian, speaker and author.
FREE Emmett Till Audiobook, Who Killed Emmett Till?

"The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi

By William Bradford Huie

Editors Note: In the long history of man's inhumanity to man, racial conflict has produced some of the most horrible examples of brutality. The recent slaying of Emmett Till in Mississippi is a case in point. The editors of Look are convinced that they are presenting here, for the first time, the real story of that killing -- the story no jury heard and no newspaper reader saw.
Disclosed here is the true account of the slaying in Mississippi of a Negro youth named Emmett Till.

Last September in Sumner, Miss., a petit jury found the youth's admitted abductors not guilty of murder. In November, in Greenwood, a grand jury declined to indict them for kidnapping.
Of the murder trial, the Memphis Commercial Appeal said: "Evidence necessary for convicting on a murder charge was lacking." But with truth absent, hypocrisy and myth have flourished. Now, hypocrisy can be exposed; myth dispelled. Here are the facts.
Carolyn Holloway Bryant is 21, five feet tall, weighs 103 pounds. An Irish girl, with black hair and black eyes, she is a small farmer's daughter who, at 17, quit high school at Indianola, Miss., to marry a soldier, Roy Bryant, then 20, now 24. The couple have two boys, three and two; and they operate a store at a dusty crossroads called Money: post office, filling station and three stores clustered around a school and a gin, and set in the vast, lonely cotton patch that is the Mississippi Delta.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant are poor: no car, no TV. They live in the back of the store which Roy's brothers helped set up when he got out of the 82nd Airborne in 1953. They sell "snuff-and-fatback" to Negro field hands on credit: and they earn little because, for one reason, the government has been giving the Negroes food they formerly bought.
Carolyn and Roy Bryant's social life is visits to their families, to the Baptist church, and, whenever they can borrow a car, to a drive-in, with the kids sleeping in the back seat. They call Shane the best picture they ever saw....

About 7:30 pm, eight young Negroes -- seven boys and a girl -- in a '46 Ford had stopped outside. They included sons, grandsons and a nephew of Moses (Preacher) Wright, 64, a 'cropper. They were between 13 and 19 years old. Four were natives of the Delta and others, including the nephew, Emmett (Bobo) Till, were visiting from the Chicago area."

Continue here --

FREE Emmett Till Audiobook, Who Killed Emmett Till?

Note: The 59th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till takes place August 28, 2014. It represents an important turning point in history. Do you know this story? Please share. Thanks, Susan Klopfer

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Coming to Emmett Till Blog; Interview with Leading Till Historian, Devery Anderson

Devery Anderson, a leading Emmett Till historian, author, speaker and blogger will share some of his newest findings and thoughts about Emmett Till in an upcoming interview on this blog.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog today so that you will not miss this fascinating post. Susan

Monday, February 03, 2014

What happened to James Meredith’s roommate—the second black person admitted to “Ole Miss”?

(This fascinating article is reprinted with permission by the author, Pete Eikenberry. The article appeared in the Federal Bar Council Quarterly, a publication to judges and lawyers practicing in the federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.S short bio for Mr. Eikenberry appears at the end of the article. The photo of Cleve McDowell and Rev. Jesse Jackson, campaigning in the Delta's cotton dust, was provided by a friend of the late McDowell's. sk)

The Rev. Cleveland McDowell and The Rev. Jesse Jackson wave to supporters during a Delta campaign. The cotton dust flies as Jackson helps McDowell seek state office.

What happened to James Meredith’s roommate—the second black person admitted to “Ole Miss”?

By Pete Eikenberry © 2013   

            ON JUNE 5, 1958, Clennon Washington King, a Mississippi college instructor, attempted to register for admission as the first black student to the University of Mississippi.  He wanted to obtain a doctoral degree in history; previously, he had graduated from Tuskegee Institute and received his masters degree from Ohio State University.  On June 6, 1958, King was arrested and committed to a state facility to determine his mental status from which he was not released for 12 days.  He was rejected from admission for having an incomplete application, a lack of alumni references (six were required) a minor violation of law and mental instability.
            In January 1961, the day after John Kennedy was inaugurated, James Meredith applied for admission to the University as the first black student.  Meredith came from a family of eleven children.  His father had acquired some modest real estate holdings, and Meredith along with his siblings had begun picking cotton for his father at the age of five or six.  He had worked hard on his education, and, during his tour of duty in the Air Force, he accumulated college credits from colleges near to his base.  Although he was not sponsored or encouraged to apply by any civil rights figure or group, his 20 month application process was well supported in the courts and by civil rights organizations.
            Typical Mississippi press coverage of the resulting federal court proceedings is found in the following excerpt from an article by Mary Cain, the Editor of the weekly Summit Sun, where she wrote as follows:
When the high-brown gal who is Meredith’s attorney [the late Southern District of New York Judge Constance Baker Motley] challenged Mr. Shands’ [the state’s attorney] pronunciation of the word “Negro” as “Nigar” –which is the way most of us pronounce it—Judge Sidney Mize, who was presiding, told Mr. Shands to “indulge her” in her desire that it be pronounced “knee-grow.”  (That reminds me that it’s reached the place in bars, they tell me, where one no longer asks for a jigger of whisky; the word is “jeegrow”…)
            On September 10, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Meredith’s admission; on September 11, there was a cross burned on the Oxford campus; and on September 13, Governor Barnett took a public stand in the statewide media.  He invoked the sovereign power of the State of Mississippi to personally nullify the federal court’s desegregation order as follows:
[Mississippi must] either submit to the unlawful dictate of the Federal government or stand up like men and tell them, ‘NEVER!’  There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration.  We will not drink from the cup of genocide.

Martin Luther King and his strategists welcomed the ensuing confrontation between the bombastic and racist governor and the quiet U.S. Air Force veteran who sought merely to go to college at the University.  Press coverage was sure to follow of the kind they sought to further their legislative agenda in Washington and their quest for the minds and hearts of the American people.
            After a court order to register Meredith by October 2, 1962, on Sunday September 30, Governor Barnett at 7:00 pm. announced that “it’s over,” Mississippi is “surrounded on all sides by the armed forces.”  The governor stated that he “abhors the bloodshed” that would otherwise follow.  The governor spoke while there were riot conditions on the campus which attendees at the previous day’s football game had helped to fuel.  The riot escalated at 11 pm when the governor negated his earlier statement by publically stating that “[w]e will never surrender!”  Thus, despite the dozens of calls between Robert Kennedy and Barnett where he promised to allow Meredith to register as long as federal guns were pointed at him- and RFK’s promise to have at least one gun pointed at him- Barnett threw gasoline on the flames of the out of control riot.
            During the ensuing all night battles, three people were killed, dozens of federal marshals were wounded and over 10,000 troops were eventually called in to restore order.  (On September 17 of this year, the day that I wrote this article, I, by coincidence, met Patrick Towery from Oxford, Mississippi.  He said that one day in 1962, his grandfather, Bob Towery, an Ole Miss administrator and marine biologist, was at a cocktail party when the county sheriff broke in.  The sheriff said, “we have a problem,” and he deputized Bob and the other male attendees with the duty of preventing Meredith’s appearance on the campus.  The next day, the national guard unit which Bob commanded was federalized by President Kennedy with orders to escort Meredith as he registered for admission. 
            Bob thereafter received death threats and was subjected to vicious verbal assaults. When a jeep in which he was riding passed under an overpass, the jeep was hit with large rocks which broke the windshield and badly dented the roof.  The guardsmen under Bob’s command removed their name tags since the protestors were not only threatening them but their families as well.  With almost 300 reporters present in Oxford, a town of under 7,000 people, there was almost unimaginable press coverage—e.g., there were 28 stories in the NY Times on October 1, there were 13 pages in Life Magazine and there was a long Saturday Evening Post interview which was published in the form of an article by Meredith himself.     
            Meredith attended Ole Miss until his graduation in August 1963.  That summer on June 3, it admitted its second black student, Cleve McDowell.  Cleve was admitted as a law student and roomed with Meredith in a dormitory which had been evacuated by all of the other students.  Until Meredith graduated, Cleve enjoyed the protection of the federal marshals who facilitated Meredith’s and his attendance at their classes on the campus.  Yet, the federal marshals’ protection was withheld after Meredith’s graduation.  Thereafter, Cleve was the daily recipient of racial slurs and death threats as well.  During his trips between his hometown of Drew and Oxford, he was followed by automobiles from which young men waved guns at him.  Five days after his admission to law school, the mentor for whom Cleve had worked and who encouraged him to attend law school, Medgar Evers, was assassinated.  A friendly guard from the notorious Parchman Farm state prison warned Cleve that he and Meredith were next on the assassination list. 
            In fear of his life, he asked the Justice Department’s permission to carry a gun and was refused.  He nevertheless bought one by mail order and carried it until the day he tripped on the law school steps and his gun clattered down onto the stairs.  He was, as a result, expelled from Ole Miss and finished his education at the Thurgood Marhsall Law School in Texas where his professors were well versed in civil rights law and legal strategies.  (During the Meredith riots, federal officials seized two dozen guns from the Sigma Nu fraternity, where Trent Lott was a member, but no Sigma Nu member was expelled.)
            After law school graduation, Cleve returned to Jackson to practice law where he was a very successful public defender and civil rights attorney.  At the end of May in 1971, my path crossed with that of Cleve McDowell.  After my service as a volunteer civil rights lawyer in 1966, for the most part in the small northern Mississippi town of Grenada-- I traveled alone back to Mississippi during the Memorial Day weekend of 1971.  I wanted to find out how people in Grenada had fared since Marion Wright Edelman and Henry Aaron of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund- assisted by me and other volunteer lawyers and law students- had integrated all of the public facilities of Grenada in July 1966.
On Tuesday, May 25, 1971, the 18 year old Dorothea Collier graduated from high school in Drew, Mississippi, a town of 3,000 people.  As she stood outside a black owned grocery store talking to her friends, three white men in their 20’s passed by in a pickup and one shot her in the back of the neck and killed her.  As I drove the 100 miles from the Jackson airport to Grenada on Friday, May 28, I heard a news broadcast about the killing and the planned funeral ceremony in Drew that weekend.  I spent Friday night in Grenada and on Saturday visited the church where I had interviewed witnesses in 1966, and talked with some of the local black citizens.  That evening, I drove the fifty miles or so to Drew in Sunflower County. 
As I wrote for this publication in 2009, it was Saturday night when I arrived, and all I saw open was a black barbershop.  I stopped in and the barbers let me change my clothes in a back room. I then drove to the location the barbers had given me as the family home of a civil rights leader whom I have come to remember in 2013 as Cleve McDowell.  There was a full house when I walked in and one of the SCLC organizers with whom I had worked in 1966, R.D. Cottonreader, walked up to me and asked for a loan for five dollars. It was like five years had never passed.  The closed casket with the murdered girl sat on folding chairs in the living room, and the local civil rights leaders were with Cleve and his girlfriend in the kitchen.  (Cleve was a gracious host and very much an attractive and intelligent leadership personality.)
 I talked to them for a while and Cleve gave me directions to the Ruleville home of Fannie Lou Hamer-- a former sharecropper who headed the Mississippi Freedom Democrats delegation at the Democratic national convention in 1964.  Ruleville was only a few miles from Drew.  She came out on her front porch to greet me in her slip, and we sat on the porch swing and talked.  When I told her I lived in Brooklyn, she asked me if I knew “Cornbread Givens,” a self styled “poverty hustler” from Philadelphia who had taken up residence and activity in Fort Greene in the late sixties.  Cornbread had been in my living room more than once – I kept Thunderbird in the freezer for him.  She was mad at him for inviting her to speak at a dinner at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  When she came all the way from Mississippi to speak, hardly anyone showed up.  (Cornbread had a very good influence on young people.  He started a drug program and encouraged a former gang member and drug addict, “Russian” Knight, to write a book upon which a movie about the life of Sonny Carsen, a Fort Greene activist, was later produced.)
 Although Fannie Lou and I took some pleasure in exchanging Cornbread stories, we mostly discussed the tragic death of Dorothea Collier.  Fannie Lou said she had started a fund to buy a house for the slain girl’s family.   Leaving Fannie Lou’s fine brick home on a gravel street in Ruleville --- all the white areas had paved streets – I drove back to Drew and went to the downtown area.  There, outside a black bar, I met Dorothea’s brother.  He refused to talk to me; he said that he had “just got back from fighting in Vietnam and these crackers killed my sister!” – “Why should I talk to you!”
Back at the home of Cleve McDowell, he introduced me to Bob Wilson who had graduated with Dorothea.  Cleve asked me to help Bob compose the talk which he was to give at the funeral the next day.  After I worked with him, he and two of his friends drove me to his home to spend the night.  In the dark, we drove up a long driveway to a magnificent house --- and the group in the car laughed at me.  I obviously thought it was Bob’s home.  We kept on driving to a small shack behind the main house.  There I slept in a small room on the only mattress while the rest of the group and the family slept on large cardboard boxes flattened on the floor of the main room.
The next day we drove back into Drew to Cleve’s family home.  Civil rights leaders were there from all over Mississippi and even from Tennessee.  I passed the time sitting in the back yard at picnic tables and talking politics with legendary civil rights leaders Henry Aaron, Charles Evers, Ralph Abernathy and others whose names I don’t remember. I also visited the black cemetery.  The grass where Dorothea was to be buried had been newly mowed – obviously the first time in a while -- the mowed grass had been more than a foot high.  Later that day, I could not bring myself to take some black person’s place at the funeral in the crowded auditorium where Bob Wilson “said goodbye.”  Since I was not in the auditorium, I did not hear his speech that I helped to write.
After the funeral in Drew, I, of course, returned to New York- never again to be in Drew.  This summer, I was able to spare one of my two summer associates for a few weeks to do research for some of my writing projects.  Thus, I am able to supplement what I wrote in 2009.  Xiao Hu was able to determine Cleve’s and Dorothea’s names and Cleve’s background and history.  Xiao (pronounced “shell”) found that one of the men who participated in Dorothea’s death was tried, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison of which he served three years. 
After Dorothea’s funeral, Cleve was recruited by the Drew mayor to help keep the peace in Drew.   He received permission to conduct marches but he had to promise the mayor that he would keep outsiders from coming to Drew and “causing trouble,” “especially Fannie Lou Hamer.”  Cleve was moved by Dorothea’s death to relocate much of his practice and his life to Drew.  He eventually became Assistant Mayor of Drew and a member of the school board.  In July 1971, Cleve was appointed to the state penitentiary board and reappointed for a five year term in 1972.  He had been a top student at both college and law school and was co-chair of the Mississippi Democrats in the early 60’s. 
In Drew, Cleve commenced to conduct his own investigations into the murders of Mississippi’s black citizens including Emmett Till who had been born the same year as Cleve.  Emmett was a 14 year old boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi.  He was lynched near Drew in 1955, for allegedly whistling at a white woman.  Cleve’s home, office and a rental space were full of the files on his investigations.  He himself was investigated by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, one report being that “Chief of Police Fleming…advised that Cleve McDowell, N/M/ formerly of Drew, now of Jackson spending a lot of time in the Drew, Ruleville area.  These visits are believed to be political in nature.”
In the years after I met him in 1971, Cleve occupied various leadership posts in the Mississippi NAACP, was administrator of Head Start in Mississippi for four years and served four years as a county judge in Sunflower County.  I was shocked to learn this summer, that Cleve was murdered on August 21, 1997.  The circumstances surrounding his murder are enough to fuel a healthy skepticism as to the official version- that he was killed by a former client, a 19 year old black man.  Four years before his murder, his apartment was apparently burned by an arsonist.  Six months after his death another fire completely destroyed all his files including those of his investigations into the murders of black Mississippi citizens. 
Although his convicted murderer confessed- his subsequent jailhouse petition alleged his innocence, stating that without the presence of counsel, he had been “repeatedly interrogated and threatened as well as coerced to admit to the crime…, thus rendering his guilty plea involuntarily as the result of being threatened to receive the death penalty.”  He wanted to be able to prove his innocence “so that the real suspect can be caught.”  A forensic expert who in 2004 examined the paths of the three bullets that were inflicted upon Cleve stated his opinion that the shots were fired from different angles --possibly by different shooters.
After the discovery of Cleve’s body by his sister, his secretary and a police officer, the Drew Chief of Police arrived and expelled everyone from the scene.  He then tore up floor boards, tore out walls and went through the house gathering up items which he carried from the premises in a bag.  A court order issued twenty minutes after he left the premises forbade thereafter all enquiries into the circumstances of Cleve’s death- a court “gag” order- which was still being honored by officials in 2004.  The files on the fire which destroyed Cleve’s files after his death are also sealed.  Thus, there is the question of whether someone murdered Cleve and destroyed his files to cover up what he learned from his investigations.  The Emmett Till case, for instance, was reopened by the FBI as recently as 2004—a matter in which Cleve had invested a lot of time and energy in investigation.
In my last article I wrote of two lawyers in Northern Ireland who were murdered merely because of their being effective lawyers.  At the time, I could not think of a prominent American lawyer being murdered just for being a good lawyer.  Since the circumstances of the death of Cleve McDowell have yet to be satisfactorily explained, was Cleve’s death the American equivalent of the deaths of Patrick Finucane or Rosemary Nelson?  Probably, we will never know.
This author...
was a candidate for U.S. congress in 1968 and 1970, a delegate to Democratic National Convention in 1972, helped start a free private school in Harlem and was past president of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.  He was a volunteer lawyer in Mississippi with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in 1966 and has returned to that experience for a number of articles.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Plan "Is About Emmett Till, Too," Author Says

I just put The Plan up on Amazon (Kindle,, for now -- print version comes out next week). It's a book that starts in New York, but ends up in the Mississippi Delta and then moves into South America. For those interested in the story of Emmett Till, The Plan has much to do with this important piece of American history, since it is based on a murdered, gay black lawyer from the Delta who spent much of his life trying to solve this sad crime.

If you visit the Amazon Bookstore right now, you can download the Prologue and a couple of FREE chapters. Or you can take a peek inside. I really encourage you to go there, because I think that you will be intrigued by this story.

It is a very different book than what I've written before (The Emmett Till Book, Who Killed Emmett Till, Where Rebels Roost; Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited).

This new book is fiction -- and I've always written nonfiction books. But I wanted to take this story to a different level, and when you read The Plan, I believe that you will see why I knew this would be important to do.

Please go take a look and then leave me feedback. I always appreciate your reviews, too.


P.S. I also put the Prologue and Chapter 1 up today at so you can take a look there, as well.