Count Them One by One

Count Them One by One: Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote

Gordon A. Martin
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt12f4nc
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    Count Them One by One
    Book Description:

    Forrest County, Mississippi, became a focal point of the civil rights movement when, in 1961, the United States Justice Department filed a lawsuit against its voting registrar Theron Lynd. While thirty percent of the county's residents were black, only twelve black persons were on its voting rolls. United States v. Lynd was the first trial that resulted in the conviction of a southern registrar for contempt of court. The case served as a model for other challenges to voter discrimination in the South, and was an important influence in shaping the Voting Rights Act of 1965.Count Them One by One is a comprehensive account of the groundbreaking case written by one of the Justice Department's trial attorneys. Gordon A. Martin, Jr., then a newly-minted lawyer, traveled to Hattiesburg from Washington to help shape the federal case against Lynd. He met with and prepared the government's sixteen black witnesses who had been refused registration, found white witnesses, and was one of the lawyers during the trial.Decades later, Martin returned to Mississippi and interviewed the still-living witnesses, their children, and friends. Martin intertwines these current reflections with commentary about the case itself. The result is an impassioned, cogent fusion of reportage, oral history, and memoir about a trial that fundamentally reshaped liberty and the South.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-790-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. PROLOGUE IN THE OFFICE OF REGISTRAR LUTHER COX “How Many Bubbles in a Bar of Soap?”
    (pp. 3-5)

    Black citizens of Forrest County, Mississippi, never knew what would happen when they went in to try to register to vote during the time Luther Cox was in charge. But they could be almost certain they would leave unregistered.

    The women who worked for Luther Cox formed a protective buffer for the registrar, just as they did later for Lynd. “He’s not in, he’s not available” became a familiar refrain—though Cox might be standing at the back of the office.

    For black applicants, Luther M. Cox, Jr., was the state of Mississippi. A one-time department store bookkeeper and deputy...

  5. CHAPTER 1 RACE-HAUNTED MISSISSIPPI
    (pp. 6-18)

    As I grew up in Boston, becoming more and more conscious of public affairs, of the differences—and similarities—between North and South, one thing was clear to me: Mississippi was first in poverty and last in its treatment of its black citizens. Lynchings there were covered in the Boston papers.

    Treatment of blacks in the country generally was far from perfect, as de facto housing segregation in my own city indicated. Yet, it was different in kind from the blanket denial of the right to vote to southern blacks, particularly in Mississippi.

    In fields unrelated to civil rights, southern...

  6. CHAPTER 2 A CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION IN JUSTICE
    (pp. 19-29)

    The alumni of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division can now indulge in nostalgia about our past. We print up T-shirts with the department seal. But before 1960 it was by no means certain there would be any deeds worth celebrating.

    The Civil Rights Division was formally created pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 by President Eisenhower’s second attorney general, William P. Rogers.¹ The United States Department of Justice is composed of offices and divisions, each with its own assistant attorney general and dealing with its own area of the law: for example, antitrust, civil, criminal, lands, tax....

  7. CHAPTER 3 CIVIL RIGHTS AND THE 1960 CAMPAIGN
    (pp. 30-35)

    In November 1960 the country elected a new president. For the first time a president would be elected who had been born in the twentieth century. For the first time since 1948, Democrats had a chance of winning.

    Dwight Eisenhower’s post–World War II popularity had been so broad that he probably could have won the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party. Adlai Stevenson’s campaigns against him in both 1952 and 1956 had been noble holding actions, giving the Democratic Party a nominee of eloquence and dignity, but one doomed to defeat.

    By 1956 John F. Kennedy, a World War...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THERON LYND AND THE END OF AN ERA
    (pp. 36-38)

    Change was also coming to Forrest County—or was it? The first stirrings actually occurred during the 1955 campaign for county office. A new face presented himself to the white electorate. What was Theron Lynd thinking? Why did he want to do it?

    Ever since high school, Lynd had worked in his father’s business as a wholesale distributor of petroleum products. It seemed like a good job. He had started as a service station operator, then moved to truck delivery salesman and, for twelve years, office and bulk plant manager.

    Then, in March 1955, Lynd made public on the front...

  9. CHAPTER 5 PREPARING FOR TRIAL
    (pp. 39-52)

    In July 1961, I was twenty-seven, a year out of New York University Law School, married, with a one-year-old daughter. I was an active Democrat, back in Boston in private practice. My wife, Stephanie, and I had enthusiastically supported John F. Kennedy’s nomination and election. We took Constance, not yet three months old, to the polls with us, wearing her “Youth for Kennedy” pin.

    With each passing month, I was more eager to be part of this new administration, of the energy that had replaced the lethargy of the Eisenhower years. President Kennedy had urged the nation: “Ask not what...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE NEW JUDGE IN THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
    (pp. 53-62)

    Just who was Judge Cox? How did he get there? For answers we must first turn to a meeting in the spring of 1961 between Robert Kennedy and William Harold Cox.

    The meeting took place in the U.S. attorney general’s massive office between Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. Robert Kennedy, brash and intense, the harasser of corrupt labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, was the campaign manager who had gotten his older brother elected president. Now Robert Kennedy was thirty-six years old. He was attorney general of the United States.

    William Harold Cox (no relation to Luther Cox) was about as different from...

  11. CHAPTER 7 THE FIRST WITNESS, JESSE STEGALL
    (pp. 63-76)

    In any multiple witness trial, a significant strategic decision for a lawyer is choosing the first witness. The first witness will likely get the longest, toughest, possibly nastiest cross-examination. The first witness will set the tone of the case, impressing or not impressing opposing counsel and, more important, the judge.

    You don’t want a witness you must protect excessively with objections, sound or not. That will only annoy the judge. You must keep in mind that one of your tasks is building the record for an appeal, here to the far more receptive arena of the United States Court of...

  12. CHAPTER 8 FOR THE DEFENDANTS Dugas Shands and M. M. Roberts
    (pp. 77-85)

    Amazing as it might seem, the job title for Dugas Shands was head of the Mississippi attorney general’s Civil Rights Division. “God, what a racist he was” was the way Bill Minor described Jesse Stegall’s antagonist.¹ A different Jackson reporter wrote: “A white-haired, slow-speaking lawyer stands between Mississippi and racial integration.”² They were really saying the same thing.

    Shands was born in Panola County in the northern part of the state in 1906, and moved to Cleveland in the Delta at an early age. His bachelor of arts degree was from Vanderbilt, and he attended the first year of law...

  13. CHAPTER 9 THE BURGERS OF HATTIESBURG
    (pp. 86-93)

    As a lawyer, if you are pleased with your first witness, you want to avoid a letdown with the second. If the leadoff witness was mediocre, you can’t wait to get your case on track. Regardless of how one had viewed Jesse Stegall’s testimony, Addie Burger, wife of the respected principal of the black high school, was a solid follow up and unafraid to create waves.¹

    Addie Burger was born in 1914 at Alcorn College in Lorman in Claiborne County. Her father, William S. Nelson, was superintendent of the laundry, and also taught laundrying because Alcorn was then a mechanical...

  14. CHAPTER 10 THE OTHER YOUNG TURKS David Roberson and Chuck Lewis
    (pp. 94-108)

    David Roberson and Robert “Chuck” Lewis were younger than Jesse Stegall, and unlike him they were single, but the three were close friends, worked at Rowan High School, and were dedicated to changing things in Forrest County—to becoming voters.

    Roberson was the only one of our black witnesses who would later leave Mississippi.¹ What had made him one of those with the courage to stand up for his rights when others were afraid to? For Roberson, the last of N. R. Burger’s bright young men at Rowan High School to testify, there does not appear to have been a...

  15. CHAPTER 11 ELOISE HOPSON “I’d Like to See Them Make Me Change Anything I Want to Say”
    (pp. 109-115)

    Eloise Hopson, daughter of Nelson Toole, a Methodist minister born in slavery, was vigorous and blunt, feisty and irreverent.¹ She was born May 16, 1913, in Enterprise, a little rural community in Clarke County, just south of Meridian, Mississippi.

    Reverend Toole had grown up in Alabama and was basically self-taught. He told his children stories about his slave childhood, among them recollections of slave children eating with their hands at a trough, the way pigs might today.

    I can recall my father going to his churches on Saturday. There were four of them. So he would leave on Saturday afternoon...

  16. CHAPTER 12 HERCULES AND ITS INSIDE AGITATOR, HUCK DUNAGIN
    (pp. 116-129)

    Word was passed quickly among some of the black workers at the Hercules Powder Company. “Huck wants to see us—right when the shift ends.” Huck Dunagin was not given to calling meetings. He didn’t have to. He always seemed to be everywhere as he walked the floor of the plant. Something was up.

    Huck Dunagin was big and powerful, a former all-state lineman in high school football. He was the shop steward blacks had elected. And Huck Dunagin was white.

    “I’m no integrationist,” he told me years later. “If they wanted to keep the races separate in school, that...

  17. CHAPTER 13 HUCK’S MEN The Black Workers at Hercules
    (pp. 130-153)

    The black community of Palmer’s Crossing is just down the road from the heart of Hattiesburg. Go over the railroad tracks from the old airport and past the drive-in movie. Turn right just a block beyond the tracks onto Satchel Avenue, and you found at #509 the modest cottage of one of its most prominent residents, T. F. Williams. T. F. and his patient wife, Jessie, raised their family there in a close-knit community of only twelve hundred.

    Born in 1918, T. F. was just three years old when his parents moved out from Hattiesburg. Palmers had just a hundred...

  18. CHAPTER 14 B. F. BOURN, STOREKEEPER AND FREEDOM FIGHTER
    (pp. 154-156)

    As a sixteen-year-old with a ninth-grade education, Benjamin Franklin “B. F.” Bourn was a laborer at Meridian Fertilizer, but as an adult, in the era before shopping centers, he ran the grocery and meat market at 523 Mobile Street in the heart of black Hattiesburg. It was profitable, and B. F. acquired eighty acres of farmland in Kelly Settlement, raised cotton, and sometimes had as many as thirty-seven head of cattle and fifty head of hogs, as well as five houses. In 1946 he was a leader in establishing Forrest County’s NAACP chapter.

    B. F. and his wife, Arlena Oatis...

  19. CHAPTER 15 THE REVERENDS JAMES C. CHANDLER AND WAYNE KELLY PITTMAN
    (pp. 157-166)

    Annette Wilson lives just a few houses down Spencer Street from Mount Zion Baptist Church, which her husband, Harper, attends. But her allegiance has always been to Hattiesburg’s oldest African American church, Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, established in a log cabin in 1888. She was just a girl when the Reverend Dr. James C. Chandler became pastor of her church in December 1954, and she came to love him for his support of the church’s youth and their activities. Mount Carmel’s hundred-year history describes his arrival as pastor as ushering in a “new era of progress” as he stressed...

  20. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  21. CHAPTER 16 THE REVEREND WENDELL PHILLIPS TAYLOR
    (pp. 167-175)

    All of our black witnesses were distinctive and impressive in their own ways, but Reverend Taylor had a unique aura of sophistication. (On a personal note, on my first visit to the Taylors, it was Mrs. Taylor who introduced me to the pleasures of grilled catfish.¹) But it wasn’t just Reverend Taylor’s sophistication, his two degrees from Columbia University, or his column, “Perspective In Black,” for theMississippi United Methodist Advocatethat made him different from our other witnesses. He had been registered to vote in New York City and in two other Mississippi counties before being rejected in Forrest....

  22. CHAPTER 17 THE LEADER, VERNON DAHMER
    (pp. 176-178)

    At first glance, Vernon Dahmer did not stand out among our witnesses. His tenth-grade education at the Bayside School in the Kelly Settlement paled beside the master’s degrees of the teachers assembled by Principal N. R. Burger at Rowan High School. Dahmer had no connection with the city’s major employer, the Hercules Powder Company. He was not a minister like the Reverends Taylor, Chandler, Pittman, or Hall.

    But Dahmer, along with B. F. Bourn, was the mainstay of the county’s tiny, furtive but durable NAACP chapter, and he was its president until the year before his death. Most of all,...

  23. CHAPTER 18 THE WHITE WITNESSES AND THE WOMEN WHO REGISTERED THEM
    (pp. 179-189)

    We heard the plaintive cries of Shands, Roberts, Zachary, and Ed Cates as John Doar began examining our first white witness, twenty-two-year-old John Edward Dabbs. And for once what Shands said was true. “Judge, they are changing their whole case. They are trying to make it equal protection and the Fourteenth Amendment as well as voting and Fifteenth Amendment. They never told us about any white witnesses. There is not a single word about them in their last amended complaint.”

    Our decision to seek white witnesses who had been registered by Theron Lynd’s staff at the same time he was...

  24. CHAPTER 19 “NEGRO OR WHITE DIDN’T HAVE A THING IN THE WORLD TO DO WITH IT” Theron Lynd Takes the Stand
    (pp. 190-198)

    The defendant himself was our final witness. John Doar examined Lynd, who told the court that he was forty-two years old and had been president and general manager of Southern Machine Sales, Inc., when elected.

    When I first took office, Mrs. Massengale came to me and requested that she not be required to deal with Negroes applying for registration, and so I talked to her about it, of course, because that was the first knowledge that I had that she did not care to do all of the duties.

    I was thrown in a position of having a chief deputy...

  25. CHAPTER 20 IKE’S FIFTH CIRCUIT Getting On with the Job at Hand
    (pp. 199-212)

    When most people think of legal appeals in the federal system, they think of the U.S. Supreme Court. However, between 1954 and 1965 the Supreme Court rendered voting rights opinions in only two cases. Policing the hostility to civil rights of many of the Deep South’s federal trial judges was left to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. For even small steps toward black voting rights or integrated education, that court had to act forcefully on behalf of the Constitution.

    In 1962—indeed since 1929—the intermediate appellate level of the federal judiciary was divided...

  26. CHAPTER 21 AFTER THE TRIAL
    (pp. 213-230)

    It was a very warm, sleepy August evening in the early nineties in Montgomery, Alabama. There was no traffic in the streets and the sidewalk in front of the Civil Rights Memorial was empty. But the water flowed constantly down the black granite wall of Maya Lin’s graceful memorial onto the circular table inscribed with the names of forty people who had died in the struggle.

    My wife and I walked slowly around the edge, looking for the name we had come to see: Vernon Dahmer. Soothing as the flowing waters were, they had also largely washed the paint out...

  27. CHAPTER 22 MISSISSIPPI TODAY
    (pp. 231-233)

    In the fall of 1963, we moved back to Boston just before President Kennedy’s assassination, when I was appointed an Assistant U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. I did not return to Mississippi until I began work on this book.

    Shortly after leaving the Jackson airport in late June of 1989, I stopped at one of the multitude of Waffle House restaurants that populate the South. There I saw an African American man seated with his arm around a blonde white woman. Neither seemed to fear imminent attack. That was a quick jump start in my realization of how much Mississippi had...

  28. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 234-235)

    It was September 30, 2002, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston’s Columbia Point, the night before James Meredith was to return triumphantly to Ole Miss to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of his integrating the Rebel campus.

    But there was a moving celebration at the library as well. James Meredith, Burke Marshall, and John Doar were all speaking, with the C-SPAN cameras rolling.¹ Stephanie and I were there with Jim Groh, who had flown in from Arizona.

    Doar described his initial confrontations with Governor Ross Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul Johnson as he attempted to enroll Meredith and...

  29. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 236-237)
    Gordon A. Martin Jr
  30. NOTES
    (pp. 238-259)
  31. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 260-264)
  32. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)