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Count Them One by One

Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote

Gordon A. Jr. Martin

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

CONTENTS

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pp. vii-viii

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PREFACE

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pp. ix-xii

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States, the first African American to win that office. How did it happen? It can’t be traced to his stirring announcement of candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, two years earlier, or even to his memorable keynote address in Boston at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Certainly his ...

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PROLOGUE: In the Office of Registrar Luther Cox: “How Many Bubbles in a Bar of Soap?”

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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. ...

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1. Race-Haunted Mississippi

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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. ...

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2. A Civil Rights Division in Justice

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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. ...

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3. Civil Rights and the 1960 Campaign

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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. ...

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4. Theron Lynd and the End of an Era

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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? ...

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5. Preparing for Trial

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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. ...

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6. The New Judge in the Southern District of Mississippi

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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. ...

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7. The First Witness, Jesse Stegall

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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. ...

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8. For the Defendants: Dugas Shands and M.M. Roberts

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pp. 77-98

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. ...

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9. The Burgers of Hattiesburg

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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 ...

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10. The Other Young Turks: David Roberson and Chuck Lewis

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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. ...

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11. Eloise Hopson: “I’d Like to See Them Make Me Change Anything I Want to Say”

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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. ...

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12. Hercules and Its Inside Agitator, Huck Dunagin

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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. ...

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13. Huck’s Men: The Black Workers at Hercules

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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 ...

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14. B.F. Bourn, Storekeeper and Freedom Fighter

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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 ...

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15. The Reverends James C. Chandler and Wayne Kelly Pittman

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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. ...

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16. The Reverend Wendell Phillips Taylor

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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 the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate that made him different from our other witnesses. ...

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17. The Leader, Vernon Dahmer

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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. ...

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18. The White Witnesses and the Women Who Registered Them

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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.” ...

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19. “Negro or White Didn’t Have a Thing in the World to Do with It”: Theron Lynd Takes the Stand

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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. ...

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20. Ike’s Fifth Circuit: Getting On with the Job at Hand

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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. ...

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21. After the Trial

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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. ...

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22. Mississippi Today

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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. ...

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EPILOGUE

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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. ...

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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pp. 236-237

I had been a trial judge in Roxbury, Massachusetts, for five years when a little girl named Tiffany Moore died in gang crossfire. Motivated violence in my court’s jurisdiction was more often becoming random. It seemed to me that if I were to continue as a judge, a break was necessary. The break I selected was participation in a New York University seminar on Fridays, ...

NOTES

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pp. 238-259

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 260-264

INDEX

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pp. 265-272


E-ISBN-13: 9781604737905
E-ISBN-10: 1604737905
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604737899
Print-ISBN-10: 1604737891

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

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