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Winonah Beamer, 1941-2018

Winonah Beamer was a Freedom Rider despite the fact that both her boyfriend and mother told her no, she couldn’t be one. But she was determined that way.

Her boyfriend said no, Mississippi was too dangerous for her, as he headed out the door to Jackson, a Freedom Rider en route to getting arrested. So he was quickly out of the way. Then her mom refused to sign the parental release CORE required for younger Riders. Beamer was 19. She sad she would forge her mother’s signature if she didn’t sign it. And that was done.

Beamer continued in her persistence even after she got herself arrested and sent to Parchman. After six weeks — the time at which all the other jail-no-bail Riders were bailing out (to preserve their appellate rights; it’s complicated) — she reused to bail out.

“With all the comings and goings, [Parchman] got to feel at times like a supermarket,” she told me in 2007. Yes, it was the first time I’d ever heard Mississippi’s infamous Delta prison described that way too.

So everyone else eventually left and Beamer stayed, the only person on her cellblock, the last Freedom Rider in Parchman. For three months: September, October and November. “They would let me out to take a shower, twice a week,” she said, “and I would run down to the other end [of the cellblock] and tag and run back. That was my exercise, because other than that I was in the little cell.”

“My feeling was there needed to be a small footnote, what the state of Mississippi was exacting in terms of a punishment for this misdemeanor. This is what it cost Winonah and Pat [Bryant, a black Rider] to go into a waiting room and sit down next to one another.”

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Louisiana to Wyatt Tee Walker: Are You Crazy?

How do you tell if a Civil Rights activist is crazy?

Would it help to ask him, “Why do you believe in integration?” Or, “Do you feel like people are against you?”

Or maybe this question would do the trick. “Do you think I hate colored people any more than I hate northern Yankee bastards?”

Wyatt Tee Walker About a year after his arrest in Jackson as a Freedom Rider (right), the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker was arrested in Shreveport, LA, at the Little Union Baptist Church.

It was the evening of June 8, 1962. Inside the church, Martin Luther King was speaking about voting rights. Outside, Walker was imploring the police to guard the rear of the church as well as the front. King and Walker had flown to Shreveport earlier in the day from Atlanta, despite a death threat against King if he came to town.

According to Walker, J. E. Downes, the Commissioner of Public Safety, refused to discuss any security details. “G’wan inside!” was all he would say. But Walker kept asking and soon enough Downes arrested him and Harry Blake, an SCLC associate. The charge? Loitering.

So far, so typical. Louisiana officials, however, were not always content with the standard misdemeanor charges for activists. Earlier in the year Baton Rouge had charged three SNCC organizers with “criminal anarchy” — trying to overthrow the state of Louisiana. Shreveport went a different way: they asked the Caddo Parish coroner to conduct a lunacy test.

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A Confederate Veteran Speaks: What the Monuments Mean

An updated and expanded version of this post appeared in the Clarion-Ledger on August 12, 2018.

What do Confederate monuments mean? This is apparently a question that continues to vex many.

Perhaps Wiley N. Nash, Mississippian and Civil War veteran, can help.

“What good purpose,” he asked in 1908, “is subserved, promoted and supported by the erection of these Confederate memorials all over the South?”

#Shorter Nash reply: “White people shall rule the South forever.”

But of course Nash had studied both literature and the law at the University of Mississippi, so his actual answer came fully attired in his best Lost Cause finery:

Like the watch fires kindled along the coast of Greece that leaped in ruddy joy to tell that Troy had fallen, so these Confederate monuments, these sacred memorials, tell in silent but potent language, that the white people of the South shall rule and govern the Southern states forever.

Wiley was the featured speaker on December 2, 1908, when the white citizens of Lexington, Mississippi, gathered for ceremonies to unveil their new Confederate monument. It was typical of the memorials then going up across the south: A generic soldier standing atop a stone column, in front of the county courthouse.

The column is of modest height, not as tall as the one in Natchez, say, nor does it feature any secondary statues at its base, as the one in Greenwood does. Both were richer cities. Still, the monument’s debut was something to be celebrated. A college band played “Dixie.” A group of school children sang “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Civil War Veterans paraded along with eleven girls chosen to represent the eleven seceding states of the Confederacy.

Nash was eminently qualified for his leading role. He was a Mississippian by birth, and a lawyer who had served both in the state legislature and as the state’s attorney general.

More to the point, he had fought in the war, riding in various cavalry units. Equally important, after the war he had fought in the campaign to restore white rule in Mississippi. Nash “did as much as any one man,” read one of his obituaries, “to assist in gaining control of the state government and accomplishing the overflow [sic] of carpet bag and Negro rule.”

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