What is: The Magnolia Life Insurance Company, Mound Bayou, Mississippi

What was: Dr TRM Howard owned the Magnolia Life Insurance Company, based in Mound Bayou.

In 1952, after Medgar Ever’s graduation and after Myrlie’s sophomore year, the couple settled in Mound Bayou, the all black town in the Mississippi Delta. Medgar became an insurance agent for Magnolia Mutual Insurance, one of the few black-owned businesses in Mississippi where a young black person could get a decent job.

Dr. T.R.M. Howard, who owned the insurance company, also founded an organization called the Regional Council for Negro Leadership. Medgar became active with this group and deeply involved with poor black people. His travels as an insurance agent gave him a close, first-hand look at their conditions, convincing him that more had to be done for black sharecroppers.  It was largely because of Howard’s influence that Evers, from 1952 to 1954, not only traveled his Delta route selling insurance, but organized new chapters of the NAACP.

The NAACP organizing travels convinced Evers that Jim Crow rendered the state a virtual closed society and that mobilizing at the grassroots level was essential for building a movement for social change. Increasingly, too, Evers saw himself in the vanguard to put an end to Mississippi’s infrastructure of segregation. Other people in the still-young Mississippi Civil Rights Movement also began thinking of Evers as a leader.  Source:  https://www.mec.cuny.edu/history/struggle-of-medgar-evers/

What is: Fort Monroe, Hampton, Virginia

What was: Fort Monroe has an interesting place in American history.  In late August 1619, the first ship carrying “20 odd” enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia, where Fort Monroe is today.  The Fort was built between 1819 and 1834 and occupied a strategic coastal defensive position since the earliest days of the Virginia Colony. During the Civil War, the Fort remained in Union possession and became a place of refuge for freedom seekers, earning the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.”

Just six weeks after the Civil War began, three slaves – Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory – escaped from behind Confederate lines and sought refuge at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Commanding General Benjamin Butler refused to return the fugitives and declared the three men contraband of war. Soon, thousands of enslaved African Americans from all over the region descended on Fort Monroe in pursuit of freedom and sanctuary. This event fundamentally changed the meaning of the Civil War from states’ rights to the immorality of slavery, and marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.  Fort Monroe became a refuge for those escaping enslavement, and was one of the first places enslaved people were granted freedom during the American Civil War.

While its location was the site of the first Africans who were traded as property, it’s also the place where — more than 240 years later — thousands of slaves found refuge and ultimately, their freedom, when Union forces did not return slaves to Confederate soldiers. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned here at the conclusion of the Civil War. Edgar Allen Poe and Harriet Tubman both spent time at Fort Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln stayed there during the assault on Norfolk, VA – the last time a sitting President was actively involved in a military campaign.

What is: Tobacco Farm Barns near Simsbury, CT

What was: In June 1944, trains carrying 185 students from Morehouse College in Atlanta arrived in a northern Connecticut town of Simsbury.  The students had arrived to work in the tobacco fields and harvest shade tobacco, then one of Connecticut’s biggest cash crops. These fields and barns are where Martin Luther King spent time working as a 15-year-old.  He would spend 2 summers working in the fields around Simsbury.

More than just a job, this was his first exposure to the Northeast and to a society that was not formally segregated.  He attended Simsbury churches, sang with the choir, enjoyed drugstore milkshakes and attended movies at Eno Hall. He made weekend visits to the “big city” of Hartford. In a letter to his mother in June 1944 he remarked that he had eaten in “one of the finest restaurants in Hartford” and that he had “never thought” that people of different races “could eat anywhere” together.

He wrote a week earlier of going to the same church in Simsbury as white people. His new calling as a religious leader was emerging, too.  “I have to speak on some text every Sunday to 107 boys. We really have good meetings,” he wrote.  MLK later credited that time with helping him decide to enter the clergy, which, in turn, led him to join the civil rights movement. Sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/nyregion/martin-luther-king-in-connecticut-closer-to-a-promised-land.html

https://www.mlkinct.com/ and  Dr King in Simsbury

 

 

What is: The closed Strider Academy, a PK-12 school in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, which operated from 1971 until 2018.

What was: The school was established in 1971 as a segregation academy to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to racially integrated public schools.  Strider Academy was named for the sheriff who investigated and obstructed justice in the murder of Emmett Till.  He went on to become a state senator. Shortly before his death in 1970, Clarence Strider donated the land for Strider Academy.

The school campus suffered two fires in two weeks in August 1977. The main building and the field house were both destroyed. The FBI was involved in the investigation.  In 1989, Greenwood public schools trustee Jeff Milman resigned after the NAACP protested his decision to enroll his children in Strider Academy instead of racially integrated public schools. Milman stated that his children wanted to attend Strider and that it was closer to his residence.

Strider Academy said it admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, tuition assistance programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.

However, as of 2016, the school’s students were 96% white. Filings for the 2015–16 school year indicates that all seventy-two students at the school were white. Tallahatchie County is 54% black.

What is: Tallahatchie Sheriff’s Office and Jail, Charleston, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.  Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River.  He would also become the first person to question whether the body they found that day was a black man or even Emmett Till.

Originally Roy Bryant and half-brother JW Milan were arrested and held in Leflore County jail for kidnapping.  After an 18-member grand jury hearing held in Sumner issued indictments for kidnapping and murder on September 6, in Tallahatchie County, Milam and Bryant were moved to this jail in the Tallahatchie County seat at Charleston.

Carolyn Bryant’s “memoir” notes that one evening, she and her sister-in-law, Juanita Milam, were “smuggled” into the jail for a lovely dinner and evening with their husbands.  She also recounts an evening before the trial when Milam and Bryant showed up for a lovely extended family gathering at Leslie Milam’s plantation house (the same place where Emmett Till was tortured and murdered out in the shed).

There is another reason this jail has a strange place in the Emmett Till story.  At least two of JW Milan’s black employees were forced to be involved in Till’s kidnapping and murder. The employees were Levi “Too Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins. Because Loggins and Collins were eyewitnesses to the murder they held the potential, if they could be found and convinced to testify, to fundamentally alter the legal proceedings.

Loggins and Collins, however, could not be found. According to one of the Black reporters covering the story, Jimmy Hicks, the men had been booked in this jail, in Charleston, 28 miles away from the trial, to preclude the possibility that they might be found and might testify. https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/7

What is: Emmett Till Memorial Highway, US 49E intersects with Mississippi Highway No. 32, Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway, near Webb, Mississippi

What was: An imposing man weighing 270 pounds, Strider was the sheriff of Tallahatchie County and a wealthy plantation owner in the heart of the cotton-growing Delta. His property could be identified from miles away by the letters S-T-R-I-D-E-R, which he insisted be painted on the roofs of sharecroppers’ shacks.

Strider was the first official to learn that a body had been discovered by a young man fishing in the Tallahatchie River. He hoped to bury the body right away, and even ordered Emmett Till’s Mississippi relatives to get his body in the ground by nightfall. Strider made the unusual move of testifying for the defense. He shed doubt on the identification of Emmett’s body, saying the corpse had been submerged too long to tell whether it was that of a white or a black person, suggesting the body might have been planted there by the NAACP.  He is also suspected of helping hide several witnesses so they could not be found to testify.His testimony bolstered the main defense argument: Emmett Till was still alive and well, living in Detroit with his grandfather. After the verdict was announced, Strider publicly congratulated the defendants. Source: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/emmett-biography-sheriff-clarence-strider/

In 1972, 2 years after Strider died of a heart attack, a portion of Mississippi Highway No. 32 running between Webb and Charleston in Tallahatchie County was named the Henry Clarence Strider Memorial Highway.  In 2005, 50 years after Emmett Till was lynched in one of the most infamous crimes of the civil rights era, a stretch of Mississippi highway was dedicated to him. It is a section of the highway his body traveled to be sent back to Chicago.

The Strider and Till highways intersect near Webb, Mississippi.

What is: The old steel mill wheel at the front of Tredegar iron works which is today the main visitor center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park and the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.

What was: the iron works plant in Richmond opened in 1837 by a group of businessmen and industrialists who sought to capitalize on the Transportation Revolution. Tredegar operated on hydro power by harnessing the James River and the canal. The plant employed skilled domestic and foreign workers as well as slaves and free blacks. By 1860 it was the largest facility of its kind in the South – a contributing factor to the choice of Richmond as the capital of the confederacy.

It produced the steel for the first Confederate ironclad ship, as well as about half of the artillery production. It also manufactured steam locomotives, rail spikes and clamps. The iron works is one of the few Civil War era buildings that survived the burning of Richmond.

Tredegar began producing again by the end of 1865. By 1873 it employed 1,200 workers and was profitable business. The financial panic of 1873 hit the company hard and it did not make the transition to steel. The Tredegar company remained in business throughout the first half of the 20th century, and supplied requirements of the armed forces of the United States during World War I and World War II.

The company name Tredegar derives from the Welsh industrial town that supplied much of the company’s early workforce.

What is: Closed Lunenburg High School.

What was: On this site The Lunenburg Training School was founded in 1920 with support from the Jeanes Fund. In 1924, Rosenwald Funds aided in the construction of a larger school and later a shop building. More than 370 “Rosenwalds,” as they are commonly known, were built in Virginia between 1917 and 1932. They supported educational opportunities for black youth living in segregated communities throughout the South. In 1949 Lunenburg County built a new brick building that became Lunenburg High School. After the county desegregated its schools in 1969, it became a junior high school. Source: https://www.kenbridgevictoriadispatch.com/2018/04/11/book-preserves-countys-educational-history/

 

Hate runs deep and affects how things are memorialized… to the point of tearing down buildings. This story has lots in it…burning crosses, sequestered juries, second generation families carrying on…
What is: Vacant lot in Sumner, Mississippi across the street from the courthouse. It was the site of the Delta Inn.
What was: Built in 1920, the Delta Inn was a mansion that was the center of midcentury Sumner society and, during the Emmett Till trial, the site at which the jury was sequestered. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission crafted noncontroversial prose about the history of the hotel and its role in the trial. The prose was used for the lavender sign that once stood at this spot. The Commission inserted a final line that claimed a cross was burned in front of the Delta Inn midway through the trial—an event which was widely reported at the time.
Just before the Commission was formed in late 2005, John Whitten III, whose father was the Defense lawyer, purchased the site of the then-crumbling Delta Inn. Mr Whitten’s closing argument in the Emmett Till trial admonished the jury, “Every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men.” Much like his father, Whitten III’s record on race relations is poor. In 2009, the NAACP accused him of a hate crime for organizing a vigilante mob to pursue an untried, unarmed African American man whom he believed was guilty of burglary. He chased the man in a World War II-era armored tank.
Shortly after purchasing the site of the Delta Inn, Whitten hired a Greenwood firm to take it down brick by brick. A newspaper reporter with a keen eye noted, “Once the structure is demolished and the property cleared, Whitten will be left with a spacious vacant corner lot facing the town’s Courthouse Square.”
Predictably, Whitten was not excited about the prospect of a sign on his property commemorating the murder of Emmett Till. Although the sign did not mention his father’s role in the injustice, one can imagine that Whitten is not looking for ways to commemorate his father’s legacy. Interviewed by NPR, he said, “We didn’t do it. It didn’t happen here. This was something that was dragged in and left to rot in our courthouse. . . . [It was] a long time ago, part of history. I don’t think it should be denied. I don’t think it should be honored.” Apparently, he also did not think it should be marked with a sign. Shortly after the signs were erected, Whitten was heard late at night on the square claiming that the Delta Inn roadside marker would end up on the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. Shortly thereafter, the sign went missing. Source: Emmett Till Memory Project. https://tillapp.emmett-till.org/items/show/16
Historic Image: This is one of the few extant pictures of the long-gone Delta Inn. The Inn was built in 1914, housed the sequestered jury in 1955, and was demolished in the early twenty first century by John Whitten III, son of John Whitten Jr., who defended Till’s murderers. | Source: Delta Dogs, Maude Schuyler Clay | Rights: All Rights Reserved; Maude Schuyler Clay

What is: Cotton Gin near Friars Point, Mississippi. Abandoned cotton gin between Clarksdale and Friars Point, MS.

What was: Founded in the 1830s and continuing to operate into the 20th century, the King and Anderson Plantation was an enormous spread of seventeen thousand acres just northwest of Clarksdale and reputed to be the largest family plantation in Mississippi. It was located near this Cotton Gin.

Originally, large plantations had their own private cotton gins. Over time, the increasing number of smaller farms, the emergence of sharecropping after the civil war and new technologies led to the rise of public gins. By the early twentieth century, large, public facilities that not only ginned cotton but also sold seeds to cottonseed oil firms, populated nearly every town and county in the state’s cotton belt.

In addition to the economic function, public gins served a social function. “Trips to the gin provided farmers living in the far reaches of Mississippi’s counties with breaks in the tedium and solitude of toiling on small, isolated farms. The same gins served black and white farmers, and gin operators made no efforts to serve whites before blacks. While waiting in line to gin their cotton, farmers of both races came together to discuss pests, weather patterns, and prices. As shared public spaces, therefore, gins offered brief respites from the stifling confines of Mississippi’s racial caste system.” Source: https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/cotton-gins/.