Aug. 6, 1963

Credit: Wikipedia

A thousand Black Mississippians defied arrest by authorities and threats by the Ku Klux Klan to cast protest votes in the Mississippi Delta. 

Mississippi had a Reconstruction law still on the books that let people who had been illegally prevented from registering to cast provisional ballots. When Black leaders talked of exercising this right, Mississippi Attorney General Joe Patterson threatened to arrest anyone who dared to cast such provisional ballots in the primary. 

Activist Billie Johnson, older sister of June Johnson recalled that day: “I had fear in my heart because as soon as morning came, I had to face a big problem. That was going downtown and getting a beating. I know when the police see me they will hit me. I had it all in my mind how it was going to be: one [policeman] would hit me on the head with a nightstick, and the other would hit me in the mouth. Another was going to sic five or six dogs on me. I knew they were going to knock me down and kick me in the face. 

“The moment came for me to go downtown. My mind was made up: I looked at the clock — quarter to nine. I was going at nine. If they whipped me for my freedom, I would not mind. And all at once [activist] Sam Block came in and said the police said they would not arrest anyone … I said, ‘Thank God’ three times.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.