Oct. 2, 1965

Hundreds of Black protesters, including teenagers, marched for their rights in Natchez, Mississippi, in the wake of the attempted assassination of local NAACP leader George Metcalfe. 

“They were warned if they marched in the city streets of Natchez they would be arrested,” said former Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell. “They marched anyway.” 

Law enforcement arrested them and other protesters, sending 250 of them to the state prison at Parchman because there was no room left in local jails. 

Ronald Coleman, who was 17, told The Natchez Democrat that he marched that day with his mother and younger sister. He recalled being housed next to Death Row inmates and enduring abuse from guards, who forced him to strip and drink a laxative. Afterward, he had to share a cell with up to 10 other people with only one commode and one sink. Others arrested endured similar abuse and mistreatment. 

“It was very hard, it was gruesome,” recalled Deloris Bassett, an 11th grade student at the time. “It was so cold we had to take our clothes off, just about. We had no cover in the beds, just tin. A lot of the girls had to sleep on the floor … the food was not edible at all, it was horrific.” 

In 2019, city officials unveiled a monument honoring all 468 protesters by name. The book, “The Parchman Ordeal: 1965 Natchez Civil Rights Injustice,” details these arrests.

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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.