Oct. 22, 1955

Family members of John Earl Reese gather around a civil rights marker honoring him. Credit: Courtesy of Zinn Education Project

John Earl Reese, 16, and his cousins, Joyce Nelson, 13, and her sister Johnnie, 15, were drinking soft drinks and listening to music from a beat-up jukebox in a poster-plastered café near Longview, Texas, when white men fired nine shots through the window, killing him and injuring his two cousins. The killing was part of a series of shootings aimed at terrorizing African Americans into giving up plans for a new school. 

One black woman was praying at her bedside at her home when bullets came through the Venetian blinds and bullet fragments sprayed her face. The sheriff at the time originally blamed the attack on African Americans, but a prosecution took place after a Texas Rangers’ investigation determined that Joseph Reagan Simpson and Perry Dean Ross carried out Reese’s killing. 

Simpson testified that Ross had been the one that fired into the café, and Ross confessed to authorities, “I held the steering wheel with my left hand and laid the gun (a Mossberg .22 automatic rifle) across the left door. I was going about 85 mph at the time, and I fired nine shots into the café.” 

District Attorney Ralph Prince urged the all-white jury to convict Ross to deter others, but the defense lawyer urged the all-white jury to “call it a bad day and let the boy go on in life.” 

Although all-white jury convicted Ross of murder without malice, he received only a suspended sentence. Neither he nor Simpson spent any time behind bars. 

In 1989, the National Civil Rights Memorial listed Reese as one of 40 martyrs of the civil rights movement. A historical marker in Texas now honors Reese.

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

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.