Newest information on Mississippi murders involving African Americans and/or Mississippi politicians and leaders.
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Murdered Mississippi Delta attorney, Cleve McDowell, and Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign in the cotton dust.
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Attorney and NAACP leader Cleve McDowell's friends woke up to this story on March 14, 1997:
Mississippi Civil Rights Attorney Found Dead
DREW, Miss. (AP) - A civil rights attorney who was the second black to attend the University of Mississippi was found shot to death at his home, and a judge immediately slapped a gag order on investigators.
Cleve McDowell, 56, was found dead in an upstairs bathroom early Thursday after relatives called police to say the door to his apartment was open and his car missing. Police continued to look for McDowell's Cadillac on Friday.
McDowell had been a public defender in Sunflower County for three decades. He was part of a group of black leaders organizing to pressure district attorneys and revive interest in many never-prosecuted cases in which blacks were killed for doing civil rights work.
During the 1980s, McDowell was the executive field director of the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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LESS THAN TEN YEARS AGO, in the early spring of 1997, a popular black Mississippi Delta lawyer, described by civil rights icon James Meredith as "bright and articulate," was murdered in his home.
One young man, the attorney’s client, was arrested and convicted for the murder; he remains in prison.
But many questions remain unanswered while law enforcement officials and court officers have retained a gag order on all related police and court records. The order to keep all records out of the public reach was first placed on the initial investigation to keep a local police chief from damaging the crime scene and spreading inflammatory rumors, says the deceased lawyer’s former office manager..
Cleve McDowell, 55, once the state field director of the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP, had represented clients in civil rights cases over three decades. Often setting records for the state’s African Americans, he was a member of the state Penitentiary Board from 1971 until 1976 while serving as state director for Head Start from 1972 to 1976.
McDowell was a Sunflower County judge from 1978 to 1982 and ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature in 1978 and 1987. For a short period of time, he was a legislative aide to conservative U. S. Senator Trent Lott, leading some friends and political observers to question his motives, "at the least."
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Hearing the news of McDowell’s murder, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, told the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reporter Eric Stringfellow that she first met McDowell when he was a student at Jackson State involved in the NAACP; the old friend said she was speechless when told of McDowell’s death.
"All I can say is I’m shocked and saddened. My strongest memories are when [Cleve] applied to Ole Miss and the difficulties and the harassment and how proud I think the entire community was.
"He was one of the few who would mention Medgar as a role model, and he did it during a time when others wouldn’t mention Medgar – either they had forgotten or chose to forget. Whenever Cleve would speak, he would always mention something about Medgar," Evers-Williams said.
"The streets are quieter now in Drew," mused another long-time friend of McDowell’s. "Cleve was so bright and he was a true character. Every so often, he would ‘fire’ his secretary. She’d stomp home, carrying her pink purse. I can see it now.
Sometimes Cleve called out after her, saying he was really sorry and asking her to come back. Other times, he would be seen a few minutes later walking to her house – sort of like he was crawling there begging her to come back to work."
Walter Scurlock chuckled while preparing the daily luncheon fare at his restaurant on the center block of Drew’s Main Street and recounted stories of this small town’s first black city councilman and former Masonic leader.
"Yeh, Cleve was a special kind of guy," Scurlock said as he set out the deep-fried catfish, collard greens, fried okra and sweet tea.
"I sure miss Cleve – We all do."
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Cleve McDowell had distinguished himself academically early on in life – first as an outstanding Drew High School speech and debate competitor who went on to study at Jackson State University.
Then in the fall of 1963, as the first black student after James Meredith to be admitted to the University of Mississippi, and the first ever to study law at the James O. Eastland School of Law.
Shortly after the murder of his friend and mentor, NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, McDowell learned that he and James Meredith were next in line for assassination, a fact confirmed years later by a retired Parchman Penetentiary guard who said he was asked to perform this act by a Delta planter.
And so, McDowell bought a gun.
"Most everybody else had one," McDowell told a historian one year before his murder, "but when mine was discovered, I was expelled."
Later praised in a letter by the law school dean, McDowell finished his education at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Texas, a "better and safer" place to be, McDowell believed.
The Texas black law school was emphasizing civil rights law while the University of Mississippi was far behind, McDowell told oral history interviewer Owen Brooks.
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On August 21, 1997, nineteen-year-old Juarez Webb of Indianola was indicted by Sunflower County grand jurors on charges of capital murder and robbery of McDowell. And for several months, the charges stuck.
McDowell’s body had been discovered in his home by his sister, his office manager, and a Drew police officer. McDowell’s sister said she was checking on her brother who did not call her the night before on the telephone, as was his custom, and said she was concerned when she noticed the front door ajar.
She called Nettie Davis and together the three found him upstairs in his dressing room, leaned up against the wall naked and covered with a comforter and "It didn’t make sense."
The city’s police chief quickly came to the scene, and according to several eye-witnesses, including Davis, "he told us all to leave the house, all of us including the police officer, and he stayed in the house for a long time, tearing up the floors and walls – like he was looking for something.
He walked out with a small sack, but I don’t know what he had. It was obvious that he messed up the crime scene before the state investigators could get there."
"About 20 minutes" after the police chief’s departure, Sunflower County Circuit Judge Gray Evans filed an order to seal the premises of McDowell’s residence making discussions of "any findings or evidence from the crime scene" illegal for any officers and personnel working the crime scene.
But the same gag order "remains in effect," even though the investigation was closed years ago, according to the Sunflower County assistant district attorney who in the fall of 2003 refused access to any of the police investigation or court records stored in the courthouse basement in Indianola, even though the gag order never covered court officers.
"The family would have to approve first," stated a Sunflower County judge upon receiving an attorney’s request for McDowell’s records. Webb’s case files kept in the courthouse were accessible however, and indicated the following:
•An autopsy performed in Jackson that night on McDowell by Steven T. Hayne, M.D., the state’s deputy coroner, indicated "negative" signs of any drug abuse.
•Cause of death was given as a "gunshot wound of the left neck, distant and perforating."
•The death was listed as a homicide.
•Three gunshot wounds fired in "close temporal proximity" but not at close range, perhaps up to a distance of 15 feet, were described by the coroner: a "nonlethal" wound consisting of a "nonlethal distant and perforating gunshot wound of the left back," a "nonlethal distant and perforating gunshot of the left shoulder with re-entry penetrating gunshot wound of the left temple" and a "lethal distant and perforating gunshot wound of the left neck." These descriptions could not be put into sequential order, the report stated.
•The autopsy report did not give information regarding the range from which the gun was fired, but in 2004, a physician practicing forensic medicine was asked to read the report and give his opinion. The physician answered that it appeared the shots could have been fired from fifteen feet away. The physician also speculated there could have been more than one shooter, given the angles of the three shots. Further, information about all of the bullets causing these wounds was not available in the report.
"The police chief was saying awful things about Cleve when he came out of the house. I know that Judge Gray was just trying to tone things down before the gossip got out of hand," Davis said. "But I wouldn’t think he meant for the gag order never to be lifted."
Then six months after McDowell’s murder, a fire occurred in downtown Drew, devastating the town’s largest department store and the vacant office next door. All of the records McDowell had collected over the years from his personal research on unsolved race-based murders and lynchings were stored in the vacant office and reportedly destroyed.
The fire’s flames were so high that some Cleveland residents could see the "lighted sky" eleven miles away from Drew. Others reported hearing an "explosion" in Drew at the beginning of the fire.
Drew police chief Burner Smith refuses to release the records of the fire. Smith says the records are at the Sunflower County Courthouse in Indianola.
But the county's assistant District Attorney , Hailey Gail Bridges, states the records - if they are at the courthouse - are not available to the public.
Bridges, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, never did get along with McDowell, several former colleagues said.
"He would beat her nearly every time in court. And then he would make fun of her. She really hated him," Nettie Davis said.
Last summer, Bridges was given the task of overseeing the Emmett Till cold case project. To date, no court action has been taken and some observing civil rights veterans assert Bridges will never do anything to resolve the 1956 murder.A Place in History
"[Cleve McDowell] has a place in history. I thought he was a person who felt that he had paid his dues and one who knew that he made quite a few sacrifices to try to achieve equality for everybody. He stood up when it was crucial." Constance Slaughter-Harvey, Esq.
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Juarez Webb filed a Petition to Enter a Guilty Plea, reducing his plea from capital murder to manslaughter on January 26, 1998. In his request, Webb said he "shot and killed Cleve McDowell, without malice, in the heat of passion" and "not in necessary self-defense."
Webb also asserted that he was earlier "coerced" into pleading guilty to manslaughter by his attorneys:
"They told me I wasn’t going to be able – I wasn’t going to be able to get nowhere in this case, that I might as well go ahead and take a plea; otherwise, it would be over with me…. I guess they were talking about my life."
But on July 22, 1998, Webb reversed himself and filed a "jailhouse" petition to withdraw his guilty plea, citing "a series of interrogations, threats and promises [made to him] by various law enforcement officials" and "a series of statements of an incriminating nature [that were] obtained from Petitioner in taped, written and oral form against the Petitioner’s will and conscent [sic]."
Interrogations, Webb claimed, were "unsolicited" and "initiated by … the instance [sic] of arresting officers and other varies [sic] courthouse officials." Webb said he did not waive his rights to silence or counsel or self-incrimination, but that he was forced unwillingly and without counsel present to answer questions.
Webb said he was "repeatedly interrogated and threatened as well as coerced to admit to the crime in an involuntary nature, thus rendering his guilty plea involuntary as the result of being threatened by the officials to receive the death penalty." Courthouse records indicate that Webb was taken for a psychological examination to determine if he was potentially suicidal.
Appointed counsel, Webb went to trial on January 27, 1998 and "maintained his innocence," his petition states. His family was "repeatedly harassed by law enforcement officials and was told by his attorneys that he would get the death penalty if he did not take a plea for a lesser charge of manslaughter."
Webb asserted the charge of capital murder was dropped to manslaughter "due to the pressure and threats and unlawful statements obtained as well as other evidence and unlawful arrest against his will."
Webb also admitted giving "false statements in court to end the truma [sic] and nightmare and to protect his family from further threats and harassments … [the] guilty pleas was made unwillingly, involuntarily and [he] was coerced to give his plea to avoid a big trial and publicity on his family."
What Webb wanted was permission to withdraw his plea of guilty and to prove his innocence "so that the real suspect can be caught."
At the time of his slaying, McDowell had been Webb’s court-appointed attorney on earlier burglary charges. "The police thought Webb killed Cleve to steal his Cadillac, money and jewelry. It was all missing from his home when his body was found. They said Webb confessed to the killing when he was arrested," Davis said.
At Webb’s preliminary hearing, according to a Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger account, Drew Police Chief Burner Smith testified that Webb, 18, told police "McDowell had thrown him on the floor and tried to pull his pants down to sexually assault him."
Further, "District Attorney Carlton said accepting Webb’s plea was the best decision" since the case was "not iron-clad" and that McDowell "needed to be remembered for what he did as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement at a time when that wasn’t too popular."
Webb did not get what he had hoped for. On July 9, 1999, Circuit Judge Gray Evans denied and dismissed Webb’s motion. Gray wrote that it had "probably" been a "wise" recommendation by Webb’s attorney to urge Webb to plead guilty to manslaughter rather than face the possibility of a death sentence from a conviction of capital murder.
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Over forty years earlier, during the state legislative session of 1956 and following the Delta murder of young Chicagoan Emmett Till, Mississippi legislators installed a quiet and effective spy agency known as the Sovereignty Commission.
Like so many other blacks (and pro-integration whites), McDowell had been a target; a moderate number of records remain in the Sovereignty Commission files on the Drew native. (Only a fraction of Commission files have ever seen the light of day. Many were reportedly destroyed or removed before they were made available to the public.)
Davis, McDowell’s former administrator, said that McDowell received some of the Sovereignty Commission reports to look over before they were made public – just one week before his murder – but did not appear disturbed over the information obtained.
One last record had given the name of a possible Jackson "homosexual partner," and also declared McDowell as a young black man on the rise – someone who impressed the Governor. Davis did not remember if that record was made available to her former boss.
As Davis spoke about McDowell’s murder, she remembered something that struck her as unusual:
"When Cleve was murdered, the strangest thing to me was how neat the coffee table looked. I went into the house with Cleve’s sister and that was the first thing I noticed.
"It was always a mess, with papers, files, and books stacked up and even falling off. Everyone who knew him would remember that table. But that morning it looked like it had been cleaned up when we went into the house. Every paper was stacked neatly in a pile.
"There were these neat piles all over the table. My eye caught the coffee table immediately, as soon as I walked in. I had never seen it like this before," Davis said.
Retired funeral home employee Woodrow Jackson of Tutwiler backed up Davis’s assertion. That McDowell’s coffee table was straightened the day his body was discovered, Jackson found more than intriguing.
"This says something. His coffee table was always very messy. He would never have straightened it up, himself. I didn’t see his body, but from what I could reconstruct from the rumors going around, there might have been two people involved in the shooting."
Jackson, who embalmed Emmett Till in 1955, talked softly. "I knew Cleve very well. I didn’t embalm his body; I believe it was someone from Cleveland who did.
"But Cleve was a good lawyer and we often spoke about Emmett Till because he was interested in finding all who were involved in the murder.
"Cleve kept boxes of records in his office. I know, because I saw them. I remember a year or so ago before Cleve was murdered he brought Emmett Till up again and still seemed upset, but he would never give out any details. When his office burned down after he was murdered, a lot of important papers had to have been lost."
Still another person who knew McDowell responded with surprise over his cleaned-up coffee table. "Now that means something," Margaret Block said. The former SNCC activist was getting ready to have McDowell do some legal work for her.
"I was very surprised when he was killed, but I had never heard any of these details until now, including that his coffee table was cleaned up."
Davis also noticed McDowell’s prized guns were missing.
"He had guns in many places throughout the house and his office. He was always within reach of a gun. I don’t know how he could have been so surprised as to have been shot. I never learned what happened to all of his guns in his house or in his office. He also kept guns in his car."
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The FBI, responding to a Freedom of Information request, first asserted it has no records on McDowell – strange, say several close friends who remembered how FBI agents visited McDowell’s office in the years before his death.
Later, several records were made available by the FBI regarding a minor incident during McDowell’s tenure as a Tunica Judge. Other "tax records" were not available to the public.
One Drew friend said he always believed McDowell’s murder might be related to a "very large" settlement he won for a client who lived near Tunica and "may have involved something to do with a utility company." Several other friends confirmed this story.
McDowell had invited this friend and his wife to dinner shortly before he was murdered.
"He said he had won ‘the big’ case he’d been working on and for once had lots of money. I didn’t know anything about this case, but I did hear that no attorney in Memphis would take it. Some say there might have been mob involvement."
STILL ANOTHER STORY PERHAPS OFFERS clues to the mystery of McDowell’s murder. Two close friends independently recalled an incident they say took place about four years before McDowell’s death:
McDowell had learned that a close friend, Henry S. Mims, an Alabama lawyer who grew up in Drew had "committed suicide." McDowell’s immediate reaction was that it would be impossible for Mims to have killed himself; it wasn’t in his personality.
McDowell set out to learn what had happened to his friend.
Truth-seeking in Mississippi; McDowell cold case unresolved
Several Drew friends decided to drive to Alabama for the funeral of Henry S. Mims, an old school friend of Cleve McDowell’s. But McDowell suggested he would "go out first and try to find out what happened" and then call back to give an update.
Paying a visit to Mims’ widow before the funeral, McDowell asked to see the body, but she refused permission. The widow also said the casket would be closed for the funeral, McDowell later told his own minister.
Those who knew McDowell said he would not have taken such news sitting down, but most likely went to the funeral home to examine the body himself, his friends said. "He would find out what happened to Mims and he would never take ‘no’ for an answer."
From Montgomery, Alabama, McDowell phoned a friend back in Drew to report seeing Mims’ body with "cuts and broken fingers." Something was very wrong with the suicide story, he told a friend. "It made no sense."
McDowell planned his immediate return home and said he would not stay for the funeral. He also suggested that his friends not drive to Alabama, as planned.
"He told me this was not going to be open casket and that he was angry with his friend’s wife. He also said something was very wrong."
McDowell’s friends went to the funeral, anyway and were surprised at "all of the California people" who attended. "So many, that most of his Mississippi friends could not get inside of the church."
Mims was a graduate of the City College of Los Angeles, and apparently had maintained contact with the Californians.
When McDowell returned to Drew, he told his minister there was no evidence of a suicide and that Mims showed signs of torture; Mims had been found by his wife, "hanging from a ladder inside of his garage," but "the whole thing looked like a setup to make his murder look like a suicide."
Then McDowell said something strange, something "out of character," according to his minister. "He asked me to promise I would conduct his funeral when the time should come – and he meant it," the minister said.
"I thought he was kidding at first, and I told him I would be dying before he would since I’m quite a bit older. But he was serious and he looked scared. I asked him if he knew what happened to Mims and if he knew who did it. He said yes, and then looked down and said nothing else."
For the next several years, McDowell – also a Baptist minister – severely decreased his time spent working in his law office, instead working at building his own church congregation.
"He would spend more time picking out the dishes and other special purchases for the church than coming to work," recounted Nettie Davis, who with her husband also confirmed parts of the "Alabama funeral" story.
"Sometime I’d get worried about Cleve’s absence from the office and tell Cleve ‘we’ might get sued,’" she laughed. "He just really changed after the Alabama trip, and it was so important for him that everything be done exactly right for the new church. That mattered to him more than anything else."
Mims had been to Drew visiting friends and family only a few weeks before he died. "He looked fine. He was happy and I remember we all had dinner together," Davis’ husband said.
Mims relatives in Drew all refuse to be interviewed.
NEARLY ALL OF McDowell’s friends requested anonymity when asked to talk about his murder. One friend, a former Parchman prison guard, explained: "Most of us know that Cleve’s death was not just a matter of a young kid shooting him because he thought Cleve was trying to molest him.
"That would be impossible, anyway, because Webb was too old, legally, to be molested.
"But, there had been FBI hanging around here, and I personally think Cleve had to be one of the reasons why…. His family and friends, I think, are still afraid to talk. They know what it is still like in the Delta, and so do I [since] I know how some of the richest people work."
The former Parchman guard, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, stated that in 1962, when James Meredith was attempting to enter the University of Mississippi, he was approached by a "rich, white planter" who "tried to hire" him "to kill Meredith."
"He wanted me to ‘do something’ about Meredith. Of course, I said no. But that is how it has always been around here – rich white people paying off others, including blacks, to murder black people. They think this keeps us in line. And this has not stopped – it still goes on."
For some old friends, it would be better if McDowell's ghost would just disappear.
Mississippi attorney Constance Slaughter, quoted in The Clarion-Ledger at the time of McDowell’s death, refused an interview when contacted, becoming angry enough to hang up the telephone.
Charles McLauren of Indianola, an active civil rights advocate and SNCC member who knew McDowell did not want to talk either, and deferred to McDowell’s family.
Conceding that family members would not talk about McDowell, McLaurin offered, "They think it’s better to let a sleeping dog lie."
It is the "gay" issue that keeps many friends and family from talking about McDowell, McLaurin confirmed before quickly ending the call.
One young man interviewed in Drew, also requesting anonymity, claimed that he had been "molested" by McDowell "for years" and "wish I’d shot him, myself."
But he also said that an attempt to "make [McDowell] look like a pedophile" had been a set-up.
Cleveland parents of a young child made the accusation, he recounted, but no charges were ever filed. The young man, who reported he also knew Webb, asserted that Webb told him he’d "had sex with McDowell first and then shot him afterwards."
This interviewee also stated that FBI personnel were in Drew "by noon" after McDowell’s body was discovered. "They had been watching him," he said, but gave no details.
WHAT OF THE "gay issue"?
Rumors persist that McDowell and several other "well-known" Civil Rights veterans were "closet" gay. It was a time of forced anonymity, since gays were considered immoral if not communistic. Even in 2005 a gay in rural Mississippi would quite possibly have a rough time.
Sovereignty Commission files show that agents jumped at any chance to report (by name) the alleged gay behavior of blacks. Yet long-established rumors still circulate that Governor Ross Barnett, white and a Citizens Council member, was gay and "slept with at least one well-known black activist."
Apparently no Sovereignty Commission reports claiming as such – if they exist – have seen the light of day.
Professor John Howard of Queen’s College in London offered an insight to gay activities in the Mississippi Delta during the Civil Rights Movement in his thesis on "[T]he love that dare not speak its name in the Bible belt."
Howard’s academic paper was turned into a popular press book, Men Like That, as the author worked to "debunk the myth that same-sex desires can’t find expression outside the big city."
Nominally conservative institutions of small town life – home, church, school, and workplace – were the "very sites where queer sexuality flourished," Howard stated.
"Far more" is to be discovered: "It’s still early days for Southern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface," Howard offered through an e-mail interview in 2004.
QUESTION: To what extent did race place a role in selection of sexual partners in homosexual men and women in Mississippi in civil rights and pre-civil rights days?
HOWARD: I'm thinking of Gov. Ross Barnett … since the rumours are still thick. Generally speaking, before the 1960s, LGBT Southerners, black and white, participated in similar practices and networks. But they were doing so in two parallel, segregated worlds. If gender and sexual non-conformity had to be very carefully negotiated, then all the more so if it involved interracial interaction.
That’s not to say that there was no interracial homosexual activity before the civil rights era. Obviously, it was easier for whites to approach blacks. And of course we have more evidence of that.
Some have even suggested that many elite white males in particular assumed access to black male bodies, in the way that, since slavery, they had expected access to black females.
Especially illuminating here is William Armstrong Percy III’s article about his kinsman, William Alexander Percy, with whom I’m sure you’re familiar. The article appears in my edited collection, "Carryin’ On in the Lesbian and Gay South" (New York University Press, 1997). That, along with what I’ve written in "Men Like That, "is about as much as we know at this point about queer history in the Delta.
Aaron Henry is probably an exception, not the rule, when it comes to black-white gay activity. There were few with his level of power, few who would have taken the risk of approaching a white male. His life history also demonstrates that at least some young white gay Southerners would have been willing to engage in interracial, intergenerational, homosexual activity.
That is, they would have been able to ignore all the social norms and taboos – those which described blacks as inferior, older people as undesirable. And of course we have evidence to suggest that those willing to combat racial injustice and get involved in the Civil Rights Movement may have been more willing to challenge prevailing sexual attitudes and values as well.
QUESTION: Nobody who really knew Cleve McDowell wants to talk, even now. While he was probably gay, the evidence I've collected shows he was shot in the back and quite possibly by two men. Why won't his friends and family get past this to try and find out who murdered him?
ANSWER: A deep-rooted and longstanding homosexual homicide mythology associates gay men with dangerous lifestyles and disgraceful deaths. Further, up until the late 1960s, homosexuality in the South was largely accommodated with pretence of ignorance, a system of mutual discretion in which much was understood but left unsaid. To this day, many rely on that quiet accommodationism, preferring silence or subtlety over open confrontation, despite all the whooping and hollering of evangelical ministers.
That’s a very recent phenomenon. Protestant ministers in the South didn’t begin railing against homosexuality, at least in large numbers, until the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I’d be curious to know more about your evidence on McDowell, especially the notion that he was "perhaps a pedophile." Of course, his enemies would have wanted that sort of idea to circulate. But do you have proof that he had sexual intercourse with children? With pre-pubescent youth? It’s worth mentioning that the legal age of consent here in Great Britain is sixteen for both heterosexual and homosexual sex.
Are you sure McDowell’s partners were incapable of consenting? I mention this because such accusations are a classic form of intimidation by white supremacists.
Bill Higgs [a well-known, white Mississippi civil rights attorney], as you know, was accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old. This may have been true. But it also may have involved what I would refer to as a set of consensual acts. You need only look back several decades to find a time when the age of consent in Southern states was what would now be seen as shockingly low. [The statutory age of sexual consent was increased from 14 to 16 in Mississippi as of January 1, 2000.]
* * * *
Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, died in 2003 at the age of 81. She had kept frequent contact with several Mississippians, including the late Cleve McDowell, who was born in the same year as her son, Emmett, in 1941. Till was lynched outside of the small town of Drew, where McDowell was born and raised.
McDowell spoke with Till’s mother often, confirmed Nettie Davis. "Cleve kept many records on the Till Case. Boxes and boxes were in his office and in his office safe, not only about Till but about hundreds of civil rights murders.
"Unfortunately, they were burned up [or somehow disappeared] in a fire that happened six months after Cleve was murdered."
The fire took place one week before the first set of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files were first released to the public.