Newest information on Mississippi murders involving African Americans and/or Mississippi politicians and leaders.
on your site! Fast, Easy & Free! (El Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles en Estados Unidos)
Mississippi civil rights activist Margaret Block watches her computer screen closely as young Florida college student Andrew Meyer is tasered by campus police.
"How could anyone say he was resisting? He was holding a book under his arm and he never let go of it, as far as I can tell."
Block turns her attention back to the YouTube video as Meyer is arrested after campus police zap him with a stun gun because he won't stand up.
Posted on perhaps thousands of Web sites Tuesday, the video shows campus police officers pulling Meyer away from a microphone after he loudly asks U.S. Senator John Kerry about impeaching President Bush and whether he and Bush both belonged to the secret society Skull and Bones when they were students at Yale University.
Kerry asks police to let the student present his questions, but they pull Meyer away, instead. The video ends and Block is quiet; the young man's screams awaken memories she'd rather forget.
"We got this in the Civil Rights Movement, too. Police didn't use tasers to terrorize us but they would beat us down and put the dogs on us. And shoot water hoses at us. But can you believe he was tasered just for speaking out? In this day?"
Block still remembers the terror she often felt when working the Mississippi Delta as a voting rights activist two years out of high school in 1962. And she recounts the story of a 27-year-old student volunteer who was traumatized so badly she wonders if he ever recovered.
Her story begins when Block's late brother Sam was signing up voters and preaching civil rights in nearby Greenwood where he once rode a mule down the main street to draw attention to the cause.
Greenwood was home to Byron de la Beckwith, convicted years later for the murder of civil rights leader, Medgar Evers. Also living in the Delta cotton town was Gordon Lackey, a Klansman and Beckwith's mentor. Both Beckwith and Lackey are dead.
Margaret chose Charleston as her headquarters, a smaller town in the heart of Tallahatchie County, north of Greenwood, where she became a SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) volunteer after first working with the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council).
Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was murdered and his body dumped into the infamous Tallahatchie River in 1955. Like Greenwood, Charleston also had a horrid reputation for violence.
"Not that Greenwood was much better. Charleston was just more isolated and there were even fewer black people living there unafraid enough to get involved in the Movement," Block says.
Her life was threatened several times in Charleston; once a Klansman tried to stab the young woman on the courthouse steps and his knife was quickly taken away by an FBI agent. "Agents weren't supposed to get involved but he did and I'll never forget it." Another time, Block was sneaked out of town in a hearse after rumors the Klan wanted to kill her.
In mid January of 1966, after Block moved away, two of her Charleston friends, Birdia Keglar and Adlena Hamlett, both NAACP members, were murdered in Sidon, a small cotton ginning community just seven miles south of Greenwood. Block and others have continued searching for evidence, hoping their murders one day become a cold case for the U. S. Department of Justice to solve.
Officially, the two women died in a car accident. But Block and others know better.
"Birdia Keglar was trying to start a chapter of the NAACP in Tallahatchie County and was a wonderful person. She managed the local funeral home and was responsible for sending a driver to sneak me out of town in the back of a company hearse after hearing the Klan was out for me. Adlena Hamlett was a retired teacher and like her son had been involved in voter registration and civil rights efforts for years."
Nina Zachery Black, Hamlett's granddaughter, believes the murder could have been prompted by her uncle's well-known hatred of the late U.S. Senator James O. Eastland, also a Delta cotton farmer.
"When he heard about his mother's murder, my uncle wept and said that Eastland had finally gotten to him by murdering Adlena. My uncle had often collided with the senator who was a noted racist."
Both Keglar and Hamlett met with U. S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy earlier in February of 1965 when they testified before a U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearing, telling of the years of harassment they'd been through for their involvement in voting rights including the hanging in effigy of Hamlett on the Tallahatchie Courthouse lawn. At the time, the senator warned his audience that both women had better return home safely, said one of Keglar's great-granddaughters.
Keglar once angered the local sheriff and county officials when her voter registration experiences were used by the U.S. Justice Department to argue the first Mississippi voting rights case before a federal court in 1961. She was the first black person to vote in Tallahatchie County since Reconstruction.
Both women were killed in mid January of 1966 -- on January 12th say family members and according to a brief newspaper account. The story is told that both women were on their way home from a Jackson meeting where they likely met once again with Senator Kennedy.
But new and somewhat different information has surfaced about the Mississippi murders after a 95-year-old aunt of Keglar's led Margaret Block to an eyewitness, 85-year-old J. D. Williams who recently moved back home to Charleston from California.
Williams says he was in the car behind Keglar and Hamlett when they were run off the road and has details to share. And Williams says the murder took place in Sidon, one day before others have said it occurred.
"Williams has given us something new that could help find truth," Block says.
This much Williams remembers
"We were meeting in Sidon, in a small church. Dick Gregory and another volunteer, Michael Stoffer, had been to Sidon and gave us a load of clothes to distribute. I'd given them to a local white agency but they kept everything and we had no clothing to hand out.
"We were talking about this and about the NAACP meeting coming up when a black man came into the church and looked around. He didn't look familiar. He acted strange and one of my friends, Jessie Brewer, said he thought the man was trying to look out for us or that he must be upset about something and couldn't tell us."
When the meeting ended, Williams and the others went out to their cars. "Mrs. Keglar and Mrs. Hamlett were in the car in front of us. I remember that a car driven by a white man [officially identified as Brown Lee Bruce of Sidon, deceased came up on them really fast and hit them in the side, forcing them into a steep ditch with water.
"Then more cars and trucks came out from nowhere, full of white men, and lots of shooting happened. They really shot up their car. I didn't recognize any of them. It was the firemen who finally came and removed the bodies from the car. They also took away the young college man who was with them."
Williams states that he and Brewer were frightened and drove off the side of the road after Keglar's car was hit. "Someone got us out of our car and arrested us for trespassing. They took us to jail in Greenwood and then someone got us out the next day. It might have been the FBI."
His recollections don't entirely match several accounts told by some and yet give substance to others in trying to piece together what happened over forty years ago to Keglar and Hamlett. One more person who also was in Keglar's car could shed more light -- if he could ever be found.
Richard L. Simpson, a 27-year-old voting rights volunteer from Massachusetts, was held isolated in the Greenwood Hospital where he was treated for injuries received in the car wreck -- until he disappeared. But no one knows or will tell where the student was taken. Simpson worked in nearby Belzoni the summer before and then stayed on for an extra year.
Block and others say that Simpson was probably sneaked out of Mississippi and sent home as soon as possible, perhaps for his own safety.
"That would have been the only way to keep anyone safe in those days. But I've always hoped he would come forward and give us more information," said Robert Keglar, whose brother, James Eddie "Sonny Boy," died three months later while unconscious in a suspicious house fire after he tried to find out from the FBI who'd killed his mother.
"Sonny Boy was just trying to find out what happened to our mother, and he ended up dead, too."
Leflore County officials say no records exist regarding the deaths of Keglar and Hamlett. And several former student volunteer leaders who knew Richard Simpson say they have no idea whatever happened to him.
This summer, however, the state of Mississippi officially declared a 25 mile stretch of highway outside of Charleston dedicated to Birdia Keglar.
Adlena Hamlett, left
.. and Birdia Keglar
Keywords: civil rights movement, YouTube, Andrew Meyer, Mississippi, Birdia Keglar, Adlena Hamlett
Labels: Birdia Keglar, civil rights movement, cold cases, Emmett Till, FBI, KKK, Ku Klux Klan, Medgar Evers, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi murders, Robert Kennedy