Newest information on Mississippi murders involving African Americans and/or Mississippi politicians and leaders.
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Tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer,civil rights activist, who often told the story of Joe Pullen
If we must die, let it not be like hogs: hunted and penned in an accursed spot! If we must die; oh let us nobly die…fighting back. – Claude McKay (1889-1948).
Historians now define the period from 1954 (the year of the Brown v. Board of Education decision) to 1965 as the Modern Civil Rights Movement. The African-American struggle for freedom and civil rights began long before Brown, however, and is a central part of U.S. history.
IN THE SMALL COTTON TOWN OF DREW, Mississippi the heart of the Mississippi Delta and birthplace of Archie Manning, some black elders still talk about a story passed down by their parents and relatives focusing on a 1923 gunfight raging into the early morning hours of December 15 between Joe Pullen, a tenant farmer and WWI veteran, and plantation manager W.T. Saunders.
The fight would turn out to be a watershed event in U.S. history.
Pullen shot and killed Saunders during an argument over money and then Pullen’s own life ended in a ditch at the edge of Drew when he was shot after an all-night gun battle.
The small town had buzzed with rumors that several dozen posse members were killed and possibly hundreds wounded before Pullen was taken down by machine gunners brought in from Clarksdale; some older Drew residents maintain that for years after the gunfight, a good number of people were using canes and displaying other signs of injuries received during the gun battle.
There are several versions of the Joe Pullen story, both written and spoken. In one account, nearly one thousand white men searched the swamps around Drew to find Pullen. The tenant farmer is said to have killed 4, 17 or 19 whites and wounded 8, 38 or 40 before he was machine gunned down. He either died immediately or was dragged through the streets and then killed.
Local news accounts of this event were few. The weekly Indianola newspaper carried one small paragraph on December 20, 1923 reporting that: “J. L. Doggett of Clarksdale and Kenneth Blackwood of Drew, posse men wounded Friday by negro, Joe Pullen, are reported as improving rapidly as could be expected.”
Associated Press reports offered more
Four men lost their lives in a spectacular gun battle which raged until 1 o’clock this morning between Joe Pullen, Negro tenant farmer, and a posse of several hundred men in the swamps of the Mississippi delta near Drew. Nine other wounded three probably fatally. Pullen was finally captured when four members of the posse stormed the drainage ditch in which he was entrenched. The Negro died an hour later from bullet wounds. The trouble started when Pullen’s employer came to his house to collect a debt.
Fannie Lou Hamer, well-known civil rights activist from Ruleville, often talked about the shoot-out that occurred when she was a child. Hamer said that Pullen’s body was dragged into town and that people cut off body parts to keep as souvenirs. “Mississippi was a quiet place for a long time [afterwards].”
While local press claimed that four white men had died “in defense of law and order,” Mrs. Hamer was told that Pullen had killed thirteen white men and wounded twenty-six others before dying.
L. C. Dorsey, a Ph.D. sociologist, remembered how as a young child living on a Sunflower
County plantation between Ruleville and Drew she heard from her father and relatives the story of Pullen. Dorsey said that her own father often did not receive the money due him as a sharecropper, and Dorsey believed the Pullen incident had much to do with his fear of questioning “the man” over money he was owed.
Pullen’s family protested to the President [Calvin Coolidge] who sent an investigative team “because the man had been in the service, and that was what his family talked about, that this man had served his country and this is how he was treated. He had done nothing wrong and had been killed for trying to defend himself against the crew,” Dorsey said.
Alabama historian, Nan Woodruff, author of American Congo, adds to the story that Sanders may have offered Pullen $150 to recruit families to work on the plantation, and when Pullen kept the money without providing the service, the fight began.
Woodruff terms Pullen’s gunfight another “watershed event” “much like the Elaine Massacre [Arkansas, 1919] as blacks challenged the structure of white supremacy throughout the 1920s.
“Black people with guns had always threatened planter authority, particularly when disputes
arose over crop contracts or merchant bills. Despite the threat of terror, black sharecroppers and laborers fought back when their lives were on the line, even if such actions resulted in their deaths.”
Woodruff and other black history researchers write that many Southern black people had always carried guns for hunting and self-protection, but the frequency of armed confrontations between planters and croppers, based on the frequency of reporting, may have increased in the decade following World War I.
THE RULING WHITE Delta families would keep their immense social, economic and political power; the planters’ bloc maintaining its supremacy or hegemony through an efficient capitalist economy rooted in black labor manipulation. Schooling and marriage built strong family alliances, and these white coalitions, much like Mafioso, expanded into local economies, from ownership and operation of cotton gins, to real estate, and banking.
Mississippi white planters simply ran all of Mississippi.
Labels: cold cases, Emmett Till, Fannie Lou Hamer, Joe Pullen, Mississippi murders, Mississipppi Delta