Negroes and the New Southern Politics

By Donald R. Matthews; James W. Prothro | Go to book overview

Epilogue

On Thanksgiving Day in 1965 the white residents of Crayfish County could find few reasons to give thanks. God might still favor keeping Negroes "in their place," but higher powers in Washington clearly had other ideas. And for the moment those powers had the upper hand.

A few days before, three federal registrars of voters had arrived in Crayfish, set up headquarters in the basement of the Breedville post office, and announced that they were there to register Negroes as voters under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

These representatives of the national government were met with cold hostility, but no one actually attacked them. None of the federal registrars was a Mississippian, but none was a "Yankee" -- all were from nearby states.

Political realities had changed drastically since the pistol-whipping of the SNCC representative four years earlier. In an effort to ward off federal intervention, the state legislature had relaxed its stringent requirements for voter registration. Jim Rock, the intransigent registrar of voters, had died of a heart attack. His replacement, a 26-year-old college graduate, was ready to accept the new southern politics.

Breedville and Crayfish County had accepted outside authority, but only with resentment and uncertainty. They seemed less confident than before that "we have the happiest niggers in the world," all committed to second-class citizenship. This uncertainty was heightened when 1,300 Negroes manfully trooped in to register, asserting their rights as American citizens for the first time in their lives.

Among these new voters, some 200 were courageous enough to go to the courthouse (rather than to the post office) and register with the new county registrar. The symbolism of registering at the county courthouse, where the SNCC worker had been assaulted four years earlier, made the extra effort

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