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Vol. IX, No. 4
July, 1964

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COFO v. The Mississippi Power Structure

The first Mississippi experiment in democracy is just over.

How can a social experiment be summarized? What factors should go into a Won-Lost chart? Can one measure the new courage which infused an unknown number of Negro citizens of Mississippi? Or the newly-awakened doubts about the endless survival of segregation and white supremacy among an unknown number of white citizens of Mississippi?

We have some statistics: 750 students, teachers, lawyers and ministers worked in the projects of the Council of Federated Organizations, of whom at least 3 were murdered, 4 were shot and wounded, 52 were beaten or otherwise injured, 250 were arrested. They conducted 47 Freedom Schools for 2,500 students, and indirectly sought to influence the thinking of the 900,000 Mississippi Negroes. 13 Negro churches were destroyed by fire; 17 other churches and buildings were damaged by fire or bombs and 7 other bombs were lighted but did no damage; 10 autos were damaged or destroyed.

We also know that 350 Negroes registered to vote in Panola County, due to the federal court order in the suit brought by the federal government, 501.Miss.2. We don't know how many others tried to register, how many succeeded, how many failed. We know 100,000 registered with the Freedom Democratic Party.

If we talk about the efforts to enforce equal protection of the laws and due process in the Mississippi legal structure, we can be more precise. This issue of the DOCKET reports 18 new suits representative of the part of the experiment conducted in the courts. For the first time, the power structure of an entire southern state was unable to use its legal machinery to effectively stop or even slow down civil rights work. What started last summer in Danville, Va., in Baines, 55.35, reached fruition this summer when almost every person arrested for violating a city ordinance or state statute had his case removed to the federal court and was released on reasonable bail almost immediately after arrest. See removal proceedings at 73.

The freedom movement has clearly taken many steps in the courts since the early days when a few brave plaintiffs filed an occasional test suit against segregation statutes and practices in order to achieve the Brown decision that segregation violates the Fourteenth Amendment. After Brown, techniques for proving discrimination were perfected. See Seals, 512.29. Soon omnibus suits were filed attacking all forms of segregation practiced by the local government. See cases at 555.

Meanwhile, civil rights workers were perfecting techniques of nonviolent protest. They were immediately arrested, singly and in large groups, for violations of statutes and ordinances unconstitutional on their face or as applied because they required segregation or infringed First Amendment rights to peacefully protest. See cases at 541., 542., 551.-553., and 51., 54.-59.

These hundreds of arrests forced creative thinking by defense counsel, who rediscovered the Reconstruction Period federal removal statutes and, in July 1964, put them to use in Meridian when 25 COFO workers were arrested for obstructing the sidewalk, 55.81; in Columbus when 7 were arrested for distributing a leaflet describing provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 55.82; in Greenwood when 98 were arrested for peaceful picketing, 55.83; in Drew when 27 were arrested for holding a civil rights rally, 55.84.

As COFO workers were arrested, COFO took the offensive, first by removing virtually all cases to federal court, and then by filing several suits against officials, private groups and individuals responsible for these arrests and other illegal acts: to enjoin enforcement of the anti-picketing statute in Hattiesburg, 55.85; to invoke federal jurisdiction to void the Democratic primary of June 16 and enjoin the holding of county and state Democratic conventions until Negroes have had a fair chance to register to vote, 501.Miss.16; to enjoin arrests of integrated groups of would-be worshippers, 553.Miss.2; and for the appointment of U.S. Commissioners to protect COFO and its workers against the Mississippi Commissioner of Public Safety, named sheriffs and members of the Klan, Americans for Preservation of the White Race, White Citizens Councils, and unknown white supremacist Does, 580.7.

Suits filed earlier, listed under the map on the preceding page, continued their way through the courts, as COFO also filed some suits simply to insure that Negro defendants in criminal cases received due process of law. 372.31.

Immediately a new period opened up in which the sophisticated Power Structure began to arrest civil rights workers because of their work but under straight criminal statutes and ordinances, and especially the traffic laws, all valid on their face. Moore and others were arrested for vagrancy, 51.58; Brown and others for traffic violations, 59.36; Albertz and others on miscellaneous charges, 55.83a. These cases raise new problems which must be faced soon if progress in the legal sphere is to continue. See the latest U.S. Supreme Court opinions in Robinson, 552.Fla.4, (but see Dresner, 541.Fla.2); Griffin, 551.Md.1; Bell, 552.Md.5; Barr, Bouie, 552.SC.3a, and particularly the 3 dissents of Justice Black. But see, also, the incisive analysis of who makes customs in Justice Douglas' concurring opinion in Bell.

United States Supreme Court

The Supreme Court this term continued its task of superintending state court procedures and insuring that First Amendment liberties of all of the people are protected against infringements by the federal and state governments. On right to travel, see Aptheker, 252.34; on loyalty oaths, see Baggett, 281.1a. And see NAACP, 204.1; Greene, 268.12a; Jacobellis, 52.71. But see Barnett, 522.Miss.1b at 41.; Ungar, 42.19.

In Malloy, 332.1, the Court declared that everyone has a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in state proceedings under the Fourteenth Amendment, and in Murphy, 335.11, declared that immunity statutes protect against federal and state prosecutions. And be sure to read Preston, 302.25; Aguilar, 303.52; Tateo, 321.12; Massiah, 353.25; Jackson, 353.26; Escobedo, 372.34; Fallen, 374.23; Hardy, 374.24.


This DOCKET is the largest single issue ever printed at the end of a volume. Information came from hundreds of court clerks, attorneys, organizations, newspaper clippings. There is no room to list here all the significant new decisions. Please glance at the table of 160 new cases reported, read the new developments in old cases by scanning the pages. Tell us how to improve. And then send in your subscription for Volume X.