Artifacts: First African American Masons in State

On September 4, 2013, in Artifacts, by Amanda
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Nan Prince, assistant director of collections, brings us this post in her ongoing series about neat artifacts in the Museum Division collection.

Masonic banner, Stringer Lodge, Vicksburg. Accession number: 1987.11.1 (Museum Division collection)

Masonic banner, Stringer Lodge, Vicksburg. Accession number: 1987.11.1 (Museum Division collection)

This Masonic banner and apron are from the Stringer Lodge in Vicksburg. Organized in 1867 by Thomas W. Stringer, the lodge was the first African American Masonic lodge in Mississippi. Thomas Stringer was born in Maryland in 1815 and moved to Mississippi in 1865 to serve as a minister in the African Methodist Church. Seeing Masonry as a way to engage the newly freed men in select groups that would provide them with a greater sense of self-worth and fellowship, Stringer formed the first lodge in Vicksburg and soon other towns in Mississippi formed lodges, as well.

Masonic apron, Stringer Lodge, Vicksburg. Accession number: 1987.13.16 (Museum Division collection)

Masonic apron, Stringer Lodge, Vicksburg. Accession number: 1987.13.16 (Museum Division collection)

Source: Alferdteen Harrison, A History of the Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge: Our Heritage Is Our Challenge (1977).

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Medgar Evers: Travels and Connections

On July 9, 2013, in Archives, by Dorian Randall
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The life of Medgar Evers is synonymous with the civil rights struggle and his strong leadership in the movement. This series, written by Dorian Randall, will explore his life, work, and legacy using related collections at MDAH. This is the final post of the series.

Travel was an important part of Medgar Evers’ duties as NAACP field secretary.

 

This matchbook from Philadelphia, PA and money clip from Minnesota were found in the desk drawer in Evers' NAACP office and could habe been picked up on his travels. Accession number: 2004.21.10 and 2004.21.3a. (Medgar Evers collection)

This matchbook from Philadelphia, PA and money clip from Minnesota were found in the desk drawer in Evers’ NAACP office and could have been picked up on his travels. Accession number: 2004.21.10 and 2004.21.3a. (Museum Division Collection)

Evers traveled around the state to increase membership at local branches and across the country to give speeches at meetings and conferences. In June 1956, Evers attended the NAACP’s forty-seventh annual meeting in San Francisco, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address championing direct action.1 In May1959, Evers spoke at the Los Angeles NAACP branch, and in September of that same year he traveled to Panama City, Florida to address the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches.2 He made various political connections on these trips, forming a close relationship with U.S. Congressman Charles C. Diggs, Jr.

February 17, 1956 letter to Charles C. Diggs regarding voter registration. Call number: Z/2231.000/S, box 2, folder 4 (Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Papers)

February 17, 1956 letter to Charles C. Diggs regarding voter registration. Call number: Z/2231.000/S, box 2, folder 4 (Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Papers)

Diggs was a Michigan congressman and leader in African American voter registration. In 1956, Diggs and Evers wrote a series of letter to one another regarding intimidation and other illegal tactics that prevented voter registration for black Mississippians. Evers even introduced Diggs at a celebration for the third anniversary of the Brown ruling held at the Masonic Temple in Jackson.3

Evers and author James Baldwin.

Evers and author James Baldwin. Call number: Z.2231.4.009 (Medgar Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Papers)

Evers also connected with those in arts and entertainment. He met award-winning author James Baldwin of Harlem when Baldwin traveled to Jackson in 1962 in support of James Meredith, who had just enrolled at the University of Mississippi. “He had the calm of someone who knows they’re going to die before their time—like Martin Luther King,” Baldwin said of Evers.4 Baldwin accompanied Evers on a trip investigating a murder in rural Mississippi and the two men developed a close friendship. By then Baldwin was already an outspoken civil rights activist. His play Blues for Mister Charlie, which he began writing before Evers’ death in 1963, was based on the murder of Emmett Till. Baldwin said that when Evers died he “resolved that nothing under heaven would prevent me from getting this play done.”5 Baldwin dedicated Blues to Evers’ family and memory.


1 Michael V. Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011), 132.
2 Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable, eds., The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005), 140, 158.
3 Evers-Williams, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, 72.
4 W.J. Weatherby, James Baldwin: Artist on Fire (New York: Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1989), 3.
5 Weatherby, James Baldwin, 237.

Medgar Evers: The NAACP and the Media

On June 26, 2013, in Archives, by Dorian Randall
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The life of Medgar Evers is synonymous with the civil rights struggle and his strong leadership in the movement. This series, written by Dorian Randall, will explore his life, work, and legacy using related collections at MDAH.

Mississippi media organizations played an essential role in maintaining the false perception of positive race relations in the state during the 1960s. Local officials presented an image of racial harmony and segregation as a voluntary act.1 Post-war era newspapers in the North and the South catered to white readership and rarely mentioned African Americans except in “Negro Editions.”2 The averaged newsroom was composed of a nearly all-white staff, but as nationwide desegregation efforts gained publicity in the 1950s and 1960s, Mississippi’s “closed society” was slowly crumbling. Medgar Evers helped reveal the truth about race relations in his home state.3

March 6, 1963 press release with handwritten edits form Evers and Aaron Henry to a Mississippi sheriff. Call number: Z/2231.000, box 2, folder 4 (Evers Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Papers, MDAH)

March 6, 1963 press release with handwritten edits from Evers and Aaron Henry to a Mississippi sheriff. Call number: Z/2231.000, box 3, folder 2 (Evers Wiley and Myrlie Beasley Papers, MDAH)

When Evers accepted the field secretary position with the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP in 1955, he was not only responsible for increasing membership in that group and investigating crimes against blacks, he also became a statewide spokesperson. Evers wrote many press releases and gave quotes to national news media. In a 1958 Ebony magazine interview, Evers expressed his love for Mississippi but also spoke of the trials that faced blacks in the state. “Now, when a Negro is mistreated, we try to tell the world about it,” he said.4 Evers and the NAACP publicized the facts ignored by mainstream media, shining a spotlight on the dire race situation in Mississippi. More and more, Evers’ work put him in the public eye. His notoriety would grow five years later.

The popularity of television proved crucial to Evers and the NAACP’s efforts to publicize racism in the state. He was already supporting, organizing, and participating in direct action demonstrations, but reaching more Mississippians meant putting a face to his name. In May 1963, he filmed an editorial for broadcast at the WLBT studios in Jackson. This was a controversial move for not only Evers but the station as well. In Changing Channels: The Civil Rights Case that Transformed Television, Kay Mills writes that WLBT was a symbol of dominant white rule because blacks were historically barred from on-and off-camera positions.5 That changed when Evers’ speech aired.

What then does the Negro want? He wants to get rid of racial segregation in Mississippi life because he knows it has not been good form him nor for the state. He knows that segregation is unconstitutional and illegal. While states may make laws and enforce certain local regulations none of these should be used to deprive any citizens of his rights under the Constitution.6

Evers had always pushed boundaries, and his television appearance was a landmark in Mississippi history. He petitioned station owners many times over the years, and his persistence ensured that the black perspective was broadcast to the masses.

To learn more about Evers’ presence in today’s media and culture, visit: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/06/02/medgar-evers-arts/2378249

 


1James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1964), 4.
2David R. Davies, ed., The Press and Race: Mississippi Journalists and the Movement )Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), 5-8.
3Michael V. Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011), 88.
4Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable, eds., The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005), 116.
5Kay Mills, Changing Channels: The Civil Rights Case that Transformed Televison (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 14.
6Evers-Williams, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, 282.

Juneteenth: History and Celebration

On June 19, 2013, in Archives, Artifacts, by Dorian Randall
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The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.1

1986.52.1 – Often on a plantation, the sound of the horn signaled the beginning of the work day for slaves.  This horn belonged to William B. Randolph who was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1840-1842 and died in Bolivar County, MS, in 1927.  According to his grandson who donated the horn, William B. Randolph blew the horn every morning to awaken slaves living on the Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jr. plantation in Bolivar County.

This horn belonged to William B. Randolph who was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1840-1842 and died in Bolivar County, MS, in 1927. According to his grandson who donated the horn, William B. Randolph blew the horn every morning to awaken slaves living on the Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jr. plantation in Bolivar County. Accession number: 1986.52.1 (Museum Division Collection)

Known as “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,” June 19 (“Juneteenth”) has been celebrated around the country since its historical beginnings in 1865. Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in designated states on January 1, 1863, emancipation did not occur in practice in Texas until June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of the Civil War and slavery. Although the proclamation didn’t free all slaves, it “spelled the end of bondage for any slaves who escaped to Union troops.”2 There are various traditions about the two-and-a-half-year delay in official emancipation, but most believe that the delay allowed plantation owners to yield one more crop.3

1980.3.3 – Before the Civil War, slaves were not allowed to receive patents, but after emancipation, many inventors were able to take credit for their own work.  This patent model of an improved screw press was made by Peter R. Campbell who was a former slave of Joseph Davis.  Born into slavery in 1841, Campbell continued to live at Hurricane Plantation, Davis Bend in Warren County after the war and was awarded the patent on April 1, 1879.

This patent model of an improved screw press was made by Peter R. Campbell who was a former slave of Joseph Davis. Born into slavery in 1841, Campbell continued to live at Hurricane Plantation, Davis Bend in Warren County after the war and was awarded the patent on April 1, 1879. Accession number: 1980.3.3 (Museum Division Collection)

With newfound freedom, blacks across the country commemorated the occasion with festivities. Some of the first Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. They often included picnics, baseball, games, general socializing, and inspirational messages from speakers. Festivities in each city varied, following no set pattern, but the most common type featured a day-long affair beginning at 10:00 a.m. and ending at 1:00 p.m. the next day with suppers and dances. Juneteenth committees were responsible for fundraising and publicity were composed of “outstanding black citizens,” such as school principals and ministers. Juneteenth was even considered a quasi-holiday in some areas.4 Celebrations began to decline as the second wave of African Americans moved to northern states during the 1930s and 1940s. However they resurged during the Civil Rights Movement as blacks connected their demands for full citizenship with their enslaved ancestors’ freedom struggle. Festivities still continue across the country, including in Mississippi.

For more information on national and international festivities, visit: http://www.juneteenth.com/welcome.htm

For more information on African American history, explore the Alfred H. Stone Collection at:

http://opac2.mdah.state.ms.us/stoneCollection.php?referer=http://catalog.mdah.state.ms.us

For more information on festivities in Mississippi, visit:

http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/events/2013/jun/22/5137/


1 General Order Number 3, read by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, accessed June 14, 2013, https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/juneteenth.html.

2 William L. Katz, A History of Multicultural America: The Civil War to the Last Frontier, 1850–1880s (Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1993), 30.

3 William H. Wiggins, Jr., “‘Free at Last!’”: A Study of Afro American Emancipation Day Celebrations” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 1974), 83.

4 Wiggins, “Free at Last!,” 98.

 

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Medgar Evers: Direct Action

On June 17, 2013, in Archives, by Dorian Randall
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The life of Medgar Evers is synonymous with the civil rights struggle and his strong leadership in the movement. This series, written by Dorian Randall, will explore his life, work, and legacy using related collections at MDAH.

In the 1960s Mississippi segregationists maintained a firm grip on social, political, and economic power. Evers intended to practice his rights as a U.S. citizen after being honorably discharged from the army by tackling the vote, which represented “the most tangible symbol of social and political equality.”1 In 1946 Evers, his brother Charles, and a group of friends decided to cast their ballot in the Democratic primary election where segregationist senator Theodore G. Bilbo sought re-election. Although they were allowed to register without incident, on election day a white mob prevented them from voting. This experience fueled Evers’ work in the NAACP as the organization worked to increase black voter registration. Other demonstrations against inequality followed as Evers grew into a civil rights leader.

Evers participated in, supported, and helped organize “direct action” demonstrations over the course of his NAACP career. From 1959 to 1960, Evers assisted his friend and NAACP member Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr., who attempted to desegregate Biloxi’s beaches in a series of “wade-ins.” After notifying Evers of his intent, Dr. Mason and a group of swimmers made several trips to Biloxi’s public beaches in 1959. An April 1960 visit proved crucial to the desegregation effort as the swimmers were attacked by angered whites. Evers later recounted the incident in a series of reports to the NAACP national office in New York:

 As a follow-up to the report of April 24, 1960, in regard to the Biloxi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Gulf Coast demonstrations, I’m happy to report that members of our Gulfport and Pass Christian Branches participated on Sunday, April 24, 1960, in a movement to desegregate the beaches on the Gulf Coast…The quick action of the members of the Gulfport Branch, under the leadership of Dr. Felix H. Dunn, and Dr. Gilbert R. Mason, prompted an immediate inquiry from the Federal Bureau of Investigation…Dr. Mason and other members of the Negro citizenry of Biloxi would like for the N.A.A.C.P. to act in their behalf as a friend to the court, in the suit to open the beaches to all.2

Desegregating beaches wasn’t Evers’ only concern.

He also believed in the power of the youth. The national NAACP leadership did not fully support direct action tactics, but the youth pressed for more demonstrations. Evers had earned the respect of black youth through his support of the Jackson Youth Council and Touglaoo Nine, the black students who integrated the whites-only Jackson Municipal Public Library in March of 1961. He provided the young activists “opportunities to play prominent roles in the overall struggle, and he sought their advice on important issues such as strategies and resistance measures.”3

This WLBT news clip depicts Evers investigating and negotiating the terms of release for black youth protesters held at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson circa 1961. Call number: MP/1980.01, reel D18 LCN 872 (MDAH)

In 1963 Evers worked with Tougaloo College professor John Salter, whom he met at an NAACP dinner, to organize youth for a boycott of Capitol Street businesses.4 During the Woolworth’s sit-in on May 28, 1963, Evers contacted the national media and coordinated activities from his NAACP office. On June 1, he was even arrested for picketing in front of the Woolworth’s. Evers had risen as a strong leader and organizer who inspired youth such as Tom Beard to actively pursue their rights as natural born citizens.

Tom Beard was just eighteen years old when he participated in the Woolworth’s sit-in. He was inspired by Evers’ determination and looked to him as a father figure. For Beard, Evers was a man of action who was willing to say what he himself could not. Beard once stated that he “just appreciated him having the guts to start something at the time.”5

 


1 Michael Williams, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011), 38.

2 Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable, eds., The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005), 188-90.

3 Williams, Medgar Evers, 203.

4 M.J. O’Brien, We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), 27.

5 O’Brien, We Shall Not Be Moved, 68.