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11 New Bombings Continue Long Legacy of Violence In Southwestern Mississippi

First of three articles.

By Peter Cummings

Since Aug. 28 there have been 11 bombings in McComb, Mississippi.

Four of these bombings and the arrest of over 50 local Negroes occurred last week.

McComb is a town of about 12,000 in southwest Mississippi. This region has been the center of revitalized Ku Klux Klan activity and of the new Society for the Preservation of the White Race.

And since mid-July it has been the center of voter-registration activities for the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO).

The history of the McComb COFO project really begins in July, 1961, when Robert Moses entered that area as a SNCC field secretary. Moses, a Negro from Harlem, had studied philosophy at Harvard Graduate School and taught mathematics at Horace Mann before he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The reaction to the new voter registration drive was swift. On Aug. 29 Moses was beaten in Amite County. On Sept. 5, Travis Britt was beaten senseless in back of the courthouse in Liberty, Miss.

Another project worker, John Hardy, was clubbed with a pistol by the registrar of Walthall County and then arrested for breach of the peace.

Local Negroes began sit-ins in McComb. The first attempt sent both participants to jail for 30 days. Fifteen-year-old Brenda Travis and five other high school students tried a second time, and Miss Travis was sentenced to one year in a state school for delinquents.

And finally there was murder. E.H. Hurst, a white man who had been threatening Negroes who attempted to register to vote, shot Herbert Lee on Sept. 25 near Liberty. A coroner's jury rapidly exonerated Hurst of the Killing, maintaining that he had acted in self-defense.

Lewis Allen witnessed Lee's death and attempted to go to the FBI with his story. And on Jan. 31. 1964, he was shotgunned to death near his home.

Even after the death of Lee, Moses and a determined group of SNCC members continued to work in the terrified community. On Oct. 4, high school students marched through town to the courthouse. The march ended in the arrest of Moses and eight others, including a white SNCC worker, Robert Zellner. Zellner was beaten unconscious by a mob on the courthouse steps, while the sheriff held his arms and the FBI took notes.

In late October, the entire SNCC staff was jailed. Lacking the $14,000 for appeal bond. Moses and the others were imprisoned until late December. Shortly after their release SNCC left the city.

McComb was a lesson for Moses and SNCC. It showed that Mississippi was unlike any other Southern state, in that the outcome of nonviolent sit-ins and demonstrations was only furious brutality. The freedom movement moved further north in the state and began its work slowly in less dangerous areas.

But McComb was always a sore spot for the young nonviolents, and a song came out of the area, called We Shall Never Turn Back. One verse goes:

We have hung our heads and cried, Cried for those like Lee who died, Died for you and he died for me, Died for the cause of equality, But we'll never turn back...

When the Mississippi Project began in 1964, this song became a theme for the summer. SNCC members of COFO returned to McComb in mid-July, 1964

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