HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss.--Mayor Sam Cooperwood and Registrar Otis Clayton testified yesterday that there was no discrimination against Negroes who attempted to register to vote in Marshall County. "I told them [Negroes] they could go over and register to vote anytime ...They don't need any demonstrations about it," Cooperwood stated. Cooperwood and Clayton gave their testimony at a hearing called by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The MFDP is contesting the seating of the state's five congressmen. The Party subpoenaed the two officials under a several statute which allows election protestants a forty-day period to gather evidence for their challenge.
Hearing Room Jammed
Yesterday's testimony was heard by year 2000 local Negroes and Negro college students who crowded into Doxey Hall on the campus of all-Negro Rust College.
Clayton estimated that in Nov. 1964, there were 3700 whites and 300 Negroes registered to vote in Marshall County. He also stated that the County's population (approximately 26,000) is "69 per cent colored, I believe." Since Dec. 9, 1964, all voters have been taken off the registration roles by Clayton.
It is well-known that this action is part of an out-of-court agreement with the U.S. Justice Dept. and that federal attorneys hope to begin a re-registration process in Holly Springs that will make it easier for Negroes to get the vote. But Clayton refused to discuss the nature of the agreement, stating, "I'd have to refer to my lawyer. I don't know enough about law today."
At least half an hour of today's hearing consisted of debate over the voter registration records. The two MFDP attorneys insisted that the federal statute entitled them to subpoena and examine the records. Clayton's three attorneys maintained that they need not produce the records, and that they would not produce them simply "to save time."
During the two-hour lunchbreak, the MFDP attorneys drove to the registrar's office. They arrived at 11:15 a.m., only to find that Mr. Clayton had closed his office for the day and would admit no one.
Finally, at the close of today's proceedings, Clayton's lawyers announced that the records would be available for inspection at 8 p.m. today.
Separate but Equal?
Besides testifying on voter registration, Mayor Cooperwood was questioned at length on the relative conditions of the Negro and white schools in Holly Springs. He denied that there were any inequalities, adding, "I don't know what either school program is like, because to tell you frankly, I haven't been in either one for over 20 years."
Today Sheriff J.M. "Flick" Ash and one of his deputies are expected to testify. Hearings similar to today's are being held in all major cities in the state