Holmes

PEOPLE

Rev. J.J. Russell and Erma Russell

Reverend J.J. and Mrs. Erma Russell were considered to be at the forefront of the movement in Holmes County. They were two of the first fourteen to attempt to register to vote at the Courthouse in Mileston. They held meetings in their home with the Mitchells, Carnegies, and the Turnbows. Reverend Russell was the only preacher that would step forward and lead the movement. He paid the price for it by having one church burned and the other vandalized. People began to refuse to allow him to preach in their church due to the fear of their churches being vandalized. So he preached in his home until other communities opened up to movement activity.

Sources:

Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural Center. Minds Stayed on Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural South, an Oral History. Boulder: West View Press, 1991.

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PLACES

Holmes Courthouse

The Holmes County Courthouse was the sight of the first attempt to register to vote in Holmes County by fourteen farmers in April 1963. The farmers were turned down and as a result of their actions one of them had his house firebombed.

Sources:

Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural Center. Minds Stayed on Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural South, an Oral History. Boulder: West View Press, 1991.

http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgms.htm

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EVENTS

Holmes Significant Events Timeline

March 1963- Mileston farmers invited SNCC to begin work in Holmes County.

April 1963- Fourteen Mileston residents attempted to register to vote at the courthouse.

May 1963- Harman Turnbow’s home was shot into and firebombed. He and four others were arrested for arson.

Nov. 1963- Holmes countians join in along with 80,000 black Mississippians to cast ballots in the mock “Freedom Vote.”

June 1964- When Holmes County blacks try to attend a Democratic Party precinct meeting, they are turned away. They elect their own delegates to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party state convention.

Holmes County welcomed 33 volunteers as a part of Freedom Summer. They teach literacy, political organization, voter education, and black history in “freedom schools.”

Aug. 1964- Holmes Countians attended state MFDP convention. Hartman Turnbow was elected as one of the delegates to the national Democratic Convention.

Armed guards are posted at homes and churches after an attempt to blow up a Mileston church.

June 1965- 500 people march in Lexington in support of the MFDP and black voting rights in Holmes County.

July 1965- Head Start opened in Lexington followed by four other Head Start centers in active communities.

Holmes countians joined the freedom march in Jackson. Over 100 are arrested and jailed at the state fairgrounds. Two are beaten badly and charge the police with brutality on national television.

Judge Harold Cox ordered Holmes County schools to desegregate four grades each year.

Sept. 1965- 187 African Americans, the highest number in the state, enrolled in grades 1-4 in formerly all white schools. Soon most white children withdrew from desegregated schools in Lexington. The school board then set up private academies for the white students. Eventually the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the school board for using state funds for the private academies.

March 1966- A lawsuit is filed against Holmes County Community Hospital, citing discrimination and segregated facilities.

June 1966- Black voter registration in Holmes County tops 5,000.

March 1967- A campaign begins in Durant to integrate all restaurants and public facilities.

July 1967- A judge orders the desegregation of all Holmes County schools, and most white students leave for private academies.

Oct. 1967- A lawsuit is filed in federal court against all Holmes County law enforcement agencies for over twenty cases of alleged assault and battery.

Sources:

Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural Center. Minds Stayed on Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural South, an Oral History. Boulder: West View Press, 1991.

http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgms.htm

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GROUPS

SNCC of Holmes County

The SNCC was first invited into Holmes County in 1963. They immediately sent organizer John Ball to Mileston. Ball taught twenty Mileston farmers about voter registration. He taught them about the twenty-one question form, the ability to read and write, and about having to interpret any of the 285 sections of the state constitution to the satisfaction of the registrar. In April 1963, SNCC encouraged fourteen local farmers to attempt to register to vote, an act that was potentially dangerous for the group. Hartman Turnbow, one of the fourteen, had his home firebombed the same night. The next morning, the sheriff arrested Turnbow and four other SNCC workers for arson. Without the help of SNCC, and the inspiration of the Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr. the Holmes County Movement might have never gotten off the ground. The assistance of SNCC was important to the further mobilization of local activists who had long been engaged in the struggle for equal rights.

Sources:

Youth of the Rural Organizing and Cultural Center. Minds Stayed on Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Rural South, an Oral History. Boulder: West View Press, 1991.

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DOCUMENTS

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