The New Image’ in Mississippi Atlanta, Ga. Late last year Ross Barnett, former governor of Mississippi, told a Citizens’ Council meeting in New Orleans, “There are a lot of people who have been talking about the need to improve the image of Mississippi, but let me ask you people here .. . is there anything wrong with Mississippi’s image?” He answered, “No. . . . If some of the people who are talking about Mississippi’s image would just spend a little more time having their ‘fuzzy’ thinking adjusted then maybe they could see as clearly as you and I can.” Since that time Mississippi’s leaders have been trying to adjust the ” ‘fuzzy’ thinking” of others who have thought that racism and second-class citizenship are part of Mississippi life. State revenues have fallen and the state is operating on a hand to mouth basis. Last November a state sales tax of 3.5% produced less revenue than a 3% levy brought the same month the preceding year. After the Neshoba County slaying, tourist trade along the Gulf Coast dropped 50%, and by December it was still low. Hotel and motel occupancy in the Gulfport-Biloxi area was only 8%. From March to December the state was forced to borrow $8 million. Robert Gordon reported in a UPI dispatch February 28: “Business leaders feared a boycott campaign against Mississippi industry and products and noted the state’s slow industrialization. Others pointed to the challenge of the Mississippi congressional delegation.” This latter event is perhaps the most important cause of the sudden attempt at window dressing. Political leaders have taken the challenge seriously and are worried about the eventual outcome. The challenge “has drawn an inordinate amount of publicity and has whipped up even more anti-Mississippi sentiment,” William L. Chase wrote in the jingoistic Jackson daily. “And more of this type sentiment we don’t need,” he concluded. After the delegation challenge, Mrs. F. A. Parker, editor and publisher of the Prentiss Headlight, wrote, “There is no place for rejoicing over the vote that seated the Mississippi delegation in Washington Monday, but rather deep misgivings that in that august body there were 148 members who voted against the seating of the duly and legally elected representatives against 276 who voted for seating them. There is cause to be alarmed when we find that many jackasses in the greatest deliberative body in the world, the legislative branch of our three part federal government.” ISSISSIPPI LEADERS don’t want another such dispute and feel that a new “image” will help. “. . . with a little intelligent planning we should be able to 4 The Texas Observer Jerry DeMuth kill off this political monstrosity [the Freedom Democratic Party] altogether,” the Tupelo Journal editorialized. “And if white leaders can so handle state affairs that the Freedom Party is provided no issue . . . there is a good chance that it will wither away completely,” the paper said. Lt. Gov. Carroll Gartin told the Greenville Industrial Foundation of an Ohio industrialist who refused to consider expansion of two Mississippi plants until the state “decides to become a part of the union again.” Gartin commented, “I am deeply concerned about the impression we make on the people in other parts of this nation. We cannot build a fence around ourselves.” But if Mississippi is joining up with the other 49 states, it is doing so on its own terms. Edward P. Moore, covering the Greenville meeting for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, reported: “Mr. Gartin, maintaining his personal belief in segregation, urged businessmen, civic leaders and industrialists ‘to speak up and speak out’ about conditions in the state.” Gov. Paul Johnson pleaded to the rest of the nation at U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearings in Jackson last spring, “Get off our back and get on our side.” The new “image” is thus speaking “in a positive manner about conditions” rather than doing much to change the conditions. Mississippi Manufacturers Ass o c i a t i o n president Ed Palmer told a Jackson civic club that the MMA is “convinced, as are you, that much of the radical thinking towards Mississippi is not based on fact but on rumor and supposition.” He then revealed that the MMA was going to mount “a massive public relations campaign” based on the approach that “with the good and the bad, Mississippi’s net picture is one favorable to investments and, economic growth.” Mississippi wants to be considered part of the union for yet another reason: so that it will continue getting federal aid in an amount that, according to Drew Pearson, totaled more than $1 billion in 1964. “Leadership on the state level agrees that we cannot afford to lose federal aid,” Erle Johnston, Jr., told a civic club meeting. Johnston heads the segregationist State Sovereignty Commission. A few leaders and state organizations have spoken about obeying and respecting the law, ending terrorism, and ending unfair voter registration practices. Both Gov. Johnson and Atty. Gen. Joe Patterson spoke before the Mississippi Sheriffs Association with pleas for obedience to federal laws. The association itself passed a resolution calling for compliance with federal laVzs and an en1 to terrorism. But members have ‘harassed and continue to harass civil rights workers, and at its previous meeting the lawmen’s group cheered and praised Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price. The Circuit Clerks Association of Mississippi the clerks function as voter registrars adopted a resolution urging citizens “to conduct themselves with dignity and not to act in defiance of law.” Then they went on to say that criticism of them resulted from “ignorance of the law” and “indifference to law and facts.” One fact : Negro registration in Mississippi is less than 7%. The clerks concluded that “those groups who allege discrimination should concentrate their efforts upon improving cultural and moral standards of those who cry discrimination.” Another fact: The Justice Department has filed more than 20 voter registration suits in Mississippi. COMMENTING on voter registration before the Mississippi Society of Professional Engineers, Gov. Johnson said, “It doesn’t make much sense to turn down a person with an MA degree when he attempts to register to vote, and then register one who has not been to school. We don’t have a leg to stand on.” In Panola County whites were registered without being given a section of the state constitution to interpret. Now, as a result of a suit, Negroes seeking to register are not being given a section, either, and since May, 1964, some 800 Negroes have been registered. Mississippi leaders and organizations also are becoming more sophisticated: they are realizing now that they at least have to give the impression of complying with integration orders. They can no longer continue to openly defy them, because if they do, strict orders to integrate may follow. The Itawamba County Times commented, “Our opinion is that all of the districts of the state of Mississippi will be forced to comply whether they like it or not. . . . So why not submit a plan of our own choosing instead of having to submit by court order to a plan which might not be quite so palatable.” Since all these words of “complying with the law” and “ending terrorism” were spoken and written during January and February, police harassment has continued, there have been hundreds of arrests and almost daily beatings, shootings have not stopped, and in Shaw in April an ordinance was passed prohibiting marches and speeches. The state’s infamous fire-bombings continue. The SNCC office in Laurel was fire-bombed, and so were a station wagon in Shaw, a cafe in Vicksburg, homes in Canton and Greenwood, and churches in Canton and Holly Springs. In Indianola on two nights two months apart six firebombs damaged or destroyed the Freedom School and SNCC office, a staff car, two homes, a store, and the Freedom House. Little has changed in Mississippi.
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