Sunday, July 14, 2019

Civil Rights Events
Mississippi -- Freedom Summer
Greenwood, McComb
To locate these two communities (Greenwood north of Jackson and McComb south of Jackson) access this map:
On July 2nd, President Johnson signs into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some Movement battlegrounds segregation of public facilities begins to collapse. The St. Augustine business community defies Klan threats by agreeing to end "white-only" policies. In Albany, Blacks are served instead of arrested, and SCLC holds its convention in Birmingham with Dr. King and other Black ministers staying at the brand-new Parliament House hotel. But in Selma, whites violently attack young Blacks who dare to defy the color-line, in Jackson the Robert E. Lee hotel converts from a public facility to a "private club" rather than admit Blacks, and across the South deeply entrenched customs of racial segregation remain in place until they are directly challenged. As the old saying goes: "Where the broom don't sweep, the dirt don't move."
In many ways, Greenwood is the epicenter of Freedom Summer activity. It is the heart of the Delta where the majority of projects are located, and SNCC's national office is temporarily relocated there from Atlanta. Here, the strategic priorities are clear — voter registration, community organizing, and building the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] towards the challenge at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Human and financial resources are stretched desperately thin. Sit-ins to test the new Civil Rights Act divert organizer time and attention, cost bail money, and inevitably result in activists languishing in jail. Mississippi whites are already enraged over the "invasion" of "race-mixers" and "agitators," to say nothing of Blacks socially interacting with white activists, particularly young white women. Movement leaders fear that direct-action protests for hamburgers and library cards will intensify both violent retaliation and police repression. But "freedom is in the air," courage is contagious, and the daily humiliations of "white-only/colored-only" cry out for defiance (McGhees 53).
From the beginning, with the first voter-registration effort in McComb after the Freedom Rides SNCC's Mississippi strategy has been based on two premises: First, that the primary goal must be achieving political power for Blacks, which requires voter-registration. Second, that most Afro-Americans in the state cannot afford to patronize white restaurants or theaters, so integrating them is at best merely symbolic. But there is a long-standing disagreement between those who argue that integration efforts provoke so much white violence and state repression that voter-registration is crippled, and those who believe that defiant action by young people awakens courage in adults, helps them rise above their fears, and encourages them to register. That may be true, argue others, but staff and volunteers languishing in jail cells can't canvas or organize and diverting desperately need funds to bail them out weakens the central effort.
But after passage of the Act, young Blacks across the state are eager to defy segregation and exercise their new rights. They want to "spit in the eye" of white racists by integrating hamburger joints and movie theaters. Three years of Movement activity have filled them with courage and now they believe the law is on their side.
Whites, however, are already enraged by the mere existence of Freedom Summer and further inflamed by Johnson signing the Act. In Greenwood and other communities, carloads of armed thugs prowl the streets looking for trouble, some are members of the Sheriff's posse, some are outright Klan. One of these "auxiliary" deputies is Byron De la Beckwith, and everyone in Leflore County, Black and white, know that he murdered Medgar Evers.
The question is thrashed out in meeting after meeting. The majority of SNCC staff agree with Bob Moses that they have to remain disciplined, stick to the plan, and not let themselves or the Movement become distracted. But some staff and some summer volunteers argue that it was the sit-ins and Freedom Rides of the early 1960s that sparked and energized the Movement and that if the Civil Rights Act is not tested and enforced immediately it will wither away and become just another unenforced law. By and large, adults in the community agree that now is not the time for integrating lunch counters. But young activists not yet old enough to vote are restless, in some communities they take independent action on their own, and when they are arrested or beaten a portion of Movement time and resources has to be diverted in response. Yet at the same time, their courage and defiance does encourage and inspire their elders.
The issue is most acute in Greenwood which has been a center of Freedom Movement activity since early 1962. It comes to a head after national NAACP leaders swoop into town accompanied by reporters and FBI agents. They integrate a few upscale establishments to great media acclaim and then drive off. Afterwards, no one, not even SNCC, can restrain Greenwood's Black youth from direct action at "white-only" establishments (Direct 27-29)
Silas McGhee, 21, is Chair of the Greenwood NAACP Youth Council's Testing Committee. His brother Jake is Assistant Chair. On July 5th, Silas walks three miles from his family's farm to the Leflore Theater in Greenwood. Defying a century of rigid segregation, he takes a seat on the "whites-only" main floor rather than the "Colored" balcony. He is attacked and harassed. The cops haul him home with a warning. When his brothers ask why he went by himself he tells them, "Well, you wasn't nowhere around when I decided to go. I just went."
Greenwood is a small town and word of his attempt to break the color-line spreads through the Black community — and among whites as well. On July 16, Silas observes Freedom Day from across the street. He is not one of the 111 people arrested. As he walks home alone, three Klansmen ambush him and force him at gunpoint into their car. They beat him with clubs and try to lock him in a shed, but he manages to break free. He evades their pursuit and reaches the FBI office Greenwood. Agents arrest the three attackers under the new civil rights law — the first case of its kind in Mississippi.
The McGhees are a tight-knit family and they're not known for backing down. Silas's mother and brothers join him in action and the cops discover that arresting the McGhees just makes them more determined.
Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) narrates: “The rest of July was a running battle between the McGhees, the theater, the mob, and the cops. ... Silas and his brother Jake kept going back to the theater. Five or six times. Each time when they tried to leave, a mob greeted them. ... Another night Jake and Silas went back to the movies, but this time when the mob formed, a towering (6'8"), linebacker-built paratrooper in full dress uniform appeared and faced down a member of the mob. Turned out it was their older brother, Clarence (Robinson), a decorated Korean War veteran on active duty at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A trained American fighting man, taking leave to come defend freedom, democracy, the Constitution, and his younger brothers in his hometown. Then he got himself jailed for assault.”
On Monday evening, August 15, after being released from jail, Silas is resting in a car outside of Lulu's Cafe on Avenue H in the Black community. Rain is pouring down and the night is dark. Two white men in a car drive slowly by, they shoot Silas in the head and speed off. SNCC field-secretary Bob Zellner and summer volunteer Mark Winter strip off their shirts to try to stop the bleeding. With volunteer Linda Whetmore Halpern, they rush Silas to the segregated Greenwood public hospital. Cops at the hospital won't let them in because they're using the "wrong" entrance. They drive around back to the other door, but the cops again bar them — this time because Bob and Mark are not wearing shirts. Linda has to go in alone, her blue dress drenched red with blood. She gets a stretcher and brings Silas inside.
The white doctors in this tax-financed hospital won't treat a wounded Black man, so Dr. Jackson — the only Black MD in Greenwood — is summoned. While he works to save Silas's life, officer Logan of the Greenwood police department tells another cop "Well, they finally got that nigger Silas!" Other cops make it clear that if Silas doesn't die on the operating table he'll be killed during the night. As soon as Silas is stabilized, Movement leaders arrange to have him transferred to a hospital in Jackson (McGhees 54-56).
While white Mississippi mobilizes to defend the "Southern Way of Life" with billy clubs and jail cells, guns and bombs, the White House and Justice Department do nothing. Despite repeated pleas from civil rights leaders, they refuse to condemn or criticize the hate and hysteria being whipped to fever pitch in Mississippi. They refuse to issue any public statement or give any private signal that violence or state repression against nonviolent voter registration efforts will be prosecuted as required by federal law. They refuse to even acknowledge that registering voters and teaching children are neither criminal acts nor subversive plots. FBI Director Hoover does, however, tell the press: "We will not wet-nurse troublemakers."

In early June, just before the [Freedom Summer] project is to begin, a Black delegation [had traveled] … from Mississippi to Washington to warn of impending violence and beg for protection. The President [had been] … out of town. The Attorney General [had been] … unavailable. Congress [had been] … uninterested in holding any hearings. The FBI [had rebuffed] … them as subversives and Communist dupes.

Desperate for someone to hear their pleas, the delegation [had held] … a conference at the National Theater, addressing a volunteer panel of writers, educators, and lawyers, along with several hundred ordinary citizens. Fannie Lou Hamer [had described] … the brutal police beating in Winona MS, Mrs. Allen [had testified] … about the recent murder of her husband, a boy of 14 [had told] … of police brutality against peaceful pickets, and SNCC worker Jimmy Travis [had talked] … of being shot in Greenwood and [had asked] … for federal marshals to protect voter registration workers. Legal scholars [had described] … the statutes allowing — in fact, requiring — the federal government to enforce the law, make arrests, and protect the rights of voters. The transcript [had been] … sent to President Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. There [had been] … no response.

At the volunteer-orientation in Oxford Ohio, DOJ official John Doar [had addressed] … the volunteers who are about to go down into Mississippi. They [had asked] … him: "What will be the role of the federal government in protecting our lives?" He [had replied] … that so far as their government is concerned they will have to take their chances with a hostile state — defenseless. They will be in the same situation that southern Blacks have endured for generations. The volunteers [had booed] …, but Bob Moses [had stopped] … them, saying, "We don't do that." He [had told] … them that Doar is just being honest (Washington 12-14).
Greenwood's Black community is enraged. More than a dozen young Black men armed with rifles ask SNCC field-secretary Wazir Peacock about invading North Greenwood — a white neighborhood — and retaliating in kind. He tells them that it wouldn't be right to attack whites who had nothing to do with the shooting. He also understands that doing so would bring down a wave of violent repression against the entire Black community. The Klan is known to have been stockpiling military-type weapons, and it's possible that the shooting of Silas is intended to provoke just such a war. The young men agree to concentrate on defending the Black community from further KKK attack.
The shooting of Silas McGhee halts neither the McGhee family nor the work of the Freedom Movement. Voter registration and building the MFDP continue, as do efforts to implement the Civil Rights Act (McGhees 57)).
Back in the Fall of 1961, the McComb voter-registration project — SNCC's first — was temporarily suppressed by Klan violence, the brutal murder of Herbert Lee, economic retaliation, the expulsion of more than 100 high-school student protesters, federal indifference, and the incarceration of the SNCC staff on trumped up charges. But SNCC has neither forgotten, nor abandoned McComb. In the Fall of '63, SNCC workers briefly return to mobilize support for the Freedom Ballot, and again in January of '64 for voter-registration classes. But Klan repression is unrelenting, threats and intimidation are constant, night-riders shoot up Black homes and businesses, and on January 31st Louis Allen who witnessed Herbert Lee's murder is assassinated.
As they begin planning the Summer Project in early 1964, SNCC activists are determined to re-establish a permanent Freedom Movement presence in McComb. They know with dead certainty that doing so means a showdown with the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the United Klans of America, the two KKK factions who have turned the Pearl River area of Southwest Mississippi into "Klan Nation."
The forces of white-supremacy are of the same opinion. Pike County sheriff R.R. Warren tells a meeting of Americans for the Preservation of the White Race (APWR) that he expects a "long hot summer" and that he may need to recruit their assistance if law enforcement is unable to suppress the COFO "threat." Rumors swirl through the white community that Black men identified by white bandages on their throats have been specifically assigned to rape white women. Parents are warned to know where their small children are at all times. Sales of guns and ammunition spike upward, and Klan membership soars. The oilman who financially backs the Klan has easy access to dynamite, and on the night of June 22nd — 24 hours after the lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman — explosions blast through the Black community, damaging the home of NAACP leader C.C. Bryant who grabs his rifle and fires back at the bomber's car.
Initially, COFO leaders judge Southwestern Mississippi too dangerous for the highly visible northern white students, so the McComb and Natchez projects are put on temporary hold until the situation stabilizes. By early July, FBI agents have flooded into the state and the news media is providing extensive coverage of the search for Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman so COFO decides to risk restarting the McComb project. Led by SNCC organizer and former McComb activist Curtis Hayes (today, Curtis Muhammad), the first contingent of Freedom Summer workers arrive on July 5th.
They open a COFO freedom house on Wall Street in the Black community. Two nights later a dynamite bomb damages the house, injuring Curtis Hayes and volunteer Dennis Sweeney. The FBI "investigates" and does nothing. Over the following days, Black churches are burned in Pike and Amite counties, SNCC field secretary Mendy Samstein is attacked and beaten on a McComb street, and the home of C.C. Bryant's brother is bombed. With no protection from police or the federal government, local Blacks active with the Movement stand armed guard each night against Klan bombers and night riders.
Except for a core of dedicated and courageous activists like the Bryants, Aylene "Mama" Quin, Webb Owens, Willie Mae Cotton, Ernest Nobles, Joe Martin, and a handful of others, fear is pervasive in McComb's Black community. No churches are willing to open their doors for mass meetings, voter-registration classes, or Freedom Schools. The few Blacks who dare the short trip to the county courthouse in Magnolia on voter-registration days face threats of violence and economic retaliation. COFO canvassers are hard pressed to find any willing to take that risk.
But as it was back in '61, it's the Black youth who stand up and move forward. With no church or other building open to it, the McComb Freedom School meets in the dirt yard of the bombed freedom house. Joyce Brown (16), a Freedom School student-teacher pens The House of Liberty, a poem addressed to the community's adults that reads in part:
I asked for your churches, and you turned me down,
 But I'll do my work if I have to do it on the ground,
 You will not speak for fear of being heard,
 So you crawl in your shell and say, "Do not disturb,"
 You think because you've turned me away,
 You've protected yourself for another day.
  — Joyce Brown.
Young activists and COFO organizers circulate her poem throughout the Black community and the elders respond. A church opens its doors to the Freedom School and soon more than 100 students overflow the space — some of them the younger sisters and brothers of the those who had protested and been expelled from Burgland High three years before. "The Freedom School is inspiring the people to lend a hand in the fight," reports school director Ralph Featherstone. "The older people are looking to the young people, and their courage is rubbing off."
Ten Black businessmen secretly gather in Aylene Quin's South of the Border cafe. Inspired by Joyce Brown's poem, they form a movement support committee and contribute $500 (equal to $3,700 in 2012) towards buying land and materials for a community center that will become a movement headquarters. Soon churches open their doors to mass meetings and attendance begins to grow. Local families contribute food and money to support the COFO staff and volunteers.
The McComb Movement calls for a mid-August "Freedom Day," an attempt to get as many people as possible to attempt to register at the courthouse in Magnolia. Klan opposition is fierce — crosses are burned, threats of violence and economic retaliation increase, and two dozen cops raid the freedom house in the middle of the night — looking for "illegal liquor" they claim [McComb is a "dry" city]. Back in 1961, the 2nd floor of the Black-owned Burgland Market was used for "Nonviolent High," the precursor freedom school for the expelled high-school students. On August 14, 1964, the building is bombed. Undeterred, several hundred Blacks attend a Freedom Day rally in McComb, and on August 18th, 23 Black men and women manage to take the voter- test at the courthouse in Magnolia. Their applications are denied by registrar Glen Fortenberry. None are registered to vote.
The following week, local activists, SNCC staff, and summer volunteers head north to Atlantic City for the MFDP Challenge to the Democratic Convention. On the night of August 27-28, as the betrayed MFDP delegates are bitterly making their way back to Mississippi, a bomb explodes near the home of Willie and Matti Dillon in McComb. She is active in the MFDP, two of their children attended the Freedom School, and Willie repaired a COFO car.
Sheriff Warren warns them, "If you don't cooperate with us more than the COFOs, more then [the bombing] is going to happen to you." Warren and FBI agent Frank Ford accuse the Dillons of planting the bomb themselves, then arrest Willie Dillon for "operating a garage without a license" (for fixing the COFO car) and "stealing electricity" because he had rigged a temporary flood light in defense against Klan night riders. He is quickly tried without a lawyer and sentenced to a $600 fine (equal to $4,400 in 2012) and nine months in jail.
By the end of August, the Black community in McComb has endured more than a dozen bombings since the start of Freedom Summer in late June …. As August ends, most of the summer volunteers return to school and with their departure media interest declines. The FBI takes the opportunity to reduce their 16 agents to 4. This further emboldens the Ku Klux Klan who rest secure in the certainty that they are immune from arrest by both local and federal law enforcement.
But SNCC organizers Jesse Harris, Mendy Samstein, and Cephus Hughes, the Rev Harry Bowie from the Delta Ministry, and several summer volunteers remain in McComb. Along with local leaders like the Bryants and Aylene Quin, they are determined to keep the movement moving forward.
Mama Quin is kind and good to everyone, but more than that, she is a towering figure of strength. She can't be intimidated. Three years ago she was one of the first to welcome Moses and lend him and the SNCC workers her support. Her cafe has always been open — despite the threats. And this summer, again she leads the community. She serves Black and white, night after night. 
On August 30, the cops plant illegal liquor in Mama Quin's cafe and then arrest her. The white landlord evicts her, and the cafe is closed. Violence and beatings continue. Unable to intimidate Movement leaders, the Klan expands their terror campaign to Blacks who have never been involved in civil rights activities, bombing their homes and businesses to turn them against the Freedom Movement. SNCC writes to Washington, pleading for federal intervention. The Justice Department does nothing.
On the night of September 20, a bomb shatters Aylene Quin's home injuring her children. A second dynamite blast destroys the wood-frame Society Hill Baptist Church which had opened its doors to freedom meetings (when the congregation reconstructs the church they build it with fire-proof brick). Several hundred angry Blacks, many of them armed, pour into the streets, throwing rocks at the cops and threatening retaliatory violence. Only the desperate efforts of COFO organizers and local activists to calm the crowd avert a blood-bath as 100 heavily armed Mississippi State Trooper swarm into town.
Sheriff Warren accuses Mama Quin of planting the bomb that destroyed her home and almost killed her young son and daughter. Dozens of Black leaders, activists, and students are arrested. Many are charged with "criminal syndicalism" — a new state law that prohibits public speaking and political organizing by "subversive" groups. Almost 150 state troopers — one-third of the entire state force — are stationed in McComb. They are an occupying army sent to suppress the Black community. The number of Blacks arrested on various bogus and illegal charges tops 200. The number of Klansmen arrested for terrorism and bombings remains at zero.
With money from the National Council of Churches, SNCC/COFO sends Mama Quin, Matti Dillon, and Ora Bryant — all bombing victims — to Washington to meet with officials and the national press. The Justice Department brushes off the three women with their usual, "doing all we can," platitudes. But news reports and their meetings with members of Congress generate enough pressure that President Johnson meets with them privately. He's in the middle of his campaign against Goldwater and reluctant to take any action that might stir up more resentment among southern white voters, but he also fears that some dramatic escalation of violence in McComb — the assassination of civil rights workers or a violent confrontation between armed Blacks and the Klan/cops — could damage his reputation. He expresses his concern but makes no promises.
Meanwhile, more bombs explode at Black churches and homes in Pike County. The Delta Ministry mobilize clergymen from around the country to come to McComb. Over the next three months almost 100 ministers respond, and with them comes renewed attention from the national media. A dozen visiting ministers are among the 30 people arrested at a second Freedom Day at the courthouse in Magnolia and more are jailed for voter-registration efforts.
… the Black boycott of white businesses, the general sense of violence and tension, and renewed attention from the national media is depressing economic activity. The shopping district is deserted as both whites and Blacks avoid McComb stores.  … Business leaders begin meeting to discuss the economic importance of perhaps expanding their concepts of "law and order" beyond suppressing Black protests to include the radical idea of halting KKK bombings.
On September 29, a rumor flashes through the state's white power-structure that the federal government may be on the verge of declaring martial law in McComb. Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson immediately meets with local officials. He informs them that he is going to mobilize the state National Guard into McComb to forestall federal action. The McComb and Pike County leaders ask him to hold off for two days to give them a chance to end the violence. Within 24 hours, Klan members are being arrested for the bombings. Within a day, 11 of them are in jail and huge amounts of explosives, weapons, and ammunition have been seized. Obviously, local, state, and federal law enforcement knew all along who the bombers were.
As described by author John Dittmer in Local People, the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, a sweet-heart plea bargain is quickly granted to the terrorists:
... they pleaded either guilty or nolo contendere to charges ranging from attempted arson to bombing. Under Mississippi law the maximum penalty was death, yet the presiding judge, W.H. Watkins, gave the defendants suspended sentences and immediately released them on probation. In justifying his leniency, Judge Watkins stated that the men had been "unduly provoked" by civil rights workers, some of whom "are people of low morality and unhygienic." The bombers, on the other hand, were from "good families..." That afternoon, thirteen COFO staff members were jailed on charges of operating a food-handling establishment (the freedom house, where they lived) without a permit. On the same day federal judge Sidney Mize rejected Willie Dillon's appeal to have his trial removed to federal court. Judge Mize ruled as he did because "there is no hostility among the general public in Pike County to the Negro race."
Despite "punishments" that don't even amount to the mildest slap on the wrist, the sudden arrest of the Klansmen does accomplish three things. First, it proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the authorities knew who the bombers were all along and could have stopped them at any time. Second, it puts the Klan on notice that the white power-structure wants the bombings to stop — and it does. The dynamiting of Black homes, churches, and businesses comes to an abrupt halt. Third, talk of martial law in McComb ceases. The press trumpets a great victory over the KKK.
But segregation, denial of voting rights, poverty, exploitation, and virulent racism still persist in McComb and Pike County and the Freedom Movement carries on. Dynamite has failed to break it, arrests haven't halted it. The struggle for justice in "Klan nation" continues. In November, McComb Blacks participate in another mock Freedom Vote to protest denial of voting rights and lay the foundation for a MFDP Congressional Challenge (McComb 58-66).
Works cited:
“Direct Action and the Civil Rights Act.”  Mississippi Sumer Project.  Civil Rights Movement History: Mississippi Freedom Summer Events. Web.
“McComb — Breaking the Klan Siege (July '64-March '65).”   Mississippi Sumer Project.  Civil Rights Movement History: Mississippi Freedom Summer Events.  Web.
“The McGhees of Greenwood (July-Aug).”  Mississippi Sumer Project.  Civil Rights Movement History: Mississippi Freedom Summer Events.  Web.
Washington Does Nothing.”  Mississippi Sumer Project.  Civil Rights Movement History: Mississippi Freedom Summer Events. Web.

Friday, July 12, 2019

"Alsoomse and Wanchese"
“Book Moves at a Snail’s Pace” Review Dishonest
If you google my name (Harold Titus) and the title of my second novel (“Alsoomse and Wanchese”), you will find almost immediately a book review with the title “Book Moves at a Snail’s Pace.”  The reviewer is entitled to her opinion.  Expressing any opinion when she has read no more than one/tenth of the novel and does not admit it is outright dishonest.
In January this person solicited author/members on to contribute material for her web site.  Included was her offer to review their books.  I accepted her offer.  Her review of “Alsoomse and Wanchese” appeared on her web site April 18.  I know that she could not have read past the third of fourth chapter of the 40-chapter novel because of the paucity of what she wrote.
Her “summary” of the novel is information about the two protagonists that appears in the first chapter.
She stated that one of the themes is “gender roles” and the consequences of what can happen if a person goes against what is expected.  This information is available on my author’s page.  She offered this one-sentence quotation as support.  “Why could she [Alsoomse] not accept who she was, a female meant to do female work to benefit every person of the village?”  The sentence appears on page 9 of chapter one.
She also wrote under the category “themes” this statement.  “The difference between Native American and English culture are quite evident from the scenes that alternate between the two civilizations.”  It is a safe statement.  Could she not have stated a specific difference?  Like Humphrey Gilbert nearly beats to death his cabin boy for carelessness of performance of duty and Wanchese, demonstrating firm patience, strives to teach his chief’s petulant, entitled-minded son how to extract wood from the trunk of a hazel-wood tree to be fashioned into a bow? (chapter two). 
What she liked about the novel is said in one sentence: “Glimpses of Algonquian culture including storytelling, rituals and religion add authenticity.”  Story telling is introduced in chapter 2.  A dance ritual at a corn festival is portrayed in chapter 5.  (Did she get this far?  Doubtful)  The wicked god Kiwasa is spoken about in chapter one, as is the ritual of offering him sacred tobacco to secure his protection.
What she did not like about the story is also stated in one sentence: “The plot of the story moves very slowly, which is a turnoff for readers expecting action.  It is instead more a series of slice-of-life pieces.”  The first several chapters establish setting and reveal character traits of the protagonists and several supporting characters.  The reviewer had 400 plus pages to read.  She probably had other books waiting that she had promised to read and review.  She did not want to read past chapter 3 or 4.  Had she gotten a quarter of the way through the book she would have witnessed plenty of tense action that continues to the novel’s last page.  The novel is not a “slice of life” story, i.e. random events having little correlation.  The plot focuses on Wanchese’s strenuous attempts to become the most essential warrior of his tribe.  It focuses on Alsoomse’s on-going struggles, one, to resolve whether she should look to the needs of vulnerable tribes people instead of continuing to pursue her selfish wants and, two, whether she will receive tribal punishment for her questioning, non-conformist behavior.
The reviewer used more space to complain about my placing a glossary of native words and a list of characters in front of chapter one than she did to criticize the story.  In fact, other than the one quotation mentioned about, she offered no detail to support any of her opinions.
The English teacher that I once was tells me she read two or three chapters of the book.  As of the date of my writing this rebuttal, 32 of her blog readers have read her review.  What are the odds of any of them rushing out to purchase my novel, or of anybody who happens upon her review as a result of goggling “Alsoomse and Wanchese”? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Conducted by Wayne Tunnel   

Revisiting Roanoke with Harold Titus

The early days of exploring North America are full of fascinating missteps and accidents–lucky and otherwise. One of these is the “missing” Roanoke colony. Harold Titus has written about it in his new novel, Alsoomse and Wanchese.

Let’s start with the easy part. What’s your story?

Born in New York State in 1934, I moved to Tennessee when I was seven and then to Southern California when I was nine.  I grew up in Pasadena, lived with my parents until I went to college at UCLA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1956.  I taught high school English for one year in Los Angeles, spent two years in the Army, then moved to Northern California and for 31 years taught intermediate school English, American history, and a drama elective and coached boys’ and girls’ after-school sports teams in suburban Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  I retired in 1991.  My first historical novel, “Crossing the River,” printed in 2011, is about the experiences of English and American participants in the first two battles (Lexington and Concord) of the American Revolution.  My second historical novel, the subject of this interview, “Alsoomse and Wanchese,” was published in May 2018.  I continue to write a blog mostly about American history and historical fiction (

What’s Alsoomse and Wanchese about?

Why are human beings so fascinating regardless of period of time or degree of cultural and technological advancement?  My answer: strengths and failings of character, group ideological orthodoxies, non-conformity.  “Alsoomse and Wanchese” narrates a year (1583-1584) in the lives of Roanoke Island Algonquian sister Alsoomse and brother Wanchese as they reject tribal conformity, question tribal decision-making, decide for themselves what is true and just, and seek accomplishment.  Their six-village chief Wingina is at war with an upstart chief of one of his villages.  Wanchese, 19, seeks to become one of Wingina’s essential men.  His impulsiveness and quick temper work against this.  His strenuous efforts to both achieve his goals and learn from his mistakes broaden him, temper him, make him laudable.  Alsoomse, 17, is a questioner, a seeker, an individualist in a culture that demands conformity of behavior and belief.  She is placed in situations that exacerbate these attributes, her subsequent conduct causing her leaders to regard her increasingly as dangerous.  Englishmen sent to North American by Walter Raleigh to find a suitable place to establish a colony arrive near the conclusion of the novel, their appearance complicating each protagonist’s conflicts. 

What is it about the Roanoke Colony you found so interesting?

What we know about the story of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island is related to us by Englishmen.  Missing from that story is any detailed understanding of the Algonquians, as human as any Englishman that stepped then on North American soil.  In my novel, about to leave Plymouth Harbor, the painter John White and his associate, the young scientist Thomas Harriot, have this conversation.

Harriot half-turned. “I have seen your painting of the savage that Frobisher brought back [from Baffin Island, Canada] in 1576 and the woman and child from the 1577 expedition. I have been wanting to ask you about them.”


“What … did you see? Are these people so behindhand as to be mentally deficient? I do not know what to expect.”

White leaned against the gunwale, his long coat bending near his right hip. “I saw human beings, who think, who suffer, who in our presence sought of hide human emotion.”

“What was their sense of us, as best you could tell?”

White moved his left foot ahead of his right. … “I wish there had been some way besides the use of gestures and facial expressions to communicate. What they thought and felt I can only imagine.”

“What did you think they felt?”

“Fear. Despair. Resignation. We uprooted them, Harriot. We took them to London as specimens! What they could have told us, if they had survived and learned our language!”

Historian Michael Leroy Oberg wrote: “Indians are pushed to the margins, at best playing bit parts in a story centered on the English. … Roanoke is as much a Native American story as an English one. … We should take a close look at the Indians who greeted and confronted Raleigh’s colonists. … Because Wingina’s people, and his allies and enemies, in the end determined so much of the fate of the Roanoke ventures, it seems only fair that we concentrate upon them, and how they understood the arrival of the English.”

That is what my novel does.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

She was waiting for Wanchese in a corner of the chamber close to a raised, small-branched, deerskin-covered bed. At first he thought he was alone, that the girl would enter from outside. A slight movement caused him to look in her direction.

He stepped over to her. It was difficult to see. He made out her features.

She was young. Fifteen? Sixteen? Not yet Alsoomse’s age. She was naked, adolescent slim, her breasts small, her limbs and buttocks not yet pleasingly rounded.

Her eyes darted. She appeared defensive. This was not what he had experienced the year before at Mequopen.

“What is your name?”

Her right hand moved toward her mouth. “Waboose.”

It was an Algonquian custom that important visitors to an Algonquian village be provided young women to spend the night.  Waboose is a virgin.  She has been chosen by the chief’s wife to perform this duty but is frightened.  Wanchese and she talk.  They learn a few facts about each other and their respective families.  Conscience-stricken, reluctantly, Wanchese relents.  They sleep together but refrain from intercourse.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Civil Rights Events
Mississippi -- Freedom Summer
Delayed Justice
Following the discovery of the bodies of the murdered civil rights activists, Carolyn Goodman, Rita Schwerner, and Fanny Lee Chaney made these public statements.
Carolyn Goodman: All I can say is that if the people who have expressed their feelings most eloquently to us in these past weeks are any reflection of what I believe are the vast numbers of people throughout this country, I have great optimism.
Rita Schwerner: As you know, lynchings in Mississippi are not uncommon, they have occurred for many, many years. Uh, maybe this one could be the last if some positive steps were taken to show that the people in this country have had enough. That they require that human beings be treated as human beings.
Fanny Lee Chaney: Well, you all know that I am Fannie Lee Chaney, the mother of James Chaney. Y’all know what my child was doing. He was trying for us all to make a better living. And he had two fellows from New York – had their own home and everything, didn’t have nothing to worry about. But they come here to help us. Did y’all know they come here to help us? They died for us (Mississippi 15)!
It would be informants from within the Klan that would break the case open. The first information, from a Klan member at the periphery of the conspiracy, enabled the FBI to focus on the more central figures. One Klan member who received a great deal of attention from prosecutor John Proctor was James Jordan, a Meridian speakeasy owner. Over the course of five increasingly rough interviews, Jordan came to see turning state's evidence as his best bet to avoid a long prison term. He was also promised $3500 and help in relocating himself and his family in return for his full story. Jordan would become the government's key witness to the crime (Linder Trial 3).
State and local law enforcement did not pursue filing charges, claiming insufficient evidence. Knowing that state authorities would never charge the alleged attackers and that an all-white jury would refuse to convict the suspects of murder, on December 4, the Justice Department [using an 1870 post-reconstruction civil rights law] charged 21 men with conspiring to violate Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman’s civil rights.
Prosecutors brought the charges before a federal grand jury, which indicted 18 men in January 1965. The following month, presiding judge William Harold Cox dismissed the charges against the majority of the defendants, maintaining that the law applied only to law enforcement -- in this case, deputy sheriff Price, the county sheriff, and a patrolman. The prosecution appealed, and in 1966 the Supreme Court reinstated the charges, ruling that the law applied to both law enforcement officials and civilians.
In February 1967 another federal grand jury indicted the men once again, and in October the trial began in Judge Cox’s courtroom. Cox was known as a segregationist -- he had been the subject of an unsuccessful impeachment attempt after describing African American witnesses in an earlier case as “chimpanzees.” But on the first day of the trial, when the defense attorney asked a witness whether Schwerner was part of a plot to rape white women during the summer of 1964, Cox called the question improper, stating, “I’m not going to allow a farce to be made of this trial."
Prosecutor John Doar later called Cox’s response to the rape question a turning point in the fight for justice. “If there had been any feeling in the courtroom that the defendants were invulnerable to conviction in Mississippi, this incident dispelled it completely," Doar said afterwards. "Cox made it clear he was taking the trial seriously. That made the jurors stop and think: ‘If Judge Cox is taking this stand, we’d better meet our responsibility as well'" (Murder in Mississippi 8-10).
The trial of the sixteen accused began October 7, 1967.  A jury of seven white men and five white women, ranging in ages from 34 to 67, was selected. Defense attorneys exercised peremptory challenges against all seventeen potential black jurors. A white man, who admitted under questioning by Robert Hauberg, the U.S. Attorney for Mississippi, that he had been a member of the KKK "a couple of years ago," was challenged for cause. Judge Cox denied the challenge.
The heart of the government's case was presented through the testimony of three Klan informants, Wallace Miller, Delmar Dennis, and James Jordan. Miller described the organization of the Lauderdale klavern and described his conversations with Exalted Cyclops Frank Herndon and Kleagle Edgar Ray Killen about the June 21 operation in Neshoba County. Dennis incriminated Sam Bowers, the founder and Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK of Mississippi. Dennis quoted Bowers as having said after the killing of Schwerner and the two others, "It was the first time that Christians had planned and carried out the execution of a Jew." … Dennis described a Klan meeting in the pasture of Klan member Clayton Lewis. He then pointed to Lewis, the mayor of Philadelphia, sitting at the defense table as a member of the twelve-man defense team. James Jordan was the government's only witness to the actual killings. Fearing a Klan assassination, the government had arranged to have Jordan hustled into court by five agents with guns drawn. After first requiring hospitalization for hyperventilating, and then collapsing and having to be carried from the courtroom on a stretcher, an obviously nervous Jordan finally made it to the witness stand. Jordan described the events of June 21 and the early morning of June 22, from the gathering of Klan members in Meridian to the burial of the bodies at the Old Jolly Farm. His vivid testimony caused one black female spectator to break down and have to be led from the courtroom, sobbing.
The defense case consisted of a series of alibi and character witnesses. Local residents testified as to the "reputation for truth and veracity" of various defendants, or to having seen them on June 21 at locations such as funeral homes or hospitals.
John Doar presented the closing argument for the government on October 18. Doar told the jury that "this was a calculated, cold-blooded plot. Three men, hardly more than boys were its victims." Pointing at Price, Doar said that "Price used the machinery of law, his office, his power, his authority, his badge, his uniform, his jail, his police car, his police gun, he used them all to take, to hold, to capture and kill." Doar concluded by telling jurors that what he and the other lawyers said "will soon be forgotten, but what you twelve do here today will long be remembered."
On the morning of October 20, 1967, the jury returned with its verdict. The verdict on its face appears to be the result of a compromise. Seven defendants, mostly from Lauderdale County, were convicted. The list of convicted men included Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, trigger man Wayne Roberts, Jimmy Snowden, Billey Wayne Posey, and Horace Barnett. Seven men, mostly from Neshoba County, were acquitted, including Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, burial site owner Olen Burrage, and Exalted Cyclops Frank Herndon. In three cases, including that of Edgar Ray Killen, the jury was unable to reach a verdict. (Charges were dropped against one defendant, Travis Barnette, before deliberations.)…
On December 29, Judge Cox imposed sentences. Roberts and Bowers got ten years, Posey and Price got six years, and the other three convicted defendants got four. Cox said of his sentences, "They killed one nigger, one Jew, and a white man-- I gave them all what I thought they deserved" (Linder Trial 4-7).
None of the convicted Klansmen served more than six years in prison. One major conspirator, Edgar Ray Killen, a klansman and part-time pastor, went free after the jury deadlocked 11-1. The lone holdout told them she could “never convict a preacher” (Murder in Mississippi 9).
[Deputy] Price declared himself a candidate for sheriff in 1967, at the same time he was facing trial with his fellow Klan conspirators. Price lost the election to Hop Barnette, one of his co-defendants.
Price was found guilty at trial and sentenced by Judge Cox to a six-year prison term. He served his time at Sandstone federal penitentiary in Minnesota. After his release in 1974, Price returned to Philadelphia where he worked as a surveyor, oil company driver, and as a watchmaker in a jewelry shop.
Price died on May 6, 2001, three days after falling from a lift in an equipment rental store in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He died in the same hospital in Jackson where thirty-seven years earlier he helped transport the bodies of the three slain civil rights workers for autopsies (Linder Cecil 4).
In 1998, Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, published excerpts from a 1984 interview with Samuel Bowers in which he spoke openly about the killings. “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man, which everybody -- including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else knows that that happened,” Bowers said. Mitchell’s reporting established that Bowers was referring to [Edgar Ray] Killen.  (Murder in Mississippi 9).
Mitchell's interest in the case had piqued after watching a press screening of "Mississippi Burning" in 1988. A pair of FBI agents at the screening dissected the film for Mitchell and told the reporter what really happened.
"The thing that was horrifying to me was you had more than 20 guys involved in killing these three young men and no one has been prosecuted for murder," Mitchell recalled.
Mitchell, whose reporting also helped secure convictions in other high-profile civil rights era cases, began looking closely at the "Mississippi Burning" case. His big break came when he obtained leaked files from the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, a segregationist group that tried to curb growing civil rights activism. Mitchell found out that the state had spied on Michael Schwerner and his wife for three months before he, Goodman and Chaney were murdered (Smith 9).
In 1999, Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore announced that the state would reopen the case. At his request, the FBI turned over more than 40,000 pages related to the initial investigation (Murder in Mississippi 10).
Indictment of Killen was delayed.  On October 6, 2004 approximately 500 people marched in support of Killen’s state prosecution.
On January 6, 2005, the State of Mississippi charged 79-year-old former Klan preacher Edgar Ray Killen with murder in connection with the slayings of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. Police arrested Killen at his home following a grand jury session, according to Neshoba County Sheriff Larry Myers. Convicted Klan conspirator Billy Wayne Posey expressed anger at Killen's arrest: "After 40 years to come back and do something like this is a nightmare." … Carolyn Goodman, the 89-year-old mother of victim Andrew Goodman, was pleased with the news. She hoped the killers would someday be "behind bars and think about what they've done" (Linder Trial 9).
Although several of the other conspirators were still alive at the time, the grand jury did not find sufficient evidence to indict anyone else. The trial drew national news coverage; members of the victims’ families were present at the trial, some as witnesses and some as observers. Ultimately, the jury [nine whites and three blacks] found insufficient evidence for a murder conviction, but did find Killen guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter (Murder in Mississippi 10).
According to FBI files and court transcripts from a 1967 federal conspiracy trial, Killen had done most of the planning in the ambush killings.
witnesses [had] testified that on June 21, 1964, Killen went to Meridian to round up carloads of Klansmen to ambush Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, telling some of the Klan members to bring plastic or rubber gloves. Witnesses [had] said Killen then went to a Philadelphia funeral home as an alibi while the fatal attack occurred (Pettus 3).
Judge Marcus Gordon today sentenced Edgar Ray Killen to serve three 20-year terms, one for each conviction of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in 1964. Judge Gordon said in pronouncing sentence, "I have taken into consideration that there are three lives in this case and that the three lives should be absolutely respected." Sentencing followed Killen's conviction earlier in the week. The manslaughter convictions came after nearly three days of jury deliberations. The jury found that there was reasonable doubt as to whether Killen intended that the klansmen kill the civil rights workers, and thus did not return a murder conviction (Linder Trial 10).
The courts had finally acknowledged the "Mississippi Burning" killings but the public sentiment was mixed. After Killen was arrested, [investigator reporter] Mitchell says he was threatened by some residents in an area where a "let-sleeping-dogs-lie" mentality prevailed. One man wrote a letter in 2005 to the Clarion-Ledger editor, saying Mitchell "should be tarred, feathered and run out of the state of Mississippi."
But Mitchell says others were grateful for the belated justice as Mississippi tried to shed its racially charged past (Smith 10).
In February 2010, Killen sued the FBI, claiming the government used a mafia hit man to pistol-whip and intimidate witnesses for information in the case. The federal lawsuit sought millions of dollars in damages and a declaration that his rights were violated when the FBI allegedly used a gangster known as “The Grim Reaper” during the investigation. The lawsuit was later dismissed (Pettus 5).
Linda Schiro, the ex-girlfriend of former mobster Gregory Scarpa, nicknamed "The Grim Reaper," testifying for the prosecution in a murder case, stated that Scarpa put a gun in the mouth of a Ku Klux Klansman in an effort to gain information about the location of the bodies of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. The ploy worked and the bodies were soon dug up in an earthen dam. Scarpa died in prison in the 1990s.
Schiro's story confirmed reports, coming from confidential FBI sources in 1994, that a frustrated J. Edgar Hoover had turned to the Colombo crime family for help in cracking the "Mississippi Burning" case.
On March 15,[2013] Owen Burrage died at age 82. Burrage owned the farm on which Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were buried under an earthen dam, but was acquitted in the 1967 trial. Days before the killings, Burrage bragged that his 250-foot long dam would make a good burial place for civil rights workers. According to an FBI informant, Burrage told a roomful of KKKers discussing the arrival of the civil rights workers in 1964: "Hell, I've got a dam that will hold a hundred of them." Horace Barnette told the FBI that around midnight after the killings, Burrage was waitng at his farm to direct Klansmen to the dam site. Burrage then went to his trucking company garage to get gasoline that was used to burn the civil rights workers' station wagon. With the death of Burrage, only one of the 18 people originally indicted remains alive. The survivor is Pete Harris, who witnesses say called the Klansman to gather on the night of the murders (Linder Trial 11-12).
Killen, serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman , died at 9 p.m. Thursday, January 11, 2018.  He was 92.
“It wasn’t even murder. It was manslaughter,” David Goodman, Andrew’s younger brother, observed Friday.
“His life spanned a period in this country where members of the Ku Klux Klan like him were able to believe they had a right to take other people’s lives, and that’s a form of terrorism,” Goodman said. “Many took black lives with impunity.”
[Michael] Schwerner’s widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, said on the day Killen was convicted that the slayings were part of a larger problem of violence in Mississippi against black people and others who challenged the segregationist status quo.
“Preacher Killen did not act in a vacuum and the members of the Klan who were members of the police department and the sheriff’s department and the highway patrol didn’t act in a vacuum,” she said.
Goodman said …that Killen’s passing is a reminder that issues of racism and white nationalism remain today. He pointed to the violent rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia ….
Killen wouldn’t say much about the killings during a 2014 interview with The Associated Press inside the penitentiary. He said he remained a segregationist who did not believe in racial equality, but contended he harbored no ill will toward black people. Killen said he never had talked about the events that landed him behind bars, and never would.
 When she learned of Killen’s death, Chaney’s sister, the Rev. Julia Chaney Moss, said her first thought was that “God has been kind to him. And for that I am grateful.”
“My last thought on this is just that I only wish peace and blessings for all the families as well as the families of the perpetrators,” she said. (Pettus 6-8).
Works cited:
Linder, Douglas O.  “Cecil Price.”  Famous Trials.  Web.
Linder, Douglas O.  “The "Mississippi Burning" Trial: An Account.” Famous Trials,  Web.
Mississippi Freedom Summer Claims Three Young Victims.”  Web.
“Murder in Mississippi.”  American Experience.  Web.
Pettus, Emily Wagster and Santana, Rebecca.  “Man Convicted of 3 Killing Civil Rights Workers Dies in Jail.”  AP News.  January 13, 2018.  Web.
Smith, Stephen.  “‘Mississippi Burning’ murders resonate 50 years later.”  CBSNews.  June 20, 2014.  Web.