Jack Minnis (SNCC)
( — 2005)

As rememberd by:
Taylor Branch
Connie Curry
Frank Emspak
Bruce Hartford   
Dorie Ladner
Joyce Ladner
Gwen Patton
Judy Richardson   
Wally Roberts
Scott B.
Kerry Taylor
Bob Zellner

From Joyce Ladner
March 1, 2006

Dear friends,

Many of us have inquired of each other if there was any news about our dear friend and colleague, Jack Minnis. He stopped posting his cogent comments on the SNCC listserv in mid July 2005. I am sorry to be the bearer of sad news but I finally called Jack's wife, Earlene, today and she told me that Jack died in the early morning hours of July 14, 2005, at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans. He was being treated for some sort of cold, and went to the emergency room around 4pm after he got worse. The cause of Jack's death was an aneurysm of the aorta.

Earlene said he was bright and alert until he went into surgery. She asked that further inquiries, comments, etc. be directed to their son, Pierre, at pminnis@uno.edu. She said Pierre posted information about Jack's death to the SNCC LISTSERV but for whatever reason we never got it. She also said their home was destroyed [in the flooding after hurricane Katrina] but they were able to salvage some of Jack's research files. She lives with Pierre, and she sounds great. I hope [we can] post our reflections and comments on the website. It would be nice if we could do something special in Jack's behalf.

Sincerely,
Joyce Ladner


As remembered by Scott B. Smith
May 5, 2006

First I want to comment at such a late period of time that has lapse on a close friend of mine and the movement over the tragic lost of Jack Minnis.

Being a sort of late comer to the SNCC organization I first met Jack in 1965 when I was placed on SNCC staff while working in Lowndes County with Jimmy Rogers, Stokeley, and Bob Mants. I was a newcomers and Jack took me under his wing and always answered my inquires with patient when I would disturbed him while he was busy putting some reseach material together. I learned after a period of time to wait before I started to ask questions and run off at the mouth on various ideas I had about this or that.

His replies always were calm and educational, getting up now and then showing me the various references books pertaining to the business world dealing with whatever subject matter on how the business world controlled every aspect of American life. He was the first leftist muck raker writer that I ever met and I was fascinate over the amount of knowledge, wit he had about various companies that were on the stock market exchange and their mergers. He had it down pat. He noticed that I would go thru the office talking to different staff people because I wanted to know who was who and how they made up the pieces of the puzzle that SNCC really was.It was Ralph Featherstone who was the first SNCC member that laid out pieces of the SNCC puzzle for me to look at while we were driving thru a blinding snow storm and we could have gotten killed when a truck ran us off the road.

That's when Jack started asking me about my past background and we started opening up to each other sharing stories We both learned a lot as I put the pieces of the SNCC puzzle together.

Over a period of time we would explane various bits of information about our personal backgrounds and shared a couple glasses of his favorite liquor Jack Daniels. I couldn't keep up with him he was too much of a pro on that level also.

I never will forget one day when we arrive at the Atlanta office during the early days of organizing in Lowndes County, I made my rounds and talked to everyone that was there and started to talk to Jack about various ideas I had about organizing in the county, and it was right in the midst of pouring out these thoughts when he stopped me cold and asked me to wait. Then he gave me a compliment that I never heard before. He said "You know you come in here with a lot of good ideas, but this one is the best I've ever heard and one for the books." He start bellowing to various staff members that he wanted to have an executive meeting right then at that time and got up from his desk and gave me a hug that came close to breaking my back and was screaming out Ruby Doris named in such an loud excited tone of voice about having a meeting I thought he had got religion or something and everyone who came into his office space in the office was taken back by his behavior, people that had started rush into his office space their faces full of awe because of the way he was acting and talking so fast, they looked at me like I had done something to him all I could do was shrug my shoulders and looked at everyone in wonderment for I didn't know what I had said to cause him to react like he acting.

This was how the birth of the Black Panther car bumper stickers came into being which caused a psychological shock wave across the Black Belt of Alabama, Alabama, and this nation also. I celebrated later on with Jack a few weeks later and we both rejoiced going over how it all happened. Afterwards whenever we got together while I was in Atlanta we would talk about many events and things, but this one idea created a friendship that became a close bond one of few and many I had while in SNCC.

Many of the things we talked about some of them have came to past, some harsh realities and other nothing but thoughts. Got chance to go back into the woods to the cabin he had in LA and finished off a bottle of Daniels when whites were told to leave SNCC, there he talked a lot about Stokeley, Mississippi ,SNCC staff members and friends of SNCC and then asked me about my thoughts around certain issues, but he wasn't wasn't bitter like he could have been just so very sad over the way things went down.


As remembered by Dorie Ladner
March 15, 2006

I am saddened by the passing of Jack Minnis, who was always pleasant and engaging. I remember meeting him and Wiley Branton in the Mississippi Delta, around 1962. They were always well-dressed, friendly and committed to helping those of us who could not vote, to get the right to do so. I was always afraid something would happen to them when they left the mass meetings in places like Greenwood, because it was the land of Emmett Till. I know that the same people with the same prejudices are still there now, with the same ideals and goals.

Dorie Ladner
Washington, DC


As remembered by Bob Zellner
March 8, 2006

Pierre,

I just got the shocking new about your Dad. None of us apparently got the information you posted. I am so sad because Jack was a mentor and teacher for all of us young squirts who thought we knew something about the world. I always thought you and Jacque were lucky to have such a father. I know he was proud of how you turned out. It can t be easy to be a movement kid.

Be in touch and give my love to your mom and brother.

Much love, Bob Zellner


As remembered by Connie Curry
March 7, 2006

So glad I saved this from Jack Minnis--an example of his perception and wisdom.

Connie

This was written by Jack after Jim Forman's death. Let us reiterate it for Jack.

Connie


As remembered by Frank Emspak
March 5, 2006

Jack helped our Worker Independent News organization immensely with his writings on social security and other issues. We interviewed him about a year ago. I think all people who do or have done what is now understood to be power structure analysis owe Jack a huge debt.

Frank Emspak
Professor
School for Workers UWEX
Executive producer WIN


As remembered by Bruce Hartford
March 4, 2006

I never met Jack, but he had a huge impact on me even though I was CORE & SCLC rather than SNCC.

Starting in early 1965 he began distributing Life With Lyndon in the Great Society to Movement activists around the country. Week after week he analyzed current events — local, national, and international — in terms of the connection between wealth, power, and government policy. He identified the key decision makers and (long before Bernstein, Woodward, and Watergate) followed-the-money as it determined what was being done to whom — and why.

Even though I grew up in a Red home, his reports were really the beginning of my personal political radicalization. By "radicalization" I mean coming to both an intellectual and emotional understanding that the abuses we were fighting in the South were not abberations but rather symptoms of deep and fundamental systemic injustices that applied nationwide and internationally.

To tell the truth, while I was always moved by inspirational oratory like that of Dr. King and others, I was never really impressed or convinced by flaming radical rhetoric or leftis posturing. But Jack had the facts and he layed them out for all to see, and that did more to radicalize me than any fiery speech.

Looking back now, I realize that when I first became active with CORE in early 1963, I saw myself as engaged in an effort to redress certain obvious injustices. After the betrayal of the MFDP by Johnson-Humphrey-Mondale in Atlantic City, Selma & the March to Montgomery, and Jack's weekly research reports, the Movement was no longer an episode but a life. A commitment to justice that carried me from the South to the Anti-War and student movements, GI organizing, labor struggles, and the issues of today.

 — bruce


As remembered by Judy Richardson
March 4, 2006

When I heard that Jack Minnis had passed I was sad and sad in a way that surprised me. I mean, I never knew him that well and he was not someone you easily got close to. But he was, for me, such an important part of my SNCC experience.

Whenever I speak on campuses about SNCC, I talk about Minnis (he was always Minnis to me). When he started posting to the SNCC Listserve it was like I'd found an old friend. The articles were like his analyses: useful, short, including just the meat of the article no long pieces with peripheral information. In one email I told him he was serving the same purpose on the listserve that he served in SNCC. And his replies to my emails were delightful short, and sometimes amazingly generous and almost sweet (not a description I would have previously associated with the rather gruff person I remembered from back in the day).

When I talk about SNCC I always mention SNCC's research department and Jack: "Well, we had this amazing research department that was headed by Jack Minnis." He was this crusty older [and of course, I'm probably the same age now as he was then] white guy who smoked like a fiend, looked generally unkempt, and could get research from a turnip. And this was before computers and Google.

If memory serves me right, Jack was the one who found the arcane Alabama statue that prompted us to start the Lowndes County Freedom Organization's political party (was that the name of the party or just the organization?). He was always finding information — like buried treasure — that would make all the difference.

Then there was the matter of the black panther logo in Lowndes County. Ruth Howard (Chambers) said that when Stokely (Kwame) asked her to come up with a logo for the party (she and I were organizing with Stokely, Mants, et al. in Lowndes then, or about to head there), she came up with a dove. [And I sure hope Ruth posts on this list in case I'm wrong about what kinda bird it was]. She happened to remember that Morris Brown College's mascot was a panther and used that as the basis of the now-famous logo.

Even before I started working on Eyes on the Prize and doing commentaries for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (headed first by Charlie Cobb's father, Rev. Cobb, and then by Ben Chavis), I realized that the way Minnis organized material had affected me. Documenting his analysis absolutely shaped the way I try to present information.

I had to compile press information for the UCC Comm. during a rash of police brutality and racially motivated violence incidents in the mid-80s in NYC (Howard Beach, Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpurs) that had become so numerous that Cong. Conyers initiated U.S. House Subcommittee hearings. My work was part of a campaign by many who were organizing protests at the time. Well, the first thing I did for the press packet was a chronology. A journalist from Newsday asked if I was journalist. I said no, that I'd learned how to do this in the Movement. What I didn't tell him was: I learned how to do this from Jack Minnis.

The Chronology of Violence in Mississippi that Minnis put together in advance of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project is something I still show to students and teachers. What it proved was that white violence was long-standing and endemic not just the problem of a few racist rednecks . (Same holds for the endemic nature of police brutality.) And Minnis Chronology was invaluable in helping northern journalists understand the extent of what we were dealing with.

It's funny how someone you didn't really know that well could have such an effect on you.

judy richardson
judy_richardson8@hotmail.com
Cambridge, MA


As remembered by Kerry Taylor
March 4, 2006

Darlene Fife in "Portraits From Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties" Surregional Press. 2000.

She and her husband Robert Head had met in Dublin — Darlene was a studying abroad or playing Bohemian for awhile. They moved to New Orleans in 1966 and I think she got to know Jack Minnis there. The book is a thin, possibly self-published memoir.

Best, Kerry


As remembered by Gwen Patton
March 4, 2006

I am convinced that the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (Independent) Political Party with the Black Panther as its symbol, the subsequent formation of the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), which elected the first maiden Black elected official since Reconstruction in Lowndes, Greene, Macon and Bullock Counties, never would have happened if it had not been for Jack Minnis' incredible research.

Gwen Patton


As remembered by Taylor Branch
March 3, 2006

I am saddened by the news of Jack Minnis' s death, and I feel terrible that I did not check on him after Katrina. Earlene had to hook him up to an oxygen line during my last visit to their home in New Orleans, and I feared for the hurricane but had no idea the illness had gotten him already.

Jack was a truly original mind and a great heart. He was a crusty but generous intellectual in the cause of freedom.

Best,
Taylor


As remembered by Wally Roberts
March 1, 2006

Although I never met him, Jack Minnis was an important influence on my career as a journalist. I first encountered his research methods as a volunteer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project in 1964 when I read some of the research he had done for SNCC on the power structure of the South and the institutions that fostered and enforced segregation. I had not read C. Wright Mills at the time (I was 23 & two years out of a conservative Ivy League school (a redundancy there, I guess) and still finding my way as a liberal activist. Jack's expositions on the power structure and how to analyze it made a deep impression on me.

After that summer, I went on Brown University where I had been accepted the previous spring, to do graduate work in history. After about six weeks, I had had it with history and felt compelled to quit and find work that would allow me to continue the type of work I had been doing in Mississippi. By chance, I found out one of my uncles had an old friend who worked as an editorial writer at the Providence Journal. I thought maybe a job as a reporter would let me write about the kinds of injustices I had encountered in Mississippi, so I called my uncle's friend and he gave me the name of the editor to see about a job.

In short, I got the job and three years later wrote a 5,000-word article exposing the fact that an advertising and PR campaign being conducted by the private electric utilities in New England was, in fact, a propaganda campaign designed to quash public support for two major public power projects. The paper went on to nominate me for the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, but I didn't make the final cut. Nevertheless, I was quite pleased with the whole thing.

I went on to write for magazines and other newspapers and did get a couple of other awards until I burnt out on the corporate world and went back into community organizing where I remain today, although I still write, too.

About 5 years ago l got in touch with Jack through the SNCC list and told him all this and thanked him for his work. We had a nice exchange and I was able to send him links to a couple of new articles I had written for The American Prospect on the deregulation of the electric power industry correctly forecasting its harmful effects on consumers and describing how the wholesale trading market for electricity could be manipulated, as in fact, it was revealed it had been by Enron and others. I owe much of my success at this work to Jack.

Wally Roberts
453 Washington Rd.
Williamstown, VT 05679
802.433-1329


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