I am a native of Kosciusko, Mississippi, and am engaged in voter registration activity for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations.
On June 25, 1963, I and fellow workers brought 200 people to the courthouse in Greenwood, Mississippi, Leflore County, to attempt to register to vote. A city ordinance was that same day that the people at the courthouse had to go home between 11 :30 A.M. and 1 P.M. Some people had come from 30 miles away. At 11:30 we were told to move off courthouse grounds. We moved down onto the sidewalk, and then were told by city police to disperse.
We then went back to the courthouse. The sheriff then came and arrested nine people whom he thought were the leaders. I was among those arrested. At 12 noon we were taken to jail.
At 1:30 P.M. that same day we were given a five-minute trial during which we were not given opportunity to obtain an attorney. We were all convicted of disturbing the peace, and were sentenced to four months at hard labor on the county farm, and $200 fine. During the trial, the sheriff refused to answer relevant I asked.
While in the Leflore County Farm, we were always taken out to a place away from other prisoners, and groups of policemen and civilians would come and harass us verbally.
One day a guard pulled a pistol and cocked and pointed it at me when I asked him respectfully to call me by my name. All of us stopped moving, because it was obvious he would shoot if they moved. We went on a work and hunger strike at noon that day, saying that we couldn't work under those conditions. As a result, we were all sent to Parchman Penitentiary three days later.
On approximately July 15, while at Parchman, 14 prisoners, including myself, were told we were making too much noise, which we weren't, and were put in the "hot box," which is a room six feet square with no windows and no light and only a ventilation hole with a fan which was not running. Our only air came from a crack under the door. We were kept there for 40 hours. During that time Jimmy Pruitt became sick and collapsed with a fever. We requested help and after two hours the guards removed him. By that time, four others were sick and requested water. After three hours, we were given water. At that time, the fan was turned on. Pruitt was given a pill but no medical examination, although he had a high fever.
On approximately July 20, Willie Carnell was hung by his hands to the cell bars for 30 hours. Guards accused him of "singing."
On August 18 at 2 P.M., I was "sentenced" to hang similarly for 48 hours. I had done nothing. I actually hung for 3 hours.
When we were finally bailed out, Sergeant A________ at Parchman told us that if any of us came back, he would shoot him. We had been in Parchman 55 days.
On November 3, in McComb, Mississippi, I was canvassing for the mock election. Police followed me wherever I went, stood beside me on the front porches of people, photographing them and taking their names while I was talking to them. I was continually detained and threatened by police for nothing. Police Chief Guy was in charge at that time.
During the last part of February of 1964, George Greene and I were doing voter registration work in Natchez, Mississippi. We were arrested while stopped in our car, waiting for a train to pass. The charge was "investigation of auto theft" but after being detained 30 hours, I was charged with vagrancy and Greene with speeding. During a week and a half we were picked up 5 times, usually without being arrested or questioned, and detained for 2 or more hours.
SIGNED: Douglas MacArthur Cotton
See Marching For Freedom
in Greenwood for background & more information.
See also Mississippi Freedom Movements for web links.
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