Sworn Affidavit of Annell Ponder
Regarding police brutality in Winona MS
June 1963

Originally published in Mississippi Black Paper, 1965


I am 31, Negro, and a resident of Atlanta, Georgia.

I was returning on June 9, 1963, from a workshop in voter education and community development held in John's Island, South Carolina. I was returning on a Trailways bus together with Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, June Johnson, Euvester Simpson, James West, Rosemary Freeman, and four other people.

When we got to the Winona bus station at about 12 noon, the five people named above, excepting Mrs. Hamer, got off the bus, and June Johnson, James West, and Rosemary Freeman and I went into lunchroom. This lunchroom was the one normally reserved for white people (all of the party were Negroes). We sat down at the counter and the waitress behind the counter wadded up some paper and threw it the wall and said: "I can't take no more."

By this time a member of Winona city police (apparently ________ and a member of the highway patrol entered the back of the room. They came up behind where we were sitting and tapped each of us on the shoulders and said: "Get up and out of here." I was the last one on line, and I asked him if he didn't know it was against the law to put us out. (This was after the ICC ruling against discrimination in ICC facilities.) He said: "Ain't no damn law, get up and get out of here."

So we went outside. We stood outside discussing what happened. Mrs. Hamer saw us and got off the bus and asked us why we had come out so quick. So we told her what happened, and she said: "Yeah, this is what we have to put up with. This is what we have to go against in Mississippi."

Then we agreed that we would inclucle what had happened here in a report we were going to make about incidents during the trip. Mrs. Hamer got back on the bus and the rest of us stayed in front of the station talking, saying that it didn't look good to get up and walk out of the lunchroom when we knew we had a right to be in there. We said if anything like that happened again, we would just go to jail.

Then I went back to the door and looked inside to get a better look at the police officers, so I could identify them. But they crouched back against the wall so I couldn't see them. So I decided I would get the number off the patrolman's car. It didn't have a number on the side so we walked around to the back, to get the license plate number.

As I was taking that down, the officers came out of the restaurant and said that we were under arrest, and said: "You all get in that car," indicating highway patrol car. Mrs. Hamer saw us getting in the car and she got off the bus, and she called out to me and asked me what I wanted them to do. I told her to go ahead on the bus.

The officer driving the car we were in called out to another and said: "Get that other one too." Mrs. Hamer was then placed in another car which followed us to the Montgomery County Jail.

When we got there they started questioning us and one of them me something and I said "Yes" or "No." Then he wanted to know if I had enough "respect" for him to say "sir" when I answered his questions. So I asked him what he said, and he repeated his question, using the term "nigger" to refer to me. I told him I didn't know him that well. He looked very angry and confused. Then the highway patrolman walked over and hard on James West's foot and ground on it, though James had not done anything.

Then they questioned us more about the civil rights work, about the Greenwood voter registration project, and said we had come to demonstrate. After a while they put us in cells, two of us together in a cell. James West and June Johnson were kept out.

After we were in awhile, I heard them questioning June Johnson, asking her what did she think they were supposed to do about it, apparently referring to our presence in Winona and our activities in civil rights. June said that she felt they were supposed to protect us and take care of us. Then I began to hear sounds of violence. There was a whiskey still (metal) in the booking room and I could people scraping against this and the floor and walls, and could hear June screaming.

After a while they came to get me, bringing June to put in my cell. She was bleeding from the face and neck and crying. They took me into the booking room, and made me stand several different places consecutively. Finally I was standing in a corner. There was blood on the floor in this place. I started to tell the four white men and police officers in the room that we wanted them to understand that we didn't hate them. When I told them that they turned toward me and one of them (in blue uniform) said he wanted to hear me say "sir." I ignored him. Another young man in a crew-cut said: "You just came up here to stir up trouble." The man slapped me in the head with his fist. Then the officer in blue uniform hit me. Then the highway patrolman wanted to know why I took down his license plate number. I told him I wanted to make an accurate report if there was trouble. They wanted to know who we would make a report to. I told him the federal government.

They said: "Who do you mean, Bobby Kennedy?" and there was contempt in their voices. I said: "No, the federal government." Then they started again insisting I say "sir." Through all this conversation kept hitting me. The policeman in blue uniform at one point took a sort of blackjack from the man who I believe was ________ and from then on he used that in beating me. This went on for about 10 minutes, with questioning and my being beaten to the floor and getting up and beaten down again.

At one point the highway patrolman hit me in the stomach. They finally stopped beating me and put me in a maximum security cell. One of my teeth had been chipped and my lip was bleeding, and later when I tried to walk I staffered and fell.

I was kept in the cell for three days and no doctor was brought to see me.

After three days I was charged in a trial with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. We were found guilty, and appealed. And the next day we were released. We would have been fined $100 on each charge [equal to $800 in 2017], but we got out on $200 appeal bond.

Since then the Justice Department brought suit against the officers. They denied the charge and an all-white male jury found them innocent.

Annell Ponder

See Atrocity in Winona for background & more information.
See also Mississippi Freedom Movements for web links.

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