Sworn Affidavit of Jesse Harris
Regarding Freedom Ride arrest, courtroom segregation, police and prison brutality

Originally published in Mississippi Black Paper, 1965


I am a resident of Jackson, Negro, 22 years of age.

On July 5, 1961, I was in the Trailways bus station in Jackson, Mississippi, trying to get a ticket to New Orleans. Jackson police came up, asked me to move from the white section. I refused and the police hit me three times on the back of the neck with night sticks. This was during the Freedom Rides sponsored CORE. I was then taken to city jail and charged with breach of the peace; and was eventually taken to the state penitentiary on conviction of $200 and four months. I served 45 days in the penitentiary. While I was still in city jail I had to see a doctor because my neck was bleeding from the beating in the Trailways station. The police allowed a doctor into the jail to give me treatment.

On March 9, 1962 (approximately), I went to the county courthouse in Jackson (Hinds County) to attend a trial of Diane Nash. I went into the courtroom and I took a seat on the so-called white side. I was approached by the bailiff of the court, asking me to move to the Negro side. I refused. The presiding judge, Russell Moore, then asked me to move from the bench. He stopped the trial for this purpose.

I asked him why. He gave no reason and just said: "Are you going to move?" Then he said I was under arrest for contempt of court. I was then taken to county jail by the bailiff of the court. On the 22nd I had my trial. I had no lawyer. I asked Judge Russell Moore to continue my trial so that I could obtain a lawyer. He said: "Motion denied." I made another motion that he step down from the bench and have another judge in his place so he could take the witness stand and testify why he had placed me under arrest. He said: "Motion denied," again. He then put the bailiff on the witness stand, who testified that I had come into the court to start trouble and that I had been sitting "on the wrong side of the courtroom."

Then I asked the bailiff some questions. I asked him if he had authority to tell everyone in the courtroom where to sit and he said yes. Then I asked him why did he ask me to move. He said that the seats in my area had been reserved for some witnesses in the court. I then asked whether a white minister who had been sitting next to me and had come down from the North to observe the trial had been a witness. The bailiff said no. I asked why not. He said he had the right to ask whoever he wanted to move. Then he said: "We didn't want you to sit there." I then asked: "In other words the courtroom is segregated?" And he replied, "Yes." I then testified in my behalf. I said that my arrest had been unconstitutional, and that if released that day I would go right back into the courtroom and sit anywhere I pleased. I was then sentenced to $100 fine and 30 days on the county farm.

The bailiff who had testified was the one who took me back upstairs. And on our way back to the elevator, I asked him how long he had been working for the court. He said: "None of your damn business." I then said: "You guys are pretty smart. First you segregate us, and then you testify against us in court and tell lies."

At this point he got mad and called over three deputy sheriffs. He said: "Ride on up in the elevator with me. This nigger's trying to get tough." The deputies told me to put my hands up against the wall the elevator. Then they started to beat me. They beat me with their fists until I fell to the floor. Then they began to kick me in the face and side. All four officers took part in beating. When they put me in the cell, I was bleeding from my nose, above my eyes, and on the back of my neck. I asked for a doctor. The jailer refused to call one.

I was in the county jail for about a week and was then shifted to the county farm. I was singled out as a "troublemaker." I was the only prisoner there dressed in completely striped uniform, most prisoners being dressed in overalls and a T-shirt. I was told that if I was seen talking to anybody, the person that I talked to would be beaten. I was told that I must address all the guards as "Captain" and that if I didn't obey the guards' orders I would be punished.

I was assigned to the road gang, under a Captain ________. He me what I was in for. I said contempt of court. He said: "You're one of those god-damn Freedom Riders." I said I didn't know what that meant. He said: "Well, I'm going to to whip your ass." Then he called four other prisoners and said: "Take this nigger to the woods, and we're going to whip his ass." They threw me on the ground and started pulling off my clothes. He took up a long hose pipe and hit me about fifteen times on the back, neck, buttocks, etc. Then he said, "Get up and put on your clothes." I asked him what he did that for. He said: "We alwa ys break in new people like that."

Then I said: "I'm going to have to report you to the superintendent, and file a complaint with federal officials." Then he looked at the other prisoners and said: "Well, we got a smart nigger here." I laid back down and pulled off my clothes again and asked if was to beat me again. He said: "No, get up." When we got back to the county farm I asked to see the superintendent. He came in and asked me what I wanted. I told him what had happened. He asked me what I was going to do about it. I told him I wanted to file a complaint against the guard, and if he didn't do anything about it I would file a complaint against him. He asked me not to do that, and that if I did I would "catch hell." Then he left. He seemed both worried and mad. He pleaded with me not to file a complaint, but he shook and acted like he'd like to shoot me.

About a week later, the same guard asked me to move a three-hundred-pound log. I told him I wouldn't. He started to hit me with a big stick he picked up off the ground. He hit me fifteen or twenty times. I grabbed the stick out of his hand and threw it away and said that if he ever hit me again, "me and him was going to have it." He pulled out his gun and started backing up and shaking and saying: "Nigger, I ought to kill you." Then he put me in a truck and took me back to the county farm, and took me to the superintendent and told the superintendent that I had hit him. Then they put me in a car and brought me back to the county jail and threw me in solitary.

I was in solitary for 36 hours. The cell was 9 by 12, a "sweatbox." I was naked. The cell was a big steel vault in the ground, with no windows. They turned on heated air into the vault, and left it on all the time I was in the cell. Then they came back and took me back to the county farm. They started asking me questions, such as whether I was ready to "act right." I said, "If somebody treat me right." They said that everything would be okay.

Then they put me back on the same road gang. After about one week, the guard (Captain ________), pulled out a long hose pipe again and started to beat me one day without provocation. He struck me about 10 or fifteen times. I asked him why had done that. He said: "You one of them smart-ass niggers. I don't like your ass." He took me back again to the county farm. I was put in a cell for about four days until I was released.

SIGNED: Jesse Harris

See Freedom Rides and Diane Nash Defies the Mississippi Judicial System for background & more information.
See also Mississippi Freedom Movements for web links.

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