COUNTY OF AMITE
I am 56 years old, a Negro, and a resident of Amite County, Mississippi. I have lived in Amite County all my life.
In 1954 I organized the Amite County Chapter of the NAACP. We held several meetings in Liberty, and in other places in Amite County. One night, while we were having a meeting in a school building in the 5th District of the county, the sheriff, Ira Jenkins, his deputy, and a member of the school board, and 15 or 20 other white men came out and surrounded the building.
Then the sheriff, deputy, and school board member came into the meeting. This was about 8 P.M. These three did not take off their hats or anything, they just sat down. Then the school board member turned to different people and asked them what they were doing at the meeting. They didn't answer him. Then he said: "My advice to you is to take this money and put it into the school building." He apparently thought the group was collecting some money, though this was not the case. When they were ready to leave, the sheriff without asking, reached on the table and took the secretary's book. Then they left the building and drove off. Because of their presence, the people were frightened and the meeting ended.
Ever since that time, whenever we have held meetings, the sheriff or his deputy drives around, and the people are frightened by this. We discuss voter registration at these meetings, and that is why they want to frighten us. It is hard to get people to come to the meetings because they are so afraid. Before 1954 it was easy to get people to any kind of meeting or to take part in any kind of organization.
I live very far off the highway, and the white people have never come out to threaten me at my house. But in September, 1963, a cross was burned where the road to my house leads off from the highway. I believe that the Ku Klux Klan is operating in Amite County. It is extremely dangerous for anyone to work for civil rights there without protection from outside the county. We don't have any protection from inside the county — we can't depend on it there.
I feel that my life is in danger. There is not an hour which passes when I do not feel my life is in danger. I have felt this since I began working for the NAACP in 1954, and it has gotten worse all the time. I feel because I hear about people being beaten and threatened in Amite County. They do not say much, because they are afraid, and they do not have anyone they can appeal to for help.
SIGNED: E.W. Steptoe
See Voter Registration &
Direct Action in McComb MS for background & more information.
See also Mississippi Freedom Movements for web links.
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