Selected Excerpts from Book
Foreword by Julian Bond
Michael O’Brien has written a detailed history and fascinating study of one of the iconic moments of the modern civil rights movement and the powerful effect it had. The 1963 sit-in at a Jackson, Mississippi, Woolworth’s lunch counter was captured by a local photographer, as were many other demonstrations, but this one captured the imagination as no other did. The photograph, taken three years after the modern civil rights movement was stirred into action by a similar sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina, and decades after similar protests in the 1950s, 1940s, and earlier, had greater significance and carried greater weight than those that went before.
Chapter 1: Medgar’s Mississippi
Excerpt: Tougaloo College
It is nearly ten miles from the old capitol in downtown Jackson to Tougaloo College, just outside the city limits to the north. State Street, which runs perpendicular to Capitol Street, leads directly there. Tougaloo is one of America’s approximately one hundred surviving historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). Distinctive double-arched wrought-iron gates stand guard at its main entrance. Between the words “Tougaloo College” on the large arch, an ornamental cross indicates the school’s religious foundations. The second, smaller arch, carries the acronyms “AMA” and “UCMS,” additional clues to the college’s rich history.
Chapter 2: Some People in the Photograph
Excerpt: Joan Trumpauer’s Mississippi Prison Experience
Once the original cadre of NAG members had left for the Freedom Rides, Trumpauer closed up shop and joined them. By that point, the riders had moved on from Alabama and were being arrested en masse in Jackson, Mississippi. Trumpauer and her group hatched a new
strategy. Rather than taking a bus, they were flown to New Orleans—where the original rides were to have ended—and then took the train to Jackson, integrating another public interstate transportation facility in the process. Trumpauer and her retinue, which included the activist Stokely Carmichael, entered Mississippi on June 8, 1961.
Chapter 3: Others at the Counter
Excerpt: Memphis Norman’s Early Life
By the time the camera clicked the now-famous photograph, he was already absent from the scene, no longer quietly sitting hunched over the lunch counter between the two classmates he had accompanied there. He had become the demonstration’s first casualty—the first to shed blood for what was escalating into a war in the Magnolia State’s capital city.
Memphis Norman traveled a road of extreme deprivation to voluntarily place himself in such deadly danger—to “make my contribution,” as he put it. He would later participate in another controversial war, fought on foreign shores, but he would always contend that he got his first and most fearsome dose of human brutality in his home state down at the local five-and-dime.
Chapter 4: Others at the Scene
Excerpt: The Police – Captain John Lee Ray
Captain Ray himself was a native of Mississippi and had grown up in Jackson; he even graduated from Central High School in 1937. Ray joined the Jackson police force in 1941, then quickly joined the navy when the U.S. entered World War II. After serving three years, Ray was honorably discharged and was back on the beat, working in a squad car and eventually covering and getting to know every nook and cranny of the city of Jackson. Known for his hard work and dedication, Ray earned only about a hundred dollars a month and worked twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. Until serious illness struck in 1965, Ray never missed a day of work. Thanks in large part to that kind of commitment to his job, Ray was put on the fast track to the upper echelon of the force, first making desk sergeant in 1950, then lieutenant two years later. In 1956 he was promoted to captain, a managerial position that oversaw the day-to-day duties of some of the uniformed policemen.
Chapter 6: The Beginning of Change in Mississippi
Excerpt: The Morning of the Sit-In
Pearlena Lewis didn’t sleep very well the night before the sit-in. Her feelings were a jumble: somewhat anxious though also excited, Lewis felt honored that, despite her youth, Medgar Evers had chosen her for a key role in the demonstration. She awoke early and gave her family no warning of what she was about to do; she had told Evers she felt “of age to make [this] decision myself.” She had gotten her hair done the day before and decided to wear a simple blue and white knit outfit: “nice, but not overly dressed,” she recalled. (In the early 1960s, students still dressed up for civil rights demonstrations to show their respectability.) Lewis left the house early and joined Evers and Lillian Louie at the NAACP offices adjacent to the MasonicTemple.
Chapter 8: The Death of Medgar Evers
Excerpt: Extreme Danger for Evers and his Family
It is difficult now to comprehend just how harsh and brutal Mississippi’s racial war had become in the early 1960s. State-sponsored terrorism, as some have called it, was a way of life, and no one felt the jagged edge of that terror more acutely than did Medgar Evers and his family. Evers would get regular threats by phone at his office. “It just became a routine thing,” remembered
his office assistant Lillian Louie. “[Being] physically threatened was just a daily thing.”
Myrlie Evers intercepted similar calls at home and came in for a fair share of contempt herself. “Black bitch,” one anonymous caller venomously spat. “You got another one of them niggers in your belly?” The Everses regularly received threats to blow up the house or the
office, or to kill Medgar straight out. “We lived in terror,” Myrlie said, particularly after the James Meredith victory at Ole Miss, for which Evers and the NAACP had played such pivotal and visible roles.
Chapter 10: The Next Steps
Excerpt: The March on Washington
The most significant event on the national civil rights stage that year was the enormous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Many of the Jackson Movement activists participated.
One of these was Pearlena Lewis, who had taken a leave of absence from Tougaloo in the spring of 1963 to focus on her role as president of the North Jackson Youth Council and later as co-chair of the Jackson Movement strategy committee. Although she had intended to return to school the following fall, the loss of Evers and other events of early summer convinced Lewis that activism should take precedence over education for a time. She dropped out of Tougaloo and took John Salter’s place as advisor to the youth council, working mostly on the boycott and voter registration.
Chapter 11: Veterans of Domestic Wars
Excerpt: Honoring Our Veterans
WORLD WAR II
JUL 2 1925
JUN 12 1963
Medgar Evers is buried on the edge of a small oak grove, just inside the north gate of Arlington Cemetery, the one directly opposite the Lincoln Memorial. The solitary grave site is easy to find. Visitors entering the north gate need go only about a hundred paces up a slight hill, past a tall ivy-covered arbor on the right, to a flight of concrete stairs. There, down about two dozen steps and to the right is where the fallen hero was laid to rest.
In this quiet spot, the general of the nonviolent Jackson Movement was buried after his shockingly violent death. Three rounds of gun blasts and the sorrowful sound of taps sent his spirit on while his wife, children, and brother just stared into the emptiness that had been shot
through their lives.2 It was a veteran’s funeral, one that Evers had earned on the battlefields of France in World War II. But he deserved this honor just as much for his heroic efforts in another conflict as well: America’s domestic war of freedom by and for its own citizens.
Excerpt: An Image for the Ages
When he took the photograph that would propel him into the history books, Fred Blackwell was just twenty-two years old, the same age as some of the demonstrators at the counter, but he had already worked for the Jackson Daily News for more than a year. The newspaper’s editor, Jimmy Ward, had offered young Blackwell a job when at age fourteen he was named “Paper Boy of the Year.” “When you finish high school,” Ward told him, “come on back and we’ll put you to work.” The idea stuck in the teen’s imagination, and he would eventually take Ward up on his offer after pursuing another boyhood dream—serving in the U.S. National Guard.
About the Author
It was while visiting the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 that M. J. O’Brien conceived the work that has become We Shall Not Be Moved. As part of its civil rights display, the King Center showed a photograph of the 1963 Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in—a photograph that has become the image used in history books and magazine articles to show what a sit-in was like. O’Brien was captivated by the photograph because at its center was a woman, Joan (Trumpauer)Mulholland, whom he had known for a number of years.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a labor of love. Primarily created in the late 1990s and finally brought to life through the auspices of the University Press of Mississippi, it is a story of triumph and determination that was captured by the now-iconic Fred Blackwell photograph. Although its publication was delayed (as told in Acknowledgements), timing is everything. The book was supposed to be published in 1999, but for a variety of reasons, it is only reaching a broader public today. And that is as it should be. We are on the cusp of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In (May 28, 1963) and the courageous souls who decided, one-by-one , to sit in at the counter that day are being recognized for their contribution to the overall civil rights struggle.