John Howell Sr. editorial 5/30/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2014

Freedom Summer workers to reunite at Panola event

Plans have come together for a June 23 and 24 reunion of Freedom Summer volunteers who came to Panola County in 1964 and after to encourage black citizens to register to vote and to exercise the full range of other Constitutionally-protected rights and privileges guaranteed in theory but so effectively denied by the all-pervasive system of segregation then practiced in Mississippi.

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That Panola County was among several Mississippi counties targeted for voter registration that summer was no accident. Then Circuit Clerk Lynn Duke and his successor, Ike Shankle, had been ordered to cease obstructing black voter registration by no less authority than the Fifth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The order from the Appeals Court followed a lengthy battle that had begun when a handful of the county’s black citizens, World War II veterans among them, had the audacity to file a lawsuit, seeking the same voting enfranchisement privileges afforded white citizens of the county, veterans and non-veterans alike. 

The impetus of that court order was not lost on the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and by late June volunteers for that Freedom Summer project began trickling in to Panola County where the first arrivals would be greeted by the late Robert Miles Sr., one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Miles and his family home on Tubbs Road would become something of a lightning rod for violent reaction against his work to register his fellow citizens as voters. Shots were fired. A tear gas bomb was thrown through the front window. The harassment became so regular and predictable that the Miles family abandoned their two front bedrooms on the front of the house and boarded up the windows, Miles told me during a 1984 interview.

Those stories and others will no doubt be recalled at the June Panola reunion, prequel to a statewide reunion of former volunteers in Jackson that will start on Wednesday, June 25. More than a dozen have indicated they plan to attend the local event coordinated by Arrece Webb, Alice Pierotti and others.

The Summer of 1964 will also be featured in Blast from the Past, starting with the June 6 edition. A series of stories published in this newspaper in 1984 at the 20th anniversary will be reprinted in weeks leading to the Panola reunion.

Which brings to mind Tuesday’s election, the first in Mississippi where voters are required to show proper identification before voting. I’ve remained somewhat ambivalent about the voter ID issue. It has become a hot-button touchstone for both sides, and I think that both sides exaggerate.

I doubt that election fraud exists — at least fraud where one person poses as another at the polls — to the extent that voter ID proponents believe. And I doubt that presenting some sort of identification at the polling place will prove to be the obstacle to voting that voter ID opponents think it will be.

After all, you have to present an ID to cash a check, to board a commercial airline, to do this, that, the other, ad nauseum. 

But from way back in memory I recall something similar then said often about the two dollar poll tax: “Anybody can pay that.”

Just saying.