American Reckoning: The Boycott (Excerpt)Watch the video
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: The Black community, they are out by the hundreds to demonstrate and protest, and they have these demands that they’re giving to the city council and the mayor.
CHARLES EVERS: They’re very simple. We have 12 of them. End police brutality. Denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Desegregate all public facilities and public accommodations. Hire Negroes in all the downtown stores. We’re going to continue to protest until we get some of our requests.
This is what we want. We want to know, what can you do about them? That’s what I thought.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I think one important area that we’re forgetting and that’s the equal distribution of tax funds, which are public funds.
AKINYELE UMOJA: When the negotiating group was selected by Charles Evers, he only selected Black males. They ignored the contributions of Black women.
JESSIE BERNARD WILLIAMS: See, very honestly it’s these ladies, it’s people like Mrs. Duncan, Mrs. Jackson. They are the people who are really getting the job done around here.
CHARLES EVERS: No, you got the wrong information. It’s not who gets the job done. It’s the one who can represent you down there.
JESSIE BERNARD WILLIAMS: Now OK, nobody was being arrested out on the picket line, and the men—the ladies were the ones who fought off those dogs. Well, then!
MALE SPEAKER: This is a Declaration of the Negro Citizens of Natchez, Mississippi. The United States—
FEMALE SPEAKER: The mayor rejected all of the demands.
MALE SPEAKER: The announcement is that the city has rejected every one of these demands! Rejected every one!
MALE NEWSREADER: Here is a news bulletin from WNAT. The mayor and board of aldermen of the city of Natchez, at a special meeting this afternoon, has taken strong action to preserve peace and order in Natchez by passing a resolution invoking a citywide curfew.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: To try to prevent demonstrations and marches, the governor called in the National Guard.
CHARLES EVERS: You tell the good mayor that I said he can get all that injunction, conjunction and some junction he want to get, [laughter] we’re not going to spend our money with them anymore until he hires people and give them decent jobs and recognize them as individuals and human beings.
We decided we’re going to boycott every white store in Natchez.
MALE REPORTER: Downtown Natchez is under a strict boycott by nearly half the population. The boycott began when the Negroes failed to get their 12 demands from city officials.
CHARLES EVERS: The mayor at the time had a whole shopping center, Mayor Nosser. We shut his whole damn shopping center down.
JAMES STOKES: Keep the white man’s dollar out of his pocket, and you can control him, instead of him controlling you.
CHERYL GLOVER: You would walk down the little downtown area and the storekeepers, they’ve got comments. “I’ve always been good to you.” This would be the kind of statements, and they couldn’t understand it.
MALE REPORTER: Mrs. Meryl Shote has run a dress shop in Natchez for 27 years. So how would you assess the effect of the boycott on your store?
MERYL SHOTE: Well, they haven’t boycotted me, they only boycotted Natchez, and when they did that, well, we all are suffering.
TONY BYRNE: Having a family department store that was owned by my mother and two uncles, we all wondered why we were picked on.
JESSIE BERNARD WILLIAMS: I want every man in here to stand up. Every man. If the children can walk the line, you can protect them.
WHARLEST JACKSON JR.: My mother and father told me the stores that they were boycotting. “We don’t want you to go in there. We don’t want you to spend your money in there.” As a boy, I didn’t quite understand it then.
MALE REPORTER: The Negroes meet nightly to work on enforcing the boycott until the whites give in or cave in.
CHARLES EVERS: We mean don’t break our boycott. We’re not talking to whites, we’re talking to Negroes, our folk. We have a right to discipline our people.
A lot of Blacks gonna ignore us. This is for your freedom. There was one old preacher, “You don’t tell me where I can shop.” I said, “Get him.”
Deacons for Defense was our security force, our enforcers.
AKINYELE UMOJA: These enforcer squads would punish people who were going to break a boycott.
JANICE JACKSON (DAUGHTER OF JAMES JACKSON): James Jackson, a lot of people feared him. I remember a lot of people feared him. They said, you know, he was a big man, and they did not mess with Big Jack. That’s what they called him, Big Jack.
JAMES JACKSON: Everyday I’ll [inaudible].
JANICE JACKSON: A lot of them went to jail back then, I remember.
CHARLES EVERS: The whites just weren’t going to give in. Come on with it, then. You know what we want.
TEXT ON SCREEN: One month after the Metcalfe bombing
CHARLES EVERS: Now we’re in a serious business. We’re out fighting for the things we’ve been denied so long. The First Amendment give us the right to peacefully protest anything that we think is wrong. Now we’re going to do that. We’re going to march in this city until the mayor and the board of aldermen and the rest of those who have been keeping us down so long open the doors to all the people. How many of y’all going with me tonight? Stand up, how many going with me?
DENISE JACKSON FORD: My mama, she used to say my dad asked her not to go to the march. But she was one of the ones, she went anyway.
My mom was just like my daddy. Hardheaded. “I’m going to do what I need to do to help this community.”
CHARLES EVERS: Keep going, don’t gang up, now. Keep going, will you. Keep going.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: There are these marches at night that are taking place. Three hundred marchers are arrested for parading without a permit.
J.T. ROBINSON (CHIEF OF POLICE, NATCHEZ): I’m the chief of police, J.T. Robinson. If you don’t disperse and go home, I will have to put you under arrest, parading without a permit, which is in violation of the city ordinance.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: There’s another attempt to march. A hundred and fifty are arrested. And then yet another march is attempted.
EXERLENA JACKSON: We walked about a block before the police stopped us. They had buses, come in and picked us up and took us to Parchman, Mississippi.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: Once they’re at Parchman, it’s cold, they were stripped naked, they were given a laxative.
EXERLENA JACKSON: They made us all drink about a eight-ounce glass full. They said, “Well, you going to drink this medicine or else get beat to death.”
WHARLEST JACKSON JR.: No toilet paper was given to them, nothing like that. They sprayed water on them in the cells so they froze.
EXERLENA JACKSON: They put eight of us my size in one cell. We were there all that night, hearing the people moaning, sick, asking for help.
WHARLEST JACKSON JR.: It was torture to the highest extent.
RICHARD “DIP” LEWIS: I went up there, me and the other two Deacons, we hung around on our side of Parchman, trying to peep in and see what was going on. Well, you couldn’t see, because they had dogs running around, but we wanted to let them, let somebody let them know that we was there.
EXERLENA JACKSON: My husband made it there to get get me out, get several of us out, but so many of them was still left there. It was awful. It was awful.
MALE SPEAKER: They give us no explanation about why they taking our clothes. They just stripped us naked and said we were marching against good white people.
TONY BYRNE: After the article came out in the paper about the people being sent to Parchman, some of the guys I played tennis with asked me, said, “Did that really happen in Natchez?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s those pictures here in Natchez.”
STANLEY NELSON: I think most white people, to be honest, sort of turned the head the other way. “Maybe it’ll go away if we don’t say anything.”
AKINYELE UMOJA: In response to the boycott, six white businesses close within weeks. Christmas shopping season is coming up. The white commercial group convinces Mayor Nosser and the aldermen to negotiate.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: They surrender. They give in to the 12 demands.
TEXT ON SCREEN: Three months after the Metcalfe bombing
JOHN NOSSER (MAYOR, NATCHEZ): Well, to start with, I wouldn’t call them any concessions. I think it’s a matter of getting together and trying to solve our differences and agree on something.
SER CLIFFORD BOXLEY: By using armed resistance, Deacons for Defense and Justice, and enforcing that boycott, that wore down the Jim Crow white supremacy leadership and structure of Natchez.
CHARLES EVERS: I feel that this—I’ve been in many demonstrations and many protests, and I feel that this—if it’s carried through, and we hope it will be carried through—has been the greatest concessions that has been granted to any civil rights organization in any section of this country.
AKINYELE UMOJA: As a result of the agreement that was reached, 23 white-owned businesses agreed that they would hire Black employees. Six Black police officers were hired. Several public institutions were desegregated.
JAMES STOKES: It’s the best thing that ever could’ve happened.