A wonderful day in Jackson - I wanted to share the article written by the gifted Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, who invited my wife and me to visit him at the paper this morning:
Gordon Martin Jr. has plenty of stories to tell about fighting to help Americans win the right to vote.
Martin lived through those days, and now he has a new book on the subject, Count Them One by One: Black Mississippians Fighting for the Right to Vote.
He is signing books at 5 p.m. today (Wednesday, Oct. 27) at Lemuria Books, followed by a reading. He will sign books at 5:45 p.m. Thursday at Square Books in Oxford.
In 1961, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its first voting rights cases against Mississippi counties where people had been turned away from voting.
One of those was Forrest County, where Circuit Clerk Theron Lynd did all he could to keep African Americans off the voting rolls. Lynd took advantage of the many tools set up by law — poll taxes, literacy tests and a clerk-given test to read and interpret a section of Mississippi’s Constitution.
“It was very clear his role was to keep down the number of registered blacks,” Martin recalled. He was a part of the Justice Department team that took Lynn to court. Martin prepared 16 courageous black witnesses who had been refused registration, found white witnesses, and was one of the lawyers during the trial.
In 1962, the department won a court order against Lynd, and it wasn’t long before he was disobeying it, Martin said. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Lynd in civil contempt, and he finally had to give in after the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act, Martin said. In the years that followed, the work by the Justice Department as well as those laboring in the civil rights movement bore fruit. In 1964, only 6.7 percent of voting-age black Mississippians were registered to vote. Before the decade ended, that number had topped 66 percent.