Published: June 8, 2020
By: Bailey Williams, LSU Manship School News Service
On a July night in Jonesboro, Louisiana, in 1964, the rumble of engines encroached on a quiet, black neighborhood then known as “The Quarters.” As residents stepped out onto their porches, they observed a line of cars—maybe 50 in all—with two to four men in each vehicle, their faces covered by white hoods.
As the Ku Klux Klan motorcade, lit up by the assistant chief of police car in front, paraded through the neighborhood, the intruders jeered and cursed. In their wake, sheets of paper fluttered through the air before settling onto the unpaved road. Alarmed parents instructed their children to stay inside and away from windows.
Once the cars moved on, neighbors gathered the litter from the streets. The KKK leaflets threatened retaliation if African-Americans engaged with the Congress of Racial Equality, CORE, a civil rights group that assisted black communities with voter registration and integration of public facilities.
A mill town in Jackson Parish, Jonesboro is located at the center of north Louisiana. Its economy a half-century ago was fueled by the timber industry, paper and sawmills, as well as a canning company. In 1964, as Jackson Parish native Jimmie Davis completed his final term as governor, the parish population stood at about 16,000. Over a fourth of the residents lived in Jonesboro. The town was founded during the Civil War, and in the years afterward the Jim Crow mentality was firmly established.
CORE arrived in Jonesboro earlier in this “Freedom Summer” of 1964. The activists busied themselves organizing voter registration drives from within the confines of black churches. They also joined demonstrations to desegregate public accommodations, such as the restaurants and the community swimming pool. CORE’s presence, as well as the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, moved racial tensions to a new height.
Alarmed by the motor parade and the threat against CORE, black residents ran back to their homes to retrieve their shotguns and pistols. Some stayed behind to defend their property, while another group headed to the Freedom House, CORE’s lodging, and stood guard until daylight. The Klansmen did not return that night.
Klansmen were wrong to think their motorcade and threats would cower the black community. Instead, hundreds of black residents crammed wall-to-wall onto the second floor of their Masonic Hall building, the KKK leaflets clenched tight into their fists.
The cold hard facts were clear: If cops were supporting the Klan’s attempt to intimidate black neighborhoods, the citizens could only rely on themselves for protection.
Read more at Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting