Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Justice Delayed, Justice Denied

Rick Farrant has a fascinating feature in today's JG on George Smith Jr., a Fort Wayne resident who was a co-worker of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman in Meridian, Mississippi when they were ambushed and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. (Yesterday former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter for his involvement in those murders.) Here's an excerpt:
And so, George Smith Jr. pushed forth for the sake of equality, and his journey fans out in the mementos he’s kept from that long Mississippi summer.

There’s the newspaper picture of him marching in Shubuta, Miss., with the Rev. J.C. Killingsworth and the accompanying words Smith spoke to white residents along the way: “We’re not old Black Joe now, we’re new Black Joe. We’re not going to hang our heads low any longer.”

A short time later, state police moved in and beat the 50 marchers.

There’s also a picture of Smith sitting in an empty Sadak’s Sandwich Shop in Meridian after he and two other CORE workers entered to test the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The white patrons walked out and, after the photograph was snapped, the restaurant’s manager approached the workers.

“We don’t serve niggers in here,” Smith recalled the manager said.

“Well,” Smith said, “I don’t eat niggers. I want a steak dinner.”

The manager pushed Smith to the ground and spit on him, CORE filed a complaint and the U.S. Department of Justice concurred that the restaurant had acted inappropriately.

Smith has the letter from the Justice Department. He also has the Western Union Telegram he sent to FBI Agent Roy K. Moore when Moore was considering an invitation to speak in Meridian.

“The Lamar Hotel in Meridian, Miss., at which you will be speaking Tuesday, discriminates against members of the Negro race,” the telegram said. “Strongly suggest that you refuse the invitation to speak. Copy of this telegram sent to J. Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C.”

It ended: “George Smith.”

His name also appears on the makeshift program used for a memorial service for the slain civil rights workers in Philadelphia. Smith spoke on behalf of Chaney that day.

“He was a very, very good friend,” Smith said.

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