Monday, June 15, 2015

March 26, 1944: Isaac Simmons

Today we learn about one of the two lynchings that occurred in 1944, according to the Tuskegee Institute, through the pages of The New York Age (New York, N. Y.0 dated September 2, 1944:


MINISTER LYNCHED

LAST week's paper revealed for the first time a particularly vicious lynching of a 66-year-old minister last March in Amite County, Miss., because he had hired a lawyer to safeguard his title to a 220-acre debt-free farm. All lynchings are vicious, but the circumstances surrounding this particular lynching are such that it must be marked down as one of the most heinous crimes that have seen the spotlight of publicity.

The victim, Rev. Isaac Simmons was going peacefully about his business, running his farm, and ministering to the needs of his congregation. There had never been an instance of him having any trouble with anyone. But rumor soon spread throughout the county that there might be oil on the land Rev. Simmons owned. Greedy and envious whites then resorted to all sorts of subterfuges in an attempt to gain possession of his land. It was then that they discovered that Rev. Simmons was smart enough to have taken extra precautions to safeguard his interests; he had retained legal services and was prepared for any eventuality.

The dramatic story of the lynching was sent to the NAACP by Elridge Simmons, son of the lynched minister, who was driven away from the county after his father was killed. The NAACP has asked Governor Thomas L. Bailey, of Mississippi, to investigate the crime and has also asked United States Attorney General Francis Biddle to examine the case because of the possibility that Federal conspiracy statutes have been violated.

Describing the lynching, Elridge Simmons, said that around noon on March 26, 1944, a group of white men whom he named came to his house and asked if he knew how the property line ran. When he said he did, the men ordered him to show them. He got into a car with the men and they drove about a quarter of a mile from the minister's house. Both he and his father were called "smart niggers" for going to see a lawyer. The car stopped and three of the men got out and walked to Rev. Simmons' house. A short time later the son said he saw his father being walked to the car with a man on either side and another in the back. The man in the back, he said, kicked and punched at his father.

When the trio reached the car with the minister, they all got in and the car drove off. A short distance later, the car stopped and some of the men got out and told the minister to follow. The minister got out of the car and started to run. One of the men leveled a shotgun and fired twice at the minister. Several of the men followed him and the son who was obliged to remain in the car heard shooting in the distance.

Finally, all of the men returned to the car and told the minister's son that they were going to let him go but that he better not know anything about what had just taken place. They gave him ten days to get off the land and to clear off all his tenants. When he was finally put out of the car, the minister's son said he was bloody, ragged and half-blind from the brutal beatings he had received.

A searching party was organized and went to look for the minister. His body was found in the thickets. He had been shot three times in the back and his arm was broken. Nearly all of his teeth had been knocked out and his tongue was cut out.

The constable and high sheriff were called and after an inquest they gave the verdict that the minister had met his death at the hands of unknown parties, despite the fact that his assailants were known by name and their identities disclosed by his son.

The brutal lynching , and the gross callousness of the local officials, are a travesty on justice. The NAACP should push the case to the utmost and insist on action by Mississippi authorities and if thwarted they should then insist on action by the Federal government.


The next article is found in the November 4, 1944 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania):

Mississippi Indicts Six; Trial Starts This Week

JURY HEARS DETAILS OF REVOLTING MOB ACTION

NATCHEZ, Miss.—The cases of six Mississippi white men, charged with the murder of a 65-year0old minister, Isaac Simmons, on March 26 of this year, was called in the circuit court of Amite county at Liberty, Miss., Monday of this week, but trial was not started until Wednesday.

The accused men, all from Liberty, are Harper Dawson, his two sons, Roger and Mann Dawson, Noble and Norville Ryder and John Brown. They were indicted by the Amite county grand jury for a crime which Attorney General Francis Biddle called "particularly revolting" and which resulted in an investigation by the FBI. Records of this investigation were placed in the hands of District Attorney Joseph E. Brown, whose home is in Natchez, and members of the FBI also testified before the grand jury.

Also testifying before the grand jury were relatives  of the slain man who had previously been reported "missing." The witnesses, including Eldridge Simmons, son of the murdered minister, were brought to the hearing from nearby states to which they had fled following the outrage. The district attorney arranged official protection for them during the grand jury session.

District Attorney Brown stated that he would insist on a special venire [sic] and would make every effort to speed the trial of the case.

"BRUTAL, REVOLTING MURDER"

"This," said the District Attorney, "is not a case of mob violence or a lynching, it was murder of a most brutal and revolting type and the state will rely not only on strong circumstantial evidence but that given by eye witnesses."

When arraigned before Judge R. E. Bennett following their indictment, all of the defendants pleaded innocent and were placed under bonds of $3,000 each to await trial.

GRANTED SEVERANCE

Attorneys for the defense asked for a severance in the trial of the six and this was granted by Judge Bennett, since such action is mandatory under Mississippi law. As a result, only one of the six was to go on trial at the starting of the cases scheduled Wednesday.

No indication has been given by District Attorney Brown as to which person this will be. In this connection he said:  "It will be the one against whom the state considers it has the strongest evidence." Should the trial of this person result in an acquittal a motion for the dismissal of charges against the others would in all probability be presented.

DISPUTED FARM OWNERSHIP

It is charged by the state that the murder of Isaac Simmons and the assault on his son, Eldridge, who was forced to flee from the community, was the result of a dispute over the ownership of the small farm of Simmons. It appears that Simmons failed to pay taxes on the tract of land which had some timber upon it, and it was bid in at a sheriff's sale for the amount of the taxes by the Dawsons who conducted timber operations on a small scale in the county, It is alleged that necessary court action to perfect title was not taken by the Dawsons.


We learn about the verdict from The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, Mississippi) dated November 5, 1944:

Rider Acquitted Of Murder Charge In Amite County

LIBERTY (AP)—Noble  Rider, 33, was acquitted Friday night of a murder charge in connection with the slaying of a negro preacher and District Attorney Joe E. Brown indicted that there was some doubt that five other white men charged in the slaying would be tried.

Following the jury's verdict, Brown said that he brought Rider to trial first because he believed he had the strongest case against the 33-year-old farmer.

Rider and the five others were indicted for the slaying of Isaac Simmons, aged negro preacher-herb doctor, near here in what the state charged was a dispute over the ownership of a small farm.

Testimony during Rider's two-day trial was that Simmons was shot in the back by one of six white men who carried him off in his automobile. Defense witnesses testified that Rider and his brother, Narville Rider, another defendant, left Gloster on the day of the slaying about noon, which other testimony said was about the time Simmons was shot.

During closing arguments defense attorneys Gordon Roach and Burt Jones declared the question was whether to believe the testimony of the slain man's son or that of several white witnesses.

"If we believe the son and that the white men lied," Jones said, "we might as well send word to the National Association of Colored that we are ready for complete equality."

District Attorney Brown asked the jury to disregard "all appeals to prejudice," and asserted that "white leadership can not be  founded on brutality."

During the trial Federal Bureau of Investigations testified that they had investigated the slaying on orders of their department. Besides Simmons['] son, Eldredge, other witnesses included members of the coroners jury and other citizens of Amite county.

Attorney General Francis Biddle announced in Washington several weeks ago that he had ordered results of the FBI investigation turned over to the Amite county grand jury which subsequently returned indictments against the six white men.


I didn't find anything else, so my guess is the other men never went to trial. I read several articles and chose the ones which gave the fullest coverage. One thing not fully  covered by any of the articles was the fact that 200 acres were put up in the sheriff's sale and that Simmons farmed and lived on the remaining 25 acres. Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.

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