Interview with Hodding Carter III


Hodding Carter III:

Again, I think that the headline in the Jackson-Clarion ledger following the murder of Medgar Evers said as much as needed to be said about much of the white reaction. The headline was, "Californian Kills Civil Rights Leader" or "Californian Kills Evers" or "Californian Kills" something. As an accident of time and birth his killer was, at the time of his birth, and his mother who was visiting in California—he was a several generation Mississippian who was very proud of being a Mississippian, but the headline carefully tried to separate him from the killing. In any case, what did it do? On the white side, the general reaction to that was what it was going to be later about the reaction to Kennedy's assassination in November of that year: he had it coming. If he didn't want to get killed, he shouldn't have been messing around in the areas he was messing around in. That was the general white reaction. There were those, and the stirring, starting with ‘62 and Ole Miss were beginning, there were those who were saying we can't go on like this. We cannot have this kind of violence. We cannot be in such total opposition to the norms of this country, but they were still in the minority in the white community. On the black side, one of the great pictures is of John Doar, a very brave man, putting himself between a black memorial and protest march in honor of Evers, coming down a street in Jackson, putting himself between that marching group and a group of white police whose one intention was to mow them down, and somehow bringing down what would have been a massacre, and diffusing it on the spot. I mean it wasn't the only time John was brave but it was the most extraordinary piece of physical courage by a federal official of that time. It was another one of those energizing horrors for the black community. Now you understand that's against the context that the kids had already begun to show the way, pardon me, that was in the context in which kids had already begun to show the way in a good part of the South. That was in the context that the Freedom Riders had come and gone to Mississippi. But that was in the context of Ole Miss. That was in the context of a national administration which had been wrenched finally into saying that civil rights legislation was going to be a necessity. The Kennedy administration did not exactly rush head first into supporting civil rights legislation, but by '63 it was clear, even to the most reluctant in that administration, that there was going to have to be legislation.