Jackson, Mississippi. 1963.

America’s current debate on its multiracial present should benefit greatly from remembering a moment from its recent past.

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It was a photograph which was widely reprinted back then, but not much since; of the United States’ civil rights struggle in the 1960s and the 1970s, many iconic photos had been made, but only a handful conveys the scale of anger and hatred this photo captured on May 28, 1963.

Sitting at the whites-only counter at a Woolworth’s five-and-dime store in Jackson, Mississippi were three protestors (l. to r.): John Salter, Joan Trumpauer, and  Anne Moody. All three were from Tougaloo College, a historically black college which became a centre of activity for he civil rights movement in Mississippi during the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s. Salter, a Native American who later assumed the tribal name Hunter Bear Gray, taught sociology at the college, while two girls were students there. In fact, Trumpauer (soon to be Joan Mulholland) was one of two white students at Tougaloo.

The moment was captured by Jackson Daily News photographer Fred Blackwell, who stood atop the lunch counter to take pictures. In the photo, the trio’s peaceful sit-in to integrate the department store’s lunch counter was drowned out by the angry white-mob. The mob doused the trio in ketchup, mustard and sugar — an abuse that lasted for some three hours until the manager closed the counter for the day.

Take a good look at the young man pouring sugar over Trumpauer’s neatly coiffed hair, and then at the man smoking a cigarette, and at glaring eyes of the rest of the spectators. There were looks of anger, disdain, and apathy. Unsettlingly, they were not fighting some rearguard action for segregation. The majority of the mob were teenagers and students from nearby Central High School.

It has been over half-a-century since that sit-in. With a black president in the White House, America has indeed come a long way from those dark days, but many commentators often forget that there are many for which segregation and Jim Crow are memories, not history. For each heralded memory of marching with Dr. King at Selma, there is perhaps a hidden one of dousing sit-in girls with mustard. Misguided teens they might have been, but now many members of that mob are in their seventies. Do they still hold the beliefs they so vociferously displayed on that May afternoon fifty-two years ago? It is for them to answer — but America should ask such uncomfortable questions frequently if she hopes to become a ‘post-racial’ society.

Mississippi, Matt Herron

 

In 1965, at Jackson, Mississippi, Matt Herron took an iconic and ironic image from the civil rights era as a white policeman rips an American flag away from a young black boy, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Herron remembers the events that surrounded that World Press Photo prize wining photos:

The picture was taken at the side entrance to the Governor’s mansion on Capital Street in Jackson in the summer of 1965. The boy is Anthony Quinn, aged 5. His mother, Mrs. Ailene Quinn of McComb, Mississippi and her children were trying to see Governor Paul Johnson; they wanted to protest aganist the election of five Congressmen from districts where blacks were not allowed to vote. Refused admittance, they sat on the steps. The policeman struggling with Anthony is Mississippi Highway Patrolman Hughie Kohler. As Kohler attempted to confiscate the flag, Mrs. Quinn said: ‘Anthony, don’t let that man take your flag.’ Kohler went berserk, yanking Anthony off his feet.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”