Why is the state of Mississippi so blasé about its number of unsolved murders?
by Charlie Leck
Sunday night, Sixty Minutes did a feature on a murder that was committed in Amite County, down in Mississippi, nearly 50 years ago. No one was ever arrested. [You can watch a replay of the show here!]
The victim was Louis Allen. It was a cold blooded, merciless killing of a black man who was seeking justice in another murder that he had witnessed in 1961. The local law-enforcement authorities down there, meaning the County Sheriff, just wanted Mr. Allen to keep his mouth shut, but the man had a conscience and he couldn’t.
Why had it taken so long for Louis Allen to speak up? Well, that’s what I hated about Mississippi in 1964 and what still stinks so terribly inside me even five decades later. People in Mississippi keep telling me to stop being such a hypocrite because racism and racial inequality was just as real in the North as it was in Mississippi. No! It wasn’t! It wasn’t at all! Black people didn’t have to be afraid of ignorant, hateful men, wearing hooded, white robes, showing up in their yards on a dark night with torches and a hangman’s noose. Mississippi was a brutal, hateful, miserable place and I hated everything about it. Back then most white people didn’t even regard it as a crime to kill a black man. That doesn’t mean they thought it ought to happen all the time, but, when it did, it was just better to look the other way and disregard the incident. That what all the white people did after Mr. Allen was murdered – they just looked the other way.
Louis Allen kept quiet about the murder he witnessed because he knew what was going to happen to him when he spoke the truth.
On a dark, cold, January night in 1964 they killed Louis Allen – blew him open with a shot gun as he got out of his pickup to open the gate onto his property. Most everybody is sure it was Deputy Sheriff Daniel Jones who committed the murder.
“If he didn’t do it,” Louis Allen’s son told Sixty Minutes, “he was the entrepreneur of it!”
What you’ll see in watching the video is that mum is still the word; that is, it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, better to get on and not look back, better to let a murderer get away with it.
I wish I had taken more photographs in the black neighborhoods of Canton when I visited a couple of years ago. Had I, I could show them to you right here. But, I didn’t what to put people on display and make them feel uneasy, so I left the camera tucked away.
In the very same neighborhood in which I lived and worked during that summer of 1964, things hadn’t changed. The conditions were still awful and the level of poverty among black people was still shameful.
Mississippi haunts me and will for the rest of my life. How many, many innocent people died by violence – shamelessly murdered by the Klan – and no one has ever tried very hard to bring the killers to justice! A number of good people and organizations still seek such justice. I admire them, but I understand the realities, too. Time is running out quickly!
I’ll get all kinds of messages now from people who’ll argue it is just as bad up there in Minnesota. The plain, fact-of-the-matter is that it is not. Here citizens would not shut up. Here law enforcement would genuinely probe and investigate. Here perpetrators would be brought to justice.
It’s a sad story about Louis Allen; however, it’s only one of dozens of stories just like it. Mississippi should have tried to remove the stain, but it has not.
“Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say! One – two – why, then ‘tis time to do’t. Hell is murky.
[William Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1]
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