When I wuz a kid, maybe the late 50's, my father subscribed to the Petal Paper, an radically liberal paper published by an heroic firebrand in Petal, MS
There was a hero.
In the following months, East unleashed a barrage of screwball satire to ridicule segregation, white supremacy, and massive resistance to integration. He advocated replacing the magnolia as the state symbol with the crawfish because the crawfish’s idea of progress was to move “backward toward the mud from which he came.” East lampooned Mississippi’s US senator James O. Eastland as “Our Jungle Gem.” One satirical editorial described St. Peter interrogating blacks at the entrance to heaven. Another editorial addressed to Bible Belt Brethren translated the King James Version of the Bible into the Dixiecrat tongue: “‘And he took the DIXIE CUPS, and gave thanks that they were SEPARATE BUT EQUAL, and said, Take this MINT JULEP and divide it among yourselves.’ Dixiecrat Luke 22:17.” East castigated the Citizens’ Councils and Ku Klux Klan as the “Bigger and Better Bigots Bureau.” A “news story” reprinted the text of a speech by the Honorable Jefferson D. Dixiecrat to the Mississippi Chapter of the Professional Southerners Club, extolling its progress in keeping blacks from voting.
The Petal Paper’s most legendary broadside took the form of a March 1956 full-page advertisement with a caricature of a mule proclaiming, “Yes, You too, can be SUPERIOR, Join the Glorious Citizens Clan Next Thursday Night!” For only five dollars, “Citizens Clan” members received ten freedoms, including “Freedom to yell ‘N——-’ as much as you please without your conscience bothering you!” and “Freedom to be superior without brain, character, or principle!” A note at the bottom of the page declared, “This Page in Behalf of Liberalism, Fairness and Progress Donated by The Petal Paper.” Known as the “jackass” advertisement, it was reprinted in the Reporter (March 1957) and Harper’s (January 1959) and by East’s account had appeared in all fifty states, Canada, Japan, Ireland, Australia, France, Italy, and Germany.
By November 1956 wholesale cancellations of local advertising and subscriptions left the Petal Paper struggling along on out-of-state subscriptions and donations. “Friends of P. D. East” mustered financial and moral support from Steve Allen, Harry Belafonte, Harry Golden, John Howard Griffin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, generating five thousand dollars in 1959. A year later, Louisville Courier-Journal editor Mark Ethridge, a native Mississippian who had encouraged East to write about race, remarked that “his paper is a hobby now rather than a business.” Royalties from East’s memoir provided a brief financial respite, but the Petal Paper, already appearing irregularly, continued only sporadically after East relocated to Fairhope, Alabama, in 1963 to escape threats and harassment. By 1968, he had accrued debts totaling twenty-five thousand dollars.
“The loner of the civil rights movement,” East died of liver failure in Fairhope on 31 December 1971. His memoir, The Magnolia Jungle: The Life, Times, and Education of a Southern Editor (1960), ended with a fitting epitaph: “His beloved Magnolia Jungle needed a path. It needed clearing. Let it be said of P. D. East: With his heart and his hatchet he hacked like hell!”
Once a year, my father would take our only vacation, a month long in the spring. It was the only time we left home (before the days of ADA, doing anything with my paralyzed mother was nearly impossible...we may have gone to a movie twice that I can remember)....and traveling with her required a real dog and pony show. Until maybe 1960, we drove (and after, before the days of jetways, carrying my mother up the stairs into a jet was an ordeal shared by my father and my young back). My father collected people and places then unheard of. When I was maybe 8 (1955), we went to Hilton Head before it was developed. Then twice to NOLO,, the French Quarter (which was then safe and a wonderful place for an 10-12 year old kid to wander around) and my father had been told of shotgun buildings with incredible hole-in-the-wall restaurants in addition to Antoines. They finally set upon Sanibel, also then undeveloped....and would sit on its then deserted beach and do nothing but watch the low waves roll in....what a bore for a kid of 12-13
But anyway, at one point our trip South took us through Petal, MS...I was maybe 10; I knew nothing of the Petal Paper and was my usual dumb, ingenuous, happy to see everything and everybody self (alas, that has never changed...I continue to put my foot in my mouth or elsewhere daily). After the genial attendant filled the tank, checked the oil and the batt'ry water, my father paid him and asked for directions to Mr. East. The attendant became still and cold, boiling dry ice gas all but rolled off of him. 'I wouldn't rightly know' was all my father got out of him. And we left. I have few memories of my childhood, but that made a lasting impression, Years later, I was reminded of it in Driving Miss Daisy, in that scene where they take a stop by the side of the road and two state cops appear like outriders from Hell...one second there are just there, and the menace boils off of them. I meet these people who says the South has changed. Maybe so in the cities, but but ugly runs deep in the bones in the rural South
I grew up in a liberal, free-thinking (for the KY) household. My paralyzed mother was a Smith grad and the mentor of my intellect...and leanings. I saw in her disability and the courage and spirit to transcend it. Politics were important in the house. I can recall being 11 or 12 and pushing my mother in her wheelchair to the local polling place, luckily 2 blocks away, going into the voting machine with here, pulling the lever that closed the curtain, voting as she told me, and pull the lever again to cast the vote and open the curtains.
And my mother and I were Gene McCarthy delegates to the KY State Democratic convention....but KY is a winner take all state, so all KY national delegates went to Humphrey, the poor betrayed man. And McCarthy, because he couldn't bring himself to destroy HH, let the progressive agenda slid into the dumpster, again.
When I was a kid growing up in Louisville, KY, we had black help. My mother was almost completely paralyzed and my father was an eye surgeon. Our family only worked because of the kind-hearted, substantial and committed help of Queen Esther ('Queenie') Williams (who ran the house), Willie Mae Fuqua (who did the laundry). On occasion, Sam Thompson would stop by to wax the floor or rake and burn the leaves in the autumn.
Sam was a target for the local (white) police...perhaps because they learned that it was 'fun' to push his button...they would lean on him until stood up for himself, then they would throw him in jail for a week or two and fine him $10 on some bullshit pretext.
I don't know that things got physical with the police...Louisville was hardly the deep South, where a black man who stood up for himself was in physical and mortal danger. But there was no recourse for Sam, because the Kentucky Constitution doesn't allow appeals for cases with 'trifling' penalties. So this was all a game for the police: 'Hey. there's Thompson!'....and they did this time and again over the years; by the time I was 13, Sam had been thus abused more than 50 times....so my father got Sam in touch with a family friend, Louis Lusky, for recourse. Lusky had clerked at SCOTUS and involved with the KCLU.
Regarding the matter of this arrest, Sam had been in a (black) bar waiting for the bus out of the cold. He had bought and paid for some food, the proprietor said he was welcome to be there, and Sam was sitting on a stool tapping his foot in time to the music on the juke box. The white police came in and did their usual number, and Sam was charged, fined and put in jail for dancing (shuffling his foot) in an establishment without a dancing permit.
The local lawyers laughingly asked Louis if he was going to make a federal case out of it, seeing as how there was no recourse in the Kentucky judicial system, but that's what he did: straight to the Supreme Court of the United States where the attorney defending the City action got his ass handed to him. And the police left Sam alone after that.
Would to God we had a Supreme Court that cared about civil rights and the common man now; Sam's case was heard by the fabled Warren court from which we have fallen so far.
An excellent Reader's Digest article on the case with plenty of context and some words from Sam. I think, reading this piece, you'll be struck by the resonance with BLM and how little has changed, how stubbornly rooted racism is.
The legal precis of the case are here
You can even hear recording of the SCOTUS questioning.....