I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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A short history of Civil Rights hoaxes, possibly part of an ongoing series


August 16, 1913:  Yes, there are people out there who believe that Leo Frank really did murder Mary Phagan and the charge of anti-semitism is a hoax.  Seriously.  This was of course a Southern-fried version of the blood libel, one of history’s most vile hoaxes.

After the October, 26, 1934 lynching of Claude Neal in Jackson County Florida, the local grand jury just had no idea who had done it, finding, he had died “at the hands of a small group of persons unknown to us.” as if folks in a small town didn’t know who might have been out there in that crowd helping along the lynching.  This sort of willed obliviousness was a standard part of southern lynchings (see Mack Parker, below).

September 3, 1955:  “On September 3, two days before a grand jury in Tallahatchie County would indict Bryant and Milam [for the murder of Emmett Till] on both murder and kidnapping charges, the County’s sheriff, H. C. Strider, made the surprising statement that he doubted the body pulled from the Tallahatchie River was that of Emmett Till.  Strider told reporters “the body looked more like that of a grown man instead of a young boy” and had probably been in the river “four or five days”–too long to have been the body of Till, abducted just three days earlier.  Strider expressed his opinion that Till “is still alive.”

May 7, 1959:  The good people of Pearl River County were not part of the mob who lynched Mack Parker, says Judge Dale to the newspapers.  Must have been outside agitators.  Of course, this was accompanied by the familiar actual hoax, perpetrated by the Jackson Daily News among others, that the lynch mob members would be brought to justice.  Instead, just a few months later and just up the road, they convicted an innocent man, Clyde Kennard, and sent him to prison because what he’d really done was try to integrate the University of Southern Miss.

In June of 1963, a couple of Greenwood police officers announced that Byron de la Beckwith could not possibly have been in Jackson to murder Charles Evers, because he was in Greenwood with them. Those murder charges: They were a hoax! The policemen testified in the two trials in the sixties, and one testified in the trial when Beckwith was convicted.

In June of 1964, when Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman disappeared but before the bodies were found, one of the favored responses by Southern racist politicians and newspapers was to pretend it was a hoax. Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson said, “they’re probably in Cuba.”

Here’s George Wallace on July 4, 1964, with a stem-winder of a speech asserting that the whole civil rights movement (and the Civil Rights Act of 1964) were “a fraud, a sham, and a hoax…”

April 2, 2007:  After the Bush administration had spent five years trying to crack down on “voting fraud,” a Justice Department study concludes that there just really isn’t voter fraud that amounts to anything.  There was nothing that we uncovered that suggested some sort of concerted effort to tilt the election,’ Richard G. Frohling, an assistant United States attorney in Milwaukee, said.  Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the Loyola Law School, agreed, saying: ‘If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a statewide election, that would be significant. But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent.’  In spite of this finding, of course, Republicans continue to seek ways to change voting rules to limit the franchise.

Note on updates:  Yes, there is a big jump from 1964 to 2007, and I fully expect push-back on my note that voting fraud is another big lie.  I’m going to continue posting civil rights hoaxes as the come to mind.  I’m sure I’ve just barely scratched the surface.  If you remember any I’ve not yet posted, right me at nmisscommentor @ gmail.com

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