Relics of bygone era in state off the books

n The Legislature this year removed the last of the laws left over from Mississippi’s efforts to support segregation.
By SHELIA BYRD
The Associated Press
JACKSON – While researching a case, attorney Ed Blackmon stumbled across leftovers of Mississippi’s segregationist past – laws enacted to discourage the fight for equal rights for blacks.
They were the same laws authorities used to arrest him nearly 45 years ago when he was a teenager attending a protest to support black voter registration. Blackmon, now a state lawmaker, knew he had the power to do something about it.
Blackmon, 60, successfully pushed a bill through the state Legislature this year to remove the laws, which were declared unconstitutional long ago. With the stroke of a pen and little fanfare, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour quietly repealed them and erased what for many was a painful reminder of institutional racism.
“I had an indelible memory of what those laws meant and when I saw it, I was reminded of my own experience,” said Blackmon, who now has a successful law practice and has served in the Mississippi House for 25 years.
The removed laws date back to 1964, when thousands of civil rights activists from across the nation, many of them white college students, decided to descend on Mississippi to educate blacks and register them to vote as a means of toppling the state’s racist social order. The activists were aware of the dangers, including police beatings and arrests on trumped-up charges, but they were undeterred, said Ed King, a white Methodist minister involved in the civil rights movement.
Legislators and others who wanted to keep the status quo knew the activists usually met in churches to organize their protest rallies and registration drives. The all-white Legislature passed a series of laws that went into effect June 11, 1964, that essentially made such gatherings illegal, although the laws were later deemed unconstitutional.
The laws centered around criminal syndicalism, which roughly defined means advocating various methods to effect any social or political change.
“They were very open about why the laws were needed then. I think members of the Legislature were afraid we were bringing thousands and thousands of potentially violent crazies into the state,” King said. “They deserved to be afraid. We intended to change the state, just not violently.”
Other Jim Crow laws have been repealed over the years, including the state’s poll tax in 1989 and its ban on interracial marriage in 1987. Both garnered heavy media coverage, even though the laws hadn’t been active for some time.

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