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Encyclopedia > George W. Lee

George W. Lee (1904 —- May 7, 1955) was an African American civil rights leader, minister, and entrepreneur. He was a vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and head of the Belzoni, Mississippi branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 1904 (MCMIV) was a leap year starting on a Friday (link will take you to calendar). ... May 7 is the 127th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (128th in leap years). ... 1955 (MCMLV) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ... An African American (also Afro-American, Black American, or simply black), is a member of an ethnic group in the United States whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. ... Civil rights or positive rights are those legal rights retained by citizens and protected by the government. ... For other types of minister, see Minister In Christian churches, a minister is a man or woman who serves a congregation or participates in a role in a parachurch ministry; such persons can minister as a Pastor, Preacher, Bishop, Chaplain, Deacon or Elder. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... The Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) was probably the leading civil rights organization in Mississippi during the early 1950s. ... Belzoni is a city located in Humphreys County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region. ... The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States. ...


Lee was typical of an earlier generation of activists who came to civil rights after they had made a success in business. Like so many in this category, he came up the hard way through backbreaking work, thrift, and determination. Born in 1904, Lee grew up in poverty in Edwards, Mississippi. His mother was an illiterate plantation woman who was married to an abusive stepfather. After she died, her sister took the boy in. Somehow, Lee was able to graduate from high school, a rarity for blacks living in his circumstances. While eking out a living on the banana docks in New Orleans, Louisiana he studied a correspondence course in typesetting. Edwards is a town located in Hinds County, Mississippi. ... Flag Seal Nickname: The Crescent City, The Big Easy, The City That Care Forgot Location Location in the State of Louisiana and the United States Coordinates , Government Country State Parish United States Louisiana Orleans Parish, Louisiana Founded 1718 Mayor Ray Nagin (D) Geographical characteristics Area     City 350. ...


During the 1930s, Lee accepted a “call” to become a preacher in Belzoni, Mississippi. The town was located in the heart of the Delta, where most blacks in the state lived, the majority in extreme poverty. Eager to improve himself at every opportunity, Lee rose to the front ranks of local black business and community leaders. He pastored four churches and opened a grocery store. In a back room of his house, he and his wife, Rosebud, set up a small printing business. They did a brisk business giving Lee enough resources to enter the battle for civil rights.


Lee proved just as determined to succeed in that arena as he had in business and religion. He was the first black in memory to register to vote in Humphreys County, Mississippi (where blacks were a majority of the population). In 1953, Lee and Gus Courts, another black grocer, co-founded the Belzoni branch of the NAACP. When the sheriff refused to accept their poll taxes, they took him to court. Between them, Lee and Courts registered nearly all of the county’s ninety black voters in 1955. Still enraged by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, however, members of the White Citizens Councils were aggressively purging blacks from the voting rolls through intimidation and economic pressure. While many backed down, Lee and Courts stood firm. Humphreys County is a county located in the state of Mississippi. ... George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James Nabrit, congratulating each other, following Supreme Court decision declaring segregation unconstitutional Brown v. ... The White Citizens Council (WCC) movement was a U.S. movement against racial desegregation. ...


Lee was a vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a leading black organization in the state. The Council weaved together a message of self-help, business, and civil rights. It pressed for voting rights and organized a successful boycott of gas stations that refused to install restrooms for blacks. The head of the Council was Dr. T.R.M. Howard, one of the wealthiest blacks in the state. Medgar Evers worked as an organizer. The Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) was probably the leading civil rights organization in Mississippi during the early 1950s. ... Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard (T.R.M. Howard) (March 4, 1908 —- May 1, 1976) was an African American civil rights leader, fraternal organization leader, surgeon, and entrepreneur. ... Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an African American civil rights activist from Mississippi. ...


In April Lee was one of the speakers at the Council’s annual meeting, which drew a crowd of more than seven thousand to the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Simeon Booker of Jet (magazine), observed how Lee’s “down-home dialogue and his sense of political timing” had “electrified” the crowd. “Pray not for your mom and pop,” Lee suggested. “They've gone to heaven. Pray you can make it through this hell.” Mound Bayou is a city located in Bolivar County, Mississippi. ... Jet magazine is a popular African-American publication founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1951 by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company. ...


Less than a month after this speech, a convertible pulled alongside Lee’s car just before midnight. An unidentified assailant fired three shot-gun blasts shattering his jaw and driving him off the road. Lee died before he could make it to the hospital. The attack came days after he had received a threatening note demanding that he drop his name from the voting rolls. An autopsy extracted lead pellets from his face that were consistent with buckshot. The sheriff, who wanted to call it a traffic accident and close the case, claimed that they were dental fillings torn loose by the impact of the crash.


A few years earlier, these events might have ended then and there, but Howard, Evers, and others had different ideas. They demanded a thorough investigation. The sheriff and governor spurned them but the U.S. Attorney General ordered the Justice Department to look into the matter.


Lee’s funeral in Belzoni was a media event for black newspapers. A key factor in building interest was the decision of his wife, Rosebud, to hold an open-coffin ceremony (thus anticipating a similar decision by Emmett Till’s mother). Readers of the Chicago Defender could share her outrage by viewing a photo of her husband’s mutilated corpse. A subsequent NAACP-organized memorial service in Belzoni drew more than one thousand. This was a revolutionary event for the small rural Delta town, where whites had traditionally expected, and generally received, strict deference from the black majority. Howard and Roy Wilkins, the president of the National NAACP, shared the speakers’ platform. Howard said that some blacks “would sell their grandmas for half a dollar, but Reverend Lee was not one of them.” The Chicago Defender announces President Harry S. Trumans order in 1948 desegregating the United States Armed Forces. ... Roy Wilkins as the Executive Secretary of the NAACP in 1963 Roy Wilkins (August 30, 1901 – September 8, 1981) was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. ...


Civil rights activists searched the Delta looking for evidence to find the killers. Medgar Evers, as someone later said, “cut his teeth” on the Lee case. He continually fed information to the press. Despite this, interest began to wane and the FBI investigation ran out of steam. In the meantime, agents had identified credible white suspects, and agents had opined that potential witnesses were afraid to talk. No charges were ever brought.


While the death of George W. Lee never generated the same outrage as the murder of Emmett Till in August of 1955, the consequences were genuinely important. The effect was not only to expose a national audience to the oppressive nature of Mississippi Jim Crow but to give much-needed momentum to the civil rights movement. Lee deserves to be remembered for other reasons as well. He exemplified an earlier generation of activists who used business success into a launching pad into civil rights. His life also provided an illustration of the philosophy of Booker T. Washington that an economic foundation provided the necessary precondition to build a movement for political rights. Emmett Louis Bobo Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was an African-American teenager from Chicago, Illinois who was brutally murdered in a region of Mississippi known as the Mississippi Delta near the small town of Drew in Sunflower County. ... Jim Crow may refer to: Jim Crow, the title character of the song Jump Jim Crow, performed by Thomas D. Rice beginning in 1828; The Jim Crow laws of the United States used to enforce racial segregation; Jim Crow, a character from the 1941 film Dumbo named for the Rice... Booker T. Washington Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an African American political leader, educator and author. ...


References

  • David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, T.R.M. Howard: Pragmatism over Strict Integrationist Ideology in the Mississippi Delta, 1942-1954 in Glenn Feldman, ed., Before Brown: Civil Rights and White Backlash in the Modern South. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004, 68-95). ISBN 0-8173-5134-5.
  • Jack Mendelsohn, The Martyrs: Sixteen Who Gave Their Lives for Racial Justice (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

 
 

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