thumbnail of The Roots of Racial Conflict in the South; No. 2; The Lady and the Dragon
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<v Reporter>Racism is a fundamental social affliction. It is not an institution or a series of institutions imposed on society. It does not result from the presence, and it will not be eradicated by the absence, of a few evil men, as front page coverage might lead one to believe. It is complex and basic malady whose causes and effects revolve in vicious circles. It exists in the social structure like sand and concrete, and its problems are many and multiform. In its attention to the roots of racial conflict in the South, Pacifica has dealt with a number of these problems, both in their specific manifestations and in generalized form. This program initiates an examination of what is perhaps the most critical of them all: the Southern mass media and the problem of communication. The Lady and the Dragon is a story of a newspaper publisher and editor, Hazel Brannon Smith of Lexington, Mississippi. It is the story of one woman and one relatively small paper, but its importance, concrete and representative, speaks for itself.
<v Hodding Carter III>Hazel Brannon Smith is an Alabama native who has been in Lexington, I would say, almost 30 years. Lexington, Mississippi is in Holmes County. And Holmes County is a part hill, part delta County, delta being a flat, fertile flood plain of the state. <v Reporter>This is Hodding Carter III, managing editor of the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Mississippi. His father is the well-known multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, Hodding Carter II. Their newspaper, liberal even by northern standards, is one of the happier anomalies in that most unhappy state. <v Hodding Carter III>She had many enemies before the Supreme Court's decision in 1954 on segregation in public schools. She had taken on the gamblers and the bootleggers and the general hoodlums who were very powerful politically. <v Hodding Carter III>Prior to this. After the decision, while she could hardly be categorized as an integrationist by any definition at the time, she, uhh, was very vocal in her opposition to Citizens Council organization, pressure tactics, political interference. Uh, this did adding- added to her other stands, made her distinctly unpopular with a large number of people in her home county. Anyway. Hazel Brannon Smith is one of the last of the real fighting adages I know anywhere in the United States that is not merely fights when it's semi-popular fight or when is a chance for success, but when the odds are almost ninety nine to one against success. Uh... And that's about what the odds are. It's, uh, it's it's almost an impossible situation. Holmes County among the counties in the state is itself further over to the extreme on the race question. Even in the state.
<v Reporter>Uh... Further over than, uh, Sunflower County or Leflore County? <v Hodding Carter III>I would say that, uh, Leflore County alongside Holmes County looks like a liberal county. <v Reporter>Mrs. Smith established herself in Holmes County in 1936 after buying the Durant News. In 1943, she bought the Lexington Advertiser, her principal newspaper. As the publisher of the only two newspapers in the county, she soon became one of the area's most prominent and respected citizens and was asked once to run for the State Senate. She might still be a principal social figure in Holmes County were it not for one civic virtue too many: responsibility. Mrs. Smith faced the racial dragon for the first time in 1954, the year of the Supreme Court decision on segregated schools. But, though she did not know it at the time, she was onto the gragon spur as early as 1946.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>During the war, du- du- during the II World War two days, uh, there was an army camp, north of <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Durant, up at, uh, Duck Hill. And, of course, of a lot of the several thousand troops there. And of course, during the weekends, uh, the troops scattered out in all directions. And we already had in Holmes County before that time a, a pretty large number of bootlegging establishments, of course, whiskey, uh, in Mississippi is sold, uh, quite openly, but at the same time, not legally. <v Reporter>M-hm. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>We're the only state, I believe, left that has the prohibition law. And, uh, we had at that time a large number of roadside joints, as we call them, that sold whiskey and had slot machines. And of course, there was open gambling in some of the places with the dice tables and so forth. And, uh, of course, with a lot of servicemen coming to town, uh... <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, it created a lot of other problems of la- of drunkenness and, uh, and, uh, people of, you know, automobile accidents and things like that.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>And it just got pretty bad. It had gotten to the point. It really took only one week, and we had about twenty three people arrested for drunken driving while in that little town of Durant of just twenty five hundred population. Well, that's a pretty serious, uh, kind of a situation. <v Reporter>M-hm. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And so I went to work after visiting the sheriff and asking him to do something. When he wouldn't, well then I started to work on, on the project editorially to clean up the county. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And of course, uh, our campaign, uh, lasted about two years. It, it was about two years long. And it culminated in the 64 indictments that were voted by the grand jury. <v Reporter>Her editorial campaign to clean up the county won for Mrs. Smith the award for that year of the National Federation of Newspaper Women, the first time a Mississippi woman had been so honored. But it also got her into trouble. It was the first taste of what was to become a steady diet. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>In connection with these 64 indictments of...
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>There was one case at the court, uh, where a Negro man had been, uh, killed. He had been beaten to death, and his body actually had been found over in a barrio over in the delta. It was a Holmes County Negro. Well, one day in connection with the, uh, crowd, I was interviewing the widow of this man that had been beaten to death. And incidentally, there were five white men that were being tried, uh, for his death on the charge, I believe, I don't, I don't remember they indicted them for, either murder or manslaughter, one or the other. But anyway, these five men were being tried, uh, for the... for his death. And, uh, I interviewed the widow of, of the dead Negro. And I was correspondent for the Commercial Appeal. And it was actually the Commercial Appeal that I was interviewing the woman, because they had asked me to get a direct quote from... <v Reporter>That's the Memphis Commercial Appeal? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Yes. And so, uh, her name, her name was Henrietta McCarty. And I shall never forget it. And so in the process of talking to the woman, she had already testified in open court, and I was just asking her about her testimony in the court. The, the deputy sheriff came up to me and, uh, protested my talking to her in a very, pretty rough language. He didn't say anything to me, but he did her and told her to get out away from me and not talk to me or not talk to anybody. Of course, I resented it because I thought that he was just telling her not to do that because I knew that he was taking his resentment of me out on the poor a woman, and of course,
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>I resented that. So I told him to go ahead. That she wasn't a prisoner. That she could talk to anybody she wanted to. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh... <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And with that, he just said, well, I'm just telling you what Walter says. And Walter was the name of the sheriff at that time, see, that had, that I had been criticizing for not enforcing the law. And I said, well, I don't care what Walter says. And the deputy sheriff went on away. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, the next thing I knew, they had me up in court and charged with contempt of court. That was because the woman was under the rule of the court. The judge had instructed end of- at the beginning of the trial. As a matter of fact, I wasn't even in the courtroom then. But at the beginning of the trial, the judge had told the oh, all the, all the witnesses not to talk to anyone. Of course, it was in an open court with a courtroom full of people. So there was nothing secret about her testimony or anything. But me then, as it may, the judge did hold me up in the court, and he showed in his, uh, talk to me that he resented, uh, my remarks that I had made on the condition of the county as the bootlegging and the slot machines and so forth. And by his remarks, he revealed, uh, that, uh, that it was for that that he was, uh, punishing me rather than for talking to the Negro woman. And, uh, he said the maximum fine in this for contempt of this court is one hundred dollars and 30 days in jail. "I'll split the difference with you and just give you a $50 fine and a 15 days in jail, and I will suspend both on good behavior, uh, for two years. And, uh, and then if you run into this court again, uh, all, all we'll have to do is lock you up. We won't have to try you." And, uh, so, of course, uh, when he showed that he was trying to put the gag on me, uh, it, it became a question of freedom of the press. And of course, I had already made an apology and said that no contempt of the court was intended in my interview of the, uh, uh, the Negro woman witness, that actually I did not know that she was under the rule. And of course, if the judge had been acting in good faith, he would have accepted that and let it go at that, but he didn't. Instead, he put the fine, and the, and the $50 fine and all. And so, of course, I appealed it to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. And one year later, of course, they handed down a unanimous decision in my favor.
<v Reporter>In July of 1954, two months after the Supreme Court decision on schools, Mrs. Smith ran full tilt into the dragon. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>We had had another shooting incident, actually in January in which a young Negro named Eddie Noel, Edmund Noel, uh, had, uh, killed three white men. Well, that precipitated great manhunt in which several hundred people roamed the woods trying to find Eddie Noel. And, of course, we had... This was in January of 1954. And we... It was just, oh, really an atmosphere of hysteria. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>People were actually afraid, uh, to, uh, stay in their homes. I mean, the maids in the various homes would, were afraid to stay in the house with that, the, the, uh, mistress of the house, o- of being at home. And, uh, they'd lock the doors and all that sort of thing. I know some of the nurses... my husband then was administrator of the hospital. And some of the nurses who lived out in a rural area of the county were afraid to uh, uh, go home at night, and they would stay in the nurse's quarters there in the hospital to keep them from, uh, from being on the country road, uh, you know, in, in odd hours, early morning hours and late, late hours after dark. And, uh, for the first time in my life, I became aware it could be a very serious situation. Of course, uh, all I had ever heard since I had come to Holmes County since 1936 was what good Negroes we have in the county, and that was true and is true. I mean, we really had the finest Negro people in the world here in this county. If we didn't have a, a level-headed, stable type of Negro, well, we would have had a great deal more trouble than we have had because there's been a lot of provocation. I mean, there- there's been a great deal of provocation. But, uh, in this Eddie Noel case, uh, it really brought it home to me. And for the first time, I thought seriously about race relations. And so, of course, we had this background of, of January. The other shooting then, this incident that came in July the Fourth. This was of Mr. Byrd, the sheriff, along with his jailer at that time, and a constable over in the town of Tchula and a highway patrolman. The four officers were in a state highway patrol car cruising over in Tchula along the highway over there. And, uh, as they drove back, uh, one of the, there were, there was a group of Negroes congregated there on the side of the road. It was a Saturday night. And, uh, uh, they were just in town for Saturday night.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>And so as the, uh, patrol car went by, some- one of the- one of the Negroes, Yale, he let out what we call a hoop. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh, uh, later, the sheriff testified in court that, uh... He, he testified himself that, uh, that someone had said, "There goes the law," and somebody says, "Well, damn the law!" or something like that, you know. Anyway, he- the sheriff heard something that he didn't like. And so he told the highway patrolman to stop the car real quick and let him out. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>But the patrolman wouldn't do it. He, he, he said, no, you have to ?inaudible? get on down here. He went on down and came back, uh, to get completely off of the highway into a place of the embankment that was wide enough for him to, to get out on, to let the man out on. And, uh, so when he did this, the sheriff jumped out the car and went up to this group. And he said to the tallest one in the group, he said, "What do you mean? Hooping and hollering and raising all this hell around here!" And, uh, uh, the Negro, the tall Negro was ?Henry Randall? He was 27 years old and lived over in that area.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>And he just said, "'Twasn't even me that hooped." And so the sheriff, uh, p-, uh, made a move for his, uh, blackjack. And at the same time, for his gun, he said, "You better get going out of here, boy." And so, uh, he hit Eddie with the blackjack, actually, it grazed his forehead and raised a goose egg on his forehead. And so, of course, ?Henry Randall? got going. I mean, he, he, he ran, you know, and as he ran, the sheriff shot. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh, the, the gun, the, the bullet from his pistol, uh, entered the fleshy part of his left leg, of the thigh. Fortunately, it went through it and it did not shatter a bone or... <v Reporter>Did he only shoot once? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Uh... He only shot once, yes. Well, no, I think the gun actually shot, was shot three times, though. There, there were three or four shots fired that night, but he's fired his gun only once. And when he did that, uh, another officer, the officer that was sitting in the, uh, patrol car, uh, on the backseat, as a matter of fact, eh, stuck hi- the one that was the constable, stuck his, uh, arm out the, uh, window and shot his, fired his pistol three times in the air. So I was told on a confident- on a confidential basis by someone else. But anyway, uh, the officers, they left, they didn't... Really they didn't... I really don't think they knew that they'd hit the man that night. But of course, the incident was reported to me, and I started investigating it. On, uh... On, uh... On Monday morning. Well, really, I guess it was Tuesday morning, because everybody took off the Fourth on Monday, and, uh, ev- everything was closed, and, uh because the Fourth had come on July, on Sunday that year, I believe. And, uh, so, of course, the first thing I did like, uh, like all reporters do, I suppose, I checked with the law first. [chuckles]
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>But when I called Mr. Byrd, he wasn't in. And so they said they didn't know when he'd be back. And I think what happened he left town after he found out that I was investigating the shooting. Any way I couldn't get in all day Tuesday, nor Wednesday. At that time we published on Thursday. And so finally, uh, to- I called his office and told them that if an- if and when he did come in, uh, to, to tell him that I, that I wanted to talk to him, to talk to him. And, uh, they, uh... <v Hazel Brannon Smith>The girl that was working in the office bar then said, you mean it's about something you want to put in the paper. And I said, no, it's not something I want to put it in the paper, but it's something I'm going to put in the paper. And I want to know what Richard has to say about it. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh, so, of course, I went ahead and printed a straight news story about what had happened. Of course, in the interim, I had investigated and talked to the people involved, the ones that had gotten sh- the w-, the man that had been shot, also to the, uh, nurse that, uh, that, uh, had helped treat him, the nurse and the doctor that had treated his wound. The doctor had since gone on a vacation. I mean, I didn't get to talk to him, but I did, uh, talk to the nurse that had dressed his wound later on in the week. So, of course, I knew I had my story, and I went ahead and, and printed it as a straight factual story. I didn't make any editorial comment. But then a, a week later, Mr. Byrd, the sheriff, had come back to town, and he hadn't contacted me, so I presumed that my story was correct. And so then I wrote an editorial.
<v Reporter>This is the editorial she wrote. <v Reporter>"If this were Mr. Byrd's first and only offense against the people of this county, it might pass unnoticed. But during this same Saturday night, there were at least seven others ill-treated. One of these men was hit so hard on the head that his glasses were broken. Another who received a blow on the head from Mr. Byrd is in serious condition and hasn't been able to work since that time, a man with a wife and four kids to support. The shameful incidents which occurred Saturday night, July 3rd, with the climax to date of Mr. Byrd's two and one half years of tenure as sheriff. His term has 18 months longer to go. During the past 20 months, there have been unconfirmed reports of similar occurrences, and in the past year, have been shocking reports too numerous to ignore or overlook by the people of this county. This kind of thing cannot go on any longer. It must be stopped. The vast majority of Holmes County people are not rednecks who look with favor on the abuse of people because their skins are black. We are human beings and expect ourselves and everyone else to be treated like human beings. Especially do we expect our law enforcement officials to do everything within their power to protect, not abuse, those with whom they deal in any circumstances. In our opinion, Mr. Byrd has violated every concept of justice, decency and right in his treatment of some of the people of Holmes County. He has shown us without question that he is not fit to occupy that high office. He should, in fact, resign. His conduct in office should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities. The decent, law abiding people of this county should make it clear that they do not approve of and will not tolerate such conduct from their elected sheriff."
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>After I had printed the editorial, well, of course, the reaction was really, uh, terrific because, uh, people all over the county were just incensed that this, tha- a uh, at this completely unjustified shooting. And, uh, ag- again, I say, we have not only the best Negro people in the world, but we also have so many fine white people in Holmes County, too. And of course, they were rightly incensed that this thing had happened. And of course, they realized that it was just very important that things like this not happen. And so there's, oh, a lot of people began to call the sheriff and come to see him and protest this kind of conduct. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, of course, the, the thing about it, the- there were so many of them. And the preachers, of course, even some of the preachers were denouncing him in the pulpit. This kind of action is saying that this is the wrong thing to do and so forth. And, uh, so, uh...
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>There wa- there was so much pressure brought on the sheriff that he had- that he felt like he had to do something, even his, some of his best friends told him, "Well, you're going to have to find some way to shut Hazel up, or you're gonna have to resign." And of course, he had another year and a half to go in office. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh... And he had a very good thing going. I mean, of course, it was common knowledge that, that Mr. Byrd was very close to these people, that [chuckles] they were operating in the County and that sort of thing, you know. And so there was a great deal of money to be made in Holmes County in this year, if you know. And so he didn't want to be out of office. So they figured out the best way to shut me up would be to file a libel suit for fifty seven thousand five hundred dollars. And that's what they, that's what they did. That's what Mr. Byrd did. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And so, uh, I, I wrote in my paper that, uh, that I didn't know whether to be, uh, I didn't know whether to be, uh, flattered, uh, at being, uh, at being, uh, sued for so much or whether, uh,
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>or surprised that Mr. Bird valued his reputation at so little. And, uh, so I just said then that I wouldn't have anything else to say about Mr. Bird, that the lawsuit would be, would be tried in the court. I did not propose to try it in my newspaper. And that when it did come to, to co- to trial, that, uh, it would, that we would prove that the truth would be our own answer to these charges. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, of course, he had, uh, he had uh, he had sued me for what he called actual and punitive damages in the amount of fifty seven thousand five hundred dollars. And someone asked me how he had, how did he arrive at that amount? And I said, well, at first I thought that was how much money I owed. But I said after I got, after I ate it up, everything I owed back right when that good that I could owe that much. So I just really didn't know why he could sell up into seven thousand five hundred dollars as the amount to sue me for. Well, anyway, this was in July 1954, and toward the end of the month, the suit was filed, and our circuit court in which the case was tried did not meet until October. Well, of course, the people were a little shocked, uh, that the sheriff had sued me, but no one thought about it very seriously. And they, they just thought that they weren't...
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>I mean, they were pretty much aware oh, that it was a thing to oh, to shut me up, you know, and, and they didn't take it seriously though. And they just kind of laughed ans said, well, it'll never come to trial. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And of course, I never took it lightly. I mean, a lawsuit is not anything to take lightly under any circumstances, I don't think. But at least, uh, I, I told them, I said, well, we'll, we'll see when the time comes anyway. And it may very well have been that the suit would never have gone to trial in October. Uh, but in the meantime, uh, the White Citizens Council had been organized over in Indianola. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>That's in Sunflower County, about 50 miles from here, about 50 miles, something like that. <v Reporter>That was partially as a result of the Supreme Court. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh, yes. That was, uh, that had nothing to do with this, uh, with this shooting incident, of course. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>But, uh, it, it was organized. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Yes. It was the, I guess, the white man's answer to the- white delta man's answer, anyway, to the U.S. Supreme Court decision. And of course, that- at the time, though, they didn't quite know that that's what it was. But anyway, it, it has turned out that it has been that. And Holmes County was organized within a week or 10 days of the time that, that the, the Citizens Council, the original council was organizing in Indianola.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, you know, and, uh... <v Hazel Brannon Smith>In fact, there was one organized in Durant one night, and then the next night, in Lexington. And of course, this was an all-male affair, and, being a woman, I wasn't invited to come. But the local man that organized the council in Lexington was Willburn Hooker, man who's in the insurance business here in Lexington and has farming and cattle interests and so forth. And, uh, Hooker, oh, was a real good friend of mine, in fact. In fact, the building that I was in, that I am in, I had, I had just bought from him. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>It was in his mother's estate. And he was chairman of the board of trustees at the hospital. And he was the one that had persuaded my husband to go to work for the hospital as administrator. <v Reporter>He was very good personal friend of ours, as well as, uh, as, as a business, good business acquaintance and good advertiser. He ran the ad in the paper every week, and they advertised him. <v Reporter>And so Hooker came in and told me what they were going to do that night and asked me to go along with them. Uh, that... He explained to me what the council was to be, that it was organized for the purpose of, of trying to keep our schools, uh, like they were. And, and he, he was he emphasized the point that it was not going to be Ku Klux Klan, and that there was going to be no violence. He emphasized that part of it. He said that what they would- going to do was to use economic pressures, uh, to attain their ends. And, and I said, well, what do you mean economic pressures? And he said, well, for instance, if a Negro is... If a Negro gets out of his place, then do what he- like he should, we just either cut his credit off at the bank or call his mortgage in and, and put on the pressure to that extent. And...
<v Reporter>He be fired from his job. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh, yes. And if he worked, of course, if he worked, well, then he would get fired from his job. And, and, and then it would be strictly an economic, uh, uh, intimidation rather than, rather than physical violence of taking a man out and beating him or doing anything like that. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And so, of course, I listened in silence and in horror, actually, because I don't know whether it was my woman's intuition working or what. But I had actually heard about the organization of the council the day before in Durant. And although it was a hot day in July, the cold chills went down my back literally because, oh, I just, I, I felt like it was a terrible thing to do. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>So... But after he, he told me about what they intend to do. And then he asked for my cooperation, that he wanted me to go along with them. And, and he said... Then he made the mistake of asking me what I thought about it. And of course, I've always been very outspoken to say what I think - when somebody asked me, especially. And so I just told him that I thought it was the wrong thing to do it, completely. And that I thought it was a terrible thing to do. I said it, well. He said, "Why?" And I said, "Well, oh, the, the, in the first place, it will create an atmosphere of fear." And he said, "Well, maybe it'll be a, maybe it'll be a good thing for, for'em to be afraid." And I said, "No, Willburn," I said, "it's not good for anyone to live in an atmosphere of fear." I said, "When the word gets out that the white people are organizing, as it will." And of course, he had asked me not to put anything about it in the paper. They didn't want to. They didn't want to print it, have anything printed in the paper. But because, as I said in the beginning, they didn't even know what they had themselves.
<v Reporter>M-hm. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>They were just kind of feeling their way along to see what they could do. I mean, at that time, they never envisioned that it would be a statewide or Southwide or even a nationwide organization. And he emphasized, of course, that it was a nonpolitical thing, that they would have nothing to do with politics and so forth. Well, I told him, I told him that, that it wouldn't be possible for them to do anything without getting into politics. I said it will wind up in politics. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>I said the, the, the thing that's going to hurt is this, that when the Negro finds out that the white man's organizing, well, then if he says, uh, if, if he, uh, if he hears, if he knows who is in it. I said, if you've got to organize this thing, if you, if there's nothing that I can say that will keep you from organizing the Citizens' Council, I said, well, then, for heaven's sake, go on and, and have it, bring it out in the open and tell who's in it and what it's for and what you want to do and let the people know who are the members. And I said, that way, if the people know that Mr. Hooker and Mr. Pat Barrett and Mr. David Miles and all the other leading citizens in the town are members of it, well, maybe they won't be sca- so scared. But I said, what you're going to do is to create an atmosphere here of fear. And I said, when and that is going to come, that is it will inevitably bale into resentment, and then it just go, it's just gonna be too bad, that's all. I mean, it can't help but make relations between the race, the races here worse, whereas we have always up until now had pretty good relations. And. But of course, he... I might as well save my breath.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>But that put me on record as being against the Citizens' Councils... Councils from the beginning. And so, oh, of course, that's what happened. Then, of course, I knew that I was against them from, from the very beginning. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And th- the idea was, they had even said in their original organization and in some of the early literature that they had, they, they, they mentioned the thing of economic boycott, of how they would deal with the Negroes. And then they said, if there are any white persons who won't go along with us, we will use, uh, economic and social pressures against them. Well, see, whereas before, I had always had the leading people in the community completely on my side, well, here for the first time, you have an organization and a common cause of the so-called rednecks and the leading people in the community joined together. And, uh, uh, I know particularly at one of these, at the first meeting, one man got up and said, uh, something about, well, if we wanted to really do something to help the relations between the races, uh, what we ought to do is to stop all this bootlegging, uh, going on around here, the, and the gambling that takes all of the Negroes' money and so forth. And the man said someone else got up and said, uh, real close friend of his said, "Now we don't,
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>we will leave politics out, out of this thing." [Smith and Reporter laugh] "Let's stop there. Let's stop that talk right off." Well, anyway, to, to make a long story short, uh... <v Hazel Brannon Smith>The case did come to trial. And although we presented our proof in the person of the man that was shot and the person of the doctor who treated him and all of that, and our witnesses who saw the shooting, uh, the sheriff simply said that he did not take his gun out of his holster all night. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And so the jury returned a verdict of 10 to 2 for the sheriff. Anyway, uh, I... To, to give an indication of how the, how conditions were at that time: the, the judge said, well, the two who voted for the defendant, please step forward. <v Reporter>Did he really? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>He, he said that, and only one man stepped forward. [laughs] And I found out later who the other man was, but he was afraid to step forward because he was afraid of, of the sheriff.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>Actually, I mean, of repercussions, you know, from the sheriff, because his family was supposed to be pretty good friends, you know, of the sheriff. And, of course, I appealed the, the, the judgment, immediately I appealed it to the Supreme Court of Mississippi. And as usual, it takes about a year for one of these cases to be heard, you know. And so the next year in October 55, the case was argued in court and oh, two weeks later, in November, the, uh, court handed down a unanimous decision. Again, in my favor. <v Reporter>This story made the national press. Time Magazine ran an article on the court decision in its issue of November 21st, 1955, under the caption The Last Word. <v Reporter>"One way to be unpopular in Holmes County, Mississippi, is to criticize the sheriff for mistreating a Negro. When good-looking, dark-haired Mrs. Hazel Brannon Smith, 41, tried this in two weeklies she owns and edits, she found herself on the losing end of a libel suit filed by the sheriff. But last week, thanks to a Mississippi Supreme Court decision, editor Smith's editorial voice had the last and winning word."
<v Reporter>So wrote Time Magazine. But, as Mrs. Smith tells it, the White Citizens Council had other ideas. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, they started out to prove Time Magazine, to make Time Magazine not to be allowed to hurt the demand. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>They started a campaign then called Economic Boycott against us and various intimidations of various sorts. And this, too. Well, the first thing that happened, I guess the war against me was declared on Thanksgiving morning. That was about the third week, I believe, in November. And on Thanksgiving morning, I received in my mail from the secretary of the Lexington Rotary Club a little, uh, a very polite little letter telling me that my services as publicity chairman for the club, will no longer be required, that, uh, an, uh, some- a man, they named a man in the club, had been named as publicity chairman. And I had been well, I ever since I had bought The Advertiser in 1943. And this was 50- by now, 55. I had been, uh, kind of an honorary member of the club and had gone about invitation and had gone every week to the meetings just like the men were, you know. And of course I wrote up all their meetings and, uh, and had all the publicity for them and was just like a member, actually, just like a member of the club. I mean, it was a very nice relationship. I mean, it was a group of very fine men. But, uh, this letter... I took the letter to a friend of mine who was the vice president of the club then, he was a vice president. And I asked him if he knew anything about it. And he just shook his head and had with a very disturbed look on his face. And I said, "If you don't want to talk it or come in on it, well, that's perfectly all right. I understand. But I just wonder if you know what is behind it." And he shook his head again and and he said, "Hazel."
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>It just means that they're, they're going to get you." <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And I said, "Well, what do you mean they're going to get me?" And he said, "I mean they're going to hurt you any way they can." <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, then all the rumors began to float around that they were going to have my fi- husband fired as administrator of our hospital. And they were so, they became so widespread, so generally known throughout the whole county, uh, that everyone knew exactly what they were going to do. I mean, they said, well, they're going to have Smitty. Everyone... My husband is Walter Smith, and they call, everybody called him Smitty, still calls him spi- Smitty. They said they've got, they're going to fire Smitty from the hospital, and then they will be dependent upon the newspapers completely for their living. Then they're going to put the economic boycott against the Advertiser. And uh, then, well, that'll be the end of the Smiths. That was the general plan. And so, so that, they went according to the script. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>So now that was the first open pressure against us in the, in the, in this campaign. And they gave no reason, of course, no reason at all. But it was reported in the Jackson Daily News. They quoted one of the, uh, board members, one of the trustees, eh, saying, oh, that there was nothing against Smith personally on his record, but his wi- it seems that his wife has become a controversial person. For three years, we had, uh...
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>By the process of attrition, uh, they've gradually, uh, wooed off some of our best friends and supporters from a business standpoint. And of course, all the time, as far as the social activities were concerned, it had gotten to the point where there wasn't very much social activity in the community, and, people, we were developing into a closed society. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>They just weren't, uh... People didn't talk to each other anymore. Oh, of course, it was a- the, the gradual feeling of tension that was developing in the community and on the racial conflict was what it was. Although we had had no cases, we'd had no cases whatever of Negroes trying to integrate or any thought of in Negroes. <v Reporter>This is just the, uh, just the people in the white community? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Just the- and the white community here. <v Reporter>Committed among themselves. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Completely, completely, completely. Afraid, afraid to speak freely themselves.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh, this went on for three years. Oh, and then, uh, the last thing that was supposed to be the knockout blow against me. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>They organized a newspaper, this little group of Citizens Council leaders. <v Reporter>That paper is the Holmes County Herald. It was organized in November of 1958 and began publication in January of 1959. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Of course, it had to publish a whole year before it was eligible to receive legal notices. And at the end of the first year, uh, of course, that the local, uh, mayor and Board of Aldermen of Lexington started giving the Herald their legal notices. And then, uh, the Board of Supervisors of Holmes County was forced by law when it says there were two newspapers in the community to receive bids for the, for the publication of its proceedings. And, uh, at the rate that we are allowed by law, that speaks about the legislature, it amassed only $70 a month, but it was for a two year period, which was fourteen hundred voted hours. And so we both put in our S.O. bids for the what we would charge for this. Well, the Herald put in a bid of one cent for two years. And, naturally, they got the bid. Two years later, they did the same thing again. And so, of course, by now, a lot of people that had thought when the Herald was organized, they thought it was just another leg- legitimate business, and the community began to have their eyes opened, in fact, to the fact that it really wasn't a legitimate business enterprise at all, but was, in fact, a conspiracy, as I had said in the beginning.
<v Reporter>The Holmes County Herald began to seriously affect Mrs. Smith's business in other respects. It virtually gave away advertising space at a little better than cost. It circulated its issues regularly to many people in the area who had never subscribed and who had not so much as paid a dime for the service. However, Mr Smith's perseverance has left room for a ray of hope. The subsidizes of the Herald carrying the paper's operation, as they have on a largely nonprofit basis, have had to spend a lot of money over the past four and a half years with no concrete results. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, I think they're getting pretty tired of putting money in it now. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And there's just gonna be a question of time until ,until they, until they close their doors, because, uh, they've had now, in the four and a half years' time, they've had three editors. The last one went to work on December the 1st. And that's not a very good record. I mean, three editors in four, for four and half years. <v Reporter>So now, right now, however, it's, uh, still pretty much a question as to who's going to give up first.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>Well, yes, it's a question of which one can survive the longest. I still hope and pray that something will happen to, maybe some fair, good angel will come and bring us the money or something. <v Reporter>But responsible journalism is a dangerous and losing game in the state of Mississippi in 1963. A week before this interview was taped, another incident occurred in Holmes County that set off yet another round of Hazel Brannon Smith's battle with the Dragon, one that could well be her last. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Here in Lexington, uh, on Saturday night, we had a young, uh, a young Negro man, uh, an ex-serviceman, to be killed on Saturday night before Matt ?Grevers? was killed on the following Wednesday in Jackson. And in, uh, Lexington, the, uh, killing was done by two of the, uh, uh, town officers, the night marshals, and, uh, of course, who claimed self-defense. But it was, uh, the, the circumstances were really unprovoked.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>Because the men were really, really trying to arrest the man, and he hadn't done anything. And, uh, it seems as though he'd kind of stumble on the sidewalk, and they thought he might be drunk. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>But I mean, the, the boy that was with him was his cousin. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And he told the officers, he said, "Please don't hit him," when the man drew out his blackjack. He, he said, "He is just out of the hospital. I'll take him home." <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And, uh, but the officer went ahead and hit him anyway, well, of course, and told him he was under arrest. And so this young man says, well, no, I'm not under arrest, I'm, I'm not going. And, uh, pull back like that. And so then the officer pulled out his gun. And so after he had hit him, well, then then, of course, the officer pointed a gun and shot a man. He shot him, uh, through the chest, and oh, and then the other officer also shot at him. And, uh, so, of course, we wrote it up, we... Just like it happened. We talked to a number of eyewitnesses. But, uh, again, as I said, it was a tensions being what they are now. We, we received a great deal of criticism for having printed the story of the- in, in, in detail of what happened. And of course, oh, I wrote an editorial, too, in which I condemned it as a senseless killing. Of course, I don't, uh, condone, uh, letting anyone get away with anything.
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>I mean, a law breaker. But I felt like that the officers could have gotten back without really killing him. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>I mean, they could have shot him in the leg or the arm or something and not through the chest. <v Reporter>They could let him alone in the first place. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Yes, they could have, because actually he wasn't doing anyone any harm. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>But I, but I, I, I suppose it was a thing of officers everywhere, are getting jumpy and they're taking no chances. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>That's what it amounted to. <v Reporter>To your knowledge, was this carried by either one of the owners of national press or it wasn't carried? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh no. It wasn't. It wasn't carried in any other paper, at all. Uh, the other paper in the, in, in Lexington carried <v Hazel Brannon Smith>just a very small, short story on the thing, which was an entirely different accounts of what we carried. <v Reporter>The official accounts. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh, yes, uh-huh. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>In other words, they they gave at the official line of what the officers claimed. And that's all. But we carried the eyewitness account. And I talked to...
<v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh, I wrote the story myself, and I talked to, uh, half a dozen different, uh, people. Well, more than that, around eight or ten different people that had seen the incident, that had... <v Reporter>There were that many witnesses? <v Hazel Brannon Smith>Oh yes. There were more than that. There were... Oh, there must have been 40 people, 40 or 50 people down there, uh, when it happened. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>It was early in the evening, uh, on a Saturday night. <v Hazel Brannon Smith>And of course, there's a big credit, I am certain, to that. <v Reporter>News item from the Lexington Advertiser, Thursday, September 5th, 1963. <v Reporter>"Mrs. Hazel Brannon Smith, editor of the Lexington Advertiser and the Durant News, is the target of a one-hundred-thousand-dollar lawsuit filed by two police officers in the city of Lexington. The plaintiffs, W.M. McNair and Frank Davis, demand fifty thousand dollars each in two separate suits for what they claim as compensatory and punitive damages and all costs for alleged libel by Mrs. Smith and her two Holmes County newspapers. The case will be heard in Holmes County Circuit Court in October. The suit grew out of the publication of a news article and editorial in connection with the fatal shooting of Alfred Brown, a 38-year-old Negro war veteran and former mental patient. The plaintiffs charged the published story and editorial were utterly false and without any foundation in truth and fact whatsoever. The two officers are still employed by the city of Lexington. When asked to comment on the suit, Mrs Smith said, 'We published in Good Faith an eyewitness account of the slaying on June 8 of the 38-year-old Negro war veteran Alfred Brown. It has always been the policy of this newspaper to print the truth as we believe it to be and comment fairly thereon. We shall continue to do so. Any error we may ever make will be gladly corrected if called to our attention. No statement of error has ever been called to our attention in this incident by the Lexington officers bringing the suit or anyone else. If and when the suit comes to trial, the truth will be our defense.'"
The Roots of Racial Conflict in the South
Episode Number
No. 2
The Lady and the Dragon
Producing Organization
Pacifica Foundation
WBAI Radio (New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
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Episode Description
This episode is The Lady and the Dragon: "A documentary made from interviews with Hazel Brannon Smith and others. Mrs. Smith is the editor of a Delta newspaper and one of the principal targets of the Mississippi White Citizens' Council"-- accompanying description. Civil Rights reporter Dale Miner interviews Hazel Brannon Smith, the editor of a local newspaper in a small town in Mississippi. Smith recalls her ongoing struggle with the 'racial dragon.? She discusses several reports and editorials she wrote on police brutality against African Americans in her community. Initially just a local white reporter, Smith gradually discovers that she cannot deliver the truth without becoming an activist. She withstands threats, lawsuits, and economic pressure from white supremacists and the police throughout the 50s and 60s. The documentary also contains a brief interview with Hodding Carter III and an excerpt of the writing of Hodding Carter Senior - they praise Hazel Brannon Smith for her achievements in the field of journalism and racial justice.
Series Description
"Four documentary programs representing WBAI's program series, 'The Roots of Racial Conflict.' The four are: "Freedom Now!", A documentary on the events of April-May, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama. "The Lady and the Dragon", A documentary made from interviews with Hazel Brannon Smith and others. Mrs. Smith is the editor and publisher of a Delta newspaper[.] "Southern Labor and Civil Rights", A documentary made from interviews with labor leaders across the south, in the summer of '63. "Mississippi Delta I & II," A documentary in two parts on attitudes and conditions of life in the Mississippi Delta, with special reference to the Civil Rights Movement. "Please see attached list for more detailed descriptions."--1963 Peabody Awards entry form.
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Director: Koch, Chris
Interviewee: Smith, Hazel Brannon
Producer: Minor, Dale
Producing Organization: Pacifica Foundation
Producing Organization: WBAI Radio (New York, N.Y.)
Writer: Minor, Dale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-b0d42cc377b (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 0:48:20
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Chicago: “The Roots of Racial Conflict in the South; No. 2; The Lady and the Dragon,” 1963-09-28, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 28, 2022,
MLA: “The Roots of Racial Conflict in the South; No. 2; The Lady and the Dragon.” 1963-09-28. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 28, 2022. <>.
APA: The Roots of Racial Conflict in the South; No. 2; The Lady and the Dragon. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from