Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

NAACP requests council apology for 1946 crime

DSC 0010The local Chapter of the NAACP wants the Minden City Council to apologize for a 67-year-old murder that occurred in the parish on the banks of Dorcheat Bayou.

Local NAACP President Kenneth Wallace's request was prompted by a letter he received recently from Prof. Margaret Burnham, founder of Civil Rights and Restorative Justice (CRRJ) Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.

"They were investigating the horrific and unrecognized lynching of a World War II veteran in Webster Parish in 1946," Wallace said. "She (Burnham) said this was the first lynching in the south to be federally prosecuted – in large part because of the efforts of the NAACP at that time."

Burnham's letter requested help from the local chapter to "bring some sense of justice and bring this matter to light to the families" of John C. Jones and Albert Harris, Jr.
According to a statement released by CRRJ, issuance of public apologies by local and state governmental officials and memorials are examples of what the group deems acceptable.

"We (NAACP) are reaching out to the Minden City Council on behalf of John C. Jones and Mr. Harris," Wallace said. "We hope you might present a public acknowledgement of the murder of John Jones and the forced displacement of his family and the family of Albert Harris, Jr., a public apology for the City of Minden's role in allowing the acts to occur and failing to protect the citizens and families and failing to take appropriate actions to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Wallace asked the city council to consider "Establishing a local memorial, dedication of a street or a local landmark in the memory of John C. Jones, Albert Harris, Jr. and/or other victims of racially-motivated violence, for we know there were many others in Webster Parish."

Wallace also requested making records available at the local public library or historical museum or holding an event to call attention to the incident, issuing an apology or memorializing the victims.

District B Councilwoman Fayrine Kennon-Gilbert suggested the NAACP submit a formal proposal to the city council for consideration.

"This council will look into it," District A Councilman Joe Cornelius told Wallace.

Wallace told council members Monday that about 12 months ago, CRRJ began investigating the alleged murder of Jones, a World War II veteran, and the assault of Harris, his young cousin.

Using trial transcripts from federal prosecutors, Wallace said CRRJ pieced together the timeline and events.

Wallace claims research showed Jones fought in the Battle of the Bulge and returned from the frontlines of war to face racial hostilities in Cotton Valley.

"Jones died at the hands of a group of white men who believed he had spied on a white woman from her back yard," Wallace said. "They kidnapped Jones and beat him to death on the banks of Dorcheat Bayou and in so doing, the men also abducted his teen-age cousin, Albert Harris, Jr. who witnessed the beating."

On July 31, 1946, according to CRRJ findings, "a group of white men, including two Webster Parish Sheriff's deputies arrested Harris on suspicion that he had been involved in the spying the night before."

Over a two-day period, Harris was reportedly interrogated and released.

The report stated that a deputy sheriff took Harris "part of the way home, and dropped him on the side of the road."

"Within minutes, a car drove up and two men ordered Harris at gunpoint to enter their car," Wallace read from a transcript. "They took Harris to the woods, tied him to a pipe, face-down, and beat him. Throughout the beating, they attempted to force Harris to implicate his older cousin, John C. Jones, as the true assailant in the spy incident."

According to reports, Harris admitted his older cousin was the perpetrator.

"In due course, local police arrested Jones and the deputy sheriff also insisted that Harris Jr.'s parents return him to the Minden jail, and they complied," Wallace read.

"The two men remained in jail without charges and were interrogated about the incident in the back yard. They continued to deny any wrongdoing while they were beaten and questioned."

The report claims Jones and Harris were released to an "angry mob outside the jail" and were taken to woods outside Minden city limits and beaten. Jones reportedly died of his injuries, and his body was discovered a day later.

"The City of Minden and the state of Louisiana failed to accurately investigate the murder, assault and failed to prosecute the perpetrators," Wallace read. "Local media largely ignored the incident and there was little, if any, local investigation."

Public record shows, however, that the City of Minden was uninvolved in the case and did not acquire the jail where Jones and Harris were incarcerated until seven years after the event.

A federal investigation was opened and, according to transcripts, Harris and his father testified before a Grand Jury.

On October 14, 1946, the Grand Jury indicted six men and charged them with violating the civil rights of Jones and Harry Jr. A trial took place in district court on February 24, 1947. An all-white male jury reportedly acquitted the defendants on all charges.

According to the law school's website, "CRRJ's aim is to investigate the role of state, local and federal law enforcement agencies and courts in protecting activists and their work. CRRJ examines the geo-politics that led to the large-scale breakdown of law enforcement, the wide-spread repression against the movement's participants, and the reforms that have been initiated to rectify these abuses. The project engages teachers and students across the university and is directed by faculty from the School of Law and the College of Criminal Justice."

(Editor's Note: While the term "lynching" indicates a hanging, according to dictionary.com it means "to put to death, especially by hanging, by mob action and without legal authority." According to the autopsy report, John C. Jones died from injuries acquired by beating.)

 

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