this WSB clip from July 6, 1971, the reporter Jim Whipkey
covers a meeting between Macon Mayor Ronnie
Thompson, Police Chief J. F. Flynt, and representatives
of the local branch of the NAACP.
The leaders of the NAACP in attendance include the Reverend
Julius C. Hope, the state president for the organization. Also
in attendance are members of a biracial committee, which has
been created in response to a list of demands the NAACP presented
to the mayor. The purpose of the committee is to objectively
review evidence from an incident that resulted in the death
of a black citizen. The NAACP has called the meeting to ease
racial tensions that have resulted from the death.
As Andrew Michael Manis writes in Macon Black
and White: An Unutterable Separation in the American Century (pp.
265-66), on June 24, 1971, police officer John R. Beck arrived
at the home of Sanders White to place him under arrest on disorderly
conduct charges. While attempting to detain Sanders, Jimmy
Lee White, Sanders’s brother, reportedly attacked Beck. In response,
Beck emptied all six rounds of his gun, killing Jimmie Lee instantly.
The black community immediately responded to the shooting, stating
that the incident was a case of police
brutality. Conversely, white witnesses claimed that the
shooting was justified, and alleged that Jimmie Lee attacked
Beck with a large flash light. Mayor Thompson agreed that the
shooting was necessary. Beck was arrested and charged with involuntary
manslaughter, yet maintained his position on the police
By June 28 the NAACP had requested a meeting with the mayor and
presented their list of demands. The demands included:
1) The suspension of Beck.
2) The removal of white officers from black neighborhoods.
3) The creation of a biracial review board to examine the
evidence in the case.
Mayor Thompson refused to suspend Beck and continued to assert
that the shooting was justified. Early on July 3, a group of black
citizens under the title of “Concerned Citizens” met briefly with
Thompson in what they described as an “unsatisfactory” meeting.
By the Independence Day holiday race relations were at their worse
and several firebombings had occurred.
In response, a mass
meeting of over 150 black citizens met at a local church.
Mayor Thompson declared an impromptu curfew for the city, which
began at 9:30 p.m. and would end at dawn the next day. Thompson
claimed that the curfew was necessary because he had received
evidence of threats by a certain group operating in the city,
and because there were a series of firebombs against local businesses.
The curfew upset both the black community and many of the white
City Councilmen and local businessmen. Mayor Thompson claimed that
the city was in a “state of emergency” and planned to repeat the
curfews as often as necessary. His executive order initially included
a span of thirty-six hours. A few days before, Thompson set a curfew
for businesses, restricting them from selling alcohol, guns, and
ammunition after five o’clock.
On July 15, the Bibb
County Grand Jury cleared Beck of charges, and angry black
Maconites clashed with police. On July 18, the NAACP led a march
of over 250 people through downtown Macon to the City
Hall in order to protest against police brutality and the
consequential disrespect towards black citizens. The NAACP also
led a rally to increase black voter
registration and participation. A week later, the NAACP scheduled
a series of meetings with city officials to end job bias and discrimination against
black citizens. These culminated on July 26 with plans to create
a biracial committee to address issues of discrimination.
The follow-up to the integration of physical facilities and the
passage of laws eradicating Jim
Crow policies and protecting African American voters and lives
was a much longer, protracted battle to change individuals' attitudes
about black people. The confrontations between Macon's white
city officials and members of its black community revealed suspicions
and assumptions that would repeat across the country as state after
state moved to institute the legal and social changes that the Civil
Rights Movement had wrought.
The essay, Mayor
Ivan Allan and Peyton Wall, on the Freedom
on Film Atlanta
page discusses real estate blockbusting. As it indicates,
residential neighborhoods in particular became staging grounds
in the late 1960s and early 1970s for both positive interactions
among members of different races and tensions between them. For
some African Americans during the civil rights era, the Movement's philosophy
of nonviolence had never been appealing or satisfying, and
those who considered change dangerously slow in coming did not
rule out violence as a means of gaining attention and concessions.
Resources (click here)
Printable Version (click here)
1. Speaking in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 31, 1963, shortly
after the successful Birmingham
Campaign to catalyze passage of the Civil
Rights Act, Dr.
King remarked that "A riot is the language of the unheard."
The 1960s were peppered by riots among "the unheard," among
African Americans living in poor urban communities, such as in the Watts
Riots in South Central Los Angeles (August 1965) and in inner-city
Detroit (July 1967). How do you think the rioters justified
their actions? What did the riots reveal about the relationship
between black communities and predominantly white law enforcement
and city officials, and between black communities in the cities
and white communities in the suburbs?
2. Read the brief Eyes on the Prize discussion of law
enforcement officers' responses to Civil
Rights Movement demonstrators during the early 1960s. The Albany
overview story in the "Freedom
on Film" Albany
pages will lead you to specific information on Police
Chief Laurie Pritchett's restrained response to activists.
Compare these responses to Mayor Ronnie Thompson, who earned the
nickname "Machine Gun Ronnie" for his tough talk against
looters and rioters. During the curfew, Mayor Thompson advised
his police officers to test fire machine guns and broadcast them
over their police radios in order to discourage rioters, and he
was also responding to rumors of snipers in the black community. Do
you think Thompson's methods were effective and appropriate or
not to stop violence and improve race relations in Macon during
the early 1970s?
3. Discuss how the following quotation by Dr. King from his 1967
Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? applies
to the Macon NAACP's attempts to work with city officials for better
"In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are
caught in an inescapapble network of mutuality, tied in a single
garment of destiny. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly. I
can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to
be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I
ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality."
4. Read about the Deacons
for Defense and Justice, a group of African American men in
Louisiana and Mississippi who carried armed themselves in order
to protect their communities and the Civil Rights activists them
from violence. Like the black Panthers (see
the essay on the Panthers in our Atlanta pages), the good
the Deacons accomplished was often overshadowed by menacing images
of their members toting guns. Do you agree or disagree with
their decision to carry arms? Was this an effective strategy
to gain equality and justice? Why or why not?
to the Streets!
29, 1992, a jury acquited four white Los Angeles police officers
who had been videotaped beating Rodney
King, an African American man of charges of assault and use
of excessive physical force. Angry at the jurors' decision, and
what they considered tacit support of police
brutality and racial
profiling, residents of the South Central Los Angeles community
began six days of rioting. Spend a week working with a group
of students to clip articles from your local newspaper that report
on crime and law enforcement. Pay attention as well to photographs
that accompany these news items. Focus on reports that involve
members of one of the following groups: African Americans, Latinos,
immigrants, inner-city residents, suburban residents, teenagers,
college students, celebrities, athletes, or professionals. At
the end of the week, make a oral presentation with your group
(about ten to fifteen minutes) on the patterns you have found,
and explain what these patterns demonstrate about attitudes towards
race, age, gender, and/or class in your community.
Writer: Delila Wilburn
Researchers: Stacie Walker and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Editor: Professor Barbara McCaskill
Web Site Designer: William Weems
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