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The Militant, 22 June 1946

Evelyn Atwood

31 Tennessee Atrocity Victims Face Frame-Up in White Court

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 25, 22 June 1946, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Thirty-one hand-picked Negro victims of Tennessee’s white ruling class have been standing trial since May 28 in Maury County courthouse, Columbia, Tenn., on a frame-up charge of “attempt to commit murder.”

This is the second phase of a campaign of mass terrorism and murder launched against the segregated Negro community of Columbia last February. State troops, coming to the aid of a white lynch mob, blasted Negro homes and businesses with machine guns, shot and injured scores, invaded and ransacked homes, and drove the helpless Negro population into the streets. They mercilessly clubbed men, women and children, jailed more than a hundred and lynched two men in jail.

This mass trial is designed to strike further terror into the hearts of the Negro residents of Tennessee. It coincides with the intensified efforts of the Southern employers to use Jim Crow as a weapon against the organizing campaigns of the CIO and AFL.

The trial is taking place in a Jim Crow courtroom where no Negro has ever served on a jury. Defense attorneys, provided by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are introducing evidence proving that Jim Crow prejudice is so widespread that it is virtually impossible to secure a jury that would give the Negro defendants a fair trial.

Will Voorhies, 72-year-old Negro farmer, 217th defense witness to testify in the first two weeks, and who himself fought off being lynched in February, declared in the courtroom:

“I attended trials for more than 35 years ip this courtroom. I worked for Will Toller, a white lawyer ... During that 35 years I never saw a Negro drawn for jury service.”

When the assistant State’s Attorney tried to intimidate him, Voorhies, shaking his finger at the prosecutor, courageously reiterated: “There ain’t been no colored person on a jury here for the past 50 years!”

Defense attorneys attempted to show that even where the law formally does not exclude Negroes from jury duty, social custom and official sanction does. But Maury County Judge Joe M. Ingram sought to exclude such testimony by declaring: “We can’t get afield here on social customs and practices. We are more concerned if a legal right is violated.”

Already vigilante threats of violence, official and unofficial, are rampant against those who are defending the indicted Negro citizens. The atmosphere is ominous with mounting race-hate and hints of further bloodshed. Even the chief defense counsel for the 31 Negroes, Z. Alexander Looby, finds it prudent to commute every day to Columbia from Nashville, some 50 miles away. Newspaper reporters have been advised to stay away and are very scarce.

While this mass frame-up is going on, not a single white hoodlum who participated in the February armed assaults upon the defenseless Negro population, has been arrested and indicted. No action has been taken against the two officers of the “law” who shot two jailed Negroes to death in cold blood. The native fascists who marked a large KKK on a casket in a Negro undertaking establishment are at large and continuing their sinister work of inspiring a lynch atmosphere.

So vicious is the atmosphere, that Thurgood Marshall, heading the NAACP defense counsel, is preparing to ask for a change of venue for the trial.

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