On April 24, 1956, the state of Louisiana, through Judge Coleman Lindsey, started an all out war to eradicate itself of the NAACP. It was a direct response to cases like Brown vs. the Board of Education and campaigns like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The injunction Lindsey issued literally forbade the NAACP from “doing any business or acting as a corporation” in the state of Louisiana. The injunction was based on the Fuqua Law which was actually created to get rid of the Klu Klux Klan in the state and “mandated organizations to provide a list of members to the state and if they did not, the organization would be prohibited from operating.” The NAACP fought the effort in court and branches across the state began to disband and reform themselves under different names. Those who didn’t fight gave their lists over or had them taken and the names of the membership published in the local paper. This was a dangerous and violent act considering that people could be or were killed over just an association with the NAACP.
In Lake Providence, LA, a grand jury was convened and subpoenaed officers of the local chapter, which included my great uncle, Rev. Francis Joseph Atlas, Sr. and Rev. John Henry Scott and his wife, Alease, among others. The locals wanted them to give up their membership lists and records to keep them in line and to not even think about trying to increase their integration efforts. Luckily, nothing stopped them. Uncle Joseph and Rev. Scott would testify in front of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission just four years later regarding their inability to vote. Their testimonies were part of the effort that lead to the Voting Rights Act.
I had heard of this incident care of Cleo Brown Rowland and when I checked court records locally, found not a trace of it on paper. That is, until last night, when I searched through the records of the NAACP held at the Library of Congress. Below, find a copy of the subpoena and a news release sent to the Pittsburgh Courier to print in it’s Louisiana edition that details the situation.
Here’s what I want to call out though.
The notary on the grand jury document is the same woman would go on to become the clerk of court in East Carroll Parish and serve in that capacity for more than 50 years until she retired. This meant me and Jean Denton-Thompson were sharing space with a person who willingly participated in the subjugation of our family that could have cost all of us our lives the first time I went to visit that courthouse in 2006 to do genealogy research. Thankfully, upon her retirement, Beatrice Carter was elected and became the first Black clerk of court and has since retired and Rene Thomas Williams is now the clerk.
The judge on the grand jury doc: His wife was the niece of family friend, Senator Joseph Ransdell. Her son, Senator Ransdell’s nephew, would serve as the first head of the Louisiana Sovereignty Commission which surveilled people involved in the Civil Rights Movement, including members of our family. He was also the Lake Providence city attorney and represented area businessmen who tried to economically coerce my uncle and family out of the area after he testified.
Just like slavery was a system, segregation was one too, and no one will be spared from the truth being told. Not when the descendants of those who suffered through the institutions have the access, skill, and knowledge to bring light to the misdeeds of previous generations that are right there to be found. We don’t and won’t turn a blind eye.
For more information on the 1956 efforts by the state of Louisiana, visit the Amistad Center blog.