THE LOWER RIVER 129 piano in there an’ he would get on the piano an’ join us. Man, we would have a jam. That man could play a piano. And that went on for a long time.” The Civil Rights Era On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education. Segregation in education, and for all intents and purposes anywhere else, was declared unconstitutional. On July 11, 1954, opponents of school integration in Indianola, Mississippi, organized the first White Citizens’Council, soon renamed the Citizens’Council. Citizens’Councils quickly spread throughout the state, organizing whites in every county, including the Lower River counties, to resist integration by threats and economic pressure against theAfricanAmerican community. The African American community, however, had its own resources. In the seventy-eight years since the end of Reconstruction, it had built churches, businesses, farms, and fraternal organizations. Every one of the Lower River counties had its farmers, business owners, preachers, professionals, and, in Vicksburg and Natchez especially, factory workers. Vicksburg and Natchez had chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Together, they amounted to a reserve of economic power, education, and organizational ability strong enough to challenge white supremacy and segregation. After Brown v. Board of Education, that is exactly what they did. In Natchez and Vicksburg, local parents presented petitions to their school boards urging immediate desegregation. Elsewhere, more county NAACP chapters were formed. One such was begun in Amite County by a courageous farmer named E. W. Steptoe. African American farmers like Steptoe were a mainstay of the Civil Rights Movement in the Mississippi countryside. Steptoe would be the leading advocate for civil rights in Amite County throughout the civil rights era. Like all Mississippi NAACP chapters, his encountered hostility and harassment at the hands of local whites. In 1961, a voter registration drive was launched in McComb led by Robert Moses and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the request of African Americans from Amite and Walthall counties, the drive was expanded to include both. E. W. Steptoe provided local contacts and a place for activists to stay. On August 29, Robert Moses accompanied two Amite County residents, Preacher Knox and Curtis Dawson, to the Amite County Registrar’s office to register to vote. They were intercepted by a violent bully who subjected Moses to a brutal beating. His head wounds required nine stitches. The next day, Moses returned to Amite County and pressed charges, but his assailant was later acquitted. Shortly after the attack, Moses brought four more African American Amite County residents to the registrar’s office, but this attempt at voter registration also failed. The violence in Amite County reached an ugly crescendo in September, 1961, when Herbert Lee, a local civil rights activist, was shot and killed by Representative E. H. Hurst of the Mississippi legislature. Lee was shot in front of a cotton gin in Liberty. Witnesses backed up Hurst’s claim before the coroner’s jury that Lee attacked him with a tire iron despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary. In 1963, the SNCC, NAACP, and umbrella group of Mississippi civil rights organizations to which both belonged, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), returned with a project designed to demonstrate African American Mississippians’desire to vote. The freedom vote campaign was a mock registration of African American voters throughout Mississippi to be followed by a mock gubernatorial election to coincide with the real one. Robert Moses was one of the candidates. The other was the white chaplain of Tougaloo College, Ed King. Harassment of civil rights activists in the Lower River counties continued before and during the freedom vote campaign, but the campaign was fairly successful statewide. Along with registration and voting drives, it was a useful tool for getting local African Americans involved with the Civil Rights Movement and showed that they would vote if not prevented by segregation laws and intimidation. Civil rights work in the region was hampered by the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in Natchez. The Natchez Klan chapter was part of the newly formed White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, the Klan faction that would soon become notorious for bombings and murders throughout the state. Beginning in February 1964, a wave of violence, including one murder and an attack on Archie Curtis, an undertaker and chairman of the Natchez Business and Civic League’s voter registration drive. Curtis was lured to an empty road by a fake call to pick up a body, and he and his assistant were kidnapped and blindfolded by hooded men. The two victims were beaten severely. Archie Curtis and his assistant survived their ordeal. Two weeks earlier, Lewis Allen in Amite County had not In 1961, a voter registration drive was launched in McComb led by Robert Moses and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).