Clinton Melton

Background

Clinton Melton lived in Glendora, Mississippi. Married to Beulah Melton, the couple had four children. Melton worked as a service station attendant in Glendora. Shortly after the Emmett Till murder threw the national spotlight on Mississippi, Melton was himself shot and killed.

On December 3, 1955, Elmer Otis Kimball, a cotton gin operator, asked Melton to fill his car up with gas. Kimball became enraged because of something having to do with this transaction, and he threatened to come back to the gas station and kill Melton. Kimball was driving the automobile of J. W. Milam, one of the men who had been acquitted of killing Emmett Till in August of 1955. Kimball did in fact return to the station with a shotgun. With no provocation, he shot and killed Melton in full view of the gas station owner and other witnesses.

NAACP Director Medgar Evers consults with Clinton Melton’s wife, Beulah.

Several white witnesses deemed the incident to be murder, and an indictment was returned against Kimball. Beulah Melton asked Medgar Evers not to involve the NAACP because, in the wake of the Till case, she feared that justice would be harder to achieve with the organization’s involvement. David Halberstam, a journalist in Mississippi who worked on the Till case, had remained working and covered the Prosecution of Kimball.

Legal Status

The Kimball trial was held in the same courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi where Till’s killers had been tried earlier in 1955. In Kimball’s case, having learned of the power of the press from the Till matter, the court prohibited cameras in the courtroom.

Kimball was charged with murder. The defense theory was self-defense. There were three state witnesses – Lee McGarrh, the filling station owner and Melton’s white boss, who testified that Melton did not have a gun and did not provoke the attack; John Henry Wilson, a black man who testified that Kimball said he was going to kill Melton and would kill Wilson too if he got in the way; and another man who was ten feet away from the incident and testified he did not see a gun in Melton’s hand.

Witnesses for the defense – none of them eyewitnesses – included the sheriff, deputy sheriff, and chief of police. Kimball, the defendant, claimed Melton cursed at him during the argument. He claimed he had a scar from a bullet wound that came from a gun shot by Melton, and he produced a doctor who claimed it was indeed a gunshot wound. An all white jury acquitted Kimball after deliberating for four hours.

BEULAH MELTON

In March 1956, just before the Kimball trial was scheduled to commence, Beulah Melton, Clinton’s wife, died in a car accident. She drowned after her car ran off the road into the bayou near Glendora. Clinton’s two small children, who were passengers in the car, were saved by a relative driving by the scene.