Amite County, Mississippi

Rev. Isaac Simmons

Some of the most shocking incidents of violence of the Jim Crow era took place in Amite County, Mississippi. In many of these cases, county officials knew who the perpetrators were and yet never brought them to justice.

Rev. Isaac Simmons, an African American landowner, was one such victim. On March 26, 1944, Simmons was dragged from his home and shot to death within earshot of his own son. It is unclear whether the white men who killed him were trying to take possession of Simmons’ land—where there was rumored to be oil—or trying to find the recipe to one of Simmons’ livestock remedies. Whatever the motive, six men were arrested. One of these men was tried in state court and acquitted by an all-white jury. Charges against the others were dismissed. For years, Simmons’ son tried unsuccessfully to reclaim his father’s land, which was mysteriously lost after his death.

In her autobiography, Coming of Age in Mississippi, Annie Mae Moody recounts several racially motivated atrocities that took place in Amite County, Mississippi.  She relates that in 1956, a fire burnt down the Taplin family house in the middle of the night.   The family was inside, and several family members perished in the fire.  According to Moody, the family was a victim of mistaken identity. The Ku Klux Klan, or the Guild, as the Klan was sometimes referred to, meant to target the Taplins’ neighbor: a light-skinned African American man who was allegedly having a relationship with a widowed, white mother of three. Most of the history of Amite discussed in Moody’s book has been corroborated, but some have questioned the story of the Taplin fire. The fire was never mentioned in county fire records or local newspapers of that time period, leaving later investigators to conclude that it must never have happened. Michael Newton, in The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, states that Moody must have been mistaken. While dispositive evidence is not yet available, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic has uncovered some accounts that suggest that Moody was correct in describing the Taplin fire, although she may not have accurately described the motive for the crime.

Herbert Lee

Eight or nine members of a Taplin or Tapin family are listed in the Lynching Calendar under deaths that took place in June 1956.  Similarly, Where Rebels Roost: Mississippi Civil Rights Revisited, by Susan Klopfer, lists members of a Taplin family in its Appendix of deaths.

While a family might have indeed been murdered in a fire in 1956, the evidence seems to suggest that the actual perpetrator was an African American man. The same man may have had some connection to the murder of Samuel O’Quinn in 1959.  The Clinic is seeking information regarding the Taplin murders. Please contact us at 617-373-8243 or email us at crrjneu@gmail.com.

On September 25, 1961, E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi state legislature, shot and killed Herbert Lee, a voting rights activist, in Liberty in front of about a dozen witnesses. Hurst, along with Deputy Sheriff Daniel Jones and other supporters, threatened the black witnesses, demanding that they testify that Hurst had acted in self-defense. The                                                           witnesses perjured themselves before the coroner’s jury and the jury ruled the homicide justifiable.

Louis Allen

Louis Allen, one of the testifying witnesses in Lee’s murder, eventually told FBI investigators that he had been forced to lie.  He related the true story of Lee’s murder – that Lee was shot by Hurst without any provocation. As soon as Allen came forward, he and his family were harassed.  On one occasion Allen was severely beaten and arrested by Sheriff Jones and his associates.  He was denied credit and could no longer maintain his business as a logger. Ultimately, Allen made plans to leave Amite County, but he never made it out. On January 31, 1964, he was shot to death on his own driveway.  Sheriff Jones was suspected of being involved in the Allen killing, but no one has ever been charged.  The Allen case remains on the FBI list of civil rights-era cold cases.