On December 3, 2010, Frederick Jermaine Carter, a 26 year old African American, was found hanging from an oak tree in an open field near Greenwood, Mississippi. Rose Sanders, a human rights attorney in Selma, Ala., announced the terrible news in the sanctuary of the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. The gathering was part of the Southern Human Rights Organizers' conference in Birmingham, Ala. Dec. 10-12.
Greenwood is about ten miles north of Money, Mississippi, where the tortured body of 14 year old Emmett Till was found in 1955. Till was beaten, shot, strangled with barbed wire and then thrown into the Tallahatchie River. The gruesome image of Till's body, displayed in an open casket, was published in Jet magazine bringing the racist brutality in that Mississippi town to the world's attention.
"Why haven't we heard a national outcry from our national organizations about the hanging of black men on trees?" Sanders asked the question again of NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, the keynote speaker at the conference luncheon, attended by human rights organizers and activists from throughout the southern United States and allies in the northern states. Participants also came from Haiti, Liberia, Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico.
Carter, 26, who lived in Sunflower, Mississippi, was out on a painting job with his step-father, Sanders said. They were working in the predominately White North Greenwood area of Leflore County, Mississippi. According to reports, Carter's stepfather left to get tools, and when he returned Carter was gone. His body was found, and photographed, hanging from a tree. His funeral is December 18.
"Where it appears to be an actual hanging," the NAACP CEO said, "We tend to go straight to the DOJ (Department of Justice), with evidence from our local folks."
The persistence of racism and human rights abuses was evident from testimony and accounts of many who participated in the 8th bi-annual Southern Human Rights Organizers' Conference. The collective power of the individuals and organizations assembled was matched by the determination to persist with organized action to bring change.
Another instance brought to the attention of participants, by conference founder and organizer Attorney Jaribu Hill, of the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, is the case of Mississippi sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott. She urged participants to write letters to Gov. Haley Barbour on behalf of the unjustly held sisters. They went before the Mississippi Board of Pardon and Parole on December 13. The sisters have already been imprisoned sixteen years.
"The case of the Scott sisters is both a human rights violation and a violation of women's rights," said Attorney Chokwe Lumumba, a human rights defender in Jackson, Mississippi. Lumumba is active in efforts to win their release. The sisters were convicted of an $11 robbery after being implicated by three male acquaintances; all now are free after just a few years in prison. The Scott sisters, in an astounding abuse of judicial power, were sentenced to two consecutive life sentences. That was in 1993. Now the N.A.A.C.P. is trying to win a pardon for them from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
Lumumba, like many Black men of his generation, was deeply affected by the Jet magazine photograph of a 14-year-old Emmitt Till, kidnapped, tortured and murdered in rural Mississippi for whistling at a white woman. He has spent a lifetime representing poor people and political activists and defending individuals and groups whose human rights have been violated.
At a closing plenary of the conference Lumumba said, "Coming here fuels us, unites us, helps us understand the different ways we have to go out and fight.We have to continue this message of unity, build on it and make sure we take it to the streets."