Towards the end of freedom summer 1964, three civil rights workers were dug up from an earthen dam at depth from 14 feet on August 4, 1964 in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Their names were James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman. At the same time, many Black communities, across the state were experiencing the wrath of hatred from white racists who induced terrorism to maintain racial apartheid in Mississippi.
McComb, MS is a small town located about 80 miles outside of Jackson, MS, the state’s capital. McComb, Mississippi was deemed the “Bomb Capital of the world in 1964.” From June through September of 1964, the Black community experienced over a dozen bombings and a numerous number of violent acts during that summer. Any Blacks that were involved with the civil rights movement, voter registration, or providing any assistance to the movement were targeted. White business owners used economic punishment against Blacks who worked for them. The COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) headquarters on 702 Wall St. was bombed on July 8th. Two teenage Black students at a freedom school–who had been receiving harassing phone calls were arrested for using profanity over the phone–tried without counsel and sentenced one year each to jail under the “Mississippi Phone Harassment Law “.
Black churches were burned down in the area, and the sounds of explosions were so frequent that McComb residents couldn’t sleep, and most Blacks didn’t go to sleep until early morning hours. Local authorities and the federal government provided no protection from the violence. In most cases, local law were involved with the terror. They normally showed up after the bombings to intimidate victims and remove any evidence from the explosion site.
The bombing of Mrs. Aleyne Quinn’s home sparked a Black uprising in McComb on September 20, 1964. Being that this was after the 13th bombing, Blacks were fed up at this point. They had accepted the fact that there wouldn’t be any protection for exercising their constitutional rights from local and federal authorities. Mrs. Quinn, also known as “Mama Quinn“, was a freedom fighter, entrepreneur, and a respected figure in the community. Fourteen sticks of dynamite exploded, just beneath of where her two young children slept. Luckily, there were only minor injuries. The local authorities arrested Mrs. Quinn for blowing up her own home. Another church was bombed the same night, marking the fourteenth bombing.
Blacks took to the streets with rage, moltov cocktails, rifles, and shotguns. Police cars were burned. State police were dispatched to the area. White citizens were shot at by snipers. The local white community was met with extreme resistance. A small riot ensued. Although there were causalities on both sides, whites feared for their life and retreated. Realizing that this had boiled over, the local authorities reached out to the federal government for assistance. Mike Wallace, an American journalist, broadcasted on the air that there was a “Negro riot” in McComb ,Mississippi. Two days later, Mrs. Quinn and three other freedom fighters traveled to the nation’s capital , and met with President Lyndon B. Johnson. The next week, three white men were brought up on charges for carrying out some of the racial bombings.
When we think of bombings, we think of instances like the bombing that occurred at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and how horrific that was. Imagine the pain these residents endured during that summer of 1964.
Below is information pulled from Historical Manuscripts. This is witness account from Freedom Fighters, who were working in McComb that summer. This is a written note from Sept 20, 1964.
The first bomb comes at 10:50. Most of the Negros of McComb are in bed, but only some are sleeping.These days, most Adult Negroes in McComb don’t fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning. Then the blast–that sickening, anguishing sound that has been heard twelve previous times over the last three months–that sound that Negros in McComb have come to know so well. Everyone in McComb hears the sound of the blast. McComb is a small town and very very quiet. At night, the sound of the blast can be heard for miles. And so tonight, the blast is heard for the 13th and shortly later for the 14th time . Tonight, the sound is even more anguishing. The pain grows worse with each bombing. Every negro in McComb instantly knows what that sound means…And then the moments of torment—who’s house, who is dead ? Its not mine. Then who? My neighbor? My friend –my mother ,my brother, my son, or maybe COFO again. Who? And one’s stomach aches with pain, and the pain seeps up into the chest and the head, and comes out of every paw. Who? Is someone dead? The fear and the suspense grows . The anguish becomes unbearable. People grab whatever clothing they can find and run out into the streets.
by Reginald Mazique