Doug Evans, the prosecutor who will put Curtis Flowers on trial for a record sixth time in June of 2010, has close links to an organization that denounces the civil rights movement as a communist conspiracy and wishes it could reinstitute Jim Crow segregation. Don’t believe me? Read on.
The year was 1992. The place was the meeting room of the Regency Inn in Greenwood, Mississippi. The keynote speaker was Robert “Tut” Patterson, father of America’s White Citizens’ Council movement and a featured columnist with “The Informer”, a publication of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Patterson’s topic was the “historical background of the ‘civil rights’ movement.” Other speakers at the Council of Conservative Citizens seminar included District Attorney Doug Evans (D) of Grenada.
The Greenwood meeting wasn’t considered controversial. It was covered on the local ABC affiliate and the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and the Greenwood Commonwealth provided coverage and, if the write-up in the Informer is anything to go by, “Reports were carried by the news media across the South.”
And why not: the keynote speakers for the gala banquet later that evening were Kirk Fordice, the newly elected Mississippi Governor, and Senator Trent Lott. “The people in this room stand for the right principles and the right philosophy,” Lott told the gathering.
Ten years later, Senator Lott would be forced to resign his position as Senate leader after remarks he made at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. Lott reminded the gathering that Thurmond had run for president as a segregationist Dixiecrat in 1948 and recalled that Mississippi voters had supported his candidacy ”If the rest of the country had followed our lead,” Lott told the gathering, ”we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”
Lott insisted that he didn’t mean to endorse the politics of segregation, but it was difficult to understand what else he might have had in mind.
But that was 2002 and Doug Evans’ speech in Greenwood took place a decade earlier, just a few years after the Council of Conservative Citizens rose from the ashes of the old Citizens’ Councils. In 1991 the Citizen Informer reported that “Thirty of the thirty-nine candidates for state and district offices” had addressed the Council of Conservative Citizen’s Black Hawk Rally. You can’t get more mainstream than that?
A 1991 edition of the Informer proudly reported that Doug Evans, then a Justice Court Judge running for District Attorney, gave the keynote address at the Council of Conservative Citizen’s Webster County meeting. The CCC might have looked like a tawdry pack of racists to most Americans but to an insider like Doug Evans it just looked like normal.
When Mississippi politicians like Trent Lott, State Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona), State Representative Bobby Howell (R-Kilmichael) or District Attorney Doug Evans (D-Grenada) are asked about their cozy relationship with the racist CCC they give a standard response: “Everybody was doing it and, besides, I didn’t know I was addressing a racist organization.”
Why does it matter anyway? Who on earth is this Doug Evans character I keep mentioning and why should you care who he talked to back in the day?
Doug Evans is the prosecutor who has made five (5) failed attempts to sentence a young gospel singer named Curtis Flowers to death for murdering four people in a Winona, Mississippi furniture store in 1996. This is the case that has divided Winona along racial lines. The jury in trial number four (the only jury with a substantial number of black residents) split 7-5: all seven white jurors voting guilty and all five black jurors voting for acquittal. Trial number three ended in a unanimous guilty verdict after Doug Evans moved heaven and earth to produce an all-white jury in a county that is half black. (The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Evans’ behavior in the jury selection process demonstrated clear racial bias.)
Recently, Doug Evans attempted to prosecute James Bibbs, a black juror who refused to find Curtis Flowers guilty. Judge Joey Loper accused Bibbs of lying to get on the jury. Last week the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office looked at the facts and dropped the charges.
What would happen if the Curtis Flowers case was dumped in the AG’s lap? What would happen if a fresh set of investigators went back to square one and re-interviewed all the witnesses and re-evaluated all the physical evidence? Would they proceed to a sixth trial, or would they drop the charges against Flowers for the same reason they refused to proceed against Bibbs?
It’s hard to say, but I think we need to find out. A man as racially biased as Doug Evans shouldn’t be in charge of a racially sensitive murder prosecution.
Moreover, a racially biased state senator and house representative shouldn’t be sponsoring legislation designed to get the racially biased Mr. Evans another all-white jury.
Return with me to the CCC event in 1992, four years before the tragic events in Winona. Doug Evans is sitting at the table of honor listening to Robert “Tut” Patterson place the “civil rights” movement in historical context. What did the founder of the White Citizens’ Councils have to say?
Fortunately, we don’t have to guess. In 2006, the CCC reprinted Patterson’s last column, written just a few months previously, in which, once again, he placed the civil rights movement in historical context. We might expect that the veteran segregationist, an old man weeks away from death, had little new to say on the subject and that his speech in 1992 closely resembled the column from 2006.
Patterson (pictured to the left in his prime) began his final column with a harrangue against the “liberal reporters” who covered the Emmett Till trial in 1955. Did they even once report that Louis Till, Emmett’s father, was executed by the US military following the second world war? According to Patterson, the media should have realized that the children of flawed parents can be murdered indiscriminately.
I suspect he made a similar case in 1992, with Doug Evans nodding his agreement.
Next, Patterson attacked George W. Bush for advocating the renewal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act–at the Rosa Parks memorial, no less. Rosa, as every Southern conservative knows, was a communist agitator. According to Bob Patterson, the Voting Rights Act has carried nothing but woe and pestilence in its wake. “The liberal media help to keep the blacks stirred so they will vote, usually Democrat, on election day by rehashing events that may have happened fifty years ago. How many times has Mississippi Burning been shown on TV?”
Patterson didn’t mention that he was one of Mississippi’s fanatical never-in-a-thousand-years boys who engineered events like the killing in Neshoba County or the brutal beating of Annell Ponder and Fannie Lou Hamer in Winona. Sheriff Earl Wayne Patridge may have orchestrated the violence in Winona, but the likes of Robert Patterson and Senator James Eastland shaped the context. The Citizens’ Councils preferred to starve out the opposition, but the rope, shotgun and blackjack were always kept in the trunk just in case.
Patterson’s next target was ”Black Monday” and the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. “These civil rights bills have forced white people to flee from their neighborhoods all over our nation,” Patterson lamented. ”The only defense against forced integration and government-controlled schools in the North, West and South is white flight and private schools.”
This last comment is fitting considering that the CCC was created to raise money for all-white segregation academies.
Finally, lest anyone question his commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, Patterson provided a brief disclaimer. ”We all expect healthy dissent in our form of government,” he said, ”and there must always be a loyal opposition. We should expect, however, a reliable impartial news media that will give both sides of all issues so that the voters can vote intelligently.”
Did Patterson believe in “healthy dissent” in 1954 when he formed the Citizens’ Council, or in 1964 when he opposed the Civil Rights Act, or in 1965 when he used all means necessary to keep black people from voting in Mississippi? Hardly. Those who disagreed with the Jim Crow regime, white or black, were systematically persecuted, beaten or deprived of an occupation. If that didn’t work they were beaten or disappeared.
Strangely, men like Patterson and Eastland remained active in mainstream politics when the civil rights era ended. Nobody held them accountable for their actions back in the day. For a brief period between 1998 and 2002 southerners with links to the Council of Conservative Citizens were anathema. Then old patterns reasserted themselves. A rehabilitated Trent Lott had risen to the position of Republican Senate whip by the time he retired in 2006.
Here’s the problem: You couldn’t condemn Lott and company without taking on a wide swath of mainstream southern culture. You can’t critique Doug Evans for the same reason.
We can assume that in 1992 Robert Patterson gave the folks in the Greenwood Regency Inn his standard anti-civil rights speech and that an appreciative audience rose in a loud and lusty ovation.
Did Doug Evans, the newly minted prosecutor from Grenada, stomp out of the room in angry protest? Was he sitting on his hands while others rose to applaud?
Not at all. The prosecutor stood and clapped along with everyone else as he patiently waited his turn at the microphone. Civil rights bashing was part of the political culture the District Attorney was raised in. It was the only style of politics he knew. It is the only style of politics he knows. The Council of Conservative Citizens preaches a gospel of civil rights resentment. In this culture, “conservative” is code language for “white”.
You have to pity a guy like Doug Evans–what are the chances that a boy raised in a civil rights hating culture could emerge with a stout commitment to equal justice? But when we see the man prosecuting an evidence-free case against a black defendant we have the responsiblity to raise questions. I don’t wish to be disagreeable, but a man’s life is on the line here.
In 1992, the Citizens Informer billed itself as “The Voice of the No Longer Silent Majority”. Perhaps it was. Perhaps it still is. Which may explain why Lydia Chassaniol’s recent address to the annual conference of the CCC drew a collective yawn from the Mississippi press. And this may explain why everyone assumes that the five black jurors who voted to acquit Curtis Flowers in trial #4 were just trying to protect one of their own.
Could it be that black jurors, because they didn’t grow up under the spell of men like Eastland and Patterson, are in a better position to see through a desperately weak case?
Has anyone in the Mississippi media stopped to examine the “evidence” Evans has scraped together in the Flowers case? It appears not. Doug Evans, the duly elected protector of the Peace and Dignity of Mississippi, grew up on a steady diet of black-bashing like the following:
Nearly a third of all black men in their twenties have criminal records and 8% of all black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are behind bars. Although blacks are only 13 percent of our overall population in the U.S. they account for more than half of all new HIV infections. Black women account for an astonishing 72% of all new cases among women. Over two thirds of all black children are born out of wedlock.
That’s a straight quote from Bob Patterson’s final column in the Informer. It’s the same garbage you can read today on the CCC’s website. Patterson didn’t want his lilly white children going to school with a bunch of black thugs and welfare queens.
When Doug Evans sees Curtis Flowers in the courtroom he doesn’t see a gospel singer, he sees a cold-hearted super predator–the kind of guy Bob Patterson (and a thousand speakers of the same ilk) warned him about. Nothing could be more natural than for a guy like that to blow away four innocent people in cold blood. That’s just the way those people are.I may have the Honorable Doug Evans all wrong. For all I know he may be be a card carrying member of the liberal ACLU. If I have misread the man I ask his friends to set me straight. Show me the evidence and I will issue a sincere apology. But from where I sit, Fannie Lou Hamer and Curtis Flowers have more in common than a love for gospel music.