Jessica Ingram

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t first glance, these landscape photographs could have been made nearly anywhere in the American South: a fenced-in backyard, a dirt road lined by overgrowth, a field grooved with muddy tire prints. These seemingly ordinary places, however, were the sites of pivotal events during the civil rights era, though often there is not a plaque with dates and names to mark their importance. Many of these places are where the bodies of activists, mill workers, store owners, sharecroppers, children and teenagers were murdered or found, victims of racist violence. Images of these places are interspersed with oral histories from victims’ families and investigative journalists, as well as pages from newspapers and FBI files, material from family archives, and other ephemera.

With Road Through Midnight, the result of over a decade of research and fieldwork, I am unlocking powerful and complex histories to reframe these commonplace landscapes as sites of both remembrance and resistance and transforms the way we regard both what has happened and what’s happening now—as the fight for civil rights goes on and memorialization has become the literal subject of contested cultural and societal ground.

Swamp, Midnight, Mississippi, 2005.

Old School Disco, Humphreys County, Mississippi, 2005.

On April 12, 1970, Rainey Pool, a fifty-four-year-old, one-armed sharecropper from Midnight, Mississippi, was beaten by a group of white men and dumped in the Sunflower River. Police found Pool’s body two days later. Four men were arrested and charged with assault and murder, one of whom confessed. The charges were dropped after the state court granted a nolle prosequi, a legal declaration in which a prosecutor declines to further pursue a case. In 1999, at the request of the Pool family, the case was reopened. Joe Oliver Watson pled to manslaughter and testified against the other men involved in Pool’s murder, which resulted in James “Doc” Caston, his brother Charles Ernie Caston, and his half-brother Hal Spivey Crimm being convicted of man-slaughter by a state jury and sentenced to twenty years in prison. A fourth man, Dennis Newton, was acquitted.

Pool’s daughter, Betty Whitaker, responded to the verdict: “It’s a happy day for me and my family. They didn’t have to do that to my father. They got what they deserved.”

Road Through Midnight, Mississippi, 2005.

Welcome to Midnight, Mississippi, 2005.

“Behold, Here Cometh the Dreamer,” National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, 2005.

Jimmie Lee Griffith, a twenty-six-year-old man, was murdered September 24, 1965, while walking home from a friend’s house in Sturgis, Mississippi. He was killed in a hit and run; the skid and burn marks on his body indicate that the car backed up over him. Griffith’s suspicious death was investigated at the time by the state and by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, but there were no indictments. The FBI reopened the case in 2008, after the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act became law, and closed it again in 2012. Page from undated FBI file, courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Site of Isaiah Henry’s home, Greensburg, Louisiana 2010.

Thirty-eight-year-old Isaiah Henry, who with his wife, Lillie, helped neighbors prepare to take their voter registration tests, was taken from his home in Greensburg, Louisiana, on July 28, 1954. He himself had voted for the first time the day before. Beaten and left for dead on the side of a road, Henry suffered severe brain damage from which he never fully recovered. In August 1954, Third Ward police juror Lester Hornsby and St. Helena Parish sheriff deputy Carl Womack were brought in on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder, but neither was indicted. The case, which had been reopened as part of the Department of Justice’s Cold Case Initiative, was closed in 2012. It was determined that there had not been a violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes since Isaiah Henry had not been killed and both alleged perpetrators were dead. Additionally, there is a five-year statute of limitations on nondeath violations of federal criminal law. Isaiah Henry passed away in 1973

Charles Henry holding a photograph of his father, Isaiah Henry, Greensburg, Louisiana, 2018.

Site of Frank Morris’s shoe shop, Ferriday, Louisiana, 2018.

Frank Morris, the owner of a shoe shop in Ferriday, Louisiana, was badly burned when Klansmen set fire to his shop and home on December 10, 1964. When he heard breaking glass and tried to get out the front door, he was ordered back inside by a man with a shotgun, and the shop was set alight. Fifty-one-year-old Morris died four days later from third-degree burns.

No one has been convicted of this crime, though several suspects were identified at the time. In 2007, the FBI reopened the case, closing it in 2014. Morris is believed to have been murdered by Klansmen, including suspects Arthur Leonard Spencer, Silver Dollar Group member Coonie Poissot, and Deputy Sheriff Frank DeLaughter, a suspect in Joseph Edwards’s disappearance.

Concordia Sentinel editor Stanley Nelson has thoroughly investigated Frank Morris’s life and murder and has written many pieces on civil rights–era cold cases from the 1960s in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, and Adams, Wilkinson, and Franklin Counties in Mississippi.

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While there is no overarching theme that unites every faculty member in this exhibition, everyone is connected to someone else through a web of ideas and provocations. We encourage you to use these tags to navigate from one scholar to the next, while understanding that these concepts do not fully account for the depth and nuance of the work you are encountering.

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