Hidden History:Mississippi: Six White Men Murder Black Minister, Steal Land
In the 1940s, Reverend Isaac Simmons controlled more than 270 acres of debt-free land in Amite County, Mississippi, that his family had owned since 1887, unusual among black families in the South, where racism and poverty had posed obstacles to economic advancement for generations. A farmer and minister, Reverend Simmons worked the land with his children and grandchildren, producing crops and selling the property’s lumber.
In 1941, a rumor spread that there was oil in southwest Mississippi. A group of six white men decided they wanted the Simmons’s land and warned Reverend Simmons to stop cutting lumber. Reverend Simmons consulted a lawyer to work out the dispute and ensure his children would be the sole heirs to the property.
On Sunday, March 26, 1944, the men arrived at the home of Reverend Simmons’s oldest son, Eldridge. The men told Eldridge to show them where the property line ran and he agreed to do so. While Eldridge and the men were riding out to the property line in one of the men’s cars, the men began to beat Eldridge and shouted that the Simmons family thought they were “smart niggers” for consulting a lawyer. The men dragged Reverend Simmons from his home about a mile away and began beating him, too. They drove both Simmons men further onto the property and ordered Reverend Simmons out of the car. The men shot him three times, cut out his tongue, and told his son he had ten days to abandon the family property.
Three days after the murder, Eldridge and the rest of the Simmons family buried Reverend Simmons and then fled their land. The killers took possession of the land and an all-white jury later acquitted the only one of the six men to face trial for the murder.