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Where is Vaiden, Mississippi?



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The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker
and the Robert Lee Goldsby Case


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1959 -- Poplarville, Mississippi -- Mack Charles Parker, a young black man was charged with the rape of a pregnant white woman. He was ultimately abducted from his jail cell by a white mob, beaten, transported across state lines, and shot. On Monday, May 4, 1959, his body was found wrapped in chains, floating in the Pearl River -- ten days after he was abducted from his cell at the Pearl River County Jail. A massive FBI investigation followed, two grand juries were convened to investigate the case, and no arrests or indictments were ever made.   Parker received the same fate as that of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was lynched in August 1955, simply for saying “Hey Baby,” and [possibly] whistling at a white store owner’s wife.  Till’s mutilated body was found several days later.  Parker, Till, and many other Blacks were victims of vigilante justice and racial tension in the South.


Why was Parker lynched ? How is his death connected with Vaiden, Mississippi?


1954 -- Vaiden, Mississippi -- A car with several blacks pulled into the Nelms Cafe on U.S. Highway 51, about 2 miles north of Vaiden. An altercation ensued between the owners, Bryant Nelms and his wife, Mozell, and the driver of the car, Robert Lee Goldsby. Goldsby pulled a gun and fired at the Nelms', killing Mrs. Nelms, and injuring her husband. Goldsby, a former resident of Canton, MS, was apprehended and convicted for the murder of Mrs. Nelms. Goldsby received the death sentence. The following from Howard Smead's excellent book, "Blood Justice -- The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker," explains the connection between the Goldsby case and the Parker case. It is quoted verbatim from the book.

The issue of blacks on grand and petit juries had been raised "because of a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that reversed the decision of the all-white jury in Vaiden, Mississippi, that had convicted Robert Lee Goldsby of murdering a white woman. The federal appeals court voided the conviction because no blacks had been on the jury. The thirty-three-year-old St. Louis-born Robert Lee Goldsby was a former school teacher in Canton, Mississippi. In 1954 he was indicted, tried, and convicted of the shotgun slaying of a white woman in Vaiden in Carroll County. His second trial in front of another all-white jury in Vaiden led to a second death sentence. Goldsby won several stays of execution before a jury with one black sentenced him to life imprisonment in 1961. [Ed. Note: CORRECTIONS -- Goldsby killed Mrs. Nelms with a .32 caliber pistol, not a shotgun. Goldsby was again sentenced to die in the second trial. No blacks were EVER on the jury. Goldsby was only tried twice. His second trial was in Hinds County, at Jackson, MS. Goldsby NEVER received a life sentence. He was sentenced to die both times and was finally executed in the Mississippi gas chamber at Parchman State Penitentiary on May 31, 1961, for the slaying.] Contrary to what the people in Pearl River County claimed, Goldsby never spent one day out of custody after he was arrested in 1954. The appeals court ruling reversed his first conviction in March 1959. Had Parker gone to trial and been convicted and [R. Jess] Brown [Parker's attorney] subsequently appealed, the same appeals court that heard Goldsby's case would have heard Parker's. This case provided perfect legal precedent for Brown's tactic, and he knew full well that an appeals court would have to throw out Parker's conviction. Once raised by Brown, the Goldsby case became a major topic of conversation in Poplarville as Parker's trial date neared. The Goldsby case stirred up a tremendous amount of ill will among Southern whites, most particularly those living in southern Alabama and southern Mississippi near the location of the murder and subsequent trial. Whites feared, and quite rightfully so, that Parker and any other black tried before an all-white jury could have a guilty verdict reversed because of the appeals court decision." Blood Justice, P. 22.

"The fear that the legal system would not convict and sentence blacks for any crime was, ironically, the result of white control of the legal system. The Mississippi Plan, which the state had adopted in 1890, had, through the poll tax and literacy and understanding tests and other Jim Crow devices, disenfranchised thousands of black voters, and eventually spread throughout the South. Names of those not allowed to register to vote did not appear on the jury rolls. Disenfranchisement, therefore, meant exclusion from the jury system as well. As a result -- an intended result -- white juries tried black criminals. Then came the Goldsby decision, which overturned the conviction of a black man because his trial jury had not included blacks. The Goldsby decision underscored the fact that the white South had crippled its own court system by rendering it incompetent to try black criminals. Unfortunately, the only alternative in many white minds was lynch law. Thus, the lynch mobs were not the result of black criminality or an unfriendly federal judiciary -- these were red herrings. Lynch mobs, by 1959 at least, resulted from whited being ensnared by their own prejudice. Committed to seeing blacks punished for their offenses, whites now felt punishment was up to them rather than the legal system. They had already lynched the legal system." Blood Justice, P. 32.

"While several of Mississippi's large, influential newspapers remained silent on their editorial pages, the relatively liberal New Orleans Times-Picayune spoke out against the lynching. The precedent of an all-white jury overturning the conviction of a black man in the Goldsby case was 'not the slightest justification for the apparently criminal act in Poplarville,' the newspaper stated. The Jackson State-Times agreed: 'The perpetrators of the Friday night offense not only committed a crime against society in violation of Mississippi law, they also committed a grave disservice to the people of our state and the South. Disciples of hate,' it added, 'will warp the truth of this tragedy in Poplarville.' The Memphis Commercial Appeal urged a speedy resolution: 'The surest way for Mississippi to counteract the injury now done is to make certain that the Poplarville lynchers are brought to the justice they defiled.'" Blood Justice, P. 96.

". . . .Erle Johnston published an editorial in his newspaper, asserting the NAACP 'must share part of the blame' for the mob's action. Referring to the Goldsby case, Johnston pointed out, 'The NAACP has been instrumental in obtaining the decision and through its legal actions has made a mockery of our court system. No doubt this was in the mind of the mob members as they spirited the Negro away to face some kind of justice for his crime.'" Blood Justice, P. 101.

"Johnston and the other white Southerners had to search hard to find a way to link the NAACP with the lynching. Many Pearl River County residents blamed the U.S. Supreme Court and the NAACP for the lynching and the civil rights bill, incorrectly attributing to the Supreme Court the decision made by the state supreme court in the Goldsby case, which led the people in Poplarville to believe that Parker would go unpunished for his deeds. The court decision, not a tendency to lawlessness, they argued, caused the lynching." Blood Justice, P. 102.

"[U.S.] Senator [John] Carroll concluded his questioning of [Gov. J.P.] Coleman by asking him why the Justice Department had ignored the federal statute against conspiracy by police officers to deprive a person of his civil rights and an anti-disguise law. The governor declined to comment on that, adding only that the Goldsby case had caused grave concern in his state. 'We look upon that case most seriously,' he said.
. . . .'I make no alibi or excuse for the Poplarville incident,' Coleman told the angry senator, 'but candor forces me to point out the unrest in Mississippi as a result of the previous case.'. . . .Testifying after the governor, Joe Patterson told the senators, 'The Poplarville lynching would never have occurred' had it not been for the Goldsby case." Blood Justice, P. 166.

"As in the Goldsby case, had Brown's ploy been successful, and it would have been, Parker would not have been released necessarily. Goldsby was not. Parker's case would have been remanded to the district court for retrial." Blood Justice, Endnote 51, P. 216.


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The Case of Robert Lee Goldsby


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Page III


Page II


Back Home Again . . .Page I


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