Where is Vaiden, Mississippi?
The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker
and the Robert Lee Goldsby Case
-- 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,
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,
"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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