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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hazel Brannon Smith: One Courageous Woman

Bill Minor's column today was about Hazel Brannon Smith (1914-1994), the courageous editor of the Lexington Advertiser. Lexington is located in Holmes County, which is several counties north of the capital city of Jackson. The first time I heard Smith's name was when lieutenant governor Paul Johnson Jr. mentioned her in a negative light during his successful 1963 campaign for governor.

"Struggling to keep her own paper alive under an economic boycott pushed by the segregationist white Citizens Council..."

This reminds me of the pressure that the Citizens Council put on a friend of mine who owned a department store in Natchez. The council tried to get him to fire a long-time black employee who was a member of the NAACP, but my friend refused to do so.

Speaking of boycotts, Charles Evers led a number of effective ones against white merchants in the 1960s. He, of course, had succeeded his murdered brother Medgar as field secretary of the state NAACP.

Jane Seymour starred in the 1994 TV movie, "A Passion for Justice: the Hazel Brannon Smith Story." Like Vivien Leigh in "Gone With The Wind," Seymour was a British actress who affected a good Southern accent. The TV movie was directed by James Keach, Seymour's husband and the brother of actor Stacy Keach, who played one of my favorite characters, Mike Hammer, in the 1980s TV series.

I don't know if it actually happened, but in the movie, Smith's office was bombed and her printing press destroyed.

"Her husband, Walter Smith, had passed away..."

In the movie, Walter's death resulted from a fall off a ladder at home. Mrs. Smith herself died a few weeks after the movie was aired.

"... former Holmes County state Rep. Robert Clark, who made history by becoming in 1968 the first African American to be seated in the Mississippi Legislature since Reconstruction."

Clark's first term coincided with the four-year administration of our last segregationist governor, John Bell Williams. I'll never forget a speech that Williams made to a joint session of the legislature. The TV camera panned the chamber, and Clark, with his feet propped on his desk, was sound asleep. He, of course, later served as speaker pro tem of the House.

The Alabama-born Smith was definitely a gutsy woman.


Blogger Jeff Howell said...

Hazel's Jackson paper, the Northside Reporter, was firebombed a few days after it was announced that she won the Pulitzer. This was 1964. A few years later, fire damaged her paper in Lexington. Arson was suspected.

Sat Dec 19, 03:06:00 PM CST  

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