Excerpt: 'Count Them One by One' By Gordon Martin


I had not thought about the situation really... because I was becoming acquainted with a new system, and it was occupying my time. But I remember one day Mr. Burger, who was registered himself, called me over the p.a. system to come up to the library.

When I got there, there was Mr. John Doar from the Justice Department, wanting to talk to me about going to Jackson to testify in this voting rights thing. When I agreed, he prepped me for going up there. He said, "Now the lawyers will try to trap you, and don't let them make you change your testimony." I said, "I'd like to see them make me change anything I want to say."

The prevailing attitude of the other black Hattiesburg teachers was let the Rowan teachers do it, and after they get it straight, then we'll all have the vote. I think they were quite satisfied to let us go and break the ice. They were afraid they were going to lose their jobs. And you know, had I been really homesteaded here, I can only speculate what my attitude would have been. Knowing me, I probably would have gone, but then again I might not have.

Miss Hopson was scared by the icy road conditions when she first went to court with David Roberson and others in January. She thought they'd never make it, and then the hearing didn't take place because Lynd and his lawyers didn't come. The second time Eloise went with Vernon Dahmer, whom she termed "a brave person, a determined person. He really believed in the cause and was not one to back down."

The Forrest County case had been filed in July 1961, along with complaints against two other Mississippi counties. The preliminary injunction hearing in Jackson should have been held within a few weeks of the filing of the complaint. For eight months there had been procedural skirmishes, motions for more definite statements and the like. In the three weeks before the trial, Bob Owen and I had obtained leads, which FBI interviews had confirmed, to a like number of white witnesses who we believed would testify to having just strolled in and signed the registration book or having been given easy sections of the state constitution to interpret.

Finally it was moving along. As the second day's afternoon session began, Ms. Hopson's arrival in the courtroom set off that afternoon's procedural skirmish, because her name had not appeared in the amended complaint.

After extended debate, John was permitted to orally amend the complaint to plead the specifics of Ms. Hopson's registration experience – but not without a tirade from Judge Cox:

The government acts like it is so put upon because I haven't set [this case] for trial, and apparently you all are not ready for trial. Now, if you want any more amendments, I am going to give these people a continuance.

Judge Cox had, however, already granted the defendants 30 days to file their answers to the amended paragraphs (the filing of which were not, in any case, necessary under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) and the same length of time to prepare to cross-examine the "surprise" witnesses.

BY MR. DOAR: . . .

Q. Would you tell the Court what happened when you got in that office?

A. Well, I made known my wishes to the clerk, who gave me a registration form to fill out. This registration form included a section of the Mississippi Constitution and I was told to . . . copy a part of it in the space provided, then write my interpretation of what I had read in the form provided.

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