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


Ms. Hopson interpreted Section 233 that the Board of Levee Commissioners was empowered to appropriate land necessary for the construction, maintenance and repair of the levees in their several districts and to make due compensation to those persons who sustained loss or damage of property in that transaction.

That's all it said. Now it took a lot of wording to say that, but that was the essence of it, just as simple as anything. And the idea that somebody thought that a certified teacher couldn't interpret that was ridiculous.

Q. Now, did you have any further discussion with the lady after you completed the form?

A. Well, during the time I was to copy that section in the registration form, I commented to her that there was not enough space provided to copy that whole section and she told me that she could not discuss the form with me.

Q. And what conversation did you have with her after you had finished the form?

A. I asked her when would I know whether or not I had passed the examination. And she said that I should come back in three or four days to find out.

Hopson testified that she did go back in about three days and was told she'd have to see Mr. Lynd who was not in. Another week passed, and this time she told the court that she did see Lynd, that he asked her name, went to a cabinet, picked up her form, and said, "No, you did not pass," that she thanked him and left.

It turned out that Eloise Hopson was not above stretching the truth, at least as to a detail that was a foregone conclusion. Up there on the witness stand, I lied like a trouper. I was supposed to have gone back and been told that I did not pass. But before I went back to see about my status, Mr. Doar wanted me to go to Jackson. So I just went and got up there and said, "Yes, I went back, and he told me I didn't pass." As far as Mr. Doar knew, I had gone back. I'm not ashamed a bit, I'm shameless.

And see, Theron Lynd didn't remember whether I had gone back or not. If I couldn't read, then there was something wrong with the Bureau of Certification in Mississippi, because I had been certified to teach; it was just ridiculous if they were certifying people to teach who can't read. That big blustery man!

But the inconsistencies in his rejection of teachers certified by the state and hired by his city didn't seem to faze Theron Lynd, or Judge Cox. They showed no surprise that someone with a master's degree from Columbia University might be rejected as unqualified to vote. But the irony wasn't lost on Eloise or the others.

How could it have been that blacks with college degrees were considered not competent to interpret the Constitution, and yet there were whites who had not even graduated from high school who were voting. They didn't have to take any kind of test. To me, that was ridiculous.

In Forrest County, the leaders of the movement to have black people obtain the right to register and vote came from the ordinary people, not the more educated, not the teachers. People like B. F. Bourn and Vernon Dahmer were not teachers.

Yet, as Eloise realized, teachers provided the most damning evidence of Theron Lynd's discrimination. Eloise Hopson was one of those teachers, and that teacher did not forget Theron Lynd. Years later she told me of a time she had been eating in Morrison's Cafeteria in the early eighties:

I felt some eyes on me, and I looked up and directly across in front of me, several tables away, was Theron Lynd, that same Forrest County registrar who wouldn't let me vote. I put on my meanest facial expression, and I stared at him. I don't think I even batted my eyes. I just stared him down.

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