Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said today he would lead a two-day march in Mississippi this weekend to draw attention to the “mysterious” hanging deaths of black men in the once deeply segregated Southern state.
Jackson, president of the civil rights group Rainbow-Push Coalition, said the planned march was prompted by the death of Raynard Johnson, a 17-year-old black teenager who was found hanging from a pecan tree outside his family’s house in Kokomo, on June 15.
Local authorities ruled Johnson’s death a suicide, but Jackson said there were suspicions local whites had targeted the teenager for dating white girls in the small town, about 150 miles south of the state capital, Jackson.
“I’m suggesting that Raynard Johnson was murdered. The hostility toward him and his brother was very substantial,” said Jackson, who noted that graffiti bearing the words “Kill all niggers” had been scrawled on a bridge near Kokomo where white supremacists held a recent rally.
“In addition to Raynard Johnson, there are six or seven other rather mysterious deaths called suicides, some by gunshot and some by hanging,” said Jackson in reference to a number of other deaths in Mississippi.
Other Suspicious Deaths Johnson’s death was investigated by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Columbia, Miss. Based on a coroner’s report, which found no suspicious marks or injuries on the teenager, police concluded it was a suicide.
Police in Marion County were not immediately available for comment today.
Jackson demanded, however, that Mississippi authorities launch an investigation into the deaths of Johnson and 46 others, including more than 20 blacks, who reportedly committed suicide in Mississippi jails from 1987 to 1993.
Jackson, a former presidential candidate, said the deaths were suspicious.
When asked about the allegations, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore declined to comment.
Jackson, who has enlisted the support of black leaders including the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York City, said protesters would march Saturday to Johnson’s cinderblock home, continuing Sunday to the Marion County courthouse in Columbia.
Reward Offered The Rainbow-Push Coalition also posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Johnson’s alleged killers.
Civil rights leaders said the Johnson case bore similarities to that of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black teenager who was abducted and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman.
Till’s name is still cited through the South as an example of white hostility toward blacks.
The last recorded lynching in Mississippi occurred 40 years ago when eight masked men dragged a black man from a county prison and hanged him just days before he was due to go on trial for raping a white woman.