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

Author Gordon Martin recounts blacks' fight to vote in Mississippi.

ByABC News via logo
December 27, 2010, 1:46 PM

Dec. 28, 2010 — -- The Civil Rights movement has several powerful landmarks, from Alabama lunch counters to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. But one lesser known flashpoint for the movement was Forrest County, Miss.

There, despite making up a significant portion of the population, a tiny percentage of African-Americans appeared on the county's voting roster. In 1961, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the voting registrar that resulted in a conviction.

Gordon Martin, then a new lawyer assigned to the case by the Justice Department, recounts the historic trial and decision in his new book "Count Them One by One."

Read an excerpt of the book below and then check out the "GMA" Library for more great reads.

Eloise Hopson, daughter of Nelson Toole, a Methodist minister born in slavery, was vigorous and blunt, feisty and irreverent. She was born May 16, 1913, in Enterprise, a little rural community in Clarke County, just south of Meridian, Mississippi.

Reverend Toole had grown up in Alabama and was basically self-taught. He told his children stories about his slave childhood, among them recollections of slave children eating with their hands at a trough, the way pigs might today.

I can recall my father going to his churches on Saturday. There were four of them. So he would leave on Saturday afternoon and spend that night among the members and preach on Sunday, and come back home on Monday. I heard him preach a few times, but we stayed at home and went to our own church. My mother, Irene Adams Toole, was an elementary school teacher, but she taught in different schools, so she never taught me except at home. I had one sister and three brothers.

Her mother taught Eloise the piano and had private piano students, as Eloise did later. Eloise was brought up learning Methodist hymns and the life of John Wesley.

I am a United Methodist. The Methodist Church certainly during my lifetime has been a much more progressive church than the Baptist Church, though it had fewer adherents among the blacks in Mississippi.

There was no electricity in her childhood home, but there were always books, always newspapers, always musical instruments. I don't remember being unable to read. I read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, childhood version, and Romeo and Juliet and Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer, books like that. I think your values and concepts and your way of dealing with life are learned at home if you have thoughtful parents and caring parents.

Eloise attended a local two-teacher school through the sixth grade, but, with her mother teaching and her two younger brothers in the hands of a babysitter, Eloise was sent to a co-ed Methodist boarding school in nearby Meridian for grades 7-9, and then to a smaller Episcopal boarding school for the rest of her high school years. Her education was a far cry from the mere eight grades offered Mississippi blacks except in the larger cities. By the time she was graduated from high school, her Meridian Methodist school had added a two-year teaching program that Eloise attended. This enabled her to become a certified teacher in Mississippi's black schools. She was the first person in the history of her family to achieve any level of higher education.

I guess I always wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a little girl and lined up my dolls on my mother's front porch and played school with them.

Her first teaching position was in her own Clarke County. She boarded with a family there for two years, just 12 miles from where she had grown up.

Black people weren't allowed to vote in Clarke County. My parents didn't vote, and black people in general in Mississippi were not voting at that time. This business of blacks having the vote is post-Civil Rights struggle.

After two years in Clarke County schools, Eloise taught the second and third grades for five years in Jefferson Davis County 50 miles from Hattiesburg. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, she was teaching in the public schools of Grenada in the Mississippi Delta.

I helped to register men for the draft in Grenada County after the bombing. We were complacent and had no idea anything like that attack would come about. We had thought we didn't need a draft, but we started it then. And the blacks in that area were registered at the school where I worked. There weren't any black people on the Selective Service Board, but I didn't get any sense that there was favoritism being shown between blacks and whites, as to who went first to war. Maybe I did not discern the kind of subtleties that I later learned to discern. But I didn't sense anything then. You see, we were so separate that we really didn't know what was going on among the whites.