Whenever I hear the word "Mississippi," my ears perk up. I am drawn by bonds of love to all things Mississippi – the place of my birth. Three – totaling two full hours – of nine nationally distributed documentaries I produced for the "Soundprint" radio series have been about the Magnolia State.
I've written poems and stories, and have an abiding fondness for my home, even though it's the poorest state in the Union, and is the most repressive in terms of policies which perpetuate the American slave mentality and the racial beat-down of Black people – which, along with the genocide committed all over this country against Native Americans – is one of the worst crimes against humanity in modern world history.
Sherman Briscoe, a retired Agriculture Department press aide, who served for many years in the 1980s as executive director of the Black Press, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), and who hailed as I do from the cotton-growing and agricultural region known as the Delta, told me once that Mississippi is actually three states, not one. There is the flat, hot, Delta in the north; there is the luscious hilly region of the interior; and there is the tropical Gulf of Mexico coastal region in the south.
Briscoe told me there were two types of Negroes who prospered in Mississippi. He said there were the offspring of Caucasians who bequeathed their mixed offspring with land or money; and there were the fearless, shotgun-wielding Black folks of whom White people said: "You better leave them alone because they're crazy."
Lawrence Guyot was from the Gulf region. His father was an independent business person, and judging by his fair complexion, he must have had some White foreparents. Indeed, I believe he told me once, that his grandfather may have even been a postmaster down there in Pass Christian, Miss. Postal workers were federal employees, and were more immune to racist violence because the FBI would relentlessly investigate intimidation and murder committed against even its Black employees, even in Mississippi.
But Guyot's fearless, steadfast demeanor in the face of the brutal opposition to his quest for Black voting rights in Mississippi made him appear like one of the shotgun-warriors, only he never carried a carnal weapon. His weapons of choice were his unbreakable will, his shrewd, strategic mind – like that of a brilliant field marshal.
Guyot joined his ancestors on Nov. 23, and after a memorial service for him in Jackson, Miss., there was a standing-room-only memorial service for him at Goodwill Baptist Church in Washington on December 15, and it was attended by the legions of his admirers, and by dozens of veterans of SNCC – the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – including his dear friend Dorie Ladner; her sister Dr. Joyce Ladner, former president of Howard University; D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Courtland Cox, Reggie Robinson, Revalyn Gold, and Ivanhoe Donaldson.
Those luminaries were joined by Marian Wright-Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson; D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray; and former Mayor – indeed D.C. Mayor-for-Life – and current Ward 8 Council member and former SNCC Chairman Marion Barry; the legendary Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, founder of the SNCC Singers and the vocal ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock also attended as did dozens of others who spoke about their friend, my friend.
Guyot was jailed and beaten countless times. Once, Dorie Ladner told me, after his torture in the jail in Winona, where he went to free the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer, June Johnson, and Annell Ponder – themselves victims of vicious beatings – his face resembled raw ground meat when he was released from jail. Maybe the only reason they were released at all in June 1963, is because the state's NAACP field director Medgar Evers was slain in Jackson the day before and the tactics of the White Citizen Councils and other race-haters made Mississippi "too hot" in the public's eye.
Along with Mrs. Hamer, Guyot founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which fought to get the Voting Rights Act passed, and which unseated the all-White Democratic Party delegation to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and which spelled the end of the domination of that party by segregationists known as "Dixie-crats."
The amazing thing Dorie Ladner told me, is that she, Guyot, and Bob Moses – another legend of Mississippi freedom-organizing – were the ones who went to the plantation owned by U.S. Senator James Eastland and took her off the plantation to register to vote. It was our Hero Lawrence Guyot who found Mrs. Hamer and her husband and their 17 children a place to live when the powerful politician kicked her off his place for registering.
Long live the unbreakable spirit of the SNCC Mississippi cadres. Long live the unbreakable spirit of Mississippi-born legend, Lawrence Thomas Guyot!