Mapping Natchez Race History: Cultural Museum Receives Grant to Chart Civil-Rights Sites

In 1965, the pro-Black Deacons for Defense group and the local Ku Klux Klan met on the second floor of the Adams County Courthouse in the middle of an area of Mississippi so thick with white terrorists that it was often called Klan Nation. National Guard Adjutant General Walter Giles Johnson called the meeting to order after the governor sent 650 National Guardsmen to Natchez to watch the streets and guard them following the attempted assassination of activist George Metcalf.

“There was fear that a big riot was going to break out because Blacks were fed up,” Roscoe Barnes III told the Mississippi Free Press. “They started to arm themselves. The Deacons for Defense formed, and the governor of Mississippi feared that just as there had been a riot in Watts, something was going to break out in Natchez.”

During the meeting between the Klan and the Deacons, the adjutant general told both groups that the city would be peaceful, that no riots would take place.

“He told them to look outside the window into the parking lot, and he showed them an anti-aircraft infantry gun that was posted outside the courthouses,” Barnes explained. “And he said Natchez would be peaceful. Now, I talked to old-timers, different people here, and none of them knew that story.”

In 1965, Adjutant General Walter Giles Johnson of the National Guard held a meeting on the second floor of the Adams County Courthouse between the Ku Klux Klan and the Deacons for Defense to ask for peace following the attempted assassination of civil-rights activist George Metcalf. Photo courtesy Historic Natchez Foundation

While doing research on the Adams County Courthouse, Barnes found out about the meeting in Concordia Sentinel (Ferriday, La.) editor Stanley Nelson’s research materials. Barnes, who is not a Natchez native, has learned much about the city’s pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement as a member of the Natchez Civil Rights Trail Committee.

The group of 12 volunteers has worked to have the city recognized and added to the Mississippi Freedom Trail and the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The Mississippi Humanities Council

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