Retaliation for Voting: Tent City and the Blacklist
|Fayette County Residents stood in long lines as delay tactics were used to block registration. —Photo credit: Art Shay|
In the fall of 1959, Early B. and Mary Williams registered to vote. While working in the field, the “Raleigh Man,” a traveling salesman who sold candy and other assorted goods to people living in rural areas, told the Williams family that they would have to move because they had registered to vote. Shortly after, the white landowner for whom the Williams sharecropped confirmed the Raleigh Man’s prediction when he personally ordered the Williams to move.
Shephard Towles owned his farm located on Old Macon Road (now Rhea Dr. and Road No. 195) and agreed that the Williams family could live there.
Because the Williams family needed immediate shelter, a tent was erected on Towles’ farm. Starting in the early 1960s, in rapid succession, numerous evicted families found shelter on Towles property. Towles farm could not accommodate all of the families who needed shelter. Indeed, the Towles’ family water well ran dry because Tent City residents used all the water. Gertrude Beasley, a landowning elderly black woman with meager resources, agreed to accommodate additional families. Like Towles, Beasley sheltered numerous families in tents on her farm located 4 miles east of Moscow, TN, off Hwy 57.
Feeding and clothing these displaced families became an urgent matter for the League. Because whites took the additional step of retaliating against registered black voters or those deemed troublemakers, by identifying them on a printed list, called the “blacklist” and circulating it to business owners in the county, the black community’s problems grew. Blacks who found their names on this list could not buy food, clothing, or gasoline, nor could they obtain credit from any business in Fayette County. Movement leaders knew that if they didn’t get food and clothing soon, Fayette County blacks might be forced to leave the county, or worse, starve.
John McFerren took over his brother, Robert's store, in an effort to acquire and sell goods to the African American community who had been blacklisted in reprisal for registering to vote.
|John McFerren pumping gas for an African American customer after he took over his brother's store.|
This small store was first owned by Robert McFerren, but because he had attended college, the white community initially blamed him for the surge in voter registration in the African American community. Robert was driven out of business by a boycott against him by suppliers and vendors in Memphis, Tennessee, and Fayette County, who refused to sell to him.
—Adapted from "The Fayette County, Tennessee Civil Rights Movement" by D. McFerren. Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, 2006.
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