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On this day in 1939

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mississippitoday.org – Jerry Mitchell – 2024-04-20 07:00:00

April 20, 1939

Billie recorded “Strange Fruit” about the lynchings of Black Americans. Credit: Courtesy of Atlantic

Legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday stepped into a 5th Avenue studio and recorded “Strange Fruit,” a song written by Jewish activist Abel Meeropol, a high school English teacher upset about the lynchings of Black Americans — more than 6,400 between 1865 and 1950. 

Meeropol and his wife had adopted the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were orphaned after their ' executions for espionage. 

Holiday was drawn to the song, which reminded her of her father, who died when a hospital refused to treat him because he was Black. Weeks earlier, she had sung it for the first time at the Café Society in New York . When she finished, she didn't hear a sound. 

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“Then a lone person began to clap nervously,” she wrote in her memoir. “Then suddenly everybody was clapping.” 

The song sold more than a million copies, and jazz writer Leonard Feather called it “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” 

After her 1959 , both she and the song went into the Grammy Hall of Fame, Time magazine called “Strange Fruit” the song of the century, and the British music publication Q included it among “10 songs that actually changed the world.” 

David Margolick traces the tune's journey through history in his book, “Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Biography of a Song.” Andra Day won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Holiday in the film, “The United States . Billie Holiday.”

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Remembering ‘The Gunslinger’ of college football, Archie Cooley

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Archie Cooley, center, with Jerry Rice, left, and Willie Totten when they were honored at Mississippi Valley State at an function in recent years. ( courtesy of MVSU)

Archie “The Gunslinger” Cooley, the most unconventional of football coaches, has died at the age of 84, and, frankly, I don't even know how to begin to describe him.

So let's begin like this: There will never be another one. Cooley, which is how he referred to himself so often in the third person, was an original. In the mid-1980s, in Mississippi, he wrestled the college football away from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and State, his alma mater, and shined it ever so brightly on Mississippi Valley State.

Rick Cleveland

He was a sports writer's dream. Need a column? Call Cooley. He always delivered. He wore a cowboy hat, usually with a feather in it, and that hat covered a brain that was years and years ahead of all others when it came to offensive football.

Back when most college football teams were running “three-yards-and-cloud-of-dust” offenses, Cooley's MVSU Delta Devils were spreading the field, never huddling, and throwing the ball on every down and then throwing it some more. The stuff you see big-time college and NFL offenses doing now, he was doing then.

The only thing the Valley Delta Devils had more of than passing plays were nicknames. Cooley was The Gunslinger. Jerry Rice was World, short for All World. Willie Totten, the quarterback, was Satellite. The offense was The Satellite Express. The offensive line was known as Tons of Fun. Vincent Brown, the great linebacker, was The Undertaker. Together, they were a blast.

The first time I saw then in person was Sept. 24, 1984, when they came to Jackson to play one of W.C. Gorden's terrific Jackson State teams. Valley had scored 86 points in its opener and 77 points in its second . Rice was catching about 20 passes and four touchdowns a game. Totten's passing stats were so gaudy that the NCAA chief statistician accused Valley sports information director Chuck Prophet of making them up. Prophet sent the NCAA the game films and said, “Correct me if I'm wrong.” He wasn't.

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So Valley came to Jackson, drawing a crowd of more than 50,000, and on the first offensive play, the Devils flanked four wide receivers in single file to the left side and one wide receiver, the one wearing jersey number 88, to the far right. No. 88 was Jerry Rice and Jackson State had only one defensive back to him.

Well, you know what happened next. Rice ran right past the defender, Totten lofted a pass down the field, which Rice caught and gracefully ran to the end zone a good 10 yards ahead of the defender.

Valley won 49-32. During the game's final minutes, Cooley paraded up and down the Valley sideline, waving a green and white Valley banner. Valley had not defeated JSU in 30 years. Afterwards, he led the Valley players in a victory lap around the Memorial Stadium. “We've done the impossible!” Cooley, a former Jackson State All American center and linebacker, shouted.

“Now I know how they've been feeling for the last 30 years,” Cooley said, and he said a lot more.

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“Jackson State said they had to score 30 points to win,” he said. “Ha! They would have had to score 50 because we scored 49. I'm gonna now because they have to live with it for a year.”

Cooley could ever more talk. He could brag and he could back it up. He was from the old Dizzy Dean school of boasters: “It ain't braggin' if you can do it.”

Cooley could do it and did.

He was a Laurel native, a graduate of tradition-rich Oak Park High School, also the alma mater of such famous as Olympic long jumping champion Ralph Boston and world renowned opera soprano Leontyne Price. Cooley grew up with next to nothing. “A lot of times, growing up, I'd open the refrigerator for something to eat, and the only thing in there was ,” Cooley told me. “So, I'd drink a glass of water and go out and play football.”

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He played center and linebacker at Jackson State. He was a defensive coordinator for years at Tennessee State before taking the job at Valley. He said all those years as a defensive coach, he kept a notebook of plays other teams used that he knew he wanted to use when he became a head coach. Clearly, most were passing plays.

And, yes, it helped to have a receiver like Rice and a quarterback like Totten, both now in the College Football Hall of Fame. But Cooley called the shots and he brought the cameras and microphones to Itta Bena, which is Choctaw for “Home in the Woods.” I remember to give driving directions from Jackson to Itta Bena to a reporter from The New York Times. He said I lost him at “turn right at the cotton gin.”

That 1984 Valley team was undefeated at the same time SWAC rival Alcorn State was undefeated through mid-October. They were scheduled to play in November in Itta Bena. A young Jackson sports columnist – this one – wrote a column that the game should be moved to Jackson where 50,000 more people could see it. So, they moved it to Jackson and played it on a Sunday. More than 64,000 people attended, which made it the biggest pay day in the history of either school. Marino Casem's Alcorn State Braves won 42-28 in a game never to be forgotten by anyone who was there.

Cooley would leave MVSU after the 1986 season and go on to coach at Arkansas Pine Bluff, Norfolk State and Paul Quinn College in Dallas. His teams never again rose to the prominence of those Valley teams when CBS, NBC, ABC, The New York Times and Sports Illustrated all found their way to Itta Bena, where they told the story of the highest scoring college football team in history and their leader, the self-proclaimed Gunslinger.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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https://www.biloxinewsevents.com/?p=351172

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Legislative panels will consider restoring some Mississippians’ voting rights

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mississippitoday.org – Taylor Vance – 2024-04-19 13:56:14

The two legislative committee responsible for criminal justice measures say they will move bills forward to restore suffrage for individuals, raising the prospect that some Mississippians will have their rights restored. 

House and Senate Judiciary B Chairmen Kevin Horan and Joey Fillingane announced Friday that they will have hearings on Monday to consider the suffrage bills. 

The House earlier in the session passed a substantial restoration bill that would have automatically restored suffrage to people convicted of nonviolent felony offenses, but Senate Constitution Chairwoman Angela Burks Hill killed it without bringing it up for debate.

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Lawmakers, however, can still consider individual bills to restore suffrage to people who have been convicted of disenfranchising felony offenses, though only a small number of those bills typically survive the legislation .

Horan, a Republican from Grenada, said the House will not restore suffrage to people convicted of violent offenses or those previously convicted of embezzling public money. Additionally, Horan said people must have completed the terms of their sentence and not have been convicted of another felony offense for at least five years to be considered. 

Fillingane, a Republican from Sumrall, said the Senate also will likely only restore voting rights to people previously convicted of nonviolent felony offenses – not violent crimes such as murder or rape. 

The Lamar County lawmaker also said the amount of time after someone has completed their sentencing terms is not a major factor in his decision to advance a suffrage bill out of committee or not. 

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“The further out the better, but the time since completing the sentence doesn't really matter,” Fillingane said. 

Under the Mississippi Constitution, people convicted of any of 10 felonies — perjury, arson and bigamy — lose their voting rights for life. Opinions from the Mississippi 's Office have since expanded the list of disenfranchising felonies to 23.

READ MORE: ‘If you can't vote, you're nobody:' Lawmakers hear from rehabilitated felons who still can't exercise right

About 55,000 names are on the Secretary of 's voter disenfranchisement list as of March 19. The list, provided to Mississippi through a public records request, goes back to 1992 for felony convictions in state court. 

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The state constitution gives lawmakers the power to restore suffrage to citizens, but the process is burdensome. It requires two-thirds of lawmakers in both legislative chambers to vote in favor of restoring suffrage in individual cases. 

“We have a process in the Legislature that helps to restore individuals' voting rights, but it is a terrible process,” Democratic Rep. Zakiya Summers of said on Wednesday. “And it's a cumbersome process. And there really is no easy way to navigate it.” 

The Legislature last year did not pass any suffrage restoration bills, but a willingness from both of the relevant committee chairs to push some of the bills forward could mean lawmakers will approve some bills this year.

Lawmakers have until the final days of the session to vote on suffrage bills, and legislators are coming to the end of their regular session, but it's unclear when they will adjourn. 

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Legislators still have major items they can consider, expansion legislation, addressing the public retirement system and rewriting the public K-12 formula. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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