Last month in Port Gibson, we saw this mural — the story behind it is really, really interesting. To imagine that refusing to spend one’s money somewhere would lead to the Supreme Court sounds ridiculous now, but…:
On April 1, 1966, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) imposed an economic boycott on the majority of the white-owned businesses in Port Gibson / Claiborne County. In the months leading up to the Boycott, a number of demands for change in the treatment of African-American citizens, employment opportunities available to them, and full enfranchisement as citizens had been made of local business and political leaders with little or no substantive change or response. The Boycott garnered the overwhelming support of the majority of the County’s black citizens. Although blacks also represented a majority of the County’s residents, they had little other economic power and had been denied the right to vote (political power) through segregationist laws and practices.
Change would not come easily. The Boycott would continue off and on over an eleven (11) year period, during which a significant number of businesses would fail or close. Working with both State and local law enforcement to harass Boycott leaders and disrupt the Boycott, white business and political leaders believed they could simply hunker down and eventually things would return to the status quo. With picketing and peaceful marches/demonstrations throughout the downtown area and boyond, black citizens would continue to press their demands for equality and racial justice. Black voter registration would become a major focus.
On October 31, 1969, seventeen (17) of the boycotted merchants sued the national NAACP, Mississippi Action for Progress (MAP) and 146 individuals in the Hinds County (MS) Chancey Court to business losses caused by the Boycott and to enjoin future boycott activity (“Claiborne Hardware et. al. vs NAACP et. al.). In 1976, the Chancery Court held that the NAACP, MAP, and 128 of the other defendants were jointly and severally liable for damages to 12 merchants in the amount of $1.25 million plus interest, and a permanent injunction against certain boycott activities was issued. The judgment had the potential to bankrupt all of the defendants including the NAACP and, in addition, placed a cloud over all similar boycott activities nationally. The judgment was upheld by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1980.
The state courts’ decisions were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and on July 2, 1982, it overturned their rulings, holding that “the Boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity” through which the NAACP and the other defendants “sought to bring about political, social and economic change.”