The murder of Elbert Williams June 20, 1940, in Brownsville, Tennessee, was the culmination of a white terror campaign designed to destroy the infant Brownsville NAACP Branch and to deter African Americans from registering to vote. The murder bought the white supremacist perpetrators another twenty years of lilly white rule in Haywood County. The video is a thumbnail sketch of the African American predicament pre-WWII in a majority black county in the rural south and of the murder.
Roy Wilkins, formerly Associate Editor of the Kansas City Call, became Assistant Secretary of the NAACP,. August 15, 1935. Mr. Wilkins was born in St. Louis thirty years ago; was reared in Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1923. For three years while in college, he was on the staff of the college newspaper. “He went to Kansas City and joined The Call and was largely instrumental for its great development. He is married to the former Aminda A. Vadeau of St Louis.
Brownsville NAACP Branch
Charles Read Brownsville policeman 1940, accompanied Hunter when he took Elbert Williams from his home. Later Brownsville Chief of Police.
Courtesy James Hart Carvin.
Ed Lee, Manager, Brownsville Coca Cola Bottler, and Chamber of Commerce President in 1938. Accompanied Hunter & Read when they took Elbert Williams from his home. Tried to bribe his worker Casher Davis to stop the NAACP.
Courtesy The States-Graphic Brownsville Tn
The Brownsville Police
DD Shaw, Plantation owner, & Vice President Brownsville Bank on right driving buggy, with passengers Albert Mann, Shaw's plantation overseer, fox hound trainer, and friend, and Mann's daughter Lillian
Courtesy Deane Walton
John O. Boomer, Brownsville Mayor and Brownsville Bank President
Courtesy The States-Graphic Brownsville, Tn
FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover, right, and his second in command and friend Clyde Tolson, left, relaxing at the beach.
Francis Biddle US Attorney General, 8-26-41 to 6-26-45
Courtesy Library of Congress
Casher Davis, Coca Cola bottler employee, asked by Ed Lee to stop NAACP. Went into hiding after Elisha kidnapped, then fled county.
Thomas Davis, overheard discussing plan for NAACP meeting with Elbert Williams. Questioned with Williams night of Jun 20, then released. Fled County to safety.
Elisha Davis, led voter registration attempt, kidnapped June 16, 1940, and run out of county.
The Hatchie, six miles south of Brownsville from which Elbert Williams's corpse was pulled Sunday June 23, 1940.
The Department of Justice
Elbert Williams, Charter member Brownsville NAACP. Overheard planning an NAACP meeting. Taken from his home by police night of June 20, questioned about the NAACP, never again seen alive. HIs corpse removed from the Hatchie June 23, 1940. His murderers were never prosecuted.
From group photo Brownsville Tn NAACP The Crisis Feb 1940
ELBERT WILLIAMS:FIRST TO DIE
Tennessee's Powerful Senior Senator McKellar
Annie Williams in later years
Courtesy James Hess
Walter White NAACP Secretary. Unsuccessful in his efforts to bring the kidnappers & killers to justice. Dismayed by failure to prosecute..
Courtesy Library of Congress Papers of the NAACP
Thurgood Marshall, NAACP Special Counsel. Travelled on Pearl Harbor Day to Brownsville, gathered evidence 12-8-1941. A vocal critic of the FBI's "investigation" and the US Department of Justice's decision not to prosecute.
Courtesy Library of Congress Papers of NAACP
From group photo Brownsville Tn NAACP 1st published in The Crisis Feb 1940
The Davis Brothers
William McClanahan, US Attorney, Memphis, on the left Tn Senator McKellar's former Secretary, and the son he never had. O. John Rogge, Asst. U. S. Attorney General, Criminal Division 1939 - Dec 1940.
Courtesy Millie McClanahan Cunningham
Powerful TN Senior US Senator Kenneth D McKellar(D), Chair, Post Office & Post Roads Committee, and Acting Chair, Appropriations Committee. A bachelor who regarded US Attorney McClanahan as the son he never had, left. Memphis Boss EH Crump, right, having fun at the Democrat Convention 1940.
Courtesy Ray Hill
About the Book
Q. Jim, when can I buy a copy of Elbert Williams First To Die?
A. I hope to complete the manuscript by the end of 2015 and have the book in print in 2016. I will post the publication date and all publication details on this website, and on the Elbert Williams First to Die Facebook page. If you would like to receive that information by email, please click on the CONTACT-FEEDBACK page and complete the notify me of publication by email form. Thank for your interest.
Q. Why is Elbert Williams important in American civil rights history?
A. Elbert Williams was the first known NAACP official to be killed for his civil rights activity. Roy Wilkins recognized Elbert Williams place in civil rights history during his remarks at Medgar Evers funeral in Jackson Mississippi June 15 1963 when he told the assembled mourners that although the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had accomplished great things the people of that movement were not the first to fight for civil rights, but instead stood on the shoulders of “pioneer fighters” from the past, one of whom was Elbert Williams, killed June 20, 1940, in Brownsville, Tennessee.
A VIDEO VIGNETTE
Tip Hunter, Brownsville Policeman June 1940 Haywood County Sheriff 1928-1934, 1940-1946,1959-1966, took Elbert Williams from his home night of June 20, 1940, and questioned him about NAACP. Williams was never seen alive again. The FBI's lead suspect.
Courtesy the States-Graphic Brownsville Tn
Wallace Palmer "Hot" McCleish and his police car. DD Shaw's nephew. While on the Brownsville police force in 1955, indicted for sexual assault on a 12 year old child. Plead guilty to attempting to commit a felony, and to seven counts of attempting to fix the jury. Sentenced to 1-5 years in Tennessee penitentiary.
Courtesy James Hart Carvin