St. John Barrett: Thanks I love you man.

ImageAt age 14 I stood on a “turn row” in a cotton field in the delta of Mississippi listening intently to a small transistor radio as attorney St. John Barrett accompanied James Meredith to his forced enrollment in Oxford, MS at Ole Miss. In that moment he was one of the most hated “White Men” in the civil rights movement. I will never for get the expressions on their faces, as I will never forget the tension in Mississippi at the time. Ole Miss was considered “sacred ground” to be defended from integration at all costs. This man St. John Barrett had stepped forward to challenge the “status quo.”

Later as the media covered the riots that followed Meredith’s enrollment, ( people were killed, he was charged as a result) I was amazed at the calm and cool of John Doar (who would a year later defuse an escalating potentially violent confrontation during the march following Medgar Evers’s funeral in 1963 Jackson,) and St. John Barrett who was always by Meredith’s side.

Then in 1963, after my “Godmother” Fannie Lou Hamer and another of her colleagues were beaten severely while trying to register to vote in Winona, MS I realize the same guy I had seen with Meredith was now representing Mrs. Hamer in the case presented to the Justice Dept. Now after Mrs. Hamer was beaten (she and the other females with her were forced to lay on the floor, raise their dresses exposing their rears, and were beaten with metal pipes covered with leather) she came home to our little community in Ruleville, where she lived (our families share-cropped together) and the talk of the town (Black community) was the extent of the bruises, the fact that the sheriff had ordered two Black prisoners to do the beating, and the amount of blood on the women’s underwear. St. John Barrett had them bring the clothes to Washington in plastic bags to give the lawmakers a “first hand” look at the brutality of segregation. The clothes were exhibit “B”, the fact that Ms. Hamer and her colleagues could barely walk was Exhibit “A”.

I would later learn that the reason I no longer had to sit behind a piece of “white tape” on Greyhound and Trailways buses (as I traveled up and down highway 49w) was because St. John Barrett had called for the enforcement of the Interstate Commerce Commission laws during the same period of time he was helping Meredith, and Mrs. Hamer.

I always wanted to say “thank you” to St. John Barrett, and I never got the chance. I just kept the intent in my mind and heart. I had no idea he had moved less than ten miles from me, to Ellicott City, MD, or that he was in the hospital (Howard County General) less than ten minutes from my front door. I never even told any one how much I wanted to thank this “slim” “lanky” “White Man” for risking his life to help me and people I loved.

Then one day one of my church colleagues sends me an article, and says …”I work with the sons of the man who represented your “God Mother” after she was beaten in Winona! I first stared in disbelief; the great organizing intelligence was at it again.

So finally, I get to say “Thank you to Mrs. Barrett, and her children for loaning him to us, and to St. John…”Thanks. I love you man.” I have re-opened his guest book for 30 days. My hope is that others (especially African Americans) will reflect, visit the guest book and leave a message for Mrs. Barrett and family.

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4 Responses to “St. John Barrett: Thanks I love you man.”

  1. Anna Barrett Hodgson Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful posting about my dad. This really means a lot to my family. Blessings to you. Anna Barrett Hodgson

    • johnmiltonwesley Says:

      Dear Mrs. Hodgson: Thanks so much for your note. I really do wish I had known your family had moved so close to me; I would have asked permission to visit your dad. In any case I am truly happy ot be in touch with your family. Do give my regards to your mom and brothers. John Milton Wesley

  2. David Barrett Says:

    John–

    This is just so beautifully written and moving — I’m choked up simply typing this reply. I am certain dad would have loved the opportunity to share recollections and perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement with you . . . or just to visit . . . and I’m sorry the two of you never were able to do that. But, as you note in response to Anna, you’ve certainly connected with his family, and we’re grateful for that.

    Very best regards,

    David Barrett

    • johnmiltonwesley Says:

      Thanks so much David, and thanks for loaning us your dad and give my regards top your mom. Should the opportunity ever arise and I can do something for your family please let me know. I am told I am a pretty good Jazz musician, so if the neeed arises I would love to perform for you and your family.

      All the best.

      John

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