As an avid genealogist, a lot of my time is spent browsing through old newspapers in search of clues and missing puzzle pieces. I was doing just that today, when I stumbled upon this article in the Surinamese newspaper De West: nieuwsblad uit en voor Suriname, 21-11-1951 about “Negervervolging in Amerika”, translated “Negro-prosecution in America”.
The translated transcript:
Negro-prosecution in America
Opelousas– In Opelousas in
the American state Louisiana,
five negroes were arrested
accused of mistreatment/beating
of a police-officer.
The Negroes wanted to take revenge
for the shooting death
of a Negro named John Mitchell
by the police officer. Mitchell, one of the
most influential negroes of the city, was
shot to death on Sunday in a cafe.
The police-officer stated
to have acted out of self-defense.
In the section “The Forgotten” of the book “Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Cases, 1934-1970”, by Michael Newton, there is an account of the events that lead to the death of John Lester Mitchell on the 19th of November 1951, and I quote:
“In autumn 1951, 33 year old John Mitchell joined fellow African Americans Joseph Donatto and Jacob Joubert to register as voters. St Landry Parish registrar George C. Blanchard rejected them, prompting a lawsuit from the NAACP. Federal judge Gaston Porterie was scheduled to hear their case on November 29, but Mitchell did not live to see his day in court.
On November 19, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Clayton Guilbeau led a squad of deputies into the black section of Opelousas, surrounding an eatery called The Chicken Snack, ordering its customers and passersby to “keep their voices down”. Mitchell was present and objected, saying, “We may as well be in slavery if we can’t speak out here on our side of town.” Lawmen later said that Mitchell was “boisterous” and “raising a disturbance,” provoking a “scuffle” with Deputy David Lanclos. Despite the fact that Mitchell was unarmed and outnumbered, Lanclos emptied his revolver into Mitchell at point-blank range, killing him instantly.
New York City’s Amsterdam News, America’s oldest black newspaper, suspected a conspiracy in Mitchell’s death, asserting that “a Negro ‘stool pigeon’ was seen phoning someone under questionable circumstances,” 30 minutes before Sheriff Guilbeau led his raid on The Chicken Snack. A coroner’s jury rules his death “justifiable homicide,” and Judge Porterie subsequently dismissed the lawsuit against registrar Blanchard.”
(Source: Newton, M. (2016). Unsolved Civil Rights Murder Cases, 1934-1970. North Carolina: Mcfarland & Co Inc.)
Upon reading the section I could only sigh.
John Lester Mitchell’s story is placed in the section of the book named “The Forgotten” and prior to stumbling upon the article I also had never heard of him. The latter isn’t strange because there are so many victims of racial injustice in America and all over the world. However, this is my attempt to keep John Lester Mitchell’s memory alive. And since the United Stated of America is on the eve of a very important election, I would urge everybody, but especially black Americans to go out and vote!