In Laurel, shortly after midnight on November 15, 1967, a dynamite explosion ripped through the parsonage of St. Paul's United Methodist Church. The pastor, the Reverend Allan Johnson, was one of Laurel's most distinguished black leaders and an active member of the Voters League in Mississippi. Lyontenne Price grew up in the church and sang an annual Christmas concern to a standing-room-only crowd. The bomb had been placed in the carport of Johnson's red brick rancher, demolishing the family's new Ford sedan, and buckling the roof into the kitchen. The impact of the concussion propelled the living room furniture, including a new grand piano, through a bathroom wall and leveled the dining room. The bedrooms where the husband and wife and four grandchildren slept were somehow spared devastation. "Except for the mercy of God," Johnson said, "I don't see how it was possible for us to keep from getting hurt. And if this had happened an hour earlier, it would have gotten my whole family. My babies were playing the piano about eleven o-clock."(1)
The day after the November 15 bombing in Laurel, a hundred Negroes marched from Allan Johnson's smoldering parsonage twelve blocks to the City Hall. The Reverend Milton Barnes, one of Johnson's black ministerial colleagues and a local SNCC organizer, told the angry crowd: "In no uncertain terms are the Negroes going to take any more. We do not want a Detroit in Laurel, but we are at the end of our patience. We want to live in peace if the white people will let us. We have taken every kind of abuse and turned the cheek three times, but we will not take any more."(2) Barnes turned his attention to the white onlookers milling about and asked whether among them stood "yellowbellys and dirty dogs who do their cowardly acts under the edge of darkness." If so, he wished to serve notice. From this day on, he said, Laurel, Mississippi Negroes intended to do "whatever is necessary" to protect themselves and to bring the culprits to justice.
In response to the angry Negroes marching through the downtown streets and rumors that civil rights leaders from across the South were on way to lend their support, my father and thirty other local white ministers hastily drafted a resolution against Klan violence, which was published on the first page of the newspaper and circulated in mimeographed sheets around the business district. The Jones County Ministerial Association, as the group was called, encouraged all Laurelites "to calm inflamed passions, to demonstrate brotherly love in all their relationships and to unite in the name of Christ and His Church in their efforts to see that no further acts of violence mar the character of our communities."(3) The resolution called the bombing an "unmitigated act of cowardice" and "a symptom of the underlying animosities, hatreds, and prejudices that find a place in our midst," and pledged support "to those who are seeking to repair the damage done, both physical and mental; and to those law enforcement agencies who are seeking to maintain law and order and to see that the perpetrators of his crime are brought to justice." My father had not signed the resolution without concerns for his own safety, not to mention his reservations about ecumenical cooperation. Baptists believed in the full independence of the particular congregation to make decisions about policy and doctrine, and by nature were suspicious of interdenomiationalism, seeing it as the slippery slope to a watered-down faith. But all the downtown ministers had signed on--Bill Crosland at First Presbyterian, E. E. Samples at First Methodist, the fellow at St. John's, Hal Lee. Good gracious, even old Luther Slay himself, a hardshell type from over at Wildwood Baptist, located in a working class neighborhood near the county hospital, had chimed in with his approval. So my father added his name to the signatures, and like most of the other pastors, earned himself a few late night ringings of the telephone--Bowers's tried and true "Number 1"--a barking voice or a high-pitched laugh followed by a dead line.
(1) The same week, bombs detonated on the front porch of a Jackson parsonage while the husband and wife and their six month old son slept upstairs. The explosion blew shards of glass on the sleeping baby's face, but the child survived without cuts or bruises, as did the adults. The pastor, with the surname of Kochtitzky, with help from Johnson, had organized a series of interracial breakfasts in Jackson. A Citizens's Council publication had described the Kochtitzky home on Poplar Street as a base of revolutionary operations frequented by Stokely Carmichael and Bobby Kennedy.
(2) Leader-Call, November 15, 1998.
(3) Laurel Leader-Call, December 1, 1967.