The character of Ayesha in Byhalia, Mississippi is extremely proud of her father-in-law Quincy for his participation in the protests in Byhalia in 1974. Detailed in our previous post The Once and Future Mississippi by Donald J Simon, these protests and the ensuing boycott of Byhalia businesses were led by Alfred ‘Skip’ Robinson, founder of the United League of Marshall County. On Monday January 4th, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Akinyele Umoja to WPCONVO to share his personal recollections of working with Skip Robinson and the United League. Dr. Umoja is a Professor and Department Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University and the author of We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.
From Act II Scene 1 of Byhalia, Mississippi
AYESHA: …a year later he was at the front of the line during the boycott. He and Skip Robinson were the head organizers for the marches.
LAUREL: Marching here in Byhalia? Why?
AYESHA: Butler Young Jr.
LAUREL: Who’s that?
AYESHA: Nobody, Laurel. Just a black kid shot dead by a cop. Hands cuffed behind his back.
LAUREL: I’m sorry I didn’t know that.
AYESHA: I am too.
Skip’s father Tom Robinson taught Sunday School in Red Banks, Mississippi and worked as a farmer and carpenter. Before his death in 1958, Tom had bought over 2,000 acres of Mississippi land and had sent twenty of his twenty-one children to Rust College in Holly Springs, MS. His one child who didn’t go to college was his fourteenth child Skip, who had already found work as a brick mason. ¹
After meeting Medgar Evers in Jackson, MS in 1960, Skip became more politically active. In 1965, his home was firebombed in Holly Spring, MS where four years later, he and Henry Boyd Jr. set up headquarters for the United League and organized their first boycott protesting the disproportionate number of positions for black teachers and administrators as Holly Spring’s schools were desegregated.²
In 1975, Time Magazine called the United League’s efforts in Byhalia “nearly 100% effective for eight months. It has cut business in some Byhalia stores by as much as 75%. Six white merchants have already declared bankruptcy, and others may soon follow.”
After the success of the Byhalia boycott, the United League under Skip’s leadership won landmark cases on black employment, voting rights and education. Further effective UL protests took place in Mississippi during the 1970’s in Canton, Lexington, Okolona and most famously in Tupelo in 1978 where confrontations occurred with the Ku Klux Klan due to protests over local police brutality.³
“Blacks ain’t going to spend their money here and no one can force them, until there is justice done for Butler Young Jr. and a history of others…The history of Marshall County is that if anyone wants to kill any black, just bring him to Byhalia, because you can get away with it.”Skip Robinson, 1974
Today, the seventeen paragraphs of town history on the website for the Byhalia Chamber of Commerce never mention Skip Robinson, Butler Young Jr. or what Time Magazine called “one of the longest civil rights boycotts in Mississippi history.“
¹ David L. Langford, “Model City Now a Battleground for Blacks and Klan,”Beaver County (Pa.) Times, August 17, 1978
² Akinyele Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, NYU Press. 2013
³ Fredric Tulsky, Southern Exposure Vol XI No. 3, “Standing Up to Fear in Mississippi”, Fall 1978
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