Steps Toward Justice

Dorothy L. Holcomb

Bobby DeLaughter

These are two names that you may or may not have heard of in connection with the Civil Rights Movement. Of the two, DeLaughter is probably the one you’re most likely to be familiar with, but both deserve some attention.

Last evening we watched the Hollywood film, Ghosts of Mississippi. This film portrays the delayed justice in the pursuit of a murder conviction against the man who shot Medgar Evers in 1963. The accused assassin was tried twice in the early 1960’s, but mistrials were declared both times. This was Mississippi, after all, and the juries both times were all white men. The film picks up in the late 1980’s with Evers’ widow continuing her pursuit for justice as she once again requests a re-trial. This time, the Assistant D.A., Bobby DeLaughter, becomes her ally, and spends years tracking down evidence and witnesses, looking for justification for a re-trial. In the end, he succeeds, and as a result of his efforts, the assassin was sent to jail, where  he died in 2001. It still shocks me to think that from the time of the murder until 1994, he was a free man.

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This afternoon I read the book, Educated in Spite of… by Dorothy L. Holcomb. Dorothy was due to enter 5th grade in Prince Edward County, VA in 1959 when the schools were closed for five years. The book is her story of how her family coped and worked to ensure that their children got an education, in spite of the closure of the schools.

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In my October 15 post, “After Being There,” I wondered if the people responsible for the school closure in Price Edward County ever had a genuine change of heart. In her book, Dorothy addresses this. She provides evidence that there was a change of heart on the part of the Virginia General Assembly, and that, with some pressure from the students who were affected by the closure, there was a monetary compensation provided. When you consider the fact that, for thousands of students, the effect of the school closure lasts a lifetime, compensation sounds like a reasonable attempt at justice.

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I was struck by the tenacity of Dorothy’s parents, and by the creativity of her father as he came up with plan after plan to supply their children’s education. Her parents’ absolute commitment to education made all the difference in Dorothy’s life.

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