During the struggle to Free Eddie Carthan, the first black Mayor in Tchula, Mississippi, I had the chance to meet a United League organizer who was in town to meet with the student tour group I was traveling with. The tour of the deep south states, from the “Bootheel” in Missouri-Arkansas area, through Mississippi, rural Alabama, ending up at the King Center in Atlanta. The story of the United League and how they had stood up to the Klan in Holmes County and made them back down and back out, stuck with me all these years.
With the flood of news stories and endless commentary and bitter dispute about the modern Anti-fascist groups (“Antifa”) I thought it would be good to review the United League history, since they were a model of how to fight old-school/new-school fascism, which is the Klan. Fascist history in the USA traces back to the fall of Black Reconstruction in America in the 1870s, with the rise of the KKK to serve as storm troops to enforce a new form of suppression of black labor–the Jim Crow system in the south. So the League is as relevant today as they were in the 1970s-1980s.
Pushing the Klan Aside in Mississippi: My Memory of Alfred Skip Robinson
BY DR. AKINYELE UMOJA, CHAIR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Skip Robinson; Photo by Jim Alexander
Alfred “Skip” Robinson is one of the most dynamic and charismatic individuals I have ever met. I first heard of Skip after a national demonstration in Tupelo, Mississippi in November of 1978. Several of my comrades in the Black Liberation Movement attended a demonstration and rally organized by Skip and the United League of Mississippi (UL) to support their boycott of the commercial district in Tupelo to challenge police misconduct and economic inequality in Tupelo. At that time the UL under Skip’s leadership had organized a series of boycotts in Mississippi to challenge white supremacy and institutionalized racism.
The UL was probably the most dynamic movement in the Black freedom struggle during the late 1970s. The Black Panthers, SNCC, Republic of New Africa, Us Organization, and other Black Power organizations had been severely crippled by the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program and other repressive campaigns, as well as by the movement’s own internal conflicts and challenges. Several key activists of the movement had been incarcerated, exiled, even assassinated due to government repression. The oldest Black Civil Rights group, the NAACP, also suffered a decline after being defeated in a U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit. The Reagan Administration began to dismantle some of the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. The late 1970s also witnessed a resurgence of the KKK.
Skip, the UL, and their efforts in Mississippi represented a beacon of hope to the Black freedom struggle of the 1970s.
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.
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
Chapter 27 — The United League of Northern Mississippi
Posted on January 27, 2014 by billdrew2014
I brought something special to our national newspaper. I had always been the guy who went directly into the most interesting battles. One day while checking out-of-town newspapers in the Chicago Public Library, I came across a story about a boycott of downtown businesses in Tupelo, Mississippi. The issue and the location interested me. In the movement, we had always debated about how the Black struggle relates to everything else – especially in the South. What better way would there be to get some ideas? I rounded up a couple of friends. We were headed to Elvis Presley’s home town and the nation’s most infamous state on the question of race.
I felt a twinge of fear as we passed “Entering Mississippi” on the highway. Kudzu vines, like evil itself, grew unchecked covering all vegetation, including trees. We made it to the headquarters of the United League of Northern Mississippi in Holly Springs. One thing was immediately clear. This wasn’t a group of urban militants like the Panthers. The United League was led by Skip Robison, a construction contractor. Lew Meyers, a SNCC lawyer, was part of the inner circle, as were ministers and other community leaders. I saw evidence of a wide membership at revival style church services.
It was a great cross-section of the Black community and it extended to several nearby towns. The role of the middle class became clear when they put us up for free at a motel owned by a local African American guy. Weeks later at a larger rally, they put up dozens of us in sleeping bags at a Black-owned furniture factory. Tupelo didn’t really square with the RCP’s emphasis on a nation of a new type. We found not a proletarian nation edging toward socialism, but a popular surge for democratic rights.