By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"The scriptures have said, 'The things that have been done in the dark will be known from the house tops.'"--Civil rights leader Fanny Lou Hamer
Up a dirt road about a mile south of the small North Texas town of Ladonia, the men came. It was past midnight, but a nearly full moon washed the aged cotton farm in light. The men were looking for Harrison Ocie Jones, a handsome and well-liked 31-year-old black farm worker whose labors in the field earned him food and a roof over his family's heads. Jones wasn't hard to find. Most people knew he lived with his family in a primitive, unfinished four-room house behind the barn on the Walker farm.
In the cool of those early morning hours, Jones, his wife, and their four children, ages 6 to 11, slept in the ramshackle house most recently used to store hay. They had no water, no electricity, no indoor toilet, no telephone. It was 1951 in the Deep South, where living conditions for black farm workers hadn't changed much in the century since Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
Past the main farmhouse on the hill, past the smokehouse and the chicken yard and the barn to Jones' shack, the men came. They were angry. They had vengeance in mind, and before long, Jones would be dead, his wife a widow for life, his children fatherless. Jones would be laid to rest in Ladonia's Pleasant Grove Cemetery in a section designated for blacks. Buried with him would be a nasty tale about life in a small Texas town at a time when being "colored" meant you did certain things to stay alive. You lived in debt, and you kept your mouth shut.
Officially, Jones died of "miliary tuberculosis" at 2:55 a.m. on August 20, 1951, after a two-year illness. That's what the death certificate filed at the Fannin County Courthouse says. His four children would be told that a falling car killed their father, a story they believed until a few months ago, when work on this report began.
The truth, say older family members and those who knew Jones, is that he was an otherwise healthy man who died from injuries inflicted by the gang of white men who dragged him from his family's shack that August night 50 years ago. Afterward, the killers threatened to murder Catherine Jones, Harrison's wife of 12 years, and the rest of her family if anybody said anything to white authorities. Catherine Jones died in the late 1970s, having never told her children the truth about the night their father died.
Now, the dirt that buried this town's secret for all these years is being churned to the surface, and authorities are interested in what's left in the darkness of Jones' grave. Jones' story is finally being told in public, and Fannin County's district attorney and sheriff are listening. There is no time limit for filing a murder charge, and if any of those responsible are found alive, they will be prosecuted. The truth about Jones' death may have been stifled by fear for 50 years, but as a result of one man's desire to fight injustice--and his own feelings of guilt--the facts are coming out. Jones' story will not conclude as that of one more unknown black man killed by the white South and forgotten along with the crime that sent him to a pauper's grave.
"I thought if it was going to come up, it would come up about a month or so after it happened," Eddie Bogar, Jones' 80-year-old brother-in-law, says. "I mean, they swept it under the rug. Nobody cared."
Jim Parsons jumped out of the C-119 (nicknamed a flying boxcar) and into the dark with the rest of his company of paratroopers on a weekend training exercise at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1952. As the men jumped, a static line inside the airplane pulled the ripcords, and the parachutes opened automatically. The men were trying to land close together on a ground target, and they jumped too fast. Outside the airplane, they bunched up.
"When my chute opened, I was right above a sergeant," the 67-year-old Parsons says while looking out of a car window at the fertile fields passing by him just west of Ladonia, 80 miles north of Dallas. "When I pulled my risers to move, why, my chute Roman-candled, dumped the air out of it. I fell down on top of his chute. We already had the sensation of the ground rushing up at us, and you don't get that until the last 30 feet.
"It was too late to get a reserve out. I had 125 pounds of equipment on top of his chute," he says. "I tried to get an arm over into the hole on top of his chute. I thought it might break the fall, but I couldn't get an arm into it, and I slid off the top of his chute."
He crashed down through a pine tree, breaking his neck and his back in three places. His injuries were severe, but Parsons recovered and stayed in the Army. While the accident averted a trip to Korea, he eventually served three years in the Green Berets and finished a distinguished military career in 1987, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.