AUTHOR: MINOR

JACKSONOnly the usual small-type obituary notice in The Clarion-Ledger a week ago under a Canton dateline recited that Herman W. Mosby, retired businessman, age 77, a Meridian native ,had passed away following a long illness.

There were the pertinent details: That Mosby had founded and for years owned Mosby Dairy, Inc. in Canton, then established a dairy operation in the Natchez area. It pointed out he later operated a tire recapping business in Canton until his retirement in 1981.

It noted Mosby had been a faithful communicant of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, gave his civic affiliations, then names of surviving family members.

Hardly could a usual obituary of a dead businessman tell the poignant story of how Herman Mosby's life and career cruelly felt the impact of clashing racial ideologies during the civil rights years of the 1960s.

Tragically, Mosby, a religious, highly-principaled businessman, was helplessly caught between two forces, white segregationists on one hand and the emerging black civil rights movement on the other.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the segregationist white Citizens Council absolutely dominated Canton's power structure.

Every government office-holder was locked tightly into the Council. Consequently, all businessmen were expected to support the Council and put a CC sticker in the window of their business.

One who resisted, Phil "Moon" Mullen, the local newspaper editor, had to pack up and leave town. In conscience, Herman Mosby opposed the objectives and methods of the Council. But fearing he had no alternative, in order to save his homegrown business, he put the CC sticker in his window.

Though it held no meaning to him, that sticker would become a source of great hurt to him within a few years.

Blacks made up a substantial majority of the town's population but they were powerless, faced by an entrenched segregationist power structure, dug in to repel any threats to white supremacy, should any come. But by the mid-1960s, with the help of the U.S. Justice Department, Madison County blacks won significant voting rights gains.

Meantime, Canton became a prime target town for the emerging rights movement sparked by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in Mississippi and a "selective buying" boycott followed. Remembering Mosby once had a Citizen Council sticker (he had since stripped highly-principled), Mosby Dairy products were boycotted by blacks throughout the area.

Even though Mosby showed his good faith by donating several freezers to Head Start schools and furnishing virtually free ice cream to the children, the boycott was not called off. By 1969, Mosby Dairy went out of business in Canton.

Cut now to the Natchez area where Mosby Dairy had another operation which served a broad surrounding territory. Here, Mosby was also put out of business from a boycott, coming from an entirely opposite direction than in Canton.

Around 1964, the Ku Klux Klan had become a powerful force in that area. A Mississippi Highway patrolman was even found by the FBI to be lugging his Klan robes around in his patrol car.

Somehow the Klan got the idea Mosby, a known lay leader of the hated Catholics who had wide business contacts in the Natchez area, had been responsible for turning in the patrolman. Sand was poured into Mosby Dairy trucks operating out of its Meadville bottling plant. A whispering campaign begun by the Klan not to buy Mosby milk spread to country stores in surrounding counties.

Tired of trying to fight another boycott, Mosby gave up at Natchez.

Ken Dean, the director of the Mississippi Council on Human Relations in the 1960s and now a minister in Rochester, N.Y., recalls Mosby coming to him and lamenting that he had been "boycotted by blacks in Canton because I am a white and boycotted by the Klan in Natchez because I am a Catholic."

Sadly, Dean remembers Mosby as "a moderate man who was not a racist nor bigoted, with deep roots in Mississippi, and yet there was no place for him there in the 1960s."

For economic survival, Mosby went into the tire-recapping business in Canton until his health began to fail in the early 1980s. The business is still operated by a son, Herman Jr., who was a lineman on the great Ole Miss football teams in the Archie Manning era.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics for 50 years.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus