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CHAPTER VI. LOUISIANA ROADBLOCK

In November 1958, the first of a continuing stream of affidavits alleging denial of the right to vote were received by the Commission from Negro citizens of Louisiana. The complainants alleged either that they had been denied the right to register in the first place, or that, having been registered, their names were removed from the rolls and that they were not allowed to register again.

As with all complaints meeting the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, the Commission conducted a field investigation in which all the complainants were interviewed. It also collected all available voting statistics.

According to figures published by the secretary of state of Louisiana, there were 132,506 Negroes registered in 1959 and 828,686 whites. Voting-age Negroes in 1950 comprised about 30 percent of the votingage population; in 1959 they comprised 13 percent of the registered voters. In 18 of the State's 64 parishes more than half of the 1950 voting-age Negroes were registered. But in four parishes in which voting-age Negroes far outnumbered voting-age whites—East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, and West Feliciana-no Negro was registered in 1959. In nine other parishes with substantial voting-age Negro populations, fewer than 5 percent of voting-age Negroes were registered. Moreover, in 46 of the 64 parishes, the number of registered Negroes had declined since 1956, in some cases by dramatic proportions such as in Red River where the number dropped from 1,360 to 16, or St. Landry, from 13,060 to 7,821, or Webster, from 1,776 to 83. In only 14 parishes had Negro registration increased; in each case the increases were relatively slight.

After these preliminary studies, the Commission moved to examine official State registration records. The request was made of Attorney General Jack Gremillion, who by State law serves as counsel for registrars in matters concerning the Federal Government. By agreement with the attorney general, a Commission representative visited the registrars in two parishes—Caddo and Webster-on March 12, 1959. The attorney general and several State and parish officials attended the meeting.

The registrars were questioned orally about their official practices. But examination of their records was denied under a Louisiana law which permits such examination only by a registered voter of the

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parish, and permits copying of the records only on petition of 25 registered voters.

Twice thereafter, William Shaw, counsel for the Joint Legislative Committee of the Louisiana Legislature, demanded in his capacity as attorney for the registrar of Claiborne Parish that the Commission disclose the names of the complainants from that parish. He asserted that their affidavits were false and that their identity was required for a grand jury presentment on a charge of perjury instituted by his client. He also mentioned Louisiana statutes on accessories after the fact, stating that concealment of the identity of a person charged with crime would make the concealer liable for criminal prosecution. Attorney General Gremillion also tried several times to get the names. The Commission stood firm on its policy against divulging complainants' names.

Before deciding on a costly public hearing, the Commission resolved to try every other legitimate means of getting the needed information about voting in Louisiana. After negotiations between its staff director and the Louisiana attorney general, the Commission prepared interrogatories to be answered under oath by the registrars of the parishes involved. Attorney General Gremillion promised his cooperation. But when the interrogatories were sent to registrars in 19 parishes, Mr. Gremillion took exception to the questions, and announced that he saw no purpose in answering them.

The Commission then decided to hold a hearing in Shreveport, Caddo Parish, La., on July 13, 1959. At this time, 78 sworn voting complaints had been received: 8 from Bienville Parish; 9 from Bossier Parish; 8 from Caddo Parish; 7 from Claiborne Parish; 11 from De Soto Parish; 2 from Jackson Parish; 1 from Ouachita Parish; 8

1 from Red River Parish; and 24 from Webster Parish.

On July 8, after weeks of legal preparation and field investigation by the Commission staff, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Dawkins informed the Commission that the attorney general of Louisiana intended to apply for a temporary restraining order to enjoin the Commission from holding its July 13 hearing. (The attorney general had recently been confronted with a U.S. Department of Justice suit concerning a purge of Negro voters in Washington Parish.) Two days later, the suit was filed against members of the Commission, both individually and in their representative capacity.

Judge Dawkins granted Commission representatives 90 minutes to prepare their response. The Attorney General of the United States, advised of the development, instructed the Commission agents to proceed as best they could until his own agents could reach Shreveport to defend the Commission in the suit.

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While the Commission was preparing its answer, Vice Chairman Storey, a former president of the American Bar Association, was personally served by the U.S. marshal with complaints in two civil actions. One was a suit brought by the registrars in their individual capacities and as registrars against the Commissioners individually and as members of the Commission. This suit challenged the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which created the Commission. The other suit was brought on behalf of various citizens of Louisiana who had been subpenaed by the Commission to testify concerning their activities in purging registered voters and any knowledge they might have as former registrars.

At 5:30 p.m. on July 12, less than 16 hours before the Commission hearing was scheduled to begin, Judge Dawkins issued the restraining order. As a Federal executive agency, he ruled, the Commission is subject to the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires that persons affected by agency action must be timely informed of the matters of fact and law asserted. Recalling the traditional right to be confronted by one's accusers and allowed to cross-examine them, Judge Dawkins declared that there was every reason to believe that some of the complainants who had filed complaints with the Commissionwill testify that plaintiffs have violated either the State or Federal laws, or both. Plaintiffs thus will be condemned out of the mouths of these witnesses and plaintiffs' testimony alone, without having the right to cross-examine and thereby to test the truth of such assertions, may not be adequate to meet or overcome the charges, thus permitting plaintiffs to be stigmatized and held up, before the eyes of the Nation, to opprobrium and scorn.

Judge Dawkins concluded with a statement that the constitutionality of the 1957 Civil Rights Act would be adjudicated by a threejudge Federal court.

Commenting on the Judge's ruling, the Washington Post observed : The Administrative Procedure Act was intended to apply to agencies which make rules or adjudicate cases. The Civil Rights Commission does neither, of course. It is a factfinding body. ... To require it to file formal charges and go through the courtroom practice of cross-examination when it is not prose cuting or trying or judging anyone-when it is not engaged in any sort of adversary proceeding—would be sheer nonsense making the discharge of its real function impossible.

Meanwhile, in Shreveport, staff members added up costs of preparing for the hearing and found that those which would have to be incurred again if the judge's order were set aside and the hearing finally held were over $12,000. The Commission decided to ask that the plaintiffs be required to post a $10,000 security bond. Judge Dawkins refused. This time he concluded with the observation that,

while his restraining order might be set aside as wrongful, “it is all part of the game."

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THE LOUISIANA COMPLAINTS

The testimony which complaining witnesses had been prepared to offer at the Shreveport hearing, plus the Commission's own field investigations, indicated three major techniques of voting denial.

First, in the parishes of Madison and East Carroll, no Negro was registered, or had ever been registered to vote. Seven witnesses were prepared to testify concerning the situation in these parishes. An effective bar to Negro registration is the requirement exacted by the registrars that each prospective registrant obtain two registered voters to swear to his identity. Since no Negroes were registered in either parish, and since no white person (with one exception) would vouch for a prospective Negro registrant, the complainants were effectively stalled. One of the witnesses, a former Army sergeant and still an active reservist, had fought on the Normandy beaches, been awarded four Battle Stars, was adequately educated and apparently well qualified to vote.

Second, in the parishes surrounding and including Shreveport several of the witnesses had been excluded from registration by preliminary questioning on the part of the registrars before even receiving a registration form. This process is without sanction in Louisiana law. Some of the witnesses had voted in other States before trying to register in Louisiana; others were veterans, professional people, and educators. In other parishes in this area complainants had been registered for some years, but were purged from the registration lists. Upon attempting to reregister they were met with the rigid standards arbitrarily imposed as a result of the campaign initiated by the Joint Legislative Committee of the Louisiana Legislature in December 1958 and continuing in January and February, 1959. The announced purpose of the chairman of the joint legislative committee was to reduce Negro registration in the State of Louisiana from 130,000 to 13,000.

At a series of meetings held throughout the State in these months, registrars were instructed in the procedures of a strict interpretation of the Louisiana registration laws. The instruction was directed by State Senator William Rainach, chairman of the joint legislative committee, but was conveyed to the registrars by the committee's attorney, William Shaw. At the meetings Mr. Shaw documented his instructions by reference to statutes, legal opinions, and particularly the booklet, "Voter Qualification Laws in Louisiana." The front and inside covers of this Citizens Council pamphlet are reproduced on

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page 102.

VI. Facsimile of Instructions for Registrars and Others in Louisiana.

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Voter Qualification Laws In Louisiana

The Key To Victory In The Segregation

Struggle

The Communists and the NAACP plan to register and vote every colored person of age in the South. While the South has slept, they have made serious progress toward their goal in all the Southern states. including Louisiana.

They are not concerned with whether or not the colored bloc is registered in accordance with lar. They are interested only in seeing that all persons in this bloc are registered and in using their votes to set up a federal dictatorship in the United States.

They plan to divide the people of the South, and to take us over, state by state, and parish by parish. They would do this by trading the minority bloc back and forth between our split-up factions until we have sold our heritage of freedom and sell -government lor a shifting parcel of NAACP and Communist controlled votes. The Enforcement of Voter Qualifications Lam

In Louisiana At least ninety percent of the bloc that they plan to misuse would have to be registered illegally in Louisiana because ninety percent of them cannot meet the voter qualifications prescribed by law. In fact. ninety percent of this bloc now registered and being used by the NAACP to control some of our elections, are registered in violation of our laws and Illegally influencing the election of our officials. The People, the Otnicials and the Citizens'

Council in Law Enforcement It has become vitally important that the people see to it themselves that the Registrars of Voters throughout the state comply fully with the provisions for qualifications of voters set forth in our constitution end our Statutes.

The ACCL has prepared this manual of legal procedure which Registrars in Louisiana may follow in preventing illegal registration. The manual outlines the methods by which parties who have been registered illegally may be removed by law from the reg. Lstration rolls.

The consistent use of this manual will be especially helpful to our state and local officials, and local Citizens' Councils in lending the Registrars of Voters the support and guidance that they must have in carrying out the all-important job of enforcing our voter qualification laws.

The Key to Victory We are in a life and death struggle with the Cnmmunists and the NAACP to maintain segregation and to preserve the liberties of our people.

The impartial enforcement of our laws is the SFY TO VICTORY in this struggle.

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