After serving two terms in the army, Mack Charles Parker returned home to be the breadwinner of his family. His father had passed on while he was away serving his country.
Parker, at 23, took on the responsibility of fending for his family and being the hardworking young man his friends described him to be.
The civil rights era was plagued with lots of social injustice and unprovoked racist attacks. It was not uncommon for a black man to be wrongly identified as the perpetrator for a crime he didn’t commit. So was the case of Mack Parker; a young man robbed of his years because he was wrongfully identified as a rapist.
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Parker was an African American who lived in Poplarville, Mississippi. In the late 50s, Poplarville had the typical divide between black and whites. The blacks lived quietly in their part of the town and most of them were poor. They rather lived in harmony mostly and everyone knew the other.
The quiet town did not involve itself in the Civil Rights Movement that was taking shape across the country. Anthony Hales, who was three years during Parker’s times, said: “if you don’t know anything else, how can you know it is wrong.”
He added that, being raised in black Mississippi, “You were taught to be afraid; you were taught early there were certain places you went and certain places you didn’t,” picayuneitem.com reports.
It was not unusual for people to go unwind in a pub after a long week. Like every other young brother, Mack went out for drinks with his friends on a Friday night.
Typical of people intoxicated with alcohol, he was likely to be a little on the edge and seeking an adventure. Driving past a broken-down car on Highway 11 between Lumberton and Poplarville, the driver of the vehicle, supposedly the husband of the occupant, had walked ahead in search of a tow-truck.
Acting on his newly acquired Dutch courage, he went to the broken-down vehicle in a bid to probably steal the tyres. Upon seeing the pregnant white woman, June Walters and her 4-year-old daughter, Debbie-Carol, he fled the scene.
In his drunken state, Mack blurted out comments while driving past the husband of the white woman, Jimmy Walters. Parker may have mentioned returning to the accident scene to have his way with the woman, picayuneitem.com reports.
Unknown to Mack, he had been identified by Mrs Walters as her rapist, indicating that the pregnant woman was raped after Mack and his friends left the scene. On February 24, 1959, what would come to be known as one of the last civil rights era lynchings in America occurred.
The young Parker was dragged from his home by a white Marshal, Ham Slade, and his deputies to jail for allegedly raping June Walters the previous night.
Though he was arrested, it was without any empirical evidence. It was based on a vague description of the assailant. Walters could not provide any hard evidence that Parker was her rapist.
Her description of a 160 to 170 pounds, 5’10” attacker was a misfit for Parker who was over 200 pounds. After being identified in a line up as the assailant, he was thrown into jail. It is reported that Mrs Walters retracted her identification, but it did nothing to the case.
Despite being charged with a case of mistaken identity, a grand jury was able to indict him on April 13, 1959, on two counts of kidnapping and one count of rape. He pleaded not guilty on April 17 to the charges and his trial was set for April 27 that same year.
A mob consisting of eight to ten people decided to seek justice on Mrs Walter’s behalf three days to the trial. Wielding clubs and guns, Mack Parker was beaten from his jail cell and his bloody body was dragged from the third-floor jail.
The jailer was believed to be their accomplice as he willingly provided the keys to his cell. Parker was lynched and, in an attempt to run for his life, he was shot three times in the chest. His body was then weighted with chains and thrown into the river. His unrecognizable body was discovered floating in the Pearl river ten days later, decomposed.
Poplarville, being the reserved town that it is, was uncooperative when the FBI was called in by Governor James P. Coleman to investigate the matter. The FBI was able to file a 370-page report that was sent to the governor and prosecutor. Their investigations revealed and mentioned suspects but none of them was indicted for Parker’s death.
The FBI, in an attempt to solve 43 civil rights related hate crimes, reopened investigations into the cases in 2009. Mack Parker’s case was inclusive but till date, the crime remains unsolved.