TAZ History: Mound Bayou, Mississippi

A Short History of Mound Bayou

I’ve been collecting a history of Temporary Autonomous Zones. I’m grateful to Hakim Bey for the conceptual phrase, but his history was more romantic than tactically useful…and after all, he is something of a pedo. So in honor of the TAZ going down right now in PDX — YOU KNOW ABOUT ESOZONE, YES?? — I’ll be sharing some of the best stories this weekend.

One of my favorite corners of Southern History was an all-black community hidden in Northern Mississippi. The story of Mound Bayou stretches across centuries and winds through everything from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. Sadly, Mound Bayou exists almost nowhere online. The Wikipedia is shallow filler, and most of the online histories are short and sloppy.

Isaiah Montgomery and Ben Green founded Mound Bayou in 1887, but the story begins with Montgomery’s father, Ben, who was a slave on the David Bend plantation. For most folks alive today, our images of a plantation are based on Roots, but things were very different at Davis Bend. It was owned by Joeseph Davis (the brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis) and he was heavily inspired by the “socialist utopianism” of an obscure thinker named Robert Owen.

As a side note, Technoccult readers might be interested to know that “Owen insisted he could communicate with great minds of the past by means of electricity.” The precise details are lost to history, but it should be noted Owens was unusually blunt after death, telling Spritualist mediums who summoned him “Oh! How you have misunderstood the laws which connect spirit with spirit…you will never understand these things…”

David Bend was an experiment in education and empowerment, and yes, I do realize how absurd that sounds when I’m still talking about white people owning slaves. Rather than draconian dormitory conditions, though, Joeseph Davis encouraged his slaves to educate themselves and even own businesses. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Davis sold his land holdings to Ben Montgomery, who had run the plantation store. The price was $300,000 in gold, and with that David Bend became one of the first autonomous black communities in the South.

The Owen-inspired focus on learning and skills carried into Mound Bayou, especially when Booker T. Washington got involved later on. This isn’t just a look into the past, though: I think that Mound Bayou has a signifigant lesson to offer us here in 2008. During the many “exodus” movements which happened throughout the history of both Davis Bend and Mound Bayou, the Montgomery family was adamant about building a strong foundation instead of leaving for the mere promise of something better. Most importantly, the education they focused on was agricultural tech and self-sufficiency techniques:

Through outlets like the town’s newspaper, The Demonstrator (1900), Mound Bayou promoted education as an essential path to community survival, in particular vocational education in scientific agriculture through the Mound Bayou Normal and Industrial Institute.

Here in 2008, John Robb, one of my favorite Big Thinkers and the author of Brave New War, has been doing an amazing series of short, potent articles revolving around global systems collapse and the concept of the Resilient Community. Although fairy tales like Gabriele D’Annunzio taking over Fiume are beautiful, they’re not realistic or sustainable solutions. Mound Bayou is a model that lasted, and it was based on smart design and hard work, not poetry and wine.

Good news from Mississippi: Hayne is finished

WLBT has learned Dr. Steven Hayne will no longer be doing medical examinations for the state of Mississippi.

Hayne has conducted 80% of all criminal autopsies in Mississippi for more than 20 years.

We’re told Dr. Hayne performed his last autopsy early Monday morning and received notice of his termination via fax at his Brandon office at noon.

Hayne has come under fire from the Innocence Project, which investigates cases of people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

Earlier this year, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks were cleared in two separate child murders they were wrongfully convicted of in the 1990’s. Hayne conducted the autopsies in both cases.

The Innocence Project asked the state board of medical licensure to revoke Hayne’s license accusing him of providing false and misleading autopsy reports and testimony in criminal prosecutions.

Full Story: WLBY

Via Radley Balko,whose extensive coverage probably had a lot to do with this.

Past coverage here. Let’s hope Mayor Frank and Dr. West are next.

Update on criminal forensics nightmare in Mississippi

Between them, Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks served more than 30 years in Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi. Brewer was sentenced to death, Brooks to life without parole. The crimes for which each was convicted are remarkably similar: A female toddler was abducted from her home, raped, murdered, and abandoned in the woods. In each case, Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood decided early on that the boyfriend of the girl’s mother was the culprit. In each case, he asked Dr. Steven Hayne to perform the autopsy. And in each case, Dr. Hayne called in Dr. Michael West to perform some analysis of bite marks on the children. West claimed to have found bite marks that had been missed by other medical professionals and then testified in court that he could definitively match these marks to the teeth of the men Allgood suspected of committing the murders.

In each case, West was wrong. Two weeks ago, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that police had arrested 51-year-old Albert Johnson for the toddlers’ murders. Johnson’s DNA matched that found at the scene in both crimes. And according to Hood, when confronted with the evidence, Johnson confessed to both crimes. Brewer and Brooks were released from prison last week. These may turn out to be the first in a string of exonerations we’ll see coming out of Mississippi. For the last 20 years, the state’s criminal autopsy system has been in disrepair. Nearly every institution in the state has failed to do anything about it.

Full Story: Slate.

See also:

Courts: Mississippi women are their husbands property.

Worst Mayor in America: Jackson, Mississippi’s Mayor Frank.

How a Mississippi dentist may be sending innocent people to jail.

CSI: Mississippi.

Courts: Mississippi women are their husbands property

When Sandra Valentine divorced her husband, Johnny, and married the man who had fathered her child during an affair, it had every appearance of another unremarkable tale of marital breakdown.

But when Johnny hit back and sued his rival Jerry Fitch for a six-figure sum, the Mississippi love triangle took on an altogether different dimension. And when he won in a verdict upheld by the state supreme court, he was suddenly richer to the tune of ?750,000.
When Sandra Valentine divorced her husband, Johnny, and married the man who had fathered her child during an affair, it had every appearance of another unremarkable tale of marital breakdown.

But when Johnny hit back and sued his rival Jerry Fitch for a six-figure sum, the Mississippi love triangle took on an altogether different dimension. And when he won in a verdict upheld by the state supreme court, he was suddenly richer to the tune of ?750,000.

Valentine took advantage of a quirk in the law in Mississippi which, like six other US states, allows claims of “spousal theft”: if a man – or perhaps even a woman – takes another’s property, ie their spouse, they can be sued.

Full Story: Guardian.

I would be surprised if this wasn’t the same state that sentences people to death based on blatant quakery.

Worst Mayor in America: Jackson, Mississippi’s Mayor Frank

How “Mayor Frank” got away with tearing down an innocent person’s home, a completely unauthorized act of vigilantism, and other repeat violations of the law, all in the name of the “war on drugs.”

The duplex demolition, however, got Melton in more trouble than usual. The rental property Melton sent his army of young drug warriors to destroy was owned by a single mother who rented it to a young schizophrenic man with no history of drug-dealing. The district attorney charged-and a grand jury indicted-Melton and his two police bodyguards of multiple felonies, ranging from burglary to directing a minor to commit a felony. At the same time, the state attorney general charged Melton with violations of various gun safety laws as well , including wearing a weapon in church and carrying a concealed weapon on a university campus; Melton pled down to misdemeanors on those charges. Still, a notable achievement for one of the founders of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Melton and his defense team-led by a conservative former mayor of Jackson who is also suing the city in an annexation battle, and the attorney who defended Byron de la Beckwith (the man who murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers)-ratcheted up the mayor’s paternalistic populist appeal by pushing the meme that the duplex destruction was part of the mayor’s passionate war on crime. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Melton’s people painted the place as a ‘crackhouse,’ and his antics little more than a creative effort at getting another drug dealer off the street.

Full Story: Reason.

How a Mississippi dentist may be sending innocent people to jail

But even in an already imprecise field, Dr. Michael West has taken forensic odontology to bizarre, megalomaniacal depths. West claims to have invented a system he modestly calls “The West Phenomenon. n it, he dons a pair of yellow goggles and with the aid of a blue laser, he says he can identify bite marks, scratches, and other marks on a corpse that no one else can see-not even other forensics experts.

Conveniently, he claims his unique method can’t be photographed or reproduced, which he says makes his opinions unimpeachable by other experts.


West has received his share of media scrutiny, including expos?s in Newsweek and on 60 Minutes. A 1994 article in the National Law Journal reported that when one defense attorney asked West on the stand about his rate of error, he replied that it’s “something less than my savior, Jesus Christ.”


After the media expos?s and persistent work of Holdridge, West resigned from two professional organizations, and was suspended for a year from another. … Nevertheless, the court found, Dr. West still possessed the “knowledge, skill, experience, training and education necessary to qualify as an expert in forensic odontology.”

Full Story: Reason.

The KKK is Recruiting Veterans

Short Vice documentary on the modern KKK’s attempts to recruit veterans to their cause. They claim both Klan membership and right-wing extremist activity are both up in recent years, but I wish there were some quantitative research to back that up.

See also:

The Military-Gang Complex

The Sexist [and racist] Facebook Movement The Marine Corps Won’t Stop

ProPublica Investigates Alleged Forensics Certification Mill ACFEI

For the last two years, ProPublica and PBS “Frontline,” in concert with other news organizations, have looked in-depth at death investigation in America, finding a pervasive lack of national standards that begins in the autopsy room and ends in court.

Expert witnesses routinely sway trial verdicts with testimony about fingerprints, ballistics, hair and fiber analysis and more, but there are no national standards to measure their competency or ensure that what they say is valid. A landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences called this lack of standards one of the most pressing problems facing the criminal justice system.

Over the last two decades, ACFEI has emerged as one of the largest forensic credentialing organizations in the country.

Among its members are top names in science and law, from Henry Lee, the renowned criminalist, to John Douglas, the former FBI profiler and bestselling author. Dr. Cyril Wecht, a prominent forensic pathologist and frequent TV commentator on high-profile crimes, chairs the group’s executive advisory board.

But ACFEI also has given its stamp of approval to far less celebrated characters. It welcomed Seymour Schlager, whose credentials were mailed to the prison where he was incarcerated for attempted murder. Zoe D. Katz – the name of a house cat enrolled by her owner in 2002 to show how easy it was to become certified by ACFEI — was issued credentials, too. More recently, Dr. Steven Hayne, a Mississippi pathologist whose testimony helped to convict two innocent men of murder, has used his ACFEI credential to bolster his status as an expert witness.

ProPublica: No Forensic Background? No Problem

Remember as you read this that people are being put to death, or put in prison for decades, because of the testimony of forensic experts.

See also:

This post rounds up a lot of past coverage of Hayne and the situation in Mississippi.

Combine bad forensics with the psychology of false confessions and what do you get? A recipe for sending innocent people to prison.

6 Essential Moebius Books

Joe “Jog” McCulloch rounds up the top six most essential Moebius books that you actually stand a chance of finding in the U.S. His picks are:

1. The Airtight Garage
2. The Incal [with Alejandro Jodorowsky]
3. Arzach
4. The Gardens of Aedena
5. The Long Tomorrow
6. Mississippi River

Six essential Moebius books

What are your favorites?

The other side of Norman Rockwell

Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi) by Norman Rockwell

The Problem We All Live With

Today marks the 116th anniversary of Norman Rockwell’s birth. Born in New York, Rockwell became best known for his idealized images of small-town life. He was shunned by the art world in his time and that impression has largely continued today. A commercial illustrator for the vast majority of his life, for many Rockwell is associated only with saccharine sweetness and stagnant tradition.

This is wrong.

The other side of Norman Rockwell

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