Monday, July 12, 2010

Michelle Milner: Standing With Curtis Flowers

Michelle Milner: Standing With Curtis Flowers

Who is Curtis Flowers? A lot of people have opinions, but those who grew up with Curtis are uniquely qualified to speak. Michelle Milner contacted Friends of Justice shortly after Mr. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection. Michelle is a doctoral student in urban higher education at Jackson State University with a research interest in justice-related higher education.

I have observed with considerable angst the circus that has surrounded Curtis Flowers for some 13 years…a sort of morbid fascination with the injustice and racism that I see displayed. The prosecution’s distortion of Curtis Flowers as a murderer would be laughable if not for the fact that the individuals actually believe this pack of lies. The Curtis Flowers that I know could never have committed a crime such as this one.

I met Curtis as a teenager. I lived in a small town neighboring Winona, MS. Since our small community didn’t have very much to offer in the way of entertainment so we frequently traveled to nearby Winona, MS to attend games, dances, and participate in other activities. I struggle to remember our very first introduction because I honestly can’t remember a time as a teen that I didn’t know him or know of him.

Curtis is the kind of person that makes you feel instantly at ease. He is laid back, kindhearted, funny, and very easy to like. Some of the young men in Winona would fight with young men from our community, sort of a rivalry and a way to keep them away from the girls in Winona. He was never a participant in any of that foolishness. As a matter of fact I never remember him being involved in any altercations even when he was provoked. He dated a girl that lived near me for a short time. She never mentioned violence or a mean streak. Curtis had it all—good looks, great personality, charm, and a beautiful tenor voice that he used with the Unionaires (a male singing group). I have to admit it wasn’t always my love of Gospel music that made me search out churches where he would be singing. He was always willing to laugh and talk after service. We loved to hear him sing. I’m sure “the Curtis Effect” was obvious by the number of younger females that filled the audience during the time that the group sang. That’s the Curtis Flowers that I know and remember. He was a smiling, lighthearted, down-to-earth, fun-loving, and grounded Christian that boldly sang of God’s grace and goodness. I don’t remember which songs he sang, but I remember that he sang them with conviction and boldness.

This is not the say that Curtis was perfect. I’m sure he was as much of a prodigal as I was, but murder is completely and totally inconsistent with his character, morals, upbringing, and past history. Now add to what I have just shared a mental picture of a person wrongfully convicted, incarcerated for 13 years (on death row for part of that time)–still able to sing in the prison choir and avoid all disciplinary actions. That’s the Curtis Flowers I know. It’s perfectly consistent with who he is and who I know him to be that he would endure this travesty of justice—this attempt to legally lynch him—by leaning on his faith in God, using his gift of song to minister to others, and staying clear of trouble. The only part of his story that is improbable and farfetched is the attempt to pin the Tardy murders on him. If we take away the inept investigation with its flawed evidence/conclusions, prosecutorial misconduct, blatant racism, and fervor to charge somebody—gimme anybody mentality of the predominantly White citizens of Winona community there would be no case against Curtis Flowers.

Some would say that I have no way of knowing a murderer and how a murderer could disguise their true character. However, I would say to those detractors that I have been active in prison ministry for nearly nine years. During that time I’ve noticed that most prisoners in Mississippi are African-American, indigent, and poorly educated. Being a member of one of these groups is indicative of powerlessness. This lack of social and economic power begets a lack of justice. In Mississippi, African-Americans make up less than 40% of the total population but approximately 70% of the incarcerated population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). This dismal statistic signifies that the blindfold of justice has slipped. Couple this with a study done by the Equal Justice Institute ( where the Mississippi Supreme court acknowledges that racial discrimination in jury selection in widespread and it’s easy to see why the prison population has so many African-Americans incarcerated on flimsy, circumstantial, and contrived evidence. African-Americans facing criminal charges are considered expendable.

I am struck by my own passivity concerning this case. I’ve sat back for 13 years — silently praying and hoping against hope that Curtis would be freed. I’m well-educated with an elevated Black and social consciousness and yet I watched as an innocent was railroaded with not so much as a murmur of protest. I wept as I read A Lesson before Dying, digested every word Angela Davis has ever written, inscribed the story of Fannie Lou Hamer on my brain and still I sat silently. As have most of the African-American population in that area.

After this sixth trial, where a tainted jury took less than 30 minutes to deliberate, I could no longer tolerate the deafening sound of my own silence. And so I’ve decided to leave the safety of the sidelines and plunge headlong into the battle with someone I consider to be a brother and friend– much as James Baldwin came alongside Angela Davis during her incarceration with these words written nearly 40 years ago: “If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”

Silence makes me a co-conspirator, and I refuse to exist peacefully in silence when I can lift up my voice and my hands to help my brother.

More Curtis Flowers On W.E. A.L.L. B.E.:

 ***W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special: The Persecution Of Curtis Flowers***

For More On The Curtis Flowers Saga Please Visit The Friends Of Justice Website:

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