Lynching Over Land?
By Loretta A. Ragsdell
May 16, 2004
Mississippi Hanging Raises Furor
(FinalCall.com) - Although the Wilkinson County, Miss. sheriff has not released an official ruling in the April 23 hanging death of Roy Veal, family members are convinced his death was a lynching, tied to an ongoing legal battle over land title between the Veal family and White neighbors.
Sheriff Reginald Jackson says his office is conducting a thorough investigation and until he receives the toxicology report, he will not be issuing an official finding. At Final Call press time, calls to the sheriff were being forwarded to a recorded message stating the incident was now an FBI investigation and further information is unavailable at this time.
Two turkey hunters found Mr. Veal’s body around 9 a.m. The 55-year-old man was hanging from a pecan tree with a rope around his neck. A blue pillowcase covered his head. Allegedly, there were burned papers strewn beneath his feet. The tree was on a secluded stretch of a dirt road not far from his mother’s house.
In earlier interviews, Sheriff Jackson said the autopsy report shows his death was consistent with a suicide. The sheriff conducted a crime scene investigation of his car, which was parked near the area where the body was found, and said that a lot of his personal things were recovered.
“He had done a lot of writings,” Mr. Jackson said. “In the paperwork, it gave some consolation to us that will line up with our investigation. There has been no sign of foul play, no blunt trauma to the body, no cuts, no bruises, anything of that nature.”
Mr. Veal, a resident of Seattle, Wash., who was staying with his mother Thelma Veal in Donegal, Miss., had only been in town three days. Originally from Wilkinson County, he came to town to present documentation he had assembled to prove the Veal family’s ownership of land believed to contain oil.
Boyd and Marjorie Alexander of Natchez, Miss., and Kevin Krick of Baton Rouge, La., filed a lawsuit over land title against the Veals last October in the Wilkinson County Chancery Division. The dispute is over 40 acres of land southwest of Woodville.
Veal’s grandfather and his brothers owned the 40 acres. Veal’s mother, now 79, has lived there since she was 18. According to Alvin Bailey, Veal’s cousin, several years ago, a family member sold her part of the 40 acres to a White neighbor, who has since tried to claim the entire 40 acres.
“The White man obtained one of the shares of the family plots when another one of my cousins (now deceased) sold it to him in secrecy,” Mr. Bailey said. “Then, he started trying to take other pieces of the land,” he added.
Mr. Jackson, a Black man, has been sheriff of the small, predominately Black town for 13 years. He says that he knows the Veal family well, and is determined to give them the utmost of respect.
“Once I do announce my findings, they will be the first ones to know.”
The sheriff has said he has received more than 300 calls from all over the nation concerning Mr. Veal’s death. Many of the calls have alleged lynching. However, he says he has not received a call from a local person as yet.
“Our residents are fine because everyone trusts and knows my ability as sheriff and that I am going to diligently investigate the crime,” he maintained. “Not that they are not concerned,” he added, “but everyone knows that I am going to do my job. And, I am an African-American, so if there is a lynching, don’t you think I want to find out who did it? Because I might be next, or my family member., he maintained.”
Willie Bradley, a Veal family member now residing in New York, also believes Veal’s death to be a lynching and the mark of the Klu Klux Klan.
“They hang one and scare the rest, that’s the way they do it in Mississippi. I’m from there,” Mr. Bradley said. “People down there are so afraid.”
Mr. Bradley, who brought the story to The Final Call, wants to know how officials could believe Veal’s death to be a suicide when just three days prior to finding his body, he had driven from Seattle with documents to prove his family’s claim to the land.
“He was determined and fired up,” Mr. Bradley said. “He had no reason to be depressed. I can’t believe it was a suicide.”
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Chapter of the NAACP, said he is confident in Sheriff Jackson’s abilities to conduct a thorough investigation. Nevertheless, he is open to any information or evidence that supports any claim of lynching or foul play. “I am going to wait and see the results of the investigation before taking any position,” Mr. Johnson said.
Reports of Mr. Veal’s mental state vary. Family members and friends say he was determined to win the lawsuit for his family, whereas the officials say the writings recovered from his car alluded to depression and suicide.
Dr. Jewel Loretta Crawford, a family friend is convinced his death was a lynching. In fact, she called it, “A 2004 version of the 1955 Emmett Till story. They are still lynching us,” she said. “Roy was a Vietnam veteran who survived Vietnam only to come home and be lynched in Mississippi,” she added.
During an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Veal’s sister, Doris Gordon of San Francisco, said, “It’s awful, we don’t know why they did it. There are people trying to take part of our land because they apparently think there is oil on the land.”
Research has revealed there is an epidemic of Black land theft, According to Dr. Raymond A. Winbush, a professor of Social Justice at Fisk University. “Land taken from Black folks is nothing new. It is the greatest unpublished crime in American history,” Mr. Winbush said in a keynote speech given recently at the United African Movement weekly Harlem Forum.
The Associated Press has documented a pattern in which Blacks were cheated out of their land or driven from it through intimidation, violence and murder. There have been cases where government officials approved and/or participated in the land takings. The earliest account of these land takings date back before the Civil War, with a significant number under current litigation. The AP documented 107 land takings in 13 southern and border states. More than 400 Black landowners lost more than 24,000 farmland acres and approximately 80 smaller timberlands.
Today, Blacks, own approximately 1.1 million farmland acres whereas, according to the 1910 U.S. Agriculture Census, Blacks owned more than 15 million farmland acres.
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