Reporter: Whipkey, Jim.
In this WSB newsfilm clip from July 6, 1971, city officials from Macon, Georgia meet with local African American leaders after a white Macon policeman shot an African American man to death; also reporter Jim Whipkey comments on the racial tension in Macon.
The clip begins with reporter Jim Whipkey standing in front of an apartment building. According to Whipkey, several days earlier Macon police officer John R. Beck was called to the apartment building. Following a disturbance at the scene, Officer Beck shot and killed Jimmy Lee White, an African American city employee. Whipkey reports that after the shooting, Macon experienced several days of civil strife. Whipkey documents the disconnect between white city leaders who think the shooting was the beginning of racial conflict in the city and African American leaders who "say it perhaps was only the beginning of the end."
Following Whipkey's comments, the clip shows an interracial meeting between African American leaders and white Macon officials. As the segment begins, an African American man in a suit expresses his hope that the meeting can be a place for a peaceful exchange of ideas and the chance to try and settle concerns among community members. Macon mayor Ronnie Thompson speaks next, indicating that the city had gone for three years without a uniformed policeman being attacked. The camera shows other men, both African American and white, sitting around the table. A younger African American man raises his hand; Mayor Thompson indicates the man may take a turn addressing the meeting. The young man expresses concern that Officer Beck shot Jimmy Lee White five times. The man does not believe that Officer Beck had to shoot White so many times. He thinks a man shot by a thirty-eight caliber bullet is not capable of fighting enough to warrant four more shots. After this comment, another younger African American man speaks about his service in the Marine Corps. He mentions that during his two years as a military policeman, he was taught to only use the force necessary. He explains that based on his experience, he believes Officer Beck "overreacted to the situation" by shooting White so many times. He even comments that had he used so much force while serving as a military policeman that he would have been disciplined. After he receives confirmation that the Macon police department trains officers to use only the force necessary, he expresses doubt about the necessity of the amount of force in the White shooting. His comment is not completely recorded.
After a break in the clip, Mayor Ronnie Thompson addresses the men's concerns. He mentions that there are cases in battle when soldiers shot several times still have charged. He asserts that no one knows how they will respond to such situations until they experience them; he hopes no one is put in such a position. Thompson also wishes people do not put policemen in that situation. The clip breaks again and Thompson comments that African Americans say "we're tired" but do not allow white people to express similar frustrations. After another break, the mayor and another African American man exchange comments about the mayor's responsibility and his racial identity. The clip ends with the camera again showing the interracial group sitting around the conference table.
Racial unrest in Macon, Georgia flared up during the summer of 1971 following the death of two African Americans at the end of June. Jimmy Lee White, a city employee, was shot and killed by white police officer John R. Beck. John George Turner was found hanged in a city jail cell after having been picked up on a disorderly conduct charge; Turner's death was ruled a suicide. Mayor Ronnie Thompson issued a dusk-to-dawn curfew during the unrest and banned the sale of alcohol, guns, and ammunition. The violence in the community included several fire bombs although the only two to detonate burned empty houses. On July 5, Mayor Thompson lifted the curfew and authorized the resumption of alcohol, gun, and ammunition sales. On July 6, a biracial committee, formed at the beginning of Thompson's term as mayor, held a meeting to find ways to calm the city. Thompson played an active role in leading the city's response to the racial unrest. At one point, Thompson carried a machine gun while leading police on a hunt for a suspected sniper. Although Officer Beck was charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of White, the African American community was upset that he was reassigned to a desk job and not suspended during the departmental investigation. They were further frustrated when a grand jury dismissed all charges against White.
On Saturday, July 10, Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led a march to Macon City Hall protesting the shooting. The African American community established several goals during the period of conflict and discussion. They sought better jobs; more equality; better treatment by police; and respect for African Americans as people. Younger leaders in the African American community began taking a more central role in the debate during the disturbance. The local NAACP chapter organized a three-prong program to improve the local African American situation and began picketing city hall Tuesday, July 13. They sought the election of African American public officials, massive voter registration, and economic advancement. African American leaders spent the rest of the summer meeting with city officials, county officials, the downtown council of the Chamber of Commerce, the manufacturer's bureau, and the Association of Macon Personnel Managers. Those meetings were positive. The said organizations agreed to make changes in hiring, employing, and promoting African Americans. The local NAACP agreed to help with the plan by organizing an unemployment office. The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections authorized a portable voter registration booth to help African Americans register to vote.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
|Rights and Usage:|
Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of reporter Jim Whipkey commenting on community race relations; also an interracial meeting between white and African American leaders following the shooting death of an African American man by a white policeman in Macon, Georgia, 1971 July 6, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 1601, 27:57/31:33, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.