Tag Archives: mississippi

Historian says key witness acknowledges she lied about Emmett Till

The woman at the center of the trial of Emmett Till’s alleged killers has acknowledged that she falsely testified he made physical and verbal threats, according to a new book.

Historian Timothy B. Tyson told The Associated Press that Carolyn Donham broke her long public silence in an interview with him in 2008.

His book, The Blood of Emmett Till, comes out next week.

“She told me that ‘Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,’” said Tyson, a Duke University research scholar whose previous books include Blood Done Sign My Name and Radio Free Dixie.

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black tortured and killed in 1955 in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman, then known as Carolyn Bryant.

His murder became national news, was a galvanizing event in the civil rights movement and has been the subject of numerous books and movies.

During the trial, Bryant said Emmett Till had grabbed her, and, in profane terms, bragged about his history with white women. The jury was not present when she testified.

Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were acquitted by the all-white jury. Both men, who later told Look magazine they did murder Emmett Till, have since died. Milam’s widow, Juanita Milam, would later tell the FBI she believed Carolyn Bryant had fabricated her story. Juanita Milam died in 2014.

The Justice Department re-examined the case a decade ago, but no one was indicted as a murderer or an accomplice.

On Saturday, the maker of a documentary about Emmett Till said he had long been sure that Bryant’s story was false.

“His mother had mentioned that Emmett had a speech impediment and that the things Bryant claimed he was saying he could not have said easily,” said Keith Beauchamp, whose The Untold Story of Emmett Till came out in 2005.

Tyson said he spoke with Donham after her daughter-in-law, Marsha Bryant, contacted him. Bryant had read Blood Done Sign My Name, about a racist murder during his childhood in Oxford, North Carolina, and invited Tyson to meet with her and Donham.

Tyson said he and Donham had two conversations, both lasting 2-3 hours, and that he planned at the time to place the material in the archives at the University of North Carolina.

Asked why he waited so long to publicize his findings, he responded that historians think in different terms than do journalists.

“I’m more interested in what speaks to the ages than in what is the latest media thing,” he said.

He added that he wasn’t sure whether Donham knew about the book. He said he had fallen out of touch with the family and that when he last spoke with Bryant, a few years ago, she said Donham was in poor health.

Emmett Till was a teenager from Chicago visiting the Mississippi Delta and helping out on his great-uncle Mose Wright’s farm.

On Aug. 24, 1955, Emmett Till and some other kids drove to a local store, Bryant’s, for refreshments. At Bryant’s, some of the kids stayed on the porch, watching a game of checkers, while the others filed inside to buy bubble gum and sodas. Carolyn Bryant, the 21-year-old wife of proprietor Roy Bryant, was behind the counter.

Accounts of what happened next differ.

Mrs. Bryant claimed Emmett bragged about dating white women up north. She said he grabbed her and asked her, “How about a date, baby?” Simeon Wright, his cousin, heard none of this. But there is no doubt about what he heard when they left the store, he told the AP in 2005.

Standing on the front porch, Emmett let out a wolf whistle.

Carolyn Donham’s whereabouts have long been a mystery, but North Carolina voter rolls list a Carolyn Holloway Donham. Holloway is her maiden name.

The address is for a green, split-level home in Raleigh at the mouth of a neat cul-de-sac just two turns off a busy four-lane thoroughfare. The well-tended house has burnt-orange shutters and a front-facing brick chimney decorated with a large metal sunburst. Orange flags emblazed with the word “Google” dot the lawn.

A woman, who appeared to be of late middle age, and a small barking dog appeared at the front door. When a reporter asked if this was the Bryant family home, the woman replied, “Yes.”

When asked if Carolyn Donham was at home, the woman replied, “She’s not available.”

At first, she refused to accept a business card, but relented after hearing about the upcoming book.

The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation has shared news reports about the book on Instagram and asked if Donham would have the “decency and courage” to speak with Emmett Till’s relatives.

Mississippi man pleads guilty to hate crime in killing of transgender teen

A Mississippi man has pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime, admitting he killed Mercedes Williamson because she was a transgender girl.

Williamson was 17 years old and resided in Alabama at the time of her death.

Joshua Brandon Vallum, 29, of Lucedale, Mississippi, was charged with violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The plea was announced by Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi and FBI Agent Christopher Freeze.

“Our nation’s hate crime statutes advance one of our fundamental beliefs: that no one should have to live in fear because of who they are,” Lynch said in a news release.  “Today’s landmark guilty plea reaffirms that basic principle and it signals the Justice Department’s determination to combat hate crimes based on gender identity.

Lynch added, “While Mississippi convicted the defendant on murder charges, we believe in the fundamental value of identifying and prosecuting these bias-fueled incidents for what they are: acts of hate.  By holding accountable the perpetrator of this heinous deed, we reinforce our commitment to ensuring justice for all Americans.”

“Congress passed the Shepard-Byrd Act to protect our most vulnerable communities, including the transgender community, from harm,” said Gupta.  “No conviction, even such a historic one, can relieve the grief and anguish facing this victim’s family.  But this guilty plea sends an unequivocal message that violence based on one’s gender identity violates America’s defining values of inclusivity and dignity.”

According to admissions made as part of his guilty plea, in the late spring or early summer of 2014, Vallum, a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation, began a sexual relationship with Williamson.  During his romantic relationship with Williamson, Vallum kept the sexual nature of the relationship, secret from his family, friends and other members of the Latin Kings.

Around August or September 2014, Vallum terminated his romantic and sexual relationship with Williamson and had no contact with her until May 2015.

On May 28, 2015, Vallum decided to kill Williamson after learning that a friend had discovered Williamson was transgender.  Vallum, according to his admission, believed he would be in danger if other Latin Kings members discovered that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a transgender teenager.

On May 29, 2015, Vallum went to Alabama to find Williamson, planning to take Williamson to Mississippi and kill her there.

After locating Williamson at her residence, he used false pretenses to lure Williamson into his car so he could drive her to Mississippi. Vallum drove Williamson to his father’s residence in Lucedale, where he parked behind the house.  As Williamson sat in the vehicle’s passenger seat, he assaulted her.  After using a stun gun to electrically shock Williamson in the chest, Vallum repeatedly stabbed Williamson with a 75th Ranger Regiment pocket knife. Williamson attempted to flee at least twice, but Vallum pursued her. He repeatedly stabbed his victim and hit her with a hammer.

Later, Vallum falsely claimed to law enforcement that he killed Williamson in a panic after discovering Williamson was transgender.

In pleading guilty on Dec. 21, Vallum acknowledged that he had lied about the circumstances surrounding Williamson’s death and that he would not have killed Williamson if she was not transgender.

Vallum faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine for the federal crime.

He previously pleaded guilty to murdering Williamson in George County, Mississippi, Circuit Court, where he was sentenced to life in prison.

The federal government prosecuted the hate crime charge because Mississippi does not have a hate crimes statute that protects people from bias crimes based on their gender identity.

States buying up coastal properties as sea levels rise and storms grow fiercer

As coastal communities are confronted with increasingly costly storms, they are turning to buyouts to create natural buffers along the coast and help protect nearby neighborhoods and businesses from flooding. While some efforts have met resistance — some don’t want to leave their beachfront homes, some fear a declining property tax base — others are showing results.

After suffering heavy losses from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York pledged to spend $400 million in federal and state money on buyouts to create more buffers on the coasts of Long Island and Staten Island. The state has made 525 offers, worth $64 million, out of 750 to 1,000 it had anticipated in 2013.

New Jersey has a similar goal. After Sandy, the state used the same mix of federal grants and state funds to put $300 million into its existing Blue Acres program, and said it expected to clear 1,300 homes from flood-prone areas near rivers and the coastline.

The Garden State has made 700 offers and closed on more than 400 properties.

Although many coastal homeowners were willing to sell, the state found it was unable to buy enough houses — despite offering pre-storm prices for storm-damaged houses — in clusters that would allow for buffers of open space.

Some property owners simply didn’t want to leave, said Bob Considine, of the state’s environmental agency.

That’s not unusual, said Chad Berginnis, director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. Beachfront houses serve as valuable rental property that owners don’t want to part with.

The post-Sandy programs in New York and New Jersey, which rely on allotments from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are the largest buyout investments by single states.

Similar programs exist in nearly every state and are run by other federal agencies with state and local partnerships. A program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent almost $900 million since 1998 on buyouts in 48 states. State and local governments organize the buyouts and typically provide 25 percent of the funds, with the rest coming from the federal government. In some cases, the federal share can be higher.

In almost two decades, about $108 million went to North Carolina, according to a Stateline analysis of FEMA data. About 7 percent of flooding-related buyout has gone to coastal buyouts — as opposed to buyouts of properties in river flood plains, with Florida and Mississippi leading the way for coastal buyouts.

A growing threat

Several factors add urgency to state efforts to combat flooding.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which insures 5 million properties nationwide, likely will be unable to repay the $23 billion it owes the U.S. Treasury Department because of heavy losses after Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

At the same time, coastal communities face a worsening threat. A September study from Columbia University’s Earth Institute concluded that a combination of rising sea levels and larger storms likely will magnify East Coast flooding hundreds of times in the coming decades.

Solutions like beach replacement and seawalls have been losing their appeal as communities find even routine storms will overrun man-made obstacles and wash away millions of dollars in replacement sand, said Berginnis, of the floodplain managers group.

Severe flooding of the Mississippi River in 1993, from Minnesota to Missouri, boosted interest in buyouts and sparked legislation that increased the federal share of buyouts from the previous maximum of 50 percent. Some 12,000 properties were bought out and entire communities were shifted away from the river.

But buyouts in Louisiana found less support after Katrina, and the state ended up spending more on elevating coastal houses than on removing them to create buffers.

Today, buyout programs are often large and statewide, but they can be small and local.

In Lusby, Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay, for instance, coastal cliffs had eroded so badly by 2013 that Susan Davis’ home was in danger of collapse and a neighbor’s patio was dangling over the bay. County officials told her that they could raise the funds to match the federal dollars needed to buy her home because a mild winter had left a surplus in the storm budget. And they warned she might not get another chance.

Davis said she and her husband wished they could have stayed and fought the cliff erosion by adding rocks at sea level. But they took the buyout and moved to a house on a creek a few miles inland.

“The situation was horrible,” Davis said. “There’s no way we could win. The house would have been worthless because there’s no way to sell it.”

Buyout programs are most cost-effective, and get most local support, when governments develop new housing in safer areas that keeps bought-out residents nearby and minimizes tax losses, according to a study by Columbia Law School.

Hurdles on the coast

Buyout programs along the nation’s coasts are still small and face several obstacles, including high property prices.

Even North Carolina — which is often battered by Atlantic storms and, at $108 million since 1998, has spent more in FEMA grants than any other state — rarely buys coastal property. The bulk of the buyout money has gone to purchase riverfront homes, said Chris Crew, the state hazard mitigation officer. Less than 5 percent has been used to purchase property along the state’s 300 miles of coast.

Many beachfront properties are rentals owned by investors, and the state’s priority is to help with owner-occupied housing. Such houses also typically cost $600,000 or more, and FEMA is unlikely to agree to buy any home above $276,000, Crew said.

“There’s not a $276,000 house on the ocean in Kill Devil Hills,” he said, referring to a popular vacation spot in the state.

Because homeowners often depend on renting out their beachfront properties, coastal houses in the state tend to be raised above typical flood levels.

Generally, Crew said, it’s been more popular — and more cost-effective for North Carolina — to buy out houses along the state’s inland network of creeks and canals that sit just a few feet above sea level.

A boost in New York

New York’s post-Sandy buyout program got a boost when an entire neighborhood, Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, organized and negotiated buyouts last year. Residents found that even ordinary rainstorms were flooding the area, said Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Nearby neighborhoods joined in, and Staten Island now accounts for 338 of the 525 offers made by the state.

New York officials offered several reasons for their success, including a focus on buyouts on Staten Island’s eastern shore and Long Island’s Suffolk County, where houses are relatively affordable. The HUD program prohibits home purchases above $700,000, and vacation rentals are usually too profitable to sell.

To combat complaints that the buyouts were hurting property tax rolls, New York added a separate program that uses federal funds to buy storm-damaged homes, tear them down, and resell the land for rebuilding with an agreement that the new homes be storm-resistant. At least 275 such offers have been made.

But the idea of taking homes off the tax rolls, even to create buffers to protect other homes, remains controversial.

When Mastic Beach, a bay-front community on Long Island, heard last year that storm-damaged homes near the shore might be bought out and returned to a natural state, reaction was mixed.

“We’re nervous, because we don’t want to see our tax rolls dwindle down to nothing,” then-Mayor Bill Biondi told reporters. “There’s no reason … to buy out people’s properties and turn them into wasteland,” he said during a meeting about a plan to demolish seven homes.

But this year, the new mayor, Maura Spery, came out in support of the buyouts and of having a buffer.

Spery, who expects the water to claim her house near Narrow Bay in coming decades, said there’s a growing sense the approach buys more time for homeowners like her, and spares her neighbors some of the costs of rescues and road repairs after storms.

“How much should taxpayers have to pay for me to have access to my house if it’s underwater?” she said.

Stateline is a service of The Pew Charitable Trusts


Same-sex couples sue for equal parenting rights

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer cleared the way for marriage equality across the United States, but a lot of anti-gay rubbish still litters legislative statutes and bureaucratic regulations.

Same-sex couples in some locales continue to fight for marriage licenses, despite the high court’s ruling. And in some states, married gay couples continue quests for equal treatment as parents, as well as equal treatment in the workplace, health care, education and accommodations.

Fifteen years ago, Mississippi lawmakers banned same-sex couples from adopting children and taking children into foster care. The law, staunchly supported by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, is the only one of its kind in the United States. In early August, four lesbian couples went to federal court and sued Mississippi to overturn the ban.

“The Mississippi adoption ban is an outdated relic of a time when courts and legislatures believed that it was somehow OK to discriminate against gay people simply because they are gay,” the lawsuit states.

Meanwhile, two lesbian couples are suing the state of Florida, which refuses to acknowledge same-sex couples as parents on birth certificates.

“Attorney General Pam Bondi could have avoided yet another costly lawsuit by directing all state agencies to simply comply with the law,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT advocacy group.

Bondi maintained her defense of Florida’s anti-gay ban on same-sex marriage long after it was clear state and federal judges considered the ban unconstitutional, and she continues to sanction state discrimination against married gay couples.

“Birth certificates are the first official document that represent a newborn baby’s family,” Smith said. “Having an inaccurate birth certificate hinders parents’ ability to take care of their child and access important legal benefits and protections.”

Larry Dupuis, legal director for the ACLU of Wisconsin, said continued vigilance is needed, even after the high court’s ruling. “There is still a lot of educating and a lot of litigating to do,” he said.

In Wisconsin, there apparently haven’t been complaints that the state refuses to recognize same-sex couples on birth certificates. Wisconsin also has recognized that same-sex couples have the same right as different-sex couples to adopt children.

“Since the Wolf decision was affirmed, the state has taken the position that same-sex couples can adopt on the same terms as different-sex couples, and there’s no longer a prohibition on adoption,” Dupuis said, referring to the ACLU of Wisconsin’s federal case that secured marriage equality in the state. “Before Wolf, the second-parent adoption had not been allowed in Wisconsin. So that was a big change.”

Amid spate of fraternity investigations, feds indict Georgia man for noose at Ole Miss

The federal government indicted a Georgia man on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students at the University of Mississippi.

Graeme Phillip Harris was enrolled in classes on the Jackson, Mississippi, campus in February 2014, when the noose and a flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem were found on a statue honoring James Meredith, the student who integrated the school in 1962.

University officials turned the case over to the Justice Department after the local district attorney declined to prosecute, saying no state laws were violated.

“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a recent news release.

He said, “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are. By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”

The Justice Department announced the indictment in late March, when several investigations were underway on other campuses over alleged sexual harassment, abuse, racist and sexist chants, and violent hazings.

This spring, the University of Mary Washington in Virginia suspended its men’s rugby team for violating the school’s code of conduct for club sports. An audio recording captured team members chanting a song with sexually explicit, derogatory and violent language.

The University of Oklahoma disbanded a Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter after a video revealed fraternity members taking part in a chant that included references to lynching, a racial slur and a vow never to induct a black member.

The chant was part of the pledge process, according to school officials, who said punishment for fraternity members included expulsion, community service and sensitivity training.

At Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, local authorities are investigating an invitation-only Facebook page hosted by Kappa Delta Rho that contained nude and seminude photos of women, including some who were either sleeping or passed out. The university suspended the fraternity for a year and police are looking into possible criminal charges, including invasion of privacy.

In late March at the University of Maryland-College Park, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was suspended after sending other fraternity members an email containing racial slurs and sexually aggressive language.

At North Carolina State University, a chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity recently was suspended after the discovery of a notebook containing sexist and racist comments. 

Another NCSU frat, Alpha Tau Omega, was suspended in March after drug paraphernalia was seized in the execution of a search warrant related to a sexual assault allegation.

University chancellor Randy Woodson, in a statement to the press, said, “The poor behaviors we’ve seen recently by a few in no way represent the strong character and values of our larger student body.”

Meanwhile, hazings that occurred last fall resulted in recent sanctions against the Acacia fraternity at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Advocate newspaper reported that pledges of the now-dissolved chapter were required to stand in hot steam, prohibited from eating the week of initiation and required to participate in activities that interfered with “academic and psychological well-being.”

And, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, the fraternity that partly inspired “Animal House” is now accused of branding pledges.

Gawker first reported the story, saying the incidents took place last fall, when the chapter was under suspension over a party.

Train carrying Bakken oil derails, burns near Galena

A freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Illinois, bursting into flames and prompting officials to suggest that everyone with 1 mile evacuate, authorities said.

The BNSF Railway train derailed Thursday afternoon in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand. A cause for the derailment hadn’t yet been determined. No injuries were reported.

Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said at a news conference late Thursday, adding that the suggestion to evacuate was prompted by the presence of a propane tank near the derailment.

The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.

Earlier in the day, Moran said 8 tankers had left the track. But Williams said at the news conference that only six cars derailed, two of which burst into flames and continued to burn into the night.

Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They attempted to fight a small fire at the scene but were unable to stop the flames.

Firefighters had to pull back for safety reasons and were allowing the fire to burn itself out, Conley said. In addition to Galena firefighters, emergency and hazardous material responders from Iowa and Wisconsin were at the scene.

The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen 70,000-gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires. A train carrying Bakken crude crashed in a Quebec town in 2013, killing 47 people. Last month, a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed in a West Virginia snowstorm, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a river tributary and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate.

The ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

In a statement, the Federal Railroad Administration said it was sending investigators to the Illinois derailment site and that the agency will conduct a “thorough investigation,” to determine the cause.

BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino said railroad employees were on the scene and additional personnel were headed there.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner also put state personnel and equipment at the ready for deployment.

Federal judge strikes down Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Nov. 25 struck down Mississippi’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. The ruling on the Mississippi amendment was made public just hours after a federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban.

“Judge Reeves’ ruling … affirms what we already know to be true — that all loving, committed Mississippi couples should have the right to marry,” said HRC Mississippi director Rob Hill. “However, there is still much to be done to advance equality here in the Magnolia State. For thousands of LGBT Mississippians, the reality remains that we risk being fired from over jobs, kicked out of our homes or refused service simply because of who we are and who we love — that’s not right. HRC Mississippi is here to ensure all Mississippians are treated with dignity and respect.”

The state can appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which already has two marriage equality cases pending before it, with oral arguments tentatively scheduled for early January.

Attorney Roberta Kaplan represented two plaintiff couples on behalf of Campaign for Southern Equality, arguing that Mississippi’s marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Kaplan successfully argued United States v. Windsor against the federal Defense of Marriage Act before the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The court’s ruling in that case has been cited in every state and federal court decision striking down state marriage bans since. 

Another case challenging the state marriage ban filed in state court — Czekala-Chatham v. Melancon — is on appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court after a judge denied a same-sex couple’s divorce petition, citing the state’s ban on recognition of out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples. 

The Supreme Court of the United States has pending before it marriage cases out of four states from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, after a three-judge panel of that court overturned lower court rulings that had found Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee’s same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

The Sixth Circuit ruling marked the first time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of state marriage bans. Previously the Supreme Court declined to take up challenges to rulings from the Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Circuits, which all found state marriage bans unconstitutional.

Attorneys for the case on appeal to the Fifth Circuit out of Louisiana are appealing their case directly to the Supreme Court as well.

The Supreme Court is under no obligation as to which case or cases — if any — it chooses to hear on appeal, although the loss in the Sixth Circuit creates a circuit court split, increasing the likelihood the Supreme Court takes up the issue of marriage.

TV ad campaign for gay equality launched in Mississippi

Mary Jane Kennedy considers herself a conservative Christian Republican, and she’s led Bible studies in her native Mississippi for decades. She’s also the mother of two gay sons and one of the faces in a new advertising campaign aimed at softening religious opposition in the Deep South to equal rights for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The national Human Rights Campaign is taking on the region’s longstanding church-based opposition to homosexuality in a series of groundbreaking television commercials, direct-mail messages and phone-bank operations designed to promote equality and legal protections for LGBT people in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

TV commercials will begin airing today (Nov. 10) in Jackson, the state’s largest city and prime media market, with Kennedy featured as a mom who struggled to understand her own sons and believes God loves them, just like everyone else. The commercials also will be available online, as will banner ads on websites.

Other commercials may follow in Alabama and Arkansas depending on the reception and results of the Mississippi campaign. The Mississippi effort – which will cost $310,000 – is part of an $8.5 million, three-year effort launched six months ago in the three states.

Brad Clark, director of Project One America for Human Rights Campaign, said the commercials are the group’s most direct effort yet to confront religious attitudes involving sexual orientation and non-traditional gender identification.

Polls have shown that Mississippi is among the most religious states, with more than half of its 3 million residents belonging to Southern Baptist churches. At the same time, Mississippians are far less likely than the average American to say they know someone who is gay, according to Human Rights Campaign.

“It’s the first time we’ve led with this message, and it’s historic for the South,” said Clark.

The commercials will begin airing two days before a federal court hearing in Jackson on a Mississippi law that bans same-sex marriage. Opponents of the ban are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the ban from being enforced while a lawsuit seeking to overturn it is pending. In November 2004, Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

After a series of recent court decisions, gay couples have the right to marry in at least 32 states. However, earlier this month a panel of federal judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld anti-gay marriage laws in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

Kennedy, 61, was initially apprehensive about speaking out so publicly about such a private topic, but she said her faith led her to the belief that spreading kindness, love and caring was more important than her own fears.

Justin Kelly of Jackson says the spots could help build acceptance in his home state. The 25-year-old Iraq war veteran is openly gay and will be featured in his Army Reserve uniform in another TV spot during the campaign, called “All God’s Children.”

“The values that are already in place in Mississippi are what we’re looking for: To be friendly, to be open, to have conversations,” said Kelly.

The Human Rights Campaign has said it wants to change the “hearts and minds” of people through the campaign.

On the Web …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeYJx179pXQ

Mississippi man shot after reporting cross burning in yard

A Mississippi sheriff says a man was beaten and shot two weeks after calling authorities to report a cross burning in his yard, and investigators are trying to determine whether the attack was prompted by people being upset that the man was visited by his mixed-race grandchildren.

Deputies were called to a disturbance late last week in a rural community outside Raleigh. Craig Wilson, 45, had been shot in the stomach and beaten and was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said Smith County Sheriff Charlie Crumpton. He was in fair condition on Aug. 19, a hospital spokesman said.

Investigators heard numerous reports from relatives about what might have started a confrontation between Wilson and 37-year-old Jeff Daniels, Crumpton said. Among other things, the sheriff said investigators were checking whether it might have been connected to people being upset about visits from Wilson’s mixed-race grandchildren. The children’s mother — Craig Wilson’s daughter — is white, and their father is black, the sheriff said.

Crumpton said Daniels was arrested and booked with aggravated assault. He was released on Aug. 18 on $20,000 bond.

Wilson and Daniels are both white. The victim is the boyfriend of the arrested man’s mother, Crumpton said.

Crumpton said he doesn’t know whether there’s a connection between the cross burning and the shooting. He said Wilson called the sheriff’s department and investigators went to see the burned cross, but Wilson didn’t press charges.

The cross burning and the shooting and beating took place in the Cohay community of Smith County, about 45 miles southeast of Jackson, where Wilson and Daniels are neighbors, the sheriff said.

Wilson and relatives were having a cookout when a confrontation erupted, witnesses said. Wilson’s sister, Julie Wilson, told WLBT-TV that Daniels and his son, who’s a minor, showed up at Craig Wilson’s home and a confrontation erupted.

“They called him some severe names and then they told him to leave and they chased him off his porch around his house and beat him with brass knuckles and then shot him with his own gun,” Julie Wilson told the TV station.

Wilson’s sister-in-law, Anita Wilson, told AP on Aug. 19 that she talked to Craig Wilson the night the cross was burned in the yard of the home he shares with Gaylene Daniels. Craig Wilson has three grandsons who are 4, 5 and 6 and a granddaughter who’s 3, and Anita Wilson said the grandsons were visiting the couple and inside the home when the cross was burned. She said Craig Wilson told her that Jeff Daniels had yelled a racial epithet about children, saying they shouldn’t be at the home.

Anita Wilson said the children were not at the home the night of the shooting. She considers the shooting a hate crime, but the sheriff said the district attorney told him Mississippi’s hate-crime law could only apply if both the shooter and the victim are not of the same race.

“How do they not understand it’s a hate crime when it was over the kids?” Anita Wilson said.

The state hate-crimes law was enacted in 1994 but has seldom been used to prosecute cases.

Crumpton said a case against Daniels could be presented to the grand jury, probably in October.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Daniels has an attorney.

U.S. appeals court blocks Mississippi’s abortion law

Mississippi’s governor and attorney general will have to decide whether to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that is keeping the state’s only abortion clinic in business.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 on July 29 to block a 2012 Mississippi law that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

When Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, he said he hoped it would end abortion in the state. In defending the law, state attorneys said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states. But the appellate judges ruled that every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.

Bryant, in a statement, said the court’s ruling disappointed him.

Ten states, including Wisconsin, have adopted similar laws, forcing a growing number of clinics to close. Many hospitals ignore or reject abortion doctors’ applications, and they won’t grant privileges to out-of-state physicians. The traveling doctors who staff Mississippi’s last open clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, encountered both obstacles.

The ruling from the conservative 5th Circuit was narrowly crafted to address the situation in Mississippi, but it could have implications for the other states with similar laws and dwindling access to abortion, such as Wisconsin and Alabama, whose officials have said women could cross state lines if clinics close, said the center’s litigation director, Julie Rikelman.

Attorneys for Mississippi argued that if the state’s last clinic closed, women could still get abortions in other states. But the judges said the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a constitutional right to abortion for all citizens — and that Mississippi may not shift its obligations to other states.

“Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” wrote judges E. Grady Jolly of Mississippi and Stephen A. Higginson of Louisiana. The law signed by Bryant “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders,” they said.

Supporters of admitting-privileges laws say they protect women’s health by ensuring that a physician who performs an abortion in a clinic would also be able to treat the patient in a hospital in case of complications.

Opponents say the requirement is unnecessary, since complications are extremely rare and patients in distress are automatically treated in emergency rooms. Critics also contend that the law gives religious-affiliated hospitals veto power over who can work in an abortion clinic and, by extension, whether a clinic can stay open.

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state,” said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup.

A different panel of the 5th Circuit, which handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, upheld a 2013 Texas law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. In that March ruling, the judges said traveling fewer than 150 miles to obtain an abortion is “not an undue burden.”

Even now, women from Iuka, Mississippi, in the state’s northeast corner, need to drive 280 miles to reach Jackson.

The clinic remains open, using out-of-state physicians who travel to Mississippi to do abortions several times a month. For years, the clinic has had an agreement with a local physician who will meet a patient at a Jackson hospital in case of complications. Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said such complications are rare.