Doubt Looms That Hanging Death In Small Southern Town Was A Suicide
The body of Frederick Jermaine Carter was found hanging from a tree and local authorities ruled the death a suicide. His family and Blacks, however, don’t believe the young man took his own life.
Family, political leaders, activists want further investigation into hanging death of young man
The idea of a so-called post-racial America was widely discussed, debated and even seen as an achievement by some with Barack Obama’s inauguration as president of the United States.
For Blacks in Greenwood, Mississippi, the notion that America has gotten beyond race isn’t popular today. Many are angry over the recent mysterious hanging death of Frederick Jermaine Carter.
“This is 2010 and we still have Black people hanging from trees? They’re saying he hung himself but I have doubt in my mind that he actually did that. That wasn’t his character. This wasn’t a suicide, this was a homicide,” said Sunflower, Miss., Mayor Michael Pembleton, Jr. to The Final Call.
The body of Mr. Carter, 26, was found Dec. 3 hanging from an oak tree in the predominately White North Greenwood area of Leflore County. The young man lived in neighboring Sunflower County, located several miles away.
Mr. Carter’s stepfather told law enforcement that he was working in the area with his stepson when Mr. Carter wandered off.
County Sheriff Ricky Banks reportedly told the media the young man had a “mental condition and a history of wandering off.” He also publicly stated that he saw no signs at the scene pointing towards it being a crime or murder.
Mr. Banks said evidence shows Mr. Carter dragged an old frame of a nearby table, leaned it against the trunk of the tree and commenced to tying himself to the tree limb.
“The frame probably broke, possibly because Carter kicked it out from under himself,” Mr. Banks told reporters.
The preliminary autopsy results by the Leflore County Coroner’s Office declared it a suicide.
The deceased man’s family and community leaders don’t accept the official explanations and are calling for further investigation.
“Because there has been no investigation on the part of the local officials into this as a crime, we’re calling on the federal government to conduct an independent investigation. We want the U.S. Justice department to look into this,” attorney Valerie Hicks Powe told The Final Call in a phone interview on Dec. 13.
Ms. Powe, who is based in Birmingham, Ala., is the spokesperson for the victim’s family. “A crime scene was never established. They never roped the scene off and this has not been treated as a crime. There is no reason to believe that he would commit suicide. We appreciate attention being brought to this because we need an outcry from the people,” she said.
Funeral services for Mr. Carter were scheduled for Dec. 18 at Ark of The Covenant Church in Moorhead, Miss.
One of the most gruesome lynchings in U.S history took place in Money, Miss., which approximately 10 miles north of Greenwood. In August 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten, shot in the head, his eyes gouged out, and thrown into theTallahatchie River with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire after accusations of whistling a White woman. Two White males were acquitted in the case while the boy’s mother held an open casket funeral that made national headlines. It was also a watershed moment for the civil rights movement as the horror the Southern violence and brutality was put before the world.
Unanswered questions and appeals for outside help
Loved one and relatives want answers to questions about the death of Mr. Carter and the story thus far does not ring true, they say.“He didn’t have a mental problem. His problem was he tended to not defend himself against others in conflict but he wouldn’t kill himself. The family is requesting a second autopsy and want to also have an autopsy done by someone out of the state of Mississippi,” says Mr. Pembleton, who is also a cousin of the victim.
State Senator David Jordan was able to obtain gruesome photos of Mr. Carter’s body hanging from the tree. He went to the scene himself and is also skeptical of what is being reported.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions. He reportedly had rope in his pocket but didn’t have anything to cut it with? Why wasn’t the scene of the crime blocked off? That tree limb is nearly 12 feet high. I’m 6’2 and I can’t see how I could maneuver to do that so how could a boy his height hang himself like that?” asks Mr. Jordan, who is also a Greenwood City Councilman.
Mr. Jordan met with the victim’s mother, Brenda Carter, when he obtained the photos of her son. “She told me her son loved life too much to take his life. We want another autopsy now,” he said.
Wendol Lee, president of the Memphis-based Operation Help Civil Rights Group, said some 300 residents petitioned his group to get involved because of “paranoia related to the history of lynching.”
“The area where he was found hanging is an area that Black people do not go into according to what residents have told us. Blacks get harassed and stopped by the police in that area so why would this young man go way over there to kill himself? We believe someone took him over there and killed him,” said Mr. Lee, who also works with the National Action Network.
Mr. Lee’s group has been on the ground interviewing residents, who he also says do not believe Mr. Carter would take his own life. “He was a good young man who was seen always helping the children,” he added.
On Dec. 9, Mr. Lee’s group led a press conference with the family in Greenwood to express dissatisfaction with the investigation and issue his group’s call for a national federal probe.
“We know Whites that are in power in Mississippi have never shown favor to Blacks. We’re reaching out to Attorney General Eric Holder to order an investigation on the federal level because we’re getting conflicting statements from the police,” said Mr. Lee.
Following the press conference, Mr. Lee said they went back to the scene and found what could possibly be “an extra set of footprints. We’re leaning towards that this was a killing because everyone we talked to has never seen Frederick in that area before until his body was found,” he noted.
“How did he (Mr. Carter) get out there so far? That’s a serious question. I’m concerned about the way the knot was tied around his neck. That’s a very particular type of knot that you don’t see Black people walking around with,” said Larry Muhammad, Nation of Islam representative in Greenville, Miss.
A major protest in Greenwood maybe brewing, according to Mr. Lee. “This is not the old days. You can’t just hang Black people today and think nothing is going to happen. If need be, we’re going to invite Al Sharpton to get involved. We going to get ready to shake up this town!” vowed Mr. Lee.
Leflore County Supervisor Preston Ratliff is questioning the reported suicide as well. “I have not made many public statements because I’m still waiting for more information but I do think it is strange that he would hang himself in such a remote area. The mere fact that a Black man is found hanging in a White neighborhood is disturbing based on the history of the Delta,” he said.
According to Mr. Ratliff, Leflore County is approximately 65 percent Black and 35 percent White in population. He doesn’t deny the racial problems in his area but points out that it’s not as bad as it used to be.
“It’s better than people think, but we still have a long way to go. I simply want the truth to come out in this hanging. If it is proven that this is the result of foul play, then those who are responsible need to be found,” said Mr. Ratliff.
“What attracted my attention was that it took place in this big field in a White community. I went to the scene and I didn’t see any evidence that a struggle took place. The first autopsy says suicide but nobody believes that is the case,” said Dr. Eddie Carthan, who heads Good Samaritan Ecumenical Church in Tchula, Miss.
“I’m striving to look at this objectively. Right now we’re not sure and we’re still investigating,” he said.
“There is no sign that we could find whatsoever that anyone else was involved. I haven’t seen anything to change my mind, and I’m looking really hard,” said Sheriff Banks to the media.
Blacks in the area don’t see it the same way. “We can’t have a young, Black man hanging and we just go back to business as usual. We can’t sit by and let this go (on). People want stuff like this to get swept under the rug,” countered Mr. Jordan.