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Apr 23rd

Klansman visited deathbed of crusading Black publisher

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JACKSON, Miss. - At first, DeAnna Tisdale was startled to see the wizened old man sitting outside the hospital room of her father, legendary Black newspaper publisher and long time civil rights activist Charles Tisdale.
Pictured: The late Charles Tisdale, whose Jackson Advocate was repeatedly firebombed, received a strange visitor at his deathbed. Credit: Family Photos

JACKSON, Miss. - At first, DeAnna Tisdale was startled to see the wizened old man sitting outside the hospital room of her father, legendary Black newspaper publisher and long time civil rights activist Charles Tisdale.

''Grand Wizard?'' she inquired.

The short white man looked straight ahead with an unexpectedly endearing smile and tearful eyes. Sure enough, there he was, the white supremacist who had preached segregation as hard as Tisdale - now laying in a coma in his hospital bed - had spent his years championing equal rights.

''I'm Mr. Richard Barrett,'' Tisdale's daughter recalled him saying. ''I've known your father for years. I'm not coming to start any trouble.''

There he was, the man known by most local residents as the ''Grand Wizard'' of the Ku Klux Klan, coming to pay his respects to a man against whom he had fought for years over one of the nation's most intractable issues - race - in a place, Mississippi, that for many African-Americans still symbolizes one of the darkest chapters in America's history.

''I have the utmost respect for your father,'' Barrett told Tisdale, who is now the assistant publisher of her father's paper.

For nearly thirty years, Tisdale, the owner of the weekly Jackson Advocate who died recently, and Barrett engaged in heated debates about slavery, the abolition of slaves, Jim Crow, hangings, the Civil Rights Movement, the Confederate flag, the Nation of Islam, food stamps, public housing and Black culture.

But as soon as Barrett read in a daily newspaper that his adversary was in critical condition and possibly near death, he headed to his bedside. In some ways, the meeting reflects the many changes that have taken place in a city and state that during the Civil Rights movement was the home of the nation's most intractable racists and racism.

Just the mention of the name Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s would send a shiver through Blacks living in the South. Blacks were routinely lynched, more than 500 from 1882 to the mid-1960s, and murdered for speaking out against racism, and sometimes just for speaking.

It was in Mississippi that Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Chicago boy visiting his relatives the summer of 1955, was killed by white racists for speaking to a white girl, igniting the Civil Rights movement. It was in Mississippi that Civil Rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner disappeared in 1964; one of the most brutal slayings by white racists of the era.

While Jackson and Mississippi still have some problems, much has changed.

In 1997, for example, Harry Jackson became the city's first Black mayor. The current mayor, Frank Melton, is also Black. Ronnie Agnew, the editor of the local daily newspaper, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, is African-American. And there are signs throughout the city of Black economic prosperity.

Still, when Tisdale died in July, there were barely a handful of whites among the more than 300 people gathered to pay their last respects.

The relationship between Tisdale and Barrett reflects that dichotomy.

The two were hardly friendly, but ''We were cordial to each other and honest with one another,'' Barrett said in an interview with the AFRO. ''We told it just like it was to each other. And I admired him for that. I will never forget Charles Tisdale, a 'character' and 'of character.'''

Tisdale started his media career as an advisor to the J.
 

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