When Jackson Daily News editor Fred Sullens died, the New York Times remembered him as a columnist not afraid to challenge political leaders or denounce racial equality. Sullens did not consider himself a white supremacist in the vein of “hysterical rabble rousers” such as Mississippi senator Theodore Bilbo but nevertheless supported white supremacy in his front-page editorial column, “The Low Down on Higher Ups,” during a career that spanned fifty-two years.
Frederick E. Sullens was born in Missouri on 12 November 1877, the son of a Union soldier, and worked as a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to Mississippi to write for the state’s most widely circulated newspaper, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Sullens was called a “damn Yankee” when he first arrived in Mississippi, but his segregationist views and his stance against federal intervention soon won him favor among the state’s white power structure. Sullens left the Clarion-Ledger for the Daily News, Mississippi’s second-most-popular newspaper, and purchased the paper in 1907. For the next half century, the Daily News served as Sullens’s editorial mouthpiece, with politicians and federal laws the objects of his contempt. Not a writer to hide behind his pen, Sullens supposedly confronted Mississippi governor Paul Johnson and broke a walking cane across the governor’s back during the 1940s.
Sullens witnessed many changes during his long tenure at the Daily News. In the wake of World War II, the nation’s increasing support for civil rights for all people was a primary motivation for the creation of the States’ Rights Democrats (the Dixiecrats) and the party’s nomination of Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Gov. Fielding Wright of Mississippi for president and vice president. Sullens realized the futility of the Dixiecrat ticket but remained a staunch supporter of the party’s ideals: “Southern Democrats, of course, realize their cause is hopeless, they know the Thurman [sic]-Wright ticket . . . cannot possibly win,” he wrote. “But they have written a new chapter in the political history of the United States. They have put the nation on notice that we cannot be intimidated.” He insisted that the South would “not surrender our most sacred constitutional rights in order to placate a vicious minority that seeks to rupture present racial relations and establish social equity.” He lambasted the “damn fool Democrats in other sections” who would “eat, drink, and sleep with negroes.”
Not long after the Dixiecrats walked out of the National Democratic Convention, members of the Hederman family, which owned the Clarion-Ledger, began secretly acquiring Daily News stock in an attempt to take control of the newspaper. Sullens took the case to court and won, but he also went broke because of accrued legal debts. In August 1954 Sullens finally sold the Daily News to the Hedermans but remained as editor. “You may think I prostituted myself,” he told his flabbergasted Daily News staff. “If so, I’m the highest paid he-whore in Mississippi.”
The summer of 1954 was rough on Sullens, who was also outraged by the US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating an end to public school segregation. Sullens believed that the ruling represented the ultimate insult from a Court determined to destroy the southern way of life. “Mississippi will never consent to placing white and Negro children in the same public schools,” he wrote in May 1954. “Human blood may stain Southern soil in many places because of this decision, but the dark red stains of that blood will be on the marble steps of the United States Supreme Court building.” Sullens continued, “White and Negro children in the same schools will lead to miscegenation. Miscegenation leads to mixed marriages and mixed marriages lead to the mongrelization of the human race.”
Sullens persisted in his criticism of the Supreme Court and in declaring that Brown would be ignored in Mississippi: “There may be doubts as to what other states intend to do, but the people of Mississippi have always had the intelligence and courage sufficient to manage their own destiny.” He predicted, “The white people of the South will evade the Supreme Court decision.” Despite his fiery rhetoric, however, he admonished Daily News readers who sent letters to the editor to tone down their racial rhetoric: “Please do not send us communication written in the heat of passion.” Sullens died on 19 November 1957, more than a decade before school desegregation became widespread in Mississippi.
- James Loewen and Charles Sallis, eds., Mississippi: Conflict and Change (1974)
- Neil McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (1990)
- New York Times (20 November 1957); Reed Sarratt, The Ordeal of Desegregation: The First Decade (1966)
- Time (8 November 1954)
- Susan Weill, In a Madhouse’s Din: Civil Rights Coverage by Mississippi’s Daily Press, 1948–1968 (2002)