Death on the move—Philadelphia, Mississippi

N.B. An article on this location was first posted as part of “A Southern Feast of All Souls—Newsworthy Souls,” 18 October 2015. It has since been updated and expanded.

Marty’s Blues Café
424 West Beacon Street
Philadelphia, Mississippi

Around 2015, the chef of what was then Brandi’s Blues Café, was working in the kitchen early one morning. Startled by a loud bang, he continued working until he heard water running in the sink. He walked over, turned the sink off and returned to his work. Glancing up he saw a figure standing near the kitchen door. It was “about 6 ft. It had a little pot belly. I saw it for three or four seconds.” Thinking it was a co-worker, the chef returned to work. After discovering he was alone in the building he began to hear footsteps and he left the building until his coworkers showed up.

Marty's Blues Cafe Philadelphia Mississippi haunted
Marty’s Blues Cafe, 2014, by CapCase. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Despite its name, which translates to “brotherly love” in Ancient Greek, Philadelphia, Mississippi is remembered as the scene of one of multitude of heinous tragedies born of the Civil Rights Movement: the murder of three young activists by members of the local Ku Klux Klan. During the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, as activists throughout the state worked to register African-Americans to vote, three activists were stopped for speeding outside of town. They were arrested and taken to the Neshoba County Jail, located on Myrtle Street, just around the corner from the corner from the café.

After being detained for several hours, the young men were released with law enforcement and members of the local Ku Klux Klan on their tails. The car was stopped again and the three, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were shot to death and their bodies disposed of within an earthen dam that was under construction. Once the bodies of the young men were discovered, the murder case was taken over by the FBI and sparked outrage nationwide.

Some resolution came with the conviction of seven defendants in 1967. More resolution came with the 2005 trial of local minister Edgar Ray Killen who was found guilty of three counts of manslaughter for his part in the killings. In 2016, the state’s attorney general announced that the case was closed.

Just twenty-three years previous, Philadelphia was the scene two tragedies that may echo through time to haunt this small downtown café. The first tragedy occurred the morning of July 29, 1940. In a roadhouse or nightclub called the Blue Goose, the business’ owner, James Grady White, became involved in an argument over the operation of pinball machines with Sam McCune, manager of the Mississippi Vending Company. The argument was settled when White shot McCune to death. When authorities were called to the scene, White claimed that the victim picked up a loaded gun sitting on the counter and accidently shot himself.

Several days later, an angry mob set fire to the Blue Goose in retribution for McCune’s murder. White was arrested and secreted to the Hinds County Jail in Jackson, for safe-keeping. After being put on trial, White was found guilty and sentenced to death by electrocution.

In 1940, the state of Mississippi decided “to abandon the traditional rope” and purchase an electric chair. To assist counties in carrying out death sentences, the chair was a portable device that traveled the state with a technician. So proud was the state of their new device, that a photograph of old sparky and the technician, Jimmy Thompson, appeared in Life magazine showing a smirking, tattooed man standing next to the grim wooden chair. It was this chair that was used for James Grady White’s execution.

The Union Appeal in nearby Union, Mississippi, published the details of the execution:

At 2 o’clock, White made his last walk down a short flight of stairs to the room where the chair had been prepared. With a steady step, looking straight ahead, he walked to the chair and seated himself.

Approaching the chair to adjust the straps, Jimmy Thompson, executioner, said “How are you, Grady?”

‘All right,” was the mumbled reply.

White took an apparent keen interest in the adjustment of the device that was to bring him instant death. The only trace of nervousness visible was an occasional wetting of his lips. He maintained stony silence and composure.

A signal was given and the motor was started. As it began Father Diegnan began to pray.

The switch was thrown and White’s pudgy body, grown heavier by months in jail, grew rigid—his hands involuntarily clenched. Only one shock was applied and three doctors, Dr. Claude Yates, Dr. E. L. Laird and Dr. J. H. Lee, pronounced White dead seven minutes later.

The jail building was torn down some years later and replaced with the jail building where the three activists would be held in 1964. That building remains standing with a historical marker reminding the public of those three young lives that were snuffed out years ago. The plain commercial building on West Beacon Street that now houses the cafe was constructed within the same decade that White was. It seems that his spirit, freed from his earthly bonds, may have taken up residence there.

When members of Southern Paranormal called out the name of James Grady White they recorded an EVP responding “Yeah.” Perhaps he remains to sing his own blues.

Sources

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