By Josh Troy
Concerned citizens called for a boycott of the local newspaper, the Clarksdale Press Register, alleging racist business practices and other behavioral issues related to the editor, Floyd Ingram. Company officials, however, says criticizing all politicians is a part of the media’s responsibility. A community meeting took place at Clarksdale Civic Auditorium Thursday night to discuss the issues involving the Press Register. According to citizens that attended the meeting, allegations against the newspaper’s editor extend far beyond criticizing politicians.
“We have agreed among ourselves, Brother Newson, the Mayor, and the President of the NAACP,” Donell Harrell stated when talking about the boycott of the Clarksdale Press Register.
Former Clarksdale Municipal School District Superintendent, Donell Harrell, called for the boycott beginning this coming Monday, February 13th. He stated the goal of the boycott is to see the Press Register’s business practices change and for Editor and Publisher, Floyd Ingram, to be terminated. Harrell specifically asked everyone to cancel their subscriptions of the Press Register and any other sister publications operated by Emmerich Newspapers. Harrell said he would be canceling his subscriptions of the Press Register and Columbian Progress. He also asked everyone not to place any ads in the Press Register or support it financially in any way. “We must be vigilant in our churches and social clubs or wherever we go. We all have a role to play,” Harrell said.
Harrell also said he had conversations about the boycott with Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy, Coahoma County Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson, who represents District 4, and Coahoma County NAACP President Dr. Jimmy Wiley. “There are some of us who take the newspaper,” Harrell said. “I get it to just find out what’s going on. We have agreed among ourselves, Brother Newson, the Mayor, and the President of the NAACP, that starting Monday, you may not take the paper, but you know someone who does. We are asking that, on Monday, preferably call the newspaper or write and cancel your subscription.” Harrell said he would encourage others to cancel subscriptions. “If you know some other people,” he said. “I know about 8 or 10 people, I’m going to call and ask them to cancel their subscription. And, at some point, we will lift the cancellation, but we must act, not react, but we must act.”
Harrell talked about how the late Dr. Aaron E. Henry and other Civil Rights leaders who helped paved the way for the black community. “As Dr. Henry used to say, ‘Man can’t ride your back if it’s not bent.’” Dr. Henry was a Clarksdale native who was one of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, the Mississippi Branch of the NAACP President, a State Representative, and often the target of racial violence. “We stand on the shoulders of people who died for the right to vote,” Harrell said. “You can go into any grocery store and any restaurant because somebody paved the way. You have a responsibility to do for those children who are going to come after you. You’ve got to make a way.”
Harrell encouraged everyone to join the NAACP and other organizations that are promoting what is right. He reiterated his call for everyone not to place any advertisements in the Press Register. “We want the editor gone,” he said. Harrell said cutting the Press Register’s finances off might cause Ingram to be terminated. “The one thing that some people, white people, understand more than anything else, it’s why a lot of them go into business, they understand the almighty dollar,” Harrell said.
“I’m going to call the police and take a picture, put your mug on the front page,” Floyd Ingram told Josephine Rhymes.
Tri-County Workforce Alliance Executive Director Josephine Rhymes, a longtime community leader, told a story of her personal experience with Ingram. Rhymes said Ingram wrote a damaging editorial about teachers, and as a former educator herself, it caught her attention. “I was very disturbed about how he talked about the teachers and the people who work in the school system,” she said.
Rhymes quoted Ingram writing on the Press Register opinion page that local teachers were “lazy” and “not teaching,” and she went to speak with him about it. Rhymes said she asked Ingram if he visited the local schools, and he said no. “OK, I’m going to make a personal effort to get you into the schools. I’ll personally take you around to each school and let you see,” Rhymes said. Rhymes went on to say, “I am a teacher, and I have been on the other side of the corner, I’ve been in the classroom, and I’ve been on the outside of the classroom, and what you’re saying is not true about those people.” Rhymes said she told Ingram he does not know what educators go through to teach. At that point, Rhymes said she and Ingram began talking about racial issues, and she told him she was there to discuss education and what he wrote about local teachers. Rhymes said Ingram told her the schools were not doing what they were supposed to, and a good superintendent was run off. Rhymes said she asked Ingram if he met current Clarksdale Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Toya Matthews. She also encouraged Ingram to balance the paper’s negative news with positive stories.
Rhymes said Ingram pulled out a Press Register to show her a story about a shooting in downtown Clarksdale. “He showed me in the paper where these boys were arrested, and then they immediately were released,” Rhymes said. Rhymes said she knew nothing about it and was trying to talk to him about other issues. She said, as the conversation went back to issues about education, Ingram told her the state would take over the school system.
“That’s like me going to your house and telling you how to run your house when I don’t live there,” Rhymes said. Rhymes said there are people in Clarksdale who know what the school system needs and are capable of running. She said she asked Ingram to interview Matthews about those types of issues. Rhymes said Ingram interviewed Matthews and told her he would publish it in the Press Register. After the newspaper came out and it was not printed, Rhymes said Ingram told her it would be printed in its Women in Business section.
The story was not published in the paper or special section, so Rhymes spoke with Ingram at the Press Register office again. “He (Ingram) said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Rhymes said. “And so the lady employed by the paper was behind the counter, and she said, ‘Why are you yelling at her like that? She asked you a simple question?’ All you have to do is give her a simple answer.” Rhymes said Ingram replied that she would not tell him how to run his paper, and she said she just wanted to know why the story was not published.
Then, Rhymes said Ingram talked about racial issues, and she just wanted to know why the story on Matthews was not published. Rhymes said Ingram told her, ‘Listen, you leave this building.’ I said, ‘Leave the building? I haven’t done anything. I have my rights, and I can stay in here.’” Rhymes said Ingram told him, ‘“I said, ‘Leave, or I’m going to call the police and take a picture, put your mug on the front page, and you’re going to have a record.’ And so it shocked me, so I put my hands on my hips and said, ‘Arrest me. Call the police.’”
Rhymes said she had a meeting with Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center Executive Director Aurelia Jones-Taylor 30 minutes later about a Sasse Street park project. She added the police would have had to arrest her before she left for the meeting. Rhymes said she called Jones-Taylor and told her what happened. She said Ingram yelled at her yet again and told her to leave the building. Rhymes said Ingram told her he would call his bosses. She waited at the Press Register office, but the police never came.
Rhymes said she told the employees at the Press Register office she would hate for them to lose their jobs, “but I think the only way we’re going to be able to stop what he’s doing is to not purchase the paper anymore.” Rhymes said a Press Register employee told Ingram if the police come, he would be embarrassed. She said the employee told Ingram he would be the one the police arrest for harassing Rhymes. Rhymes said she saw Ingram last Sunday during a prayer meeting at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. She said Ingram spoke to her and asked if she was speaking to him. “I said, ‘I’m glad you’re in church,’” Rhymes said.
Wyatt Emmerich and Floyd Ingram
Emmerich Newspapers owner Wyatt Emmerich and Ingram each provided statements. “Politicians don’t like being criticized, but that’s part of being a good newspaper,” Emmerich said. “Certain political leaders have faced criticism for failing to address major problems in the community. Such criticism is not racist just because the political leaders are African-American. These political leaders are hiding behind race to demand that the Clarksdale Press Register not criticize them when they make mistakes. That would be a failure of our journalistic responsibility.” Ingram agreed. “Your Clarksdale Press Register always does its very best to report fairly and objectively,” he said. “Politicians don’t like being criticized, but that’s part of our job.”
“When I hear language, ‘I’ll have you arrested,’ it takes you back in time,” Espy said.
Mayor Chuck Espy
Espy agreed with Rhymes and talked about Ingram’s alleged behavior at the meeting. “When I hear the language, ‘I’ll have you arrested,’ it takes you back in time,” Espy said. “It’s a time I didn’t grow up in, but God knows my mother and father taught me well. And I’m going to say this to you, no one can have you arrested. They can call the police, but they have no authority to have you arrested.
“But sometimes people have privilege in their heart, in their mind when they believe they have that authority to have you arrested.” Espy said there is still a fight against racism in Clarksdale and other parts of Mississippi. He cited Mississippi House Bill 1020, that is proposing creating a new district in Jackson where predominantly African-American judges are elected. Espy said the legislation proposes the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court will appoint a designated judge for these positions.
The Mayor told his personal experiences with Ingram. “I have watched the destructive pattern that this man is doing in this great city,” Espy said. “Some of this is economic, some is just outright racist, and some is just because he is a hateful person. So take your pick among the three.” Espy said no one would tell an African-American in Clarksdale that they would be arrested. “I promise you, Ms. Rhymes, he will be arrested before you in this city,” Espy said.
Espy spoke about his issues with Emmerich, who owns more than 20 papers in Mississippi. “Imagine this,” Espy said. “One bad apple in a corporation can ruin an entire business, but Mr. Wyatt persists in standing with Mr. Ingram. So we have friends all across the entire region.” Espy said Emmerich owns papers in Greenville, Greenwood, Indianola, Yazoo City, Grenada, and other towns. He encouraged people in the audience to contact friends in those cities about how Emmerich is standing by Ingram.
In Nov. 2020, Espy let the community vote on who his next appointee to the Clarksdale Public Utilities board would be. It was the first time the community voted for a CPU board member. “His (Ingram) statements were this doesn’t match up with what he wanted to write,” Espy said, “A historic election for the very first time to vote for an individual to serve on the Clarksdale Public Utilities board, but you know why he didn’t want to print that story? That was under African-American leadership.”
In Dec. 2020, the city changed the name of Confederate Street to Faith Street. “Imagine that hope versus fear,” Espy said. “You know what he chose to do? He never wrote the story about it and refused to write a story about faith.” Espy said citizens have the right through a written publication to know when a street name is changed for safety reasons. Espy alleged Ingram played the “old divide and conquer game” in Jan. 2021. The Mayor alleged Ingram talked to African-Americans about influencing the public to elect those who were not black to political office. Espy said there are white people who do not agree with things Ingram does and asks them to stand up against it.
In Jan. 2021, the City of Clarksdale held a memorial for people who died of COVID, but Espy alleged Ingram called the event political and refused to cover it. Espy said media outlets out of Memphis, Tenn., covered the memorial. “But this evil individual chose not to,” Espy said. Espy claimed Emmerich and Ingram probably did not care what people at the Civic Auditorium on Thursday had to say. “But let me tell you what speaks louder than anything on this planet, your money,” Espy said. “You can make a conscious decision to make sure that your money is spent in other places.”
“We’re attacking this situation because it affects the entire community, the entire county,” Newson said.
Johnny Newson, President Coahoma County Board of Supervisors
Newson said Ingram’s treatment toward Rhymes could have happened to anyone’s mother, sister, daughter, or niece. “We’re attacking this situation because it affects the entire community, the entire county,” Newson said. “Not only the county, but if you look at the state, the way things are going now, it’s affecting the entire state. “From what I see here, Mr. Ingram has a pattern of attack on Clarksdale’s leadership. Mr. Ingram has consistently attacked the leadership, and he only started that when minorities became in the leadership capacity here.” Newson cited statements from Ingram in the Press Register calling for new leadership.
“What does he mean when he says we need new leadership?” Newson said. “Who is he referring to? It’s because the minorities are now in the majority when it comes to voting. Is that what he’s saying? We need new leadership, which in layman’s terms, it means we need to get blacks out and whites, let them run the city and county.”
Newson asked what does Ingram do to provide solutions to our teachers or political leaders? He said Ingram should be a part of the solution. “We don’t get that from him,” Newson said. “We never have, and we never will, so, in my opinion, he just persistently wants to be a racist and attack blacks.” Newson alleged it was evident that Ingram was attacking African-Americans because they hold many local leadership positions, including the Mayor of Clarksdale, Circuit Clerk, Chancery Clerk, and Tax Assessor.
Newson said, for the first time, the majority of the Board of Supervisors are black. He claimed the Press Register’s coverage did not attack the Board of Supervisors when it had a white majority. Newson encouraged everyone to “flood the telephone booth” to inform them about the boycott against the Press Register. “Even if a lot of people don’t have or take out the newspaper, it won’t hurt them to call up the newspaper and tell them we’re not going to support you until you change your behavior,” he said.
“You all need to come down and cancel those subscriptions,” Hopson stated.
Judge Derek Hopson
Municipal Judge Derek Hopson said he heard alleged stories about Ingram and did not believe them at first. Then, he said he heard from people who claimed they witnessed Ingram’s questionable behavior. “The name precedes you,” Hopson said. “We all know, and it’s just like something crawls up your nose. We just know.” “You all need to come down and cancel those subscriptions,” Hopson continued.
“We thought we had hurdled over all these things before, but it looks like they may be coming back again,” Wiley said.
Jimmy Wiley, President Coahoma County NAACP
Wiley said he was under the impression some of the issues with the Press Register would improve. But when that did not happen, he said the community meeting and boycott were organized, “We thought we had hurdled over all these things before, but it looks like they may be coming back again,” he said, “So we need to be alert and prepare ourselves for it and not just sit and wait for somebody else to do it. For sometime now, we have had problems between the editor of the Clarksdale Press Register and the black citizens of Clarksdale. It has been going on for sometime now, and it has got to the proportion where we will not accept it anymore.”