Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The McGhees

I just read a wild story about the McGhee family in "I've Got the Light of Freedom" by Charles Payne.  Mrs. McGhee, a black woman living in Greenwood, MS during the civil rights movement, was actually physically aggressive towards white police officers - but only when they really deserved it.  Once at a rally a cop tried to hit her with his nightstick, she grabbed the nightstick and the officer!

She had three sons, Silas, Clarence, and Jake.  All three of them shared her enthusiasm for their basic rights and her fearlessness in their pursuit of them.  They were financially harassed and their house was routinely attacked by firebombs.  When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Silas and his brother Jake decided that they wanted to start exercising their new right by integrating the movie theaters.  Their efforts to enjoy a movie in theaters that had once been "white's only" caused riots and arrests for both Silas and his brother.

One afternoon Silas got into an argument with a white police officer.  Later that evening he was shot in the head at close range.  The book says that immediately after he was shot "he could hear a woman's voice over his car's shirt-wave radio: 'They got the n-----! They got him!'"

They took him to a hospital in Greenwood and, according to Bob Zellner (a legendary white civil rights worker) Silas was not offered medical treatment.  Once inside the hospital "no one made any effort to help him.  'It was like that wasn't a question,' says Zellner.'"

The story of the McGhee family is comical and frustrating at the same time.  I think theirs should be a household name.  Not only did they show bravery and courage, but they showed a gut level understanding of their rights as Americans.


  1. ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?!?! This is my family and I have no clue. Where can I find this story?? Silas is my father. Please tell me where I can find this story.

    1. Oh, my gosh! You're having a "Booker Wright" moment just like I did. Your dad has been written about all over. He was a hero and your family were pioneers in the civil rights movement. This book, I've got the light of freedom, can be found on amazon for about $10 used.

      Here's another story about him:

      I am so excited for you!

  2. Wow, when this aired on Dateline, my mom called me and told me she and my father knew Booker Wright. In fact, when your grandfather was shot, my mom was one of his nurses in intensive care. It is such a small world.

    I told Silas about the Dateline story and he said I have the DVD. I'll send it to you. I was watching the film and imagine my surprise when I saw Silas. My mom had told me stories about how he and his brothers were into the 'civil rights thing' but that was before she met him. She always said he never talked about those times but she had heard from others 'about those McGhee boys.'

    I never knew he had been shot or why he had been shot. When I asked him about it, he really downplayed it. I will try to get him to speak with me about his experiences but he is very quiet. I had heard stories from others as i grew up about my Grandma Laura, my father, and uncles.

    I wish I could do what you are doing but I do not know if Silas will open it to me and allow me to tell his story. i was born and raised in Greenwood but have no idea how my own father changed so many things. This whole thing has changed my entire perspective about Silas. I just never knew...

  3. I immediately went to your link. I learned more about the shooting in that story than Silas would tell me himself. I resolve he doesn't want to discuss those times with me. Maybe he doesn't want to remember.

    I'm not sure where Ms. Halpern got her information but Silas has never been mayor of Greenwood. But I believe the rest of her story is true. I know that the home they had was firebombed twice. Silas did tell me that much. Like I said, he doesn't really share much. I guess he just doesn't want to remember or he doesn't want me to have to think about it.