This Day in History

Sept. 5, 1964: Heffners Forced Out of Town for Crossing Color Line

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: Voting Rights, Racism & Racial Identity

The Heffners, a well-respected, middle-class white family in McComb, Mississippi, had invited two white civil rights workers to their home for a couple of hours on July 17, 1964 during Freedom Summer. Their house was surrounded by vigilantes, as noted below on the SNCC report of civil rights incidents in McComb that year.

So the Heffners Left McComb (Book) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryOn Saturday, September 5, 1964, the family of Albert W. “Red” Heffner Jr., a successful insurance agent, left their house in McComb, Mississippi, where they had lived for ten years. They never returned. In the eyes of neighbors, their unforgiveable sin was to have spoken on several occasions with civil rights workers and to have invited two into their home. Consequently, the Heffners were subjected to a campaign of harassment, ostracism, and economic retaliation shocking to a white family who believed that they were respected community members.

The Heffners were not radicals, they were simply trying to be hospitable. The backlash from their peers in the white community was immediate and brutal. The Heffners were harassed and terrorized to the point where they had no option other than to leave town permanently.

Their story is described in So the Heffners Left McComb by Hodding Carter with an extensive introduction by historian Trent Brown. Brown notes that the story of the Heffners “demonstrates the power of fear, conformity, community pressure, and threats of retaliation of many sorts that silenced so many white Mississippians.”

The book is highly recommended for high school and adults for understanding the “divide and conquer” tactics that continue today.