The senseless murder of 18-year-old Jo Etha Collier on this day in 1971 rocked the state of Mississippi and the nation. Civil rights icon and local figurehead Fannie Lou Hamer spoke out against the injustice, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
Collier was walking home the night of May 25 after graduating from the recently integrated Drew High School in the small town of the same name. Around 9:45 p.m., a pickup truck drove by and began shooting, hitting Collier in the neck. She was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Three white men inside the truck were caught just hours later via a roadblock. A pair of brothers and their nephew were reportedly seen drinking and threatening Black residents earlier in the day. Hamer said in reports that Collier was killed simply for being Black, and linked the slaying to the ongoing unrest surrounding the voter registration campaign in the region.
While the trio of men were arrested, and held, they were never charged for the crime. Rev. Ralph Abernathy eulogized the popular Collier, who won an award at the school for spirit and attitude and was a top member of the school’s track team.
In 2007, a handful of Northeastern University law school students researched Collier’s case and other cold cases from the civil rights era in a bid to find a semblance of justice for those lost.
Discussions online say that Collier was among the first to integrate Drew High, hence why she was targeted. but that has never been proven.