JXN Film Festival presents George Raymond’s ‘Thirst for Freedom’

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Clarence Chinn (owner of original Club Desire), Leah Chinn (Clarence’s wife), and Inetta Chinn with husband, King Lee Chinn, brother of Clarence Chinn, seated at the table on a night out in Canton’s Club Desire. (Photo provided by Jacqueline Chinn, niece of Clarence and C.O. Chinn.)

Little did the city of New Orleans know that a small child named George Raymond Jr., born on New Year’s Day in 1943, would have an insatiable “Thirst for Freedom.” That thirst would ultimately lead him to being arrested at the age of eighteen at the infamous Trailways Bus Station in Jackson, MS, for taking part in the Freedom Rides on August 14, 1961.

On July 27, 2023, the Jackson Film Festival presented a screening of “Thirst for Freedom” at the Jackson Convention Complex. The documentary shines a spotlight on the life and times of the aforementioned George Raymond Jr. 

Raymond is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement who could not stay on the sidelines in the fight for voter registration in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era of the 1960s. The film’s co-producers are Will Kelly and Christopher Windfield. Kelly is the CEO of The Arc of Freedom and Social Justice, a nonprofit in Jackson. Windfield serves as the film director and animation graphic artist, working through his Drawn-Up Films Productions, LLC also located in Jackson. 

George Raymond Jr. grew up in New Orleans to parents who were part of the first great migration. African Americans left the South headed North to seek better paying jobs and for the hope of a better way of life that would allow them to provide for their families without the terror that hate groups like the KKK inflicted. 

He graduated from Cohen High School in New Orleans in 1960 and eventually married Myrtis Evans of Canton, MS. The documentary noted that Raymond was influenced to become a Freedom Rider by his wife’s mother, Laura Evans. He became a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), and head of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), working alongside other icons of the Civil Rights Movement such as Annie Devine, C.O. Chinn, and Anne Moody. He was also the project director for Freedom Summer in 1964.

Most notably, George Raymond Jr. was captured in the only photograph of the infamous Woolworth’s Sit-In. At the lunch counter, Raymond can be seen having cream poured down his back in  his trademark outfit – a white T-shirt and overalls – as he and others  try to integrate Woolworth’s.

In 1966, Raymond also walked in James Meredith’s “March Against Fear” campaign from Memphis to the State Capitol in Jackson. Meredith was shot on the second day of the historic march, but he survived shotgun blasts to his head, neck, back, and leg. The march was continued by Martin Luther King  Jr., Floyd McKissick, and another young high profile Black activist, Stokely Carmichael, whose combined efforts got many Blacks registered to vote along the 220-mile trek. Meredith was able to rejoin the march that ended on June 26. (James Howard Meredith was also the first Black to integrate the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1962).

According to Will Kelly, a 69-year-old resident of Brandon, MS, and a personal witness to some of Raymond’s civil rights activities, “I was an 11-year-old kid when I met George who hung around with my older half-brothers, Cleveland Nichols and Clarence Jefferson. They were personal friends of his as teenagers in Canton. I was too young in 1961 to participate directly in the Civil Rights Movement but had a ringside seat to observe what was going on in those tumultuous days of school segregation, integration, and the struggles to get Blacks registered to vote in and around Canton. 

“Me and my older brothers attended Carter High School (now Brandon Middle School) in Rankin County, Mississippi…Rankin County was a pretty rough place back in the day, dealing with the “Rough Boys” (Rankin County deputies). And it still is for Black folks with regard to civil rights. In 1965, George did a lot of work with CORE to get into Rankin and Leake counties. George was the successor of Dave Dennis (CORE’s director). As I remember, George was recruited by Jim Harvey, Jerome Mangum, and John Adams to organize the NAACP in Rankin County. They also recruited Willie Morrow to challenge the Mississippi Highway Patrol discrimination lawsuit case filed in 1970-1973 with Constance Slaughter Harvey, who won their case as the lead attorney. 

“Mr. Harvey, Mr. Mangum, and Mr. Chinn often held meetings at Chinn’s nightclub (Club Desire) in Canton to set up and organize protests and boycotts that soon became scrutinized by the KKK and the Citizens’ Councils throughout the state. George Raymond Jr. and C.O. Chinn operated Club Desire after Clarence Chinn, the founder/owner of Club Desire, became more interested in real estate…Clarence and C.O. Chinn were brothers. It was revealed in police records that George Raymond Jr. became the target for white supremacy groups and was supposed to have been the one they were after in the 1964 Ford station wagon — which was owned by George Raymond, Jr. (donated by Lena Horne) – that the three boys were in in Philadelphia at the time of their deaths.”

In a personal interview, Hezekiah Watkins, who was 13 years old in 1961, recounts how he was taken to Parchman, the most notorious prison in Mississippi, during the incident at the Trailways Bus Station in downtown Jackson. Watkins says, “I really was too young to be a Freedom Rider but because I was a curious teenage boy, I went down to the bus station just to see what was going on. George Raymond and I were taken to jail during a protest in Canton down at the theater (Canton Cinema) on the orders of the high Sheriff Billy Noble…(who, at the time, was the most feared sheriff in Mississippi). We stayed in jail about three days, only because the jail was filling up with more and more protestors. Therefore, our treatment was better than what other people got in other counties in those days, and they soon let us go. George was my mentor because he was older than me (he was 18 or 19); he had more experience than I did in working protests and things.” 

Hezekiah Watkins, now 75 years old, serves as a docent at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson, leading tours and narrating his personal recollections for the installation that depicts his civil rights story.

Jacqueline Chinn, the niece of C.O. and Clarence Chinn, says, “My uncles employed several national blues acts back in the day such as B.B. King, Big Joe Turner, Ivory Joe Hunter, The Platters, Bobby Blue Bland, Bobby Rush, and Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. I remember there was a small back room inside Club Desire that my parents used as my baby-sitting room when I was brought to the club as a child.” Jacqueline Chinn is the CEO of the Carmila Chinn Hampton Legacy Foundation (CCHLF). It is well-known in the African American community that many celebrities supported the Civil Rights Movement.

George Raymond Jr. died in 1973 of a heart attack at age 30. He is laid to rest at Resthaven Memorial Park in New Orleans.

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JXN Film Festival presents George Raymond’s ‘Thirst for Freedom’

By Brinda Fuller Willis
July 31, 2023