The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: East (P. D.) Collection
Collection Number: M324
Dates: ca. 1957 - 1971
Volume: .25 cu.ft.
Percy Dale (P.D.) East, editor and publisher of The Petal Paper, Petal Mississippi, represented the small, and generally cautious, segment of white southern society that recognized, and tried to change, the racial injustice that defined the South in the first half of the twentieth century. East established the newspaper in 1953, and used it as a forum to promote his belief that African-Americans should, and must, receive fair treatment and legal equality. However, by 1959, his caustic editorials and liberal racial views had resulted in the loss of all his local subscribers and advertisers. The Petal Paper survived, with sporadic publication, until 1971, through donations and subscriptions from liberal supporters in other areas of the country.
Percy Dale East was born on November 21, 1921, in Columbia, Mississippi. When he was five days old, his biological mother, Laura Battle Hopkins, gave him up for adoption to James and Bertie East. He grew up in various lumber camps in South Mississippi, where his adoptive father worked in a variety of low-paying jobs. Bertie East supplemented the family's income by running a boarding house in each of the lumber camps. As a child, East was often confronted with the stigma of being a "sawmill kid, "and developed a combative spirit that characterized his personality throughout his life. As a teenager, he worked in a general store where he encountered first-hand the economic exploitation of African American patrons.
East attended Pearl River Junior College for one semester in 1939, then moved to Hattiesburg, where he secured employment in the baggage department of the Greyhound Bus Lines. In 1942, he accepted a position as ticket clerk with the Southern Railway System, also in Hattiesburg, and in March of that year, he married Katherine McNeese, the first of four wives. A son, Byron, was born of the union.
In December 1942, East entered the United States Army, but was discharged a year later on the ground that he was "temperamentally unsuited for the rigid discipline of the Army." He returned to the Southern Railway System, and in 1947, began studying journalism and writing at Mississippi Southern College (now The University of Southern Mississippi). In 1951, he resigned his position with the Southern Railroad, and became the editor of two Hattiesburg labor union newspapers, The Union Review and The Local Advocate.
East was divorced from his wife, Katherine, in February 1952, and married his second wife, Billie Porter, a week later. A daughter, Karen, was born of that union.
In June 1961, East was divorced for the second time, and on October 6, 1961, he married his third wife "Elizabeth" (fictitious name assigned to protect her privacy). The marriage was troubled almost from the beginning, and it, too, ended in divorce in 1963.
Due to persistent threats and harassment relating to his civil rights activities and opinions, East left Mississippi in 1963, and relocated in Fairhope, Alabama. On December 27, 1965, he married Mary Cameron (Cammie) Plummer who was only half his age, but shared his views on racial equality and his concern for the rights of all people.
For the remainder of his life, East continued to monitor civil rights activities in Hattiesburg, as well as the nation, lending his voice and support where possible. P. D. East died in Alabama, of severe liver failure and other complications, on December 31, 1971. He was survived by his wife, Cammie, and his children, Byron and Karen.
This collection consists of materials pertaining to P. D. East's career as editor and publisher of The Petal Paper and as a spokesman for equal rights for all citizens.
Folder 1 contains correspondence in which East discusses damage to his reputation and fear of reprisal in relation to his political views (October 21 - November 26, 1962).
Folder 2 holds a copy of an eighteen-page address delivered by East at Vassar College in December 1962.
Folder 3 contains a booklet of editorial reprints from The Petal Paper (copyright 1957).
Folder 4 is comprised of photocopies of The Petal Paper (January 16, 1958 - July 1963).
Folder 5 consists of original issues of The Petal Paper (January 11, 1962 - July 1963)
Folder 6 contains the September 7, 1962, issue of The Texas Observer, an independent liberal weekly newspaper which features an article about P. D. East titled "Somber Satirist: Mississippi's East."
Folder 7 holds a "George Wallace for President" license plate (ca. 1968), two Ku Klux Klan souvenir coins (1971; undated), one Ku Klux Klan ball point pen (Metairie, Louisiana, undated), and one Sterling silver charm in the shape of the Mississippi flag (undated).
This collection should be of interest to anyone researching the civil rights movement in Mississippi.
Dates: ca. 1963-1971
Volume: 1 item
Provenance: Donated by Ms. Jennifer Abraham.
Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
Form of Material:
An undated, one-page form letter soliciting financial assistance for P.D. East. The letter was written by John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me.
Wilbur W. Stout Papers, M 137 (Box 1, Folder 16: Reprints from The Petal Paper, 1957-1959)