Firebombing at black paper

By: Mark Fitzgerald Politician implicated in the destruction of the Jackson, Miss., newspaper

The first time Charles W. Tisdale, editor and publisher of the Jackson (Miss.) Advocate, and Louis Armstrong, who would become president of the Jackson City Council, ever had a conversation, it ended in a fist fight.
That set a pattern between the two outspoken black men for the next two decades: The politician ripped into the publisher repeatedly on public occasions while Tisdale belittled Armstrong in the pages of the weekly that calls itself "The Voice of Black Mississippians."
"Louis Armstrong resembles no one as much as he resembles Emperor Jones in the famed playwright Eugene O'Neill's play of that name," Tisdale once wrote in a column later quoted by The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.
"Armstrong struts and preens from his seat at meetings with all the femininity of a Gilbert and Sullivan prima donna."
On Jan. 26, 1998, the Jackson Advocate was destroyed by two Molotov cocktails. Thirteen months passed with no arrests ? but now federal authorities say Armstrong paid a former campaign aide $500 to carry out the firebombing.
In court Feb. 19, assistant U.S. attorney Jack Lacy accused Armstrong of ordering the firebombing because he was "frustrated at the critical and increasingly derisive tone of newspaper articles written about him in the Jackson Advocate."
Armstrong has not been charged in the crime and prosecutors will not say when or if he will be charged. Armstrong pleaded guilty Feb. 16 to bribery and extortion charges stemming from a City Council zoning vote and resigned from the council the same day he was named in the firebombing criminal information.
Armstrong did not return a phone message left at his residence.
Perhaps as shocking as the accusation that a black public official in the Deep South ordered a Ku Klux Klan-style attack on a black newspaper is this fact: Publisher Tisdale doesn't believe his old enemy did it.
"If he was going to blow up my office because of what I wrote against him, he would have blown it way before this ? because we've been at this for a long time," Tisdale says in a telephone interview. "I believe it's a cover-up."
Tisdale says he believes the paper was targeted for its opposition to Capital Center Inc. (CCI), a private firm redeveloping downtown Jackson under special tax status.
He says the company was not only angry at the Advocate's editorials and litigation challenging the legality of CCI's agreement with the city but CCI also coveted his old building as the site for a nightclub in a new entertainment district.
"It's quite plain to me that I was a thorn in their side, so to speak," he says.
"I think that's a fantasy," responds CCI president Don Shea in a telephone interview.
Shea says the Advocate's former offices are not even in the downtown improvement area.
The conspiracy theory continues to have support. The local Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter reached the same conclusion about the firebombing as publisher Tisdale, says its executive director, Stephanie Parker-Weaver. Ironically, Weaver is also a bitter political foe of Armstrong and ran against him in the last election.
"I'm absolutely sure they don't have the right person," she says in a telephone interview. "Louis Armstrong is many things. He's an extortionist, he's a briber, he likes to fight ? but he does not have this pattern of arson. I am not going to let them put this on him."
Tisdale and Parker-Weaver say they suspect a man under indictment for manufacturing homemade bombs. The man, who is in federal prison awaiting trial, "has no involvement in this case whatsoever," says assistant U.S. attorney Lacy.
Lacy, in a telephone interview, declines to comment on the case except to defend the thoroughness of the federal investigation: "At one time we had nine people working on this case. We have had someone working on this case every day since [the day of the firebombing]."
?(Charles Tisdale, inside of his firebombed newspaper, the Jackson (Miss.) Advocate, doesn't belive his old enemy Louis Armstrong is responsible for the attack) [Photo & Caption]
?(Stephanie Parker-Weaver, Exec, Director of Southern Christian Leadership Conference) [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 27, 1999) [Caption]


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