MCCOMB – (AP) Former McComb Mayor Newton Haskin James, a white businessman who was among a bi-racial group of community leaders who worked to ease tensions during the civil rights movement in 1960s, has died at the age of 96.
Officials with Hartman-Sharkey Funeral Home say James died Thursday, June 13, at Beacham Memorial Hospital in Magnolia. Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday, June 17, at J. J. White Memorial Presbyterian Church in McComb. Burial will follow in Hollywood Cemetery.
After retiring from his insurance business in 1982, James ran for mayor and served the city from 1983-87 in that post.
James played a key role in the redistricting of Pike County in the early 1960s, adding his name to a lawsuit that resulted in the more fairly apportionment in each district.
He was a member of an unofficial bi-racial committee during the 1960s that helped bring an end to the violence and unrest of 1964, which some community leaders believed hurt the local economy.
“Our town was in turmoil, and there was no indication that anybody was offering a solution to what appeared to be gridlock,” local attorney Norman Gillis Jr. told the Enterprise-Journal.
“Newt was a member of a very small group who personally rounded up the members of the black and white communities and quietly got a consensus of a large committee, which was willing to put an ad in the paper.”
That advertisement in the Enterprise-Journal, known as the Statement of Principles, called for an end to violence and respectful treatment of all people.
“It served to calm things down,” Gillis said. “It was a brave move at the time.”
Charles Dunagin, retired editor of the Enterprise-Journal, said Mr. James was willing to take a stand on difficult issues, “and was always on the right side.”
The Leakesville, Miss., native and his wife moved to McComb in 1945. He entered several business ventures before opening an insurance agency.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Lucile Ward James; a son; a daughter; and two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.