11/28/2012 6:00:00 AM State Archives, History places marker at historic old jail
By STEVEN THOMAS Staff Reporter
The state Department of Archives and History has erected an historic marker at the old Neshoba County jail on Myrtle Street where three civil rights workers were held hours before their murders here in 1964.
The jail currently serves as the meeting place for the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.
Officials with the Department of Archives and History said that the structure is a contributing building in a National Register District.
"Often there are buildings altered or torn down," Swayze Pentecost, Mississippi Landmarks coordinator, said. "The National Parks Service recognized the jail as a historic building in the Downtown Philadelphia National Register District."
Civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were held in the jail after being arrested here on June 21, 1964.
After their release, they were ambushed and later shot by the Ku Klux Klan. They were in Neshoba County investigating the burning of Mt. Zion five days earlier.
The state Department of Archives and History also noted that Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a stop at the jail on June 21, 1966, while leading a voter registration march which included a stop at the courthouse.
The jail, built in 1955, remained in use until 1978.
Currently, the jail serves as the meeting place for the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's, fraternal organization known for their various charitable works.
Ron DiPalma, a member of the Knights, said the jail has been in use for the past two months.
Before the Knights moved into the building, the owner had considered turning it into a small restaurant.
"The front part, where the old jail keepers used to be, was remodeled and a commercial kitchen area was added," DiPalma said.
The Knights' meeting room would have served as the dining area for the restaurant.
"One day I was down here and said, 'you know this would be a great place for the Knights to meet,'" he said.
Don Perry, a member of the Neshoba County Historical Commission, noted the history of the building and submitted the application that led to the placing of the historical marker.
"Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were kept right where we have our meetings," DiPalma said.
Currently there are no plans for further use of the building outside of a meeting hall.
DiPalma's son, Todd DiPalma, owns the building.
The Knights started with monthly meetings but has grown to bi-monthly business and social meetings.
Ron DiPalma said the group has discussed making improvements to the structure such as painting the walls and replacing the 50-plus year old windows.
Some work has already been completed with the addition of doors to the various rooms.
"It's a way for those of us with a common religious background to meet up," he said.
Locally the group does charitable works for their church as well as in the community at large.
The Knights sponsor a needy family for Christmas. They also donated money to help with the construction of a disabled playground at Northside Park, among other projects.
"Since we just started we haven't donated a whole lot on money but we have done some charitable works," DiPalma said. "Our thrust lately has been to raise money so that we can do more."
The group recently held a gun raffle where $2,000 was raised.
"When you make a couple thousand dollars on one fundraiser, that helps a lot," he said.
The Historic Commission is made up of seven members: Jeremy Chalmers, Alice Rowe, Perry, Lynn Hays Ferguson, Jenny Lynn Wilkerson, Eva Tisdale and Gloria Williamson.