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United States of America vs. Theron C. Lynd, Registrar of Voters for Forrest County, Mississippi - Legal case

Identifier: M27

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of approximately five cubic feet of legal files kept by M.M. Roberts in the case of United States Department of Justice vs. Theron Lynd. This collection is valuable to anyone looking for information about the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, litigation involving voter registration in the South, controversy surrounding Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960, and the voting rights of blacks.


  • Creation: 1961-1967

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirculating; available for research

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Biographical / Historical

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the U.S. Justice Department attempted to eradicate voter discrimination against blacks in the South. The government sued voter registrars in the states of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi under the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960.

On August 11, 1960, the United States Government formally requested Theron Lynd, the Circuit Clerk and Registrar of Voters for Forrest County, Mississippi, to open his registration records to federal inspectors for examination and photocopying in compliance with Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1960. Lynd refused to submit to the government's wishes and on January 19, 1961, the government filed for an enforcement proceeding in federal district court to require Lynd to disclose his records. This attempt also proved ineffective and in July 1961, the United States Department of Justice officially filed suit against Lynd claiming he and his office had routinely infringed the civil rights of blacks in Forrest County by denying them the right to vote in violation of federal law 42 United States Code Annotated section 1971(a).

Between March 5-7, 1962, an injunction hearing was held in Federal District Court under Judge Harold Cox. The government brought forth a number of witnesses in an attempt to demonstrate that voter discrimination against blacks occurred in Forrest County and to compel Lynd to disclose his voter registration records. The trial court concluded that discrimination did exist but neither granted nor denied the plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction. Most importantly, the court ordered Lynd to turn over his voting records of both black and white applicants to the government. The Justice Department then appealed Judge Cox's decision of not ruling on a request for a preliminary injunction to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals meeting in Houston, Texas.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, consisting of Judges Elbert E. Tuttle (Chief Judge), John M. Wisdom and J.C. Hutcheson, ruled on April 10, 1962, that the trial court's decision to neither grant nor deny a request for a preliminary injunction in effect equated with denying the request altogether. The 5th Circuit then issued an injunction requiring Lynd to cease discriminatory practices. The appellate court did not address the merits of the case, only the matter related to the injunction, U.S. vs. Lynd, 301 F.2d 818 (1962). Lynd's attorneys then appealed to the United States Supreme Court asking the high court to reverse the 5th Circuit's decision and to rescind the injunction. However, on November 5, 1962, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, thereby declining to review the 5th Circuit's decision. Thus the temporary injunction requiring Lynd to end voter discrimination practices against blacks was sustained, Lynd vs. U.S., 371 U.S. 893 (1963) cert. denied.

While the temporary injunction case worked its way through the federal court system, the government again filed suit against Lynd for allegedly ignoring the injunction order handed down by the 5th Circuit. On May 2, 1962, a process server delivered to Lynd papers compelling him to appear in court and show cause why he should not be held in both civil and criminal contempt. After setting a trial date, the 5th Circuit held an unprecedented special trial in Hattiesburg in front of Judges Griffin Bell, John M. Wisdom, and John Brown. The trial lasted from September 17-21, 1962, and the government entered into evidence 15,000 photographs gathered by the F.B.I. Fifty-one witnesses testified and final arguments lasted five hours.

After receiving written arguments from both sides in the case, the 5th Circuit decided on July 15, 1963, that Lynd failed to comply with the preliminary injunction and found him guilty on civil contempt charges. The 5th Circuit concluded that Lynd must follow the court's order and end discrimination completely as well as to specifically: (1) register 43 blacks previously rejected as unable to pass the state requirement test; (2) cease giving blacks more difficult tests than whites; and (3) allow federal inspectors to examine voter registration records. The court withheld decision on the criminal contempt charges pending a decision by the Supreme Court in the case of United States vs. Barnett, 376 U.S. 681 (1963), which addressed the same question of law as to whether or not a public official may be tried on criminal charges in the absence of a jury. The Supreme Court later decided in a controversial 5-4 split decision that public officials could be tried without a jury and hence the Justice Department could pursue the criminal contempt charges against Lynd.

Lynd became the first southern voter registrar to be held in violation of charges of discrimination under the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1957 - 1960. On July 22, 1963, Lynd's attorneys filed a petition for a rehearing on the case before all nine judges of the 5th Circuit. After the judges declined to review the case en banc, an appeal was made to the United States Supreme Court who subsequently refused to grant certiorari Lynd vs. United States, 375 U.S. 968 (1963) cert. denied. In accordance with his attorney's advice, Lynd made every effort to try and follow the court's order.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department sought a permanent injunction against Lynd on the grounds that he had continued to discriminate against negro voters. On April 14, 1964, a trial was held in District Court before Judge Harold Cox which lasted for two days. The government produced some forty witnesses and entered copies of application forms into evidence to support their claim that Lynd had not complied with the 5th Circuit's temporary injunction. Theron Lynd testified on his own behalf. After almost a year and a half, Judge Cox issued a permanent injunction in February 1965, in compliance with the Fifth Circuit's mandate to do so.

Finally, in 1967, the Justice Department concluded that Lynd had ceased voter discrimination and decided not to pursue the case any further. In addition, the Justice Department agreed to the defense's motion to dismiss the criminal contempt charges which had been held in abeyance since 1962. After more than six years of strenuous litigation, voter discrimination in Forrest County, Mississippi, came to an end.

Theron C. Lynd was born on May 30, 1920, in Moss Point, Mississippi. Lynd moved with his family to Hattiesburg when he was only three years old and attended local public schools. Upon graduation from high school and after receiving a B.S. degree in business administration from Mississippi State, Lynd joined his father in private business. He started his own business in 1958 known as Hattiesburg Typewriter Company, which he sold upon election to the office of Forrest County Circuit Clerk in 1959. He replaced Luther Cox, who died in office. Lynd married Ms. Miriam Howell of Hattiesburg, but did not have any children. Lynd's community activities included the Forrest County Citizen's Council, Optimist Club and the Chamber of Commerce. In his spare time he enjoyed fishing. Lynd died of heart failure in 1978, while serving his 5th term in office.

Malcomb Mettie (M.M.) Roberts served as lead counsel for Theron Lynd. He was born on October 24, 1895, in northeast Jackson County, Mississippi. He attended a one teacher school for his first eight grades and graduated from Mississippi Normal College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) in 1917. After serving in the navy during World War I, he earned his B.S. with honors from Mississippi State College (now Mississippi State University) and thereafter received his L.L.B. (1926) and J.D. (1968) from the University of Mississippi. In addition, Dr. Roberts received an Ed.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi (1964) and a M.A. degree from Peabody College (1931).

Dr. Roberts began practicing law in Hattiesburg in 1926 and continued in that capacity for fifty-six years. He served as president of the Forrest County Bar Association (1952-1953), the Mississippi Bar Association (1956-1957), and was a member of the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning (1960-1972). He was a member of the Century, Big Gold, and Hardwood Clubs at the University of Southern Mississippi. Upon his death in 1982, Dr. Roberts willed U.S.M. one-hundred forty-two acres of land in Ragland Hills south of Hattiesburg along U.S. Highway 98. M.M. Roberts is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery located on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg.


4.95 Cubic Feet : MC1/D3

Language of Materials



Court records of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against a county registrar of voters for infringing the civil rights of black citizens by denying them the right to vote.


The collection is arranged for the most part by subject, but cannot be clearly divided into separate series. The original arrangement dictated by Mr. Roberts was preserved as much as possible.

Due to the legal complexity of this collection, an overview of the federal court structure and the definition of a few legal terms will aid the researcher greatly. First, the Lynd case primarily involves federal legislation passed by the United States Congress and touches very little on matters concerning Mississippi law. This means that litigation took place in the federal court system, and not in the Mississippi court system. The federal system is divided into three main tiers consisting of the District Court, the Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. The District Court is where the actual trial in the case takes place. The parties involved in the suit at the trial level are referred to as the plaintiff and defendant. The loser in the District Court has the option of appealing to one of the thirteen Circuit Courts of Appeal. The Lynd case was appealed to the Fifth Circuit. On appeal, the winner from the trial court is called the appellee or respondent, while the loser is called the appellant, and is the party making the appeal. If the loser at the appellate level is not satisfied with the Circuit Court's ruling, he/she has the option of filing a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. A writ of certiorari is a request made by the appellant to have the Supreme Court hear the case, which can be in the form of either written briefs, oral arguments, or both. If the Supreme Court denies certiorari then the Circuit Court's decision is upheld without question. If the Supreme Court grants certiorari and hears the case, then the Court may either uphold or overrule the Circuit Court's decision. The decision made by the United States Supreme Court is final.

While this collection cannot be clearly divided into distinct series, there are several general groupings of material. Boxes 1 and 2 deal mostly with the case at the District Court level, while Boxes 3 through 11 cover the activities which took place in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The vast majority of documents in the collection are motions made by either Lynd's attorney's or the Justice Department. Other pertinent materials include transcripts of proceedings, correspondence and orders rendered by the District and Circuit courts.

Box 1 contains cases from other parts of the country that deal with voter discrimination. These cases originated in the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, as well as other counties in the state of Mississippi. The constitutionality of Title III, Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960, relating to the inspection, reproduction and photocopying of records, is the main issue addressed in these cases. The District Court judges in these cases consistently upheld the validity of Title III. Box 1 also includes a direct examination of Theron Lynd at a hearing held in Hattiesburg, and a photocopy of the Service of Notice to Produce Records for Inspection, Reproduction and Photocopying delivered to Lynd.

Box 2 contains materials relating to the Lynd case which took place at the district court level. These documents include the Justice Department's amended complaint, notes made by M.M. Roberts, a motion by the defense for An Extension of Time in Which to Plead, a copy of the judge's Order Granting an Extension of Time in Which to Plead or Defend the Law Suit, a motion for a More Definite Statement, a copy of the injunction against Theron Lynd to temporarily stop voter discrimination and a notice of Motion and Motion for Production of Records, Documents and Papers Under Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Other miscellaneous items in this box include a "Washington Report" from Mississippi's representative to the United States Senate, John Stennis, and a copy of the court order regarding Rule 34 against Lynd and A.L. Ramsey, Registrar of Clarke County, Mississippi

Box 3 contains documents dealing with the activities which took place in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. These materials include copies of the writ of certiorari filed with the Fifth Circuit, briefs filed by Lynd's attorneys and the Justice Department, a petition for rehearing, a notice of appeal, a motion for an injunction, and a court reporter's transcript of proceedings that took place before the court. This box also includes extensive memoranda relating to various points of law concerning both procedure and the merits of the Lynd case. These memos discuss the federal court's jurisdictional authority, the power of a district court judge to grant a defendant immunity from criminal contempt charges, support for a preliminary injunction and the guidelines to be followed by appellate courts in cases involving contempt. In addition, Box 3 contains The Ruling of the District Court on March 5, 1962, concerning immunity from prosecution, a notice of taking oral deposition and an order by the trial court to require Lynd to allow the government to inspect and copy certain records.

Box 4 is a continuation of the materials relating to activities before the Fifth Circuit. These include a Notice of Application to Show Cause, an official copy of the Justice Department's brief, the opinion rendered by the court, the Fifth Circuit's ruling on a Motion for an Injunction Pending Appeal and an order by the Fifth Circuit enjoining Lynd from engaging in discriminatory practices against blacks. In addition, this box includes notes by M.M. Roberts, a newspaper article by Theron Lynd dated April 16, 1962, and the Plaintiff's Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decree. However, the most important part of this box is an eight part notebook concerning illegal voter registration by Theron Lynd. The Justice Department compiled this notebook in an attempt to demonstrate that Lynd did engage in voter discrimination.

Box 5 contains materials that deal primarily with a series of motions filed on behalf of the defendant. These motions are the Motion to Quash, a Motion for a More Definite Statement, a Motion For an Extension of Time Within Which to Plead, a Motion by Lynd to Dismiss, a Motion to the Plaintiff to Vacate Order of the District Court, a Motion to Amend the Petition for Prosecution, a Motion for Production for Discovery and Production of Documents and a Motion by Defendant to Exclude Testimony Offered by the Government. Contained in folder 13 is the court's order regarding these motions. The other important portion of this box is a two part demonstrative notebook filed on behalf of the Plaintiffs. This notebook consists of statistics and illustrations that demonstrate the discriminatory grading contained in the application forms taken at Lynd's office.

Box 6 addresses a number of issues related to the case. Among the most important items in this box are cases dealing with self-incrimination, memoranda addressing the question of immunity and criminal contempt charges, a motion by the defense to Quash a Writ of Subpoena Duces Tecum requiring Lynd to appear incourt with his records and testify, and a copy of the Petitioner's Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgments and Orders. Additional items of significance include folders on matters relating to the Mississippi Constitution and Mississippi statutes as well as constitutional provisions concerning voter registration in Mississippi. Box 6 also contains a list of the persons interviewed by the F.B.I. in the process of investigating Lynd's office as well as a copy of the brief filed by the appellee before the Fifth Circuit and a copy of the oral arguments made before the court.

Box 7 contains a Petition for Rehearing Before the Full Court, asking all nine members of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case with the hope of reversing the regular three judge panel. Also in this box are an application for registration for Forrest County, Mississippi, and examples of what the Justice Department claims are evidence of Lynd's discriminatory grading practices. The last item in the box is a copy of the second writ of certiorari filed with the United States Supreme Court, which was subsequently denied.

Box 8 contains Forms of Rejected Negroes Who the Justice Department Claims Should Be Registered. This book lists the names of people who attempted to register but were denied because they failed to pass the voter examination. The book is a key piece of evidence in the Justice Department's argument. Box 8 also contains a list of the applicants, both black and white, who registered to vote, as well as a Motion to Stay Proceedings or to Remand Same to the United States District Court, a Notice of Request and Request to Admit Truth of Facts Under Rule 36, a Petition For Further Orders to Secure Compliance with and to Prevent Obstruction of the Judgment and Orders of the Circuit Court of Appeals. An additional document worth noting is an opinion by federal Circuit Judge Ben Cameron upholding the validity of various Mississippi registration statutes.

The only significant document in Box 9 is a two volume Record On Appeal filed in the Fifth Circuit Court. The record is one of the largest documents in the collection and is a typed transcript of the oral arguments that took place during the hearing.

Box 10 contains a variety of materials dating between 1962 and 1965. Some of the files in this box include affidavits, a Petition for Rehearing filed by Lynd, the District Court's order for an extension of time for filing the record on appeal and docketing the appeal, the Brief of the Respondents, a statement by Lynd regarding the litigation, a Notice of Appeal and Judgement, a report filed by Lynd certifying compliance with the Court's order, and a copy of Judge Harold Cox's order issuing a permanent injunction against Lynd. Box 10 also contains the Opinion Rendered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Judgment and Order for Civil Contempt and a group of charcoal sketches made during the Lynd trial.

Box 11 is a continuation of the documents in box 10, and focuses primarily on the activities by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. These documents include the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law in the Proceeding for Civil Contempt, an Order on the Proceedings in Criminal Contempt, the Judgment and Mandate, as well as the Order relating to Civil Contempt. The single largest portion of this box is seven folders of correspondence between M.M. Roberts and Francis Zachary, Theron Lynd, John Doar of the Mississippi Attorney General's office and a number of other different attorneys, particularly those in the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials in this collection were donated by M.M. Roberts in 1978.

Related Materials

M588, Hattiesburg Civil Rights Film

United States of America vs. Theron C. Lynd, Registrar of Voters for Forrest County, Mississippi - Legal case
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001