Two Mississippi civil rights activists die in house fires in less than two weeks

Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 10:30 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two Mississippi civil rights activists died in house fires within a two-week span this month.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the most recent fire, and the other is being labeled “undetermined.”

Some say “undetermined” is “unacceptable.”

On the second day of the new year, we lost civil rights icon Ineva May Pittman in a house fire in Jackson.

Then, this past Friday, Yazoo County’s first black supervisor and civil rights activist Herman Leach died in a house fire in Yazoo City.

“My first instinct was, how could this be so,” said Cynthia Walker.

Walker - who looked to Leach as a mentor - doesn’t have any reason to believe that there was foul play in either case, but she said if authorities in Yazoo County or Hinds County have even a hint of suspicion, it should be looked into further.

“I just want to make sure that our state recognizes these two individuals deserve a thorough investigation. No rock left unturned,” she said. “If that requires the federal people to come in and look at these investigations, well, come on in feds.”

Leach’s oldest daughter – Cassandra Leach – agrees, but of even more concern to her at the moment is her belief that the Yazoo fire department failed her father.

“I wasn’t present when this was transpiring, but I’ve heard from all those who were present that the fire department did not have the adequate amount of water to put out the fire,” Cassandra said.

Cassandra said it appears her father’s last act of humanity was to shed light on a taxpaying service that’s failing the community.

“It is not incumbent upon the citizens to be the voice to say, ‘hey, you might want to come out and check your water hydrants,’” she said. “It is not incumbent upon the citizens to do the job that they pay taxes for, and when you pay taxes for a service, we should be able to expect that.”

Authorities say the cause of the fire that took Pittman’s life is undetermined, meaning investigators couldn’t find any strong evidence to prove how it started.

As for the one that killed Leach, his family said investigators told them it was an electrical fire.

WLBT was not able to reach the fire marshal for confirmation on that or for comment on Cassandra Leach’s claims.

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