Syracuse University

Mississippi activist dies in Neshoba County Jail; family sends body to Florida for independent autopsy

Philadelphia, Mississippi – Following a funeral on July 19 the family of Rexdale Henry has obtained a board certified pathologist who will conduct an independent autopsy in Florida where Henry's body is now bound. Henry was found dead in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in a Neshoba County jail cell on Tuesday, July 14, 2015.  A lifelong community activist and member of the Choctaw tribe, Mr. Henry was arrested July 9 allegedly for failure to pay an old fine.  He reportedly suffered two broken ribs at some time during his arrest or in the jail.

Local concerned citizens have raised substantial questions about the cause of his death in the jail which comes on the heels of the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail. "His family wants to know what or who caused their healthy 53 year old loved one to die in that cell," says Janis McDonald law professor and co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI) at Syracuse University's College of Law.

The Chief Medical Examiner in Jackson, Mississippi, has refused so far to inform the family or their representatives of either the cause or manner of death, the family made the difficult decision to postpone burial after the funeral Sunday because they are determined to find out what really happened."

Friends of Mr. Henry, including long time civil rights activists John Steele and Diane Nash, have joined forces with McDonald and Paula Johnson, fellow CCJI co-director and professor, to ensure that an unbiased autopsy can be conducted to either verify or challenge the work of Mississippi state officials. "As friends close to Henry and his family and as concerned members of the community we wanted to ensure that the important questions raised by Mr. Henry’s death are answered," says Steele.

"How were his ribs broken? How did he die?" asks McDonald. "At a time when the nation is focused on the terrible circumstances of the brutal death of Sandra Bland, it is critical to expose the many ways in which Black Americans, Native Americans and other minorities are being arrested for minor charges and end up dead in jail cells."

Others have died mysteriously in the same Neshoba County Jail including Michael Deangelo McDougle who was found dead in his cell on November 14, 2014.  Although the coroner’s inquest found no wrongdoing, the autopsy results have yet to be released. Steele says several other inmates have died under questionable circumstances in the recent past as well.

Philadelphia, Mississippi in Neshoba County gained national notoriety when three civil rights workers: James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were arrested on June 21, 1964 while investigating a church bombing site during Freedom Summer. They were placed in Neshoba county detention facilities and escorted and left outside city limits late that night by the deputy sheriff and where members of the local Klan tortured and murdered them.

Steele was a young man living in Philadelphia with his parents, long time civil rights activists who worked along with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney in Neshoba County; he was a close friend of Rexdale Henry. “Mr. Henry was a dedicated family man and the medicine man for his Choctaw community of Bogue Chitto,” says Steele. In addition to his many other activities he was the coach of the stick ball team and, a week before his arrest, he was a candidate for his Choctaw Tribal Council.  The funeral, held at a local gymnasium had an overflow crowd on Sunday, July 19.

Results of the second autopsy will be announced as soon as they are available.

Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service & Cold Case Justice Initiative Syracuse U College of Law


John Steele                                          
Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs             
Memorial Committee                                                                                        
Philadelphia, Mississippi                        
(662) 773-2655

Janis L. McDonald, Professor of Law
Co-Director, Cold Case Justice Initiative 
Syracuse University College of Law
315 935-5529   

Members of the Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service and Conference:

John Steele, Chairman

Annis Collins, Ralph Fertig, Lena Jones, Suzanne Marks, Rev. Advial McKenzie, Curtis Muhammad, Diane Nash, George Roberts and Rev. C. T. Vivian