Tommy Johnson headstone desecrated

February 3, 2013

The story of the Tommy Johnson headstone and re-dedication of the Warm Springs Methodist Cemetery near Crystal Springs, MS has been covered in this blog time and time again. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story check our archives) Over the years we’ve become close friends with Tommy’s niece Vera Johnson-Collins and her husband Terry. As well as many others who’ve worked tirelessly on this project.

Now the story has become so upsetting and so sad it’s nearly impossible to report. At the very least it’s nearly impossible to comprehend that this is actually 2013. Our hearts go out to Vera and the family of Tommy Johnson. We DO KNOW exactly how hard she and others worked to get the stone in place.

The following was sent to us earlier today (Feb 3rd) from friends in Mississippi.

Tommy Johnson Desecration

The headstone of Mississippi Blues legend Tommy Johnson was destroyed last night (Saturday Feb 2nd) in an act of vandalism near Crystal Springs Mississippi. The headstone was paid for by Bonnie Raitt in 2001 and remained in the Crystal Springs Public Library while a legal battle with the help of the non-profit Mount Zion Memorial Fund to reopen the Warm Springs Methodist cemetery was fought against local landowners and the Copiah County Board of Supervisors. The headstone finally left the Library and was placed on Johnson’s grave in October, 2012. An investigation is pending by the Copiah County Sheriff’s Office who has yet to begin looking into the matter. (according to reports Monday Feb 4th, they are now investigating the incident)

Tommy Johnson graveside Oct 26, 2012

Some are saying it’s still too early to call this a racist act. But hard to imagine just random vandalism. Headstone appears to have been deliberately targeted. Possibly with something like a sledge hammer.

33 Responses to Tommy Johnson headstone desecrated

  1. RIcky Stevens on February 3, 2013 at 9:49 PM

    I’m one of those saying it’s too early to label this racist. Hateful, spiteful-yes. At this point there is no clue as to motive beyond pure speculation based on the individual biases of the accusers.

    • David Lynch on February 4, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      I agree that it’s premature to assign motive to this act. It’s despicable and irreverent, but we really don’t know why it was done.

  2. crawlinkingsnake on February 3, 2013 at 10:10 PM

    This local constabulary link, with email addresses was given to us this evening. Recommendation is that if you decide to email them, restrain your natural impulses, keep it very cool and polite, it will have more effect:

  3. Fredi Pepper on February 4, 2013 at 8:47 AM


  4. Richard Ramsey on February 4, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Agreed Ricky…but…
    Perpretrators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law…this is part of MS legacy and is a major tourism draw. The famlies and fans are the ones that feel the pain of actions like these. Low rent low lifes show their ignorance… Makes me ill…..find the ones responsible and make real good examples so that this type of crime doesnt happen again. Sick red neck crap!

  5. crawlinkingsnake on February 4, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    If you decide to email Copiah County Sheriff’s Office [] seems only emails to Secretary and Chief Investigator actually get through. All others are returned as “failed”

  6. steve salter on February 4, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Smashing Tommy’s headstone is a sick act by a sick mind. Another reason we need more help for people with mental illnesses

  7. Alan Orlicek on February 4, 2013 at 12:00 PM

    I made the Tommy Johnson headstone in 2001. We finally got it erected in October of last year . It won’t take nearly that long to repair or replace it, this time! You can count on that!!!

    • crawlinkingsnake on February 4, 2013 at 12:51 PM

      thank you Alan!

    • Chris Stevens on February 6, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      Ironic that I have on my Tommy Johnson T-Shirt this morning.

  8. spider on February 4, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    My heart goes out to Vera and Terry. I know that the effort to get this tombstone in place was all-consuming for many years. Whether or not this was a racist act is another matter, although having marched on Washington and having engaged in numerous protests for racial equality in the 60s, and having seen the hatred and mistreatment of blacks at that time, my “individual biases” tell me that it most likely was racial. The fact remains that someone’s memory was desecrated, and someone’s effort to sustain that memory was thwarted. That in itself is a major crime against humanity.

    • Bentuibi on February 5, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      Sadly, I have to agree with you Spider. It seems that some people want to stick their head in the sand, while others chose to play dumb and still others talk out of both sides of their mouth. For those talking out of both sides, I’m afraid that they may not be able to accept this as a racist act because somewhere in the dark regions of their mind they still harbor thoughts which hopefully they will never express but those thoughts are still trapped inside them and they just can’t seem to shake them. We seen there are many ways to camouflage over the past couple of elections.

  9. Peetie Wheatstraw on February 4, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    This is sad and sickening but I think it’s jumping the gun to call it racist. Were any other black headstones destroyed?

    • spider on February 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      The blues historical society in Mississippi has had a problem for some time with historical markers of black artists being damaged or destroyed. In that county alone, the KKK is alive and well. No accusation here, just speculation.

    • crawlinkingsnake on February 4, 2013 at 12:37 PM

      Right now there are few if any other headstones visible. This is a very rugged and overgrown area. The TJ headstone is a considerable distance from the road (on private property). Anyone wanting to get to it would have to put in some effort to do so. The guilty party(s) had to know exactly where they were going and what they wanted to do.

  10. Edgar E. Smith on February 4, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    This is a damn shame! My heart goes out to Vera, who has worked so hard over the years to get the headstone placed.

  11. Piers Wallace on February 4, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    This desecration is a tragedy. Not only for the immediate family, for whom I have great sympathy but for all of us. It must be seen as a direct attack on those of us, worldwide, who have loved Tommy Johnson’s music, and appreciate the vastness of his direct contribution and continuing influence that he made to world culture. It is a terrible indictment of the USA that such a crime can be committed. Blind ignorance can be forgiven but it is hard to see such deliberate bigotry and hatred as anything but sin.

  12. Gumbo Charly on February 4, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    A truly senseless act, which is to me clearly racially motivated. Although probably not a top priority to the local police, an evil minded act such as this should not go unpunished. Maybe in a small impoverished area such as this, a reward for information leading to the conviction of the perpetrator, whether it be racially motivated or not, would help to expose the person(s) responsible for this act of hatred and bring a small measure of closure to Vera, Terry, Alan, Mike, and all the good people involved in the effort to create this long overdue respect bestowed on Mr. Johnson. I for one would be willing to kick in for a reward fund, and I bet Ms. Bonnie would also.

    Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

  13. Bob Long on February 5, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    We all, that is all of us who care about this, must ensure that the local police know the eyes of the world are watching now and the culprit must be identified and shamed. And we must get the gravestone repaired. I’ll do what I can to help.

  14. Dennis McClung on February 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    Who knows for sure what motivated this act of disrespect at the grave of Tommy Johnson. What we do know is Tommy Johnson’s music is great, respected, and it will not be torn down. In my opinion, for every stone that is torn down, two stones should be erected. Let the message be sent loud and clear that such disrespect will not triumph nor be tolerated in our country.

  15. crawlinkingsnake on February 5, 2013 at 1:26 PM

    Jackson “Clarion Ledger” released a story Monday Feb 4th. It goes into detail of what Vera discovered when she first arrived at the cemetery.

  16. Theo dasbach on February 6, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    What a shame, i really hope they get these idiotscwhich did this! Anyway Tommy johnsons legacy lives forever and itis events like these that makes it even more important to preseverve the music legacy. hopefully it will be restored and be better protected. Mississippi should do a better job in protecting its history. I am also amazed that such terrible act is categorized as racism by some people without any proof. Thats is not right, i totally agree with Ricky. Lets find the culprits first and than decide what moivated them. but despicable yes indeed!

  17. Jackie on February 6, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    Very sad to hear this news Vera… thoughts and prayers with you and your family. Keep fighting the good fight!!

  18. Eric on February 6, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    If a legal battle had to be fought against local landowners and the County Board of Supervisors to get the headstone erected, and since whoever damaged it had to go a ‘considerable distance from the road’ to even find it, I’m guessing that a disgruntled person(s) involved in the legal battle is responsible for the damage.

  19. Jennifer on February 8, 2013 at 6:17 AM

    It clearly is a person who doesn’t like or appreciate music and Tommy Johnson’s contribution to it….. is there any chance of relocating his grave to a more peaceful resting place so this doesn’t ever happen again?

  20. crawlinkingsnake on February 8, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    We’re told Copiah County Sheriff’s Dept has received more than one email respectfully encouraging them to get to the bottom of this. During the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago, while police beat protesters with billy clubs, the crowd chanted “the whole world’s watching”. Crystal Springs needs to hear that same message

    once again the link is:

    also letters to the editor at Jackson Clarion Ledger sent to:
    Letters to the Editor
    The Clarion-Ledger
    PO Box 40
    Jackson, MS 39205-0040

    • Bob Long on February 8, 2013 at 9:12 AM

      Please make the effort to do this; it will make a difference!

      • crawlinkingsnake on February 17, 2013 at 1:34 PM

        Tuesday Feb 12th the Clarion Ledger printed a letter to the editor concerning this matter. However it was edited to the point it no longed carried the theme of “the world is watching”. Had it been edited for the purpose of saving space, one could understand. But some actual wording was changed. Such as “desecrated” became “disheartening”, “destroyed” was now “damaged” along with entire sentences or paragraphs deleted.

        All are encouraged to stay on top this issue and continue sending a message to those that need to hear.

        • Bob Long on February 17, 2013 at 1:58 PM

          This is disappointing, to say the least. It’s interesting to ponder the editor’s motive in toning down a news story like this. I’d really like to know of what, if anything, the local police have done in investigating this crime. Is there any news on this? Clearly, the more publicity this crime gets, the better, as it will be harder to ignore. I think Scott Barretta is writing an article for Living Blues magazine. I’m writing one for the British blues press. We must all keep banging this drum!

  21. john gagz on February 25, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    my heart goes out to the family of tommy. all of us true fans feel the anger.that is one of the most disrespectful things a person can do.It makes me sick.

  22. crawlinkingsnake on March 10, 2013 at 9:31 PM

    Tommy Johnson’s niece Vera said today (Sunday Mar 10th) the man who originally made the headstone in 2001 has collected the broken pieces to see into the possibility of repair. Also a donor in Greenville, MS has offered to help replace it if necessary.
    The Copiah County Sheriff’s Dept has completed their investigation with no arrests being made.
    Tommy Johnson was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986. His recording “Canned Heat Blues” is part of this years induction class. Vera plans to attend the ceremony in Memphis on May 8th.

  23. john gagz on April 8, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    who ever did it has a hellhound on there trail now. What a piece of shit.R.I.P Tommy

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