By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on September 26, 2018
Frank and Doris Conic owned and operated Conic Beauty and Barber Supply Company at 615 North Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi from 1950 to 1975. They were also civil rights icons in Jackson from the 1940’s through the 1970s. They displayed incredible courage on a daily basis in the face of Mississippi’s hardcore, entrenched racism.
Doris Varnado Conic (Nov 15, 1915 - Jan 16, 1998) was the daughter of the late Rev. Willie Varnado and his wife, Oda Etta Carmichael Varnado. Aunt Doris was my mother’s sister.
Frank N. Conic (May 3, 1911 - Feb 10, 2005) was the son of John Edgar Conic, Sr., a prominent black businessman in Jackson. Uncle Frank’s father operated the City Barber Shop and was the only independent distributor of the Chicago Defender and Pittsburg Courier newspapers in Jackson for 30 years. Both newspapers were influential weekly publications that called for improvements in housing, healthcare, and education for African-Americans.
Long before Uncle Frank and Aunt Doris retired in 1975, their business was delivering beauty supplies throughout the entire State of Mississippi. Their sales grossed more revenues than any other African-American business in Jackson.
The Conics Believed in the Promise of America
In the South, very few African-Americans dared to exercise their right to vote during the Jim Crow era. Two Mississippians who did were Frank and Doris Conic. They paid the poll taxes that white segregationist officials imposed upon blacks to discourage them from voting and did so each year from 1940 until shortly after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
By exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Frank and Doris put their lives at risk each time they showed up at the polls to vote between 1940 and 1965. Furthermore, their civil rights activism extended well beyond voting.
On June 10, 1960, Uncle Frank wrote the following passionate letter to Jackson Mayor Allen Thompson:
“Dear Mr. Mayor,
As a lifelong resident of Jackson, I am proud of the progress that the city has made under your capable leadership. When I ride over this city, it is indeed thrilling for me to realize that my taxes have contributed to its expansion, improvement and beautification.
Though my portion of the taxes would be minute if it were separated from the total, so would that paid by its wealthiest citizens. Therefore, all of the facilities and projects that the city provides should be available to all of its people, and they should rejoice whenever any proposals are made to improve this community economically and culturally.
So, as one who has confidence in the future of Jackson, I shall vote for the bond issue on next Tuesday. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm is weakened somewhat by the fear that not all Jacksonians will be able to enjoy the benefits that its passage would provide.
You see, sir, I am a Negro, and along with the other members of my race, I am barred from the existing “white” recreational and cultural facilities. The lone exception, I understand, is the municipal auditorium, where colored people may see the wrestling matches.
Evidently, persons who grant us this “privilege” do not believe that Negroes’ tastes for cultural and entertainment are as varied as those of the white citizens. To assume that colored people are interested only in wrestling is as ridiculous as the assumption that white women are the only ones to enjoy the finer things in life, so no consideration has been shown to the ladies of my race.
In making this criticism, I am speaking only for myself, but the sentiments I express are identical to those felt by all of Jackson’s worthy Negroes – the kind that you have praised several times.
I want you to know, Mr. Mayor, that I think the citizens are fortunate to have a man of your stature at the head of our city. With your leadership, I am certain that Jackson’s progress will increase abundantly in every way during the remainder of your administration.
Uncle Frank’s letter was featured in the “African-American News” section of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper. It later made its way into the files of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, which targeted black civil rights activists in the 1960s for harassment, retaliation, and much worse.
Valuing the Right to Vote
Frank and Doris Conic valued their right to vote. They paid poll taxes to exercise this right until the Voting Rights Act became law and federal court decisions relieved them of this obligation.
Uncle Frank and Aunt Doris made their last poll tax payments on February 1, 1966, just a few weeks before Mississippi was forced to end poll taxes. In April 1966, Mississippi became the last state in the nation to end poll taxes.
Today, all voting-age Americans should exercise their right to vote. Frank and Doris Conic paved the way for us to vote without fear of reprisals or artificial barriers to our exercise of this precious right.
Voting is the foundation of our democracy. We must vote in EVERY election cycle, including the November midterm elections and the presidential elections. Our future as a progressive nation depends upon it.
PHOTO: Conic Beauty and Barber Supply Company operated in Jackson, Mississippi from 1950 to 1975. From left to right: Doris V. Conic, Myrtle C. Johnson, Frank N. Conic, and Jack Johnson.
PHOTO: Poll Tax Receipts for Frank and Doris Conic.
PHOTO: Voter Registration Cards for Frank and Doris Conic.
PHOTO: The final poll tax payment by Doris Conic.