Updated Notes from Letters from Mississippi
Additional Information on notes and revisions
“And that freedom train’s a comin’” The lines come from a song usually called “Freedom Train,” based on the hymn “Old Ship of Zion.” It was also sung in a union version as “Union Train” in the 1930s and 40s.
Mayor Allen Thompson of Jackson: Not only did Mayor Allen Cavett Thompson (1906-1980) get the infamous “Thompson Tank” named after him, but the Jackson airport, built during his five terms as mayor (1948-1969) also carries his name.
Western College for Women: Organized as the “Mt. Holyoke of the Midwest” in 1855, Western College for Women became known for its international studies. It merged with Miami University in 1974. In April 2002, a plaque and memorial to Freedom Summer were dedicated near Peabody Hall on the campus.
Citizens Councils: The first White Citizens Council had been organized in Indianola, Mississippi (following the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education) in 1954, as a middle-class, ostensibly nonviolent opposition to integration. Citizens Councils spread rapidly throughout the state, throughout the South, and as far north as Maryland. Officially, they employed legal and economic tactics against activists, but these occasionally included physical intimidation. They liked to be distinguished from the Ku Klux Klan organizations, which were seen as more lower class and directly violent.
Baldwin: James Baldwin (1924-1987) had most recently published The Fire Next Time (1963) a pair of essays that eloquently expressed not only the intellectual and physical oppression of black Americans, but also wrestled prophetically with the themes of anger, revenge, love and forgiveness.
Frank Smith (b. 1942) from Atlanta, Georgia was a student at Morehouse College and a SNCC field secretary. He later moved to Washington, D.C., became active in local politics along with other SNCC veterans, and served there on the Board of Education and the City Council. Smith is the founding executive director and board member of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum.
Westchester County, New York, was a byword for its communities of wealth and white privilege in the 1950s and 1960s.
fat ugly registrar: Theron C. Lynd (1920-1978) was the circuit clerk and county registrar of Forrest County from 1959 until his death. His discriminatory policies and delaying tactics when he was asked for his records by the Justice Department in 1965 resulted in the Fifth Circuit Court issuing an injunction against him.
Jimmie Travis: James Travis (1942-2009) from Jackson, Mississippi, worked with SNCC through 1965. After joining and then leaving the Nation of Islam in 1967, he began working with Headstart programs, emphasizing local control and a community voice in the program, an occupation he stayed with for fourteen years. In the mid-1980s, Travis went to work at Levi Strauss, also helping to gain union recognition there. When his oldest daughter was diagnosed with HIV in 1987, he became active in HIV-AIDS education, and later in his life served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.
Jesse: see note, p. #
Jim Forman: James Forman (1928-2005) grew up in Chicago, spending much of his childhood with family in Mississippi, and graduated from Roosevelt University after military service. He was active in the black civil rights movement in North Carolina, Tennessee and other areas before becoming Executive Secretary of SNCC (1961-66) as well as its Director of International Affairs. Later he moved to Detroit, to work with the Black Workers Congress there, and then on to Washington, D.C. In 1974 he began to direct the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee in that city, focusing on voter activism, the fight for D.C. statehood and other struggles. He published five books, including The Making of Black Revolutionaries.
Medgar Wiley Evers (1925-1963) was an active leader of the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi, whose assassination in his own driveway focused national attention on Mississippi in June 1963. His killer, Byron de la Beckwith, had been tried and acquitted twice by the summer of 1964. He was finally convicted of the crime in 1997, and died in 2001. Medgar Evers’ widow, Myrlie Evers Williams, (b. 1933) served as chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.
Ed King: R. Edwin King (b. 1936) is a white Mississippian who served as chaplain at predominately black Tougaloo College. He became the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor on the 1963 Freedom Vote ticket headed by Aaron Henry. In 1964, he was an MFDP delegate to the National Democratic convention. He continued to be active in MFDP politics, running for Congress in1966.
Bob Moses (b. 1935) was raised in Harlem, attended Hamilton College and Harvard University, and was teaching math at Horace Mann High School when he went to work first for SCLC and then SNCC. He was one of the pioneering staff-workers in Mississippi organizing voter registration in 1961, and became the architect and key director of the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. He left SNCC in 1966, moved to Tanzania in 1968, and returned to the United States in 1976. He now directs the innovative and successful Algebra Project to empower otherwise disadvantaged students.
Charles McLaurin (b. 1941) a citizen of Jackson, Mississippi, was a pioneer in SNCC’s early voter registration work and became one of its leading field secretaries. After the summer of 1964, he stayed on organizing in Sunflower County, remaining close to Fannie Lou Hamer until her death in 1977. He continues to be actively involved with the Sunflower County Civil Rights Movement Veterans, ROAR, other community organizations, individuals and institutions.
Charles Morgan, Jr. (1930-2009) was born in Ohio, raised in Kentucky, and practiced law in Birmingham, Alabama, from 1955 to 1963. Following the Birmingham church bombings, he took a strong public stand against them, and left Birmingham shortly afterwards. From 1964 to 1972 he headed the southern regional office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and then moved on to head the Washington, D. C., office from 1972 to 1976. Mr. Morgan, as a leader of the ACLU, fought three celebrated court cases involving protests against the Vietnam War. He participated in Muhammad Ali’s successful court fight to avoid being drafted. He represented Julian Bond in the early stages of an ultimately successful lawsuit after Mr. Bond had been denied a seat in the Georgia legislature because of his antiwar views, and he defended an officer court-martialed for refusing to help instruct Green Berets headed for Vietnam.
Rev. James Lawson (b. 1928), an exponent of Gandhian nonviolence, became one of the leaders of the Nashville, Tennessee student sit-in movement in 1959. As a result, he was expelled from Vanderbilt University where he had been a student at the divinity school. The Nashville activists, especially Lawson, were leaders in the founding of SNCC in April 1960, to co-ordinate the black student movement that had erupted all over the south. He later became a pastor in Nashville and was one of the leaders who made the Memphis garbage workers strike national news in 1968.
John Doar, Burke Marshall: John Doar (1921-2014) was assistant attorney general during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, known for his sympathies to the civil rights movement in general and the Mississippi Summer Project in particular. After leaving government, he was active in New York school desegregation controversies in 1967, and became Chief Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate hearings.
Burke Marshall (1922-1976) was the assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1964, left government in 1965, and became dean of the Yale Law School in 1970.
“We Shall Overcome”: Originally a church song, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” “We Shall Overcome” apparently began its political life among an integrated group of unionized mine workers in Alabama in 1908. (See Sing Out! Volume 45, #3, p. 66.) Folk singer Guy Carawan, who attended workshops for grassroots southern activists, is widely credited for helping to transform the song into the “anthem” of the civil rights struggle. Movement workers also learned it at the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee. Since then, people engaged in struggles for freedom and justice around the world have adopted and sung “We Shall Overcome.”
Traditionally in the movement, the song was sung ritually, as can be seen in numerous photographs. The singers stood, hands crossed in front of their bodies (usually right over left) clasping hands with their neighbors, and swaying with the rhythm of the music.
“We’ll Never Turn Back”: words written by Bertha Gober, became the signature song of the Mississippi Summer Project. This song, as well as many others quoted in Letters from Mississippi, is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom, by Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser (Norton: New York 1989).
Lee: Herbert Lee (d. 1961), a farmer in Amite County, Mississippi, was shot and killed in cold blood and broad daylight on September 25, 1961, by state representative E. H. Hurst. Lee had been active in the struggle for voting rights. The incident had a powerful effect on the sense of responsibility SNCC staff workers, especially Bob Moses, felt for the lives of the people they were working with.
Vincent Harding: Vincent G. Harding (1931-2014), historian and professor, was head of the Institute of the Black World in the late 1960s, and, since 1981, has been Professor of Religion and Social Transformation at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.
The Student Voice: This was the newsletter of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee, widely distributed on campuses throughout the North as well as among SNCC workers and supporters.
Mrs. Hamer’s face: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was driven out of her home on a Mississippi plantation for applying to register to vote. She went on to become a SNCC field secretary, and a powerful spokeswoman and activist in the freedom movement. After the Atlantic City challenge, she continued with a challenge to the seating of the white Mississippi Congressional delegation in 1965. She stayed politically active, opposing the Vietnam War and organizing against poverty, and for housing and medical care until her death from cancer.
Eastland: Senator James Eastland (1904-1986) was the United States senior senator from Mississippi in 1964. Elected as a Democrat in 1941, he served until 1976, chairing several powerful committees.
Gov. Johnson: Governor Paul B. Johnson. Jr. (1916-1985) succeeded Ross Barnett as governor of Mississippi in 1964. In 1966, he was elected chairman of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Authority.
Look magazine: Look settled on Donna Howell, a pre-med student from the University of New Mexico who worked in the Ruleville project.
Mrs. Rita Schwerner: Now Rita Levant Bender (b. 1942) has been practicing law in Seattle since 1975.
Stokely Carmichael: Kwame Ture (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad and raised in Harlem. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and attended Howard University, from which he joined the SNCC campaigns. He became Chairman of SNCC in 1966, popularizing the call for “Black Power,” advocating increasing militancy and renouncing nonviolence. He left SNCC in 1967 and joined the Black Panthers. In 1969 he moved to Guinea and changed his name to Kwame Ture in honor of Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Touré, and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting socialist pan-African unity.
Bayard Rustin (1910-1987) was a civil rights activist and militant advocate of nonviolence. He was the chief organizer of the Washington, D. C., March for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. As an adviser to Martin Luther King, he was targeted by the FBI for his sexual orientation.
“they say that freedom is a constant sorrow …” The song is more generally known as, “They say that freedom is a constant struggle,” words and music originally written by Roberta Slavitt.
Mario: Mario Savio (1943-1996) returned after the summer of 1964 to the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a graduate student in philosophy. In October of that year, he seized control of the microphone during a speech by University President Clark Kerr on the steps of Sproul Hall, an act which has been pinpointed as the beginning of the Free Speech Movement and a critical moment in student radical politics of the 1960s. He later went on to teach mathematics, philosophy and liberal studies at Sonoma State, without ever abandoning his political commitments.
Dave Dennis (b. 1940) became active in CORE in Louisiana, where he practiced law. As CORE’s leader in the Summer Project, he was well respected by SNCC and other co-workers in Mississippi. Later, he moved to Jackson and helped Bob Moses found the Southern Initiative of the Algebra Project in 1992, which he continues to direct.
Dr. Aaron Henry (1922-1997) was the son of a sharecropper who became the head of the Mississippi state NAACP in 1959. He ran for governor on the MFDP ticket in the shadow Freedom Vote of 1963, and was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic Convention. When he tried to run for Congress as an independent, he was kept off the ballot by the authorities, who claimed he lacked the number of signatures necessary to qualify. He won another Freedom Vote when he ran for the Senate, but came to reject the MFDP as too radical. He led the loyalist Democrats who stayed with the national party in 1968 and 1972. A certified pharmacist and owner of the Fourth Street Drug Store in Clarksdale, he considered himself a down-home businessman who should not leave Mississippi. He became a key figure in bringing Head Start, housing, employment, and health services to Mississippi.
“Caesar” Byrd: Actually Cecil Byrd, sheriff of Jackson County.
Rosa Lee Williams: “Miss Rose — as everyone called her: When I was in Mississippi in 1994, I asked . . . where she was or if she had died and when . . . but no one knew. I do remember that on the wall in her living room she had a newspaper clipping about her husband, I believe his name was Fred. It had a photo of him next to a bale of cotton. He had set some sort of cotton-growing record in that year.” (Roy Torkington note)
“This Little Light of Mine”: (traditional) This song became particularly associated with Fannie Lou Hamer.
Go Tell It on the Mountain: A 1954 autobiographical novel by James Baldwin, focusing on his coming of age as a teenage preacher in Harlem.
Mallette, Clemens, and Sheehan: Of these three, Sheehan is most likely Archbishop Fulton John Sheen (1895-1979) an outspoken opponent of segregation.
the other America: The Other America, a seminal analysis of poverty by Michael Harrington, was one of the books on a reading list provided to volunteers before their training at Western College for Women. The other books on that list were W. J. Cash’s Mind of the South, W. E. B. Dubois’ Souls of Black Folk, V. O. Key’s Southern Politics, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Stride Toward Freedom, and Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream.
Louis Allen (d. 1964) was a witness to the shooting of Herbert Lee. At first he supported the killer’s declaration that the killing was in self-defense, but a month later he told Bob Moses he had lied under coercion from local white men, and Moses informed the Justice Department. A local deputy sheriff later told Allen that he had been tipped off by the FBI to Allen’s change of testimony. Allen was found shot to death on January 31, 1964.
Snopes: an unattractive family of poor white characters whose rise in fortune is depicted in William Faulkner’s trilogy The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion.
The Reverend John: John B. Maurer (1925-2007) a Presbyterian minister from Delanco, New Jersey, returned from Mississippi to New Jersey, later moved to a congregation in Connecticut, and still later left the ministry. Over the years, he worked as a taxi driver and an interstate truck driver, then became a drug counselor and a counselor in prisons.
They say in Mississippi: “Which side are you on?”: composed by Florence Reese in Harlan County, Kentucky for a coal miners’ strike in 1932, was adapted by James Farmer of CORE for the freedom movement while he was in jail in Mississippi’s Hinds County as a freedom rider. The song is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom.
Ross Barnett (1898-1987) was elected governor of Mississippi in 1960 as a champion of white supremacy and helped provide state funds for the Citizens Councils. Barnett, who had pledged himself to stand forever against integration, protested the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which had ordered Meredith’s admission, cited Governor Barnett for contempt of court for his role. He never served time or paid a fine, and charges were dropped in 1965.
Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was the chairman of the history department at Spelman College when he became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1964 he published his first book, SNCC: The New Abolitionists, but he is best known since for his People’s History of the United States.
closed society: James Wesley Silver (1907-1988) a professor of history at the University of Mississippi had recently published his study of Mississippi racial politics and their consequences, Mississippi: The Closed Society. The book was banned in the state, and Silver subsequently forced out of his position and out of Mississippi.
TVA: The Tennessee Valley Authority, established under the Roosevelt administration in 1933, officially managed the development and control of natural resources in the watershed of the Tennessee River, an area of more than 40,000 square miles.
Albert Darner: “Darner is a misprint. It should be Garner. Albert was a local activist. He participated in the training in Ohio, and I believe he and his wife were on the bus when we left Ohio for Mississippi. The quotation from him is in dialect because, when he said it, he said it in dialect. Ordinarily he did not speak in dialect or with a heavy accent.” (Roy Torkington note)
Sheriff Hubbard: Earl G. Hubbard (1902-1998) served as sheriff of Panola County from 1964 to 1968.
Hodding Carter’s The Delta-Democratic Times: In 1959, Hodding Carter III (b. 1935) had taken over the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Mississippi, a prize-winning liberal newspaper under the direction of his father, Hodding Carter, Jr. (1907-1972). In 1961, Hodding Carter III won the Society of Professional Journalists’ national award for editorial writing. He worked on two presidential campaigns — Lyndon Johnson’s in 1964 and Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. In January 1977, he became a spokesman for the Department of State and served as assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Carter administration, most notably during the Iran hostage crisis. He is also known as a television commentator.
Hollis Watkins (b. 1941) was the first Mississippi student to become involved as a field secretary (in 1961) in the Mississippi Voting Rights Project and has been active in empowerment activities in the state ever since. He became a core participant in successful community-based redistricting efforts in Mississippi in the early 1990s and was the lead plaintiff in a 1991 redistricting suit to force the state to comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He is active on the boards of directors of several community-based organizations, has been awarded numerous fellowships and awards. He founded and now directs Southern Echo in Jackson. Southern Echo is a leadership development, education, and training organization that works to develop grass-roots leadership across Mississippi and the Southern region.
Hartman Turnbow (1905-1988) was one of a group of fourteen Holmes County Negroes who attempted to register to vote in 1963. Volunteering to lead, he became officially the first to make that attempt in the twentieth century. A month later, his house was firebombed. The local police arrested him for arson but later dropped the charges. Despite the firebombing and legal harassment, he continued his work as a widely respected leader and went to Atlantic City for the MFDP challenge at the 1964 Democratic convention.
Mayor Williford: William Oliver Williford (1922-2010) owned an insurance agency and still owns a real estate business in Drew. Elected mayor in 1957, he served for twenty-eight years.
“Ain’t going to let no jailing turn me around”: A spiritual adapted to the freedom struggle by Reverend Ralph Abernathy in 1962, in Albany, Georgia.
p. 100 97
Robert J. Miles and his wife: Robert J. Miles (d. 1996) and his wife Mona. See note on p. !!!
“I’m on My Way” (traditional)
In White America: by Martin Duberman (b. 1930) who is now a Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York. He is well known for a biography of Paul Robeson and for his historical work in Queer studies. While a professor at Princeton University, he compiled In White America, one of the earliest documentary dramas, in order “to describe what it has been like to be a Negro in this country.” The play had a successful run in New York in 1963; and, in August 1964, the Free Southern Theatre (conceived in 1964 by several SNCC workers) toured its production in Mississippi under the sponsorship of SNCC with an integrated company of eight.
Staughton Lynd (b. 1929) the director of the freedom schools in 1964, a socialist Quaker, is the son of noted academics Helen and Robert S. Lynd. In the fall of 1964, he became an assistant professor at Yale University, a position he lost after he traveled to Hanoi in December 1965. A political activist, historian and a specialist in labor law, he has worked on landmark cases of labor organizing, both while he was with the Northeast Ohio Legal Services and since his retirement in 1997.
11-year old girl named Rita Mae: “I remember her very well, she used to come into the office and was quite bright. I do wonder what happened to her.” (Joe Ellin note.)
Laubach: Frank Charles Laubach (1884-1970) who began his career as a missionary, became a pioneer of teaching adult literacy as a means of empowering impoverished and disadvantaged peoples around the world.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was the pre-eminent poet of the Harlem Renaissance.
Amistad: In 1839, a revolt by slaves on the Spanish ship Amistad became a cause célèbre when the slaves sued for their freedom in U. S. courts, in a case that reached the Supreme Court in 1841. The former slaves won their freedom. The incident, while not mentioned at all in standard U. S. history books of the 1960s, has since been the subject of many studies and a Hollywood film.
a white man from California: Abe Osheroff (1915-2008) of Los Angeles, a self-described working-class intellectual, radical humanist and life-long social activist, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, came from Los Angeles with $10,000 to build a community center which he donated to the Holmes County movement. Later, Osheroff went on to make award-winning films and to organize a brigade to build a village in Nicaragua in 1985. Until his death, he was active opposing the wars in southwest Asia and honoring veterans of the Spanish Civil War.
Lilies of the Field: a 1963 movie directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Sidney Poitier (who won an Oscar for this role) as an African-American handyman who helps a group of German nuns build a chapel.
Dulles: Allen Welsh Dulles (1893-1969) was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1953 until 1961. President Johnson designated Dulles to act as a liaison with Mississippi state authorities during the investigation after the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. He was opposed to federal protection for civil rights workers.
Mississippi Goddam: A 1964 song with words and music by Nina Simone. The song is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom, by Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser (Norton: New York 1989) and can be heard on Nina at Town Hall, and subsequent collections of Simone’s singing.
Lawrence Guyot: Lawrence Guyot (1939-2012) was born in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and was recruited by Bob Moses to work with SNCC while he was a student at Tougaloo. He was elected chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party before the Atlantic City convention but was in jail and unable to attend. He ran unsuccessfully for congress on the MFDP ticket in 1966, and from the 1970s lived as an activist in Washington, D. C. Until his retirement in 2004, Guyot was a program monitor for the D.C. Department of Human Services’ Office of Early Childhood Development.
Curtis Hayes (b. 1943), now Curtis Muhammad, was recruited to SNCC by Bob Moses in Mississippi, spent some years in Africa after 1964, and for the past seven or eight years has been working with the Union of Needletrades Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) in Louisiana.
two white volunteers named Larry and Dave, and Rabbi Lelyveld: The volunteers were Larry Spears and Dave Owen. Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld (1913-1996) was rabbi at the Fairmount temple in Cleveland, Ohio, 1958-1986, and was active in the Cleveland NAACP. He served as president of the American Jewish Congress (1966–1972), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1975–1977), and the Synagogue Council of America (1979-1981). He was a recipient of the NAACP Distinguished Service Award.
On August 8, 1964, Clifton Archie Keys and Estus Keys were tried for the beating of Rabbi Lelyveld, pleaded nolo contendere, and were given suspended sentences.
Professor Pease from Stanford University: Otis Pease (1925-2010) was a professor of history at Stanford, later elected to the Board of Trustees.
Goldwater: Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) had just defeated New York governor Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican candidacy for President in the 1964 election.
Peter . . . Bill: Peter Werner; and Bill Jones, a schoolteacher from New York City.
Kenneth Keating: Kenneth B. Keating (1900-1975) was elected to the U. S. Senate as a Republican from New York in 1958. Throughout the summer of 1964, he and his staff were accessible and supportive, responding quickly to requests for the official scrutiny that helped control and prevent violence. In November 1964, he was defeated in his bid for re-election by Robert F. Kennedy. He later served on the U. S. Court of Appeals and as ambassador to India and Israel.
His indefatigable aide in support of the civil rights workers was Pat Connell.
Borstal Boy, Invisible Man, The Stranger: Brendan Behan’s 1958 book Borstal Boy is an account of his own experiences in a British juvenile prison. Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison, follows the experiences of a nameless black man through contemporary American society. The Stranger (1956) by Albert Camus, originally published as L’Etranger (1952), recounts the crime and punishment of an Algerian white man who kills an Arab.
Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was a philosopher who wrote out of his working-class background, emphasizing the importance of self-respect. The True Believer was published in 1951.
B.F. Skinner and BBD & O: Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990) was a leading experimenter with behavioral psychology, in which animals and people reacted to mechanical stimuli. BBD & O was a leading Madison Avenue advertising firm.
John Griffin’s Black Like Me: A white man, John Howard Griffin (1920-1980) traveled throughout the South for a period of time disguised as a black man, and wrote about his experiences in Black Like Me (1961) which was a powerful eye-opener for many white Americans, although old news to black people.
Dylan’s “Who Killed Davey Moore”: In 1964, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan (b.1941) had not yet recorded “Who Killed Davey Moore” himself, but Pete Seeger had sung the song at a Carnegie Hall concert on June 8, 1963, which was recorded on the album We Shall Overcome (Columbia 45312). It was at this concert and on this album also that the SNCC Freedom Singers made their recording debut. Davey Moore (1934-1963) was a featherweight boxing champion who died as a result of his fighting.
The Harlem riots: The third set of “Harlem riots” (the first two had occurred in 1935 and 1943) took place after an off-duty policeman shot a fifteen-year-old black youth on July 16, 1964. A CORE protest two days later ended with a march on the police station, which in turn sparked four nights of street confrontations and rioting.
Bob Beech: Robert L. Beech (1935-2008) a Presbyterian minister, directed the Ministers Project in Hattiesburg during the summer of 1964, stayed in Mississippi until 1968, then received a fellowship to study social conflict at Harvard. He headed the Midwest Training Network in Kansas City, and in 1972 returned to Minnesota.
George McClain (b. 1936) a Methodist minister from Indiana active in civil rights, went on to organize a chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam during his pastorate on Staten Island, New York, and to resuscitate and lead (1974-1998) the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a caucus founded in 1907 to focus the attention of the United Methodist Church on issues of social, economic, racial and other injustice. After serving in that position for 25 years, he is now an adjunct faculty member at New York Theological Seminary and teaching theology classes to people in prison through the College of New Jersey.
Episcopal Chaplain: When James Meredith matriculated at the University of Mississippi in 1962, angry white students bombarded him with bricks and bottles. The Reverend Wofford Smith (1928-1990) joined the rector of the local Episcopal church in walking among them in order to calm the violence.
Professor Russell Barrett of the Political Science department: Professor Russell H. Barrett (b. 1919 - Has he died?) taught in the political science department of the University of Mississippi from 1954 to 1976. He was the author of Integration at Ole Miss, 1965.
the home of a professor where we met Phil Patterson, and his wife: The professor was Tom J. Truss, Jr., (b, 1927) who taught English, and his wife Suzanne was the organist and choirmaster at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford. The volunteers wound up staying overnight with Phil Patterson, originally from Memphis, who is now an optometrist in Tennessee.
Kathryn Webb: Actually, Katherine Houston Webb of Jackson, who edited the Daily Mississippian during the summer and fall of 1964. After graduation, she worked on the Jackson Daily News, then married and later moved to Maine, continuing to work in journalism and, more recently, to teach at the University of Maine. She is a regular columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
Erskine Caldwell characters: Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) wrote gritty, realistic novels of the rural South.
Take this hammer, Carry it to the captain: This traditional song is printed in full in Carry It on.
Byron de la Beckwith: see note on Medgar Evers, p. xxx.
Sam Block born and raised in Mississippi, became a beloved legend in the movement because of his pioneering courage in the face of great danger and hardship. He went on to attend Marlboro College in Vermont in fall 1964 and died of diabetic complications in California in 2000.
Willie: now Wazir — Peacock, born in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, lived on a plantation as a boy. He won a four-year scholarship to Rust College in Holly Springs, where he was a student activist. By the early 1960s, he was working on voter registration with Sam Block, Bob Moses and others in the dangerous Delta counties and soon became a SNCC field secretary. He placed great emphasis on the importance of local leadership. Living in California since 1989, he worked with Stepping Stones Growth Center, serving developmentally disabled children and adults. One of the original SNCC Freedom Singers, he died in 2016.
Randolph Blackwell (1927-1981) had become Field Director of the Mississippi Voter Education Project in 1962. He helped to organize COFO and served as program director of SCLC from 1964 through 1966.
Two snicks just got married: Paul Klein and Wendy Weiner. The wedding is described in Sally Belfrage’s Freedom Summer.
a 7-months pregnant woman: 15-year-old Annie Lee Turner was dragged across the pavement and arrested during the Freedom Day activities.
Jim Bevel: The Reverend James Bevel (1936-2008) was one of the students who organized the Nashville Student Movement that sparked the birth of SNCC. He had been influenced by the workshops at the Highlander Folk School founded by Myles and Zilphia Horton as an organizing center in Tennessee. By 1962, he was a staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, working closely with SNCC.
Mrs. Victoria Gray of Hattiesburg: Victoria Jackson Gray Adams (1927-2006) raised in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, was one of the founders, national spokespersons, and leaders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She was the first woman (of any color or community) in the history of Mississippi to run for the office of U.S. Senator. She has also served as a member of the National Board of the SCLC.
After the MFDP had finished its most historic work, Victoria Gray Adams lived abroad in Bangkok, Thailand and finally settled in Virginia. Recently Ms. Gray Adams taught for one semester in the History Department at the University of Southern Mississippi, in her hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Bob Zellner, Phil M.: Robert Zellner (b. 1939) was the first white southerner to work as a SNCC field secretary. After 1964, he continued work as a student of sociology at Brandeis University and became president of the Southern Christian Education Fund (SCEF), 1966-1979. Since then, he has been active as a teacher and lecturer and is an Adjunct Professor of History at Southampton College of Long Island University. He is a founder and co-chair (with Julian Bond) of the National Civil Rights Coordinating Committee.
Phil M. is Phil Moore, a summer volunteer.
Chief Larry: Curtis Lary (1909-1984) began as a street cleaner in Greenwood in 1925, and remained in the city employ his entire working life. He served as a policeman for thirty-seven years, and as chief of the department from 1957 to 1975.
Robert Williams style: Robert Williams (1925-1996) was an African-American World War II veteran who became head of the NAACP in Monroe, N.C. Tired of the unending nighttime attacks by whites, he organized local youth into a rifle club to defend the black community. Accused of kidnapping a white couple he had taken into protective custody during a black protest, he fled to Cuba. His story is told in Negroes with Guns (1962) a book that had a tremendous influence on the dialogue between proponents of nonviolence and militant defense in the Black communities. Williams subsequently moved from Cuba to China, then finally back to the United States and a professorship at the University of Michigan.
Slim Henderson: Alton Eugene Henderson (d. 1991) sold used cars as well as running his store.
Dottie: Dorothy M. Zellner (b. 1938) was a staff member of SNCC from 1962 to 1967. In the Atlanta office she worked with Julian Bond, now Chairperson of the NAACP, as part of SNCC’s communications department. She participated in and wrote about demonstrations in Danville, Virginia, and was in Greenwood, Mississippi during the summer of 1964. After spending twenty years in the South, Ms. Zellner returned to her hometown, New York City, where she worked for the Center for Constitutional Rights for thirteen years, and now works for the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law as Director of Institutional Advancement/Publications.
Harry Belafonte (b. 1927) and Sidney Poitier (b. 1927) are two well-known black actors whose support of social activism has been one of the hallmarks of their careers. Belafonte in particular was one of the earliest and strongest public supporters of the Freedom Movement in Mississippi.
Faulkner: William Faulkner (1897-1962) a Nobel Prize laureate, set all his major works in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi, located between Marshall and Panola Counties in real-life Mississippi.
“We are soldiers in the army” was composed by James Cleveland as a gospel song and was brought into the civil rights movement by the Montgomery Trio. The song is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom.
Two bodies found in river: On May 2, 1964, Charles Eddie Moore (1944-1964) and Henry Hezekiah Dee, two Alcorn A & M College students, were picked up while hitchhiking in Meadville, Mississippi. They were interrogated by members of the local Ku Klux Klan, tortured in a nearby forest, locked in a trunk, driven across state lines, chained to a Jeep motor and train rails and dropped alive into the Mississippi River. On June 14, 2007, James Seale (1935-2011) was convicted on one count of conspiracy to kidnap two persons and two counts of kidnapping where the victims were not released alive, and sentenced to three life sentences. A further claim that Sheriff Wayne Hutto and his chief deputy, Kirby Shell, conspired with the Klansmen who abducted and killed Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore was settled out of court. The case was the focus of a celebrated film documentary, Mississippi Cold Case.
Pete Seeger (1919-2014) has been and continues to be the best-known voice of activist folk music in the United States. In 1941 he helped organize the Almanac Singers, in 1948 the Weavers, and in the early 1960s he introduced the SNCC Freedom Singers to a national audience. More recently, he has focused his own banjo on environmental causes. He was awarded a Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1994, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
“No more lynchings ... before I’d be a slave”: This traditional song, usually called “Oh Freedom,” is more than 150 years old, and has been adapted by civil-rights and labor movements throughout the United States. A part of the history of the song is given in Everybody Says Freedom.
Wayne Yancey, a black volunteer from Detroit, was killed in a head-on car collision on August 1, 1964, in a car driven by Charles Scales, apparently while they were being pursued by an unknown vehicle.
Muslims: The Nation of Islam, led in 1964 by Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) was commonly known as “The Black Muslims.”
“Go tell it on the mountain” was adapted as a freedom song from an old Christian hymn, “Go tell it on the mountain / That Jesus Christ is born.”
Bill Ryan: William Fitts Ryan (1922-1972) was a member of the United States House of Representatives, a Democrat from New York’s 20th District, and one of the earliest and most radical supporters of civil rights. In 1968, he was a delegate to the nominating convention in Atlantic City, where he supported the MFDP challenge. Afterwards, he continued to support the FDP in its Congressional challenges.
Ella Baker (1903-1986) was the central organizing force that brought the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee into being. Born in North Carolina, Baker graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, then moved to New York City in 1927. She immediately began community organizing. She worked for the WPA, founded consumers’ co-operatives in Philadelphia and Chicago in the 1930s, and became active with the NAACP and the Urban League. She was an organizer of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), and, in 1960, organized the first national conferences of sit-in demonstrators, which established SNCC.
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round,” and “This Little Light of Mine”: All of these songs are printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom, by Pete Seeger and Bob Reiser (Norton: New York 1989).
Joseph Rauh: Joseph Louis Rauh (1911-1992) was a New Deal attorney, a supporter of the NAACP and a lawyer who came to symbolize the uses and limitations of the white liberal establishment for the freedom movement.
Walter Reuther (1907-1970) was president of the United Auto Workers (1946-1970). He led the UAW in its liberal support of civil rights.
Robert Miles C. J. Williams or Mrs. Lloyd or Reverend Middleton: The community in Batesville is illustrative of the kind of local organization the volunteers found when they came to work in Mississippi, and which continued to struggle after they left. Around 1960, Robert Miles had helped organize a Voters’ League with a number of other local leaders: Edward Thomas, Willie Kuykendall, C. J. Williams, Jasper Williams, the Reverend Jesse Rudd and the Reverend W. G. Middleton. Miles said that he had been impelled by the experience of his brother, whom he felt had been chased out of Mississippi for his political activity after World War II. Robert himself said he didn’t want to run. The legal argument the Voters’ League made against the refusal of their voting registration applications led to a court challenge which, in May 1964, turned Panola County into a test case for the state of Mississippi. When SNCC worker Frank Smith first came to Panola County, he was directed immediately to the Miles’, and Mona and Robert Miles were central in hosting and working with Summer Project volunteers.
After the summer of 1964, Mrs. Miles suffered what she herself called “a complete nervous breakdown.” In 1965 Robert Miles directed an agricultural marketing co-operative to serve workers who had lost plantation jobs. The Miles were also the first in Batesville to send their children to an integrated school. For the rest of their lives, Robert and Mona Miles struggled to hold onto their farm, even when Robert became a leading “elder statesman” in Panola County politics. After the death of Mona Miles, Robert remarried, and died in 1996.
Bull Connor: Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor (1897-1973). Elected to the Alabama legislature in 1934 and to the position of Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham in 1937. To the outside world, he became infamous for turning fire hoses and dogs on demonstrators. By 1962, a majority of Birmingham voters had grown tired of his reactionary politics and voted to change Birmingham’s form of government from City Commission to Mayor-Council, primarily to oust Connor and his two fellow commissioners. In 1964, he won the first of two terms as President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. He retired after losing a race for a third term in 1972.
Green compromise: The compromise offered to the MFDP delegates was named after Congresswoman Edith S. Green (1910-1967) a Democrat from Oregon who served ten terms in Congress from 1955 to 1975.
Roy Wilkins (1901-1981) served as Executive Secretary of the NAACP from 1949 until 1977.
“This may be the last time” is an old church song. The song is printed in full in Everybody Says Freedom.
Widener Library: the principal library of Harvard University.
FREEDOM SCHOOL POETRY
Nancy Cooper Samstein “I am an old woman now. It was nearly fifty years ago that I collected these poems because I was thrilled by their vitality, honesty, humor, and determination. In the fall of 1964, I shared the SNCC Communications office in Atlanta with Julian Bond, who helped get these poems into print. Jack Morton in New York City helped, too. I collected the poems with the help of Liz Fusco, who became the freedom school coordinator after Ralph Featherstone. I last read these poems aloud at a workshop during a conference and reunion of volunteers that Mendy Samstein helped to organize at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 2004. (Western College for Women had been taken over by Miami University, and that was where the summer volunteers had been trained and educated about what we would find in the communities in which we would be living and working, and how to confront hostility from the white community.) Most of these poems were inspired in the freedom schools throughout the state of Mississippi in 1964.
“I had come to Mississippi as a freedom school volunteer that summer. My friend Andy Goodman and I had been recruited at Queens College. He was a class year behind me. I was about to graduate and start a doctoral study in anthropology in the fall.
“I left the state immediately after the three slain civil rights workers’ bodies were discovered buried in an earthen dam in Philadelphia. The news came over the television the very night Mendy and I met at Ed King’s house at Tougaloo College where SNCC was holding a meeting. Mendy then arranged for me to leave with Ella Baker and work on the Democratic Party challenge in Washington, D. C., and then in Atlantic City. After that, I moved to Atlanta. And so began my work with SNCC and a relationship that culminated in forty years of marriage and two beautiful sons.
“SNCC helped to break down the chains of Jim Crow plantation culture, and also raised uncomfortable issues surrounding the role of power — the power of economics, race, education, gender roles and, of course, the war, the Vietnam war. The legacy of Freedom Summer and all the community organizing and education given and received about poverty and prejudice can be said to be the result of an intense belief in justice that youth have to inspire ordinary people, young and old, to do extraordinary things. And these poems with their vitality and boldness are expressions of beliefs that we cherish and hold to be true.” January 1, 2013.
Emmett Till (1941-1955) was murdered in Money, Mississippi. J. W. Milam (d. 1980) and Roy Bryant (d. 1990) were acquitted by an all-white jury. Thanks to the courage of Till’s mother Mamie Till Mobley (d. 2003) the boy’s murder became a national rallying point for Black and white awareness of Mississippi lynch law.
Ida Ruth Griffin (O’Leary) graduated from Jackson State University and has been a pre-school teacher at the Hudson Headstart Center for more than twenty years. She is married, with three children, and lives in Camden, Mississippi. A stirring account of her reading this poem out loud is given (p. 110) in The Summer That Didn’t End by Len Holt.
McComb Freedom School: The McComb Freedom House was bombed on July 8, the blast injuring the project leader and a volunteer. The Freedom School reopened with thirty-five students.
Mr. Turnbow: Hartman Turnbow, see note p. XXX
Arelya J. Mitchell is now the publisher of The Mid-South Tribune and lives in Memphis, Tennessee.
Jesse Harris: a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and a SNCC field secretary, directed the McComb Project in 1964 and was elected to the Executive Committee of SNCC in 1965. His burial in the poem is fictional. He is still living, working as a contractor and an interior designer, in Jackson.
Elnora Fondren became the first African-American student to attend Clarksdale High School. She chose to go to the white school during her senior year in 1965-1966 because the local Black high school did not offer Latin courses. Emma Fondren followed her sister's lead and attended Clarksdale High during the 1966-1967 school year. These two were the only African-American students to attend the all-white high school before a court order in 1970. Her story (and this poem) are highlighted in Françoise N. Hamlin’s book, Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II.
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