The Freedom Movement and Ourselves
Looking Back 50 Years Later
Group E
Oakland, CA. April 5th, 2014

Participants:

Ron Bridgeforth, (SNCC) Moderator     
Bettie Mae Fikes (SNCC)
Bruce Hartford (CORE, SCLC)
Ruth Koenig (Freedom Summer volunteer)     
Marion Kwan (Delta Ministry)
Mike Miller (SNCC)
Susan Ryerson Moon (Freedom Summer volunteer)
Karen Wolf (Tennessee volunteer)

Contents:

Introductions
Evaluating the Freedom Movement
Changing Perceptions
Strategies, Tactics, & Consequences
What We Achieved? Where Did We Fail?     
Jews & the Civil Rights Movement
Working With the Delta Ministry
We Challenged a Feudal System
Talking to Our Kids
Sue: Going South
Mike: Joining and Leaving SNCC
Marion: Black and White and Me
Ruth: More Than the Sum of Our Individual Selves
Karen: Feeling Like a Real American
Ron: Worthy of the Faith They Put in Me
My name is Bruce, and I'm an Addict
Mike's Family Background
Jumping Off the Truck & Reflecting on the Day

 

 — MORNING SESSION — 

 

Introductions

Ron: So why don't we begin? Everyone adds their name. Let's go around the circle — briefly. State your name, organization, states, years that you worked in the South. All right, who'd like to start?

Marion: I can start. I'm Marion Kwan. I was with the Delta Ministry, which is an arm of the, at that time, the United Presbyterian Church coming out of New York City. Although I was born and raised in San Francisco, I was privy to know about the Delta Ministry. After I graduated from college in '65, I went down to Hattiesburg. I spent two summers, '65 and '66 with the Delta Ministry in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Mike: Mike Miller. I was on the SNCC staff from '62 to the end of 1966. Most of that time I was the Bay Area representative for SNCC. In the summer of '63 I was in Greenwood, Mississippi, and I went back briefly in the fall to work on the Aaron Henry campaign, but an auto accident interrupted that. So I was hospitalized in Mississippi and came home. During that time, I was also on loan from SNCC to the United Farm Workers union as co-coordinator of the union's first boycott — the successful Schenley Liquor boycott.

Sue: I'm Susan Moon, Sue. I'm called Sue more. I was Sue Ryerson back then, and I was in the [1964] Mississippi Summer Project in Moss Point, Mississippi with SNCC. And that was mainly it.

Ruth: My name is Ruth Koenig. I went to Holly Springs, Mississippi in the summer of '64, and we also opened a Freedom School/Community Center in Benton County, so I did both of those for a bit. And then went back once in '66, kind of just to see what was happening and see the changes which were very interesting.

Karen: My name is Karen Wolf, and I went with a group of students from the University of Wisconsin to western Tennessee, and I worked in the Freedom School and the Freedom Labor Union, and we worked also in northern Mississippi.

Ron: What year was that?

Karen: Spring and summer of '65.

Ron: My name is Ron Bridgeforth. I was in Mississippi from the summer of '64 through the spring of '65. And I worked with Mike in the San Francisco office from '65 through about '66.

Bruce: OK if I temporarily join you while?

Woman: Please do.

Bruce: Actually, if you put that [voice recorder] in the cup in the center, with it pointed up, it will record better. It's upside down now. That's why it was in the cup.

I'm Bruce Hartford. I worked with CORE, and then for SCLC in Alabama and Mississippi.

Sue: And what years?

Bruce: CORE 1963-1964, SCLC early 1965 to early 1967, a bit over a year in Alabama and nine months in Grenada Mississippi.

 

Evaluating the Freedom Movement

Ron: So, we want to start the discussion by going around the circle a second time, everyone giving some brief opening thoughts on the topic. And the topic is an evaluation of the Freedom Movement. All right. Basically, what do you think was achieved? What did we fail to achieve? What lessons did we learn? What did it all mean? You have free rein, briefly. Who'd like to start?

Sue: We should go around and not have that sort of dialogue discussion, to start.

Karen: Achieved for the society? Achieved for me personally?

Ron: I think for the society.

Karen: I think for me and my experience, I think it broke open a different sense of being American. I mean, I was a New Yorker, and I think that it made the South accessible. I mean, in a very general way. It wasn't a very positive thing, but I remember watching the Civil Rights Movement from the early '60s with the lunch counters and starting to see a different world. I mean, I was also very young, so it was a very new way of seeing the society.

But I think for many of us who didn't live in the South or weren't that aware of aspects of segregation in this country, that it really opened the door, and it affected us to want to participate in the society. I mean, as a generation, at least, a good section of it, want to be more involved in making this a better world.

Marion: You know, I think it opened my eyes, and our eyes hopefully, society-wise, about the fact that racism is not just centered in the South. It's everywhere. And I think it was a rude awakening to our society as a whole that it's really up to us individually to organize and to figure out where we are in the scheme of the Civil Rights Movement.

But when I first started, I thought I was going to go down to the South and save lives. And I think what lesson I thought I learned from it was that racism starts with us, individually, and that we have a lot to learn from it. And for me, as a Civil Rights worker, I thought I was there to help other people when, in fact, actually, it helped me learn about myself and how I can be a better person to express equality, and it takes a lot of work. And it's a hell of a lot of work, but I think internally, it has to start from the individual.

So what I learned was a bigger picture of how when I went back home, which was up North, there's racism. And when Watts came out, it was a big jolt of awakening to me. It's in Los Angeles. This is my state. And it's happening in my own backyard. So where does racism start? And I think for us, hopefully for those of us that went to the South, I think many of us who were in the South and counting myself, that's a lesson I learned, we learned. It is really universal.

Sue: You know, it's such a huge question, what did it accomplish? I don't dare speak on that really for the society, but in my own world, I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I had just graduated from Harvard, and I came from a world of a lot of privilege. And my parents were very progressive and supported me in going South to be part of this, and I went, hoping to be helpful, and as you said, I was the one who got the help much more.

But I think in terms of what my presence there accomplished was really part of, I think, maybe what was consciously chosen, which was that the world that I came from learned about what was going on in Mississippi through my being there. And I did write some things for local newspapers, and I had a piece in the Chicago Sun Times about my experiences in Moss Point, Mississippi, so there were people that — I mean, it was for me such an awakening, and then my grandparents, my relatives who had no idea of how difficult things were in the South, and of course it wasn't just in the South, but the idea that people were murdered for trying to vote, that kind of thing, a lot of people in my world didn't know.

So that was a part of what was accomplished by my presence there, I guess. And then also, as you were saying Marion, that I remember an amazing talk that Lawrence Guyot gave to a group of volunteers where I was about racism in all of us, and I really began to understand that. And so the consciousness raising was huge. And then my own incredible gratitude for what I got a glimpse of what this joint action and commitment can mean and for the courage of the people that were there, and just to be even touched by that was very far reaching for me and changed what I chose to do later in my life, in various ways.

Ron: So I wanted to ask you, what was that? But I know that's not what — Bruce, are you going to stay with us?

Bruce: To the degree that I can. I'll have to come and go, checking on other things.

Ron: So I was going to ask if you could speak while you're here.

Sue: Oh good idea.

Bruce: I first became aware of the Civil Rights Movement — I guess I was in high school when I started hearing about sit-ins, student sit-ins. And then the Freedom Rides. By '63, I was in college and I got active with CORE. And at that time, the Movement goals were focused around segregation, ending "white only" and "colored" and so on. And segregation was very clear to me as a white teenager — that the purpose of segregation was to institutionalize humiliation, subservience and white supremacy and dominance. So the first goal, as I understood it, of the Civil Rights Movement, or what I prefer to call the Freedom Movement, was to completely end and dismantle overt segregation. Particularly segregation imposed by law.

And that seemed clear until I started dealing with a place called Los Angeles, California, and discovered there was a thing called de facto segregation, which was not instituted by law but was instituted by money and political power and by banks and real estate. And that segregation was a lot more pervasive than I understood as a teenager.

Then the second goal of the Freedom Movement, as I came to understand it and participate in it, was voting rights, the right of all Americans to be able to vote. It was cast in terms of Black voting rights, but in fact in California, Arizona, Texas, Latinos — Chicanos, I guess, was the term back then — Indians, Native Americans, voting rights for all nonwhite people were at issue. So the second big goal was to win voting rights.

And I think, looking back on it, we pretty much succeeded in achieving both of those goals in the limited sense that they were originally conceived.

But I think what happened to me, and I think for a lot of people — When I went South, of course I was very conscious of the violence, the Klan, the police, you know all of that was very intense. But the most intense thing that hit me was the poverty, the incredible, abject dehumanizing poverty I saw everywhere in the rural south. And by "rural" I include small towns like Selma and Grenada, and even parts of urban areas like Atlanta and Birmingham.

And so without really — Of course, I was — You know, Dr. King used to joke that we were part of a "Freedom Army." In that metaphor he was a general, and I was — at best — a corporal. And corporals, at least in SCLC, didn't get to attend the meetings of the generals — unlike SNCC. So I was never in a meeting that said, "Hey, what about this poverty thing?" But I know that for me and a lot of others, addressing the poverty became a goal as important emotionally as voting rights and segregation. I eventually sort of internalized it as that we are fighting against segregation and for voting rights in order to be able to affect poverty.

The problem is I don't think we ever really succeeded in addressing poverty. I went — I'll finally shut up, because everyone is supposed to equally talk — I went back to Alabama in 2005, I went back to Mississippi, and I'm driving the back roads, and I'm thinking, "Wow! I don't see any of those shotgun shacks, those tumble down homes of the sharecroppers." And I'm seeing that the houses are brick or at least adequate clapboard, and painted and so on, and I'm thinking, "Wow! We really accomplished something!"

And then as I drove more and more around, I noticed there weren't any huge cotton fields like back in the day. The former cotton plantations were now dairy farms, fish ponds, pulpwood groves, and sorghum fields, with just occasional little cotton patches here and there. And as I drove around more and more, I realized the reason those shotgun shacks aren't there is the people — the sharecroppers and the tenant farmers — aren't there. They were all economically driven out, off the land they might have been living on for generations. And many of them became the homeless and dispossessed of the Northern urban cities. So in that sense, that's the place where I feel we did not achieve what we hoped to achieve. So now I'll shut up.

Ruth: My story is different, but it's the same in many ways. My background was as a child of two immigrants, basically immigrants, who could've died in the First World War in Europe. So I grew up knowing the horror of that and the poverty.

Woman: The First World War?

Ruth: The First World War, yes. And my parents would tell me their stories. That's what was so astounding about it. For anybody related to us to ever go to a college was almost impossible to imagine. Both of my parents had to leave high school in order to help their families. And by then, my mother at least was here.

I didn't come to the Freedom Movement because I had read Frantz Fanon or anyone else. I had no intellectual background in the Movement, the ideas and the ideals, analyses. All I knew in my first year of teaching, about the first week and a half, when I was teaching girls exclusively in a little town in Shelton, Washington, I had [previously] heard about the Freedom Riders, the [lunch] counters, the bus rides. But that didn't stick.

But then, about a week and a half, as I said, into my teaching career, on a Sunday morning, four little girls ended up dead. And there was nothing in me that could understand that, and I still get very emotional about it.

And so through that year — I always believed in service. When I was about nine, I thought the only thing — or the most important thing — that people could do with their lives was to serve people. Now that's how a little eight or nine-year-old would've said it. And so I was going to go to Los Angeles, the summer of '64, because I didn't have to work in the summers anymore, and I could do something for someone. And I was going to do a recreation program in an inner city. But a minister who was very instrumental in my life and didn't stay at our church all that long — we would've called him progressive if he was a minister today — he sent me the SNCC brochure about Freedom Summer.

Ron: Could you say who that was? That minister was?

Ruth: Bruce Clements. And I knew I was going to Mississippi. The millisecond of the decision was only because I'd already made that commitment to go to L.A., and I don't like reneging on commitments. So in a sense, I was going to learn, to try to understand... And of course it was [not] something that would ever make any rational sense. But it was a pretty lonely summer, because I didn't fit in really well, I felt. So I was quiet, and people didn't remember me, until I reintroduced myself after 40 years.

So when I think about the impact it had, I think it did make change. Several of you have suggested some of the fundamental changes that came, in terms of awareness of racism, in terms of challenging this notion that these people are [not] eligible to vote, and things are so crazy that they can't afford to risk going to register to vote. So I think some attitudes and ideas changed, but as several of you have said, it changed me. Maybe not in that fundamental way of someone who deeply cared because she'd heard all the stories of struggle and lived in struggle with family, but because then your eyes are opened and you can never not know what you've learned.

So when I talk to kids today, I use that kind of a line. And I feel certain that I would never have gone to Nicaragua or South Africa had it not been for Freedom Summer. I probably would've done something, but my vision probably wouldn't have been as broad.

Mike: Well, I grew up in a left wing family in Sunnydale Housing Project in San Francisco, so I had some experience. I wouldn't say we were poor, but we were low income, and I knew the stigma of poverty, being labeled as a "project kid." And I knew the fear of the McCarthy Era. And my parents got — there used to be a thing called the Civil Rights Congress that my folks supported, so I knew about Emmett Till and I knew about a lot of things like that growing up.

I went to Berkeley in '54, and it was still the tail end of the McCarthy Era. I was involved in the breaking out from the McCarthy Era in the early days of the student movement at Berkeley. I was the first Chairman of an organization called SLATE that was at Cal in '57. And then I went to New York. I was at Columbia. I walked one of the early Woolworth's picket lines in Harlem. And then I got a job as a community organizer on the Lower East Side of New York and was fired after six months for being a "little Alinsky." I didn't know who this [Alinsky] guy was who cost me my job.

I returned to Berkeley in '62. Betty Garman, who is [at this conference], was a neighbor, and she started talking about SNCC which I had been reading about. She got me involved in SNCC. I became the SNCC rep in the Bay Area, and in '63, I went to Mississippi.

Dick Fry and I were the first whites to be placed in the Delta to see what consequences there would be. Bob Moses was initially opposed to our being there, because when he traveled in the Delta with Anne and Carl Braden, after that trip, violence against local Blacks increased. So Sam Block, Jim Foreman, and Bob Moses had a little mini-conference to decide whether Dick Fry and I would stay there or not. We'd gone to the Delta for the first Delta Folk Jubilee. Theo Bikel, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and the Freedom Singers sang on Laura Magee's farm in Greenwood. So they agreed we would stay, and I did.

But most of the time, I was the SNCC rep in the Bay Area. So because we did very well in our fundraising, SNCC agreed that I could be engaged in local organizing activities. So I was involved in anti-urban renewal and other community organizing stuff and linked SNCC to the Farm Workers Union which led to an exchange of placement of people, Marshall Ganz and Dickie Flowers from SNCC got placed with the farm workers, and I can't remember what the other end of the deal was. So I had a lot of exposure to these issues growing up, and it became like my calling to be engaged with this kind of stuff. Also, Terry Cannon, editor of SNCC's newspaper The Movement, did the media work for the 1966 farmworkers' pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento. He was instrumental in making major media breakthroughs for the union. I believe Hardy Frye worked on organizing the pilgrimage as well.

I agree with what Bruce said. I think that SNCC particularly, but SCLC and CORE as well, were essentially responsible for dismantling formal segregation. We did little to affect poverty. As a matter of fact, when I went back to a reunion, I think in '94, the poverty statistics for the Delta were worse than they were in '64. And we did little in terms of our aspiration to really democratize the society. The emblematic event of that was the failure of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Challenge.

So those are the things that I've spent my life on, dealing with issues of powerlessness and discrimination based on whatever the identity that leads to someone's marginalization. I left SNCC at the end of '66, went to work for Alinsky, directed a project of his in Kansas City, Missouri, came back to the Bay Area and continued the rest of my life as a community organizer.

So what was achieved was significant. I would not discount it a moment, but it left a whole lot still to be done.

Ron: Everywhere I go I'm the oldest amongst folks these days, but here I'm amongst the younger.

Marion: How old are you?

Ron: I'm 69.

Bruce: A veritable child. [Laughter]

Marion: I'm 71.

Sue: Maybe I'm the oldest?

Ron: What did we achieve? When Barack [Obama] was elected, everyone was saying, "He could not have been elected without SNCC. And what was done in the South, all across the South, all those votes." When folks came up from South Carolina, like, "OK, that could not have happened had that voting rights not been opened up."

So I haven't done enough reading, but I do have the sense from listening to people that a lot of the movements that followed the Southern Movement, whether it was the Women's Movement, the Free Speech Movement, SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], Vietnam [ant-war movement]. A lot of the folks who were affected by the South came back and were embedded in their local communities — some are known; many are not known — but [they] affected the social direction of the country. I mean, that's a really great thing to be documented, and maybe it has. Because I think we did more than we know.

Of course, the local people really did the most of it. They took tremendous risks on our behalf. And it's hard to talk about this without talking about how it affected us, because it really just — I mean, I was a kid out of L.A., kind of bumming around. And I was going to Knoxville College, and of all people, Marion Barry, came and recruited me and another student to go to Mississippi.

And I was 19. And the idea of being a project director at 19 seemed reasonable at that time. [Laughter] It does not seem to me to be reasonable now. Nor was it reasonable to my mother — No! But yes, it changed me in fundamental ways that I will be forever grateful for. And I still — I can't watch Four Little Girls — when I watch that documentary, I just weep. When I think about the sacrifices that local people made for us, it makes me misty.

But as Mike and a lot of you have said, it just set us on the direction. It's like we were unguided missiles, but we were clear about what was right and what was wrong. So it's almost impossible to measure its effect. But there are some conservatives who are still fighting that battle, you know? Because I think that in some ways — I mean, it's almost like — and I've not thought about this before, that slavery was the basic contradiction that this country is built around. And its vestiges still existed in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and all these places, so to attack that really attacked the foundation piece of our society.

Now, poverty, hmmmm. You're absolutely right. Two things. Poverty was just so abject, but the poverty is still so abject. You know, I don't typically go into that part of our communities in the North or anywhere else, but every once in awhile I see. How are people living? One last thought. My wife's reading a detective story set in Communist China, and the way people lived there — you know, one room, family in one room, sharing a toilet with other families. No matter how bad we're living, we're living pretty good. So I don't know. It's a lot to think about.

Marion: I think, when you're talking about the positive aspects of the Freedom Movement, I was curious about what was achieved, and I asked my daughter. I asked my daughter something about — I just asked her a general question a week ago — she and my Godson, and they're in their twenties — about racism. And she said to me, "What's the big deal right now? I have so many different friends that I don't pick a Black friend just because I want to make a statement. I picked her because we have so much in common." That's the difference.

I think when I was her age, I was very aware of who was walking with me in a segregated community, you know? Your eyes are always alert about who's behind you, who's beside you. But she said, "I don't think about it now." But she's raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we kind of like assumed that she's comfortable with diversity, and she was raised in diversity. We purposely raised our kids in an integrated community, and they were raised in the Mission District in San Francisco where the school population is equally Latino, Chicano, Asian and whites and Blacks, so it's pretty mixed.

And she didn't understand why we couldn't just forget about one group and just integrate everybody. I said, "In those days, where I was..." So we had a good generational kind of thing.

And then I also posed the same question to a friend of mine, who's — I'm with a close group of friends who just happen to be pretty integrated, and so one of my closest friends, an African-American, has a doctorate degree, and we've been friends for about 30 years through work. And I asked her the same question, "What was achieved? What do you think was achieved?" And she said immediately, "There's no doubt in my mind that the opportunity for getting into UC Berkeley, to get my doctorate, I couldn't have done it without the Movement."

And at that time — now she's in her 80s now — so if you can imagine her getting a doctorate when she was in her 20s and 30s in those days, a Black woman, she said she couldn't believe that she went this far. And if it weren't for the Civil Rights Movement with equal access to education, she would not have gone this far. Even though society still looks at her as probably, "You have a doctorate?" So to her, it's a blessing. She felt like she has so many mentors, and they're not all Black mentors. They're all white mentors in the educational field who got her, encouraged her to get her doctorate.

She was raised in the Fillmore [district of San Francisco] where she says that the jazz musicians who were very famous have all gone. All the music has gone out of Fillmore. There's so much dislocation of people living there no longer there because they've been pushed out. But even with that, she said there's been a lot of progress.

So I feel like there's been come change. I live to change. Myself, being raised in Chinatown [San Francisco], coming from a ghetto community, one of the few ghetto communities that is a tourist attraction. I don't know why. You know, I've lived in two worlds, and I've become so bi-cultural and so assimilated, but what kept us aware is the fact that it's OK to be who you are, and it's OK to be different, so long as you remind yourself that you're a part of humanity, and you're never above it.

And so I think, for me, there's a lot of good things, insightful things about the Freedom Movement. Politically, as old as I'm getting, I realize Rome wasn't built in a day and neither are any of our communities, but there is progress. And I hope that the next generation will continue, and I hope that my daughter and my son and my Godson would say, "I didn't choose my friends because of their race or because of their skin; it's because of their character." And that's what I hope the next generation with my kids will continue doing that. So it's good. I mean, it's hopeful.

There's a lot of stuff. You know, I'm tired of marches. I've been to so many. I feel like, "OK, you guys, you young people can go now. I've done my thing." I mean, I've got to find other ways of continuing the struggle, and I think we are, in our own individual way.

 

Changing Perceptions

Ron: Well, she sort of took us into the next round which is just, I wanted to say free-form, but it's not really. You get to say what's on your heart. We're still focusing primarily on how change has been made in the society, because in the afternoon, we're gonna really focus on ourselves.

Karen: My question is, one of the things that I've been thinking about — I also want to agree that the biggest change was for me personally, and consequent to being part of the Freedom {Ride?} reunion and the Freedom Schools and all of that is I became an intercity public high school teacher and then a principal my whole life. So — 

Sue: Tell 'em, right here!

Karen: Oh, and my last job was here, as the principal.

[These Retrospective discussions were held April 5th, 2014 at the Envision Academy in downtown Oakland, Calif. Karen had been the principal at Envision Academy some years earlier.]

But what I want — this is a risky question, I think — I come from New York, and my parents were concentration camp survivors. And my mother was a Communist in Germany, and they were Jewish, but I come from the left, and I come from — it was in my mother's milk to be politically active.

That's not new to me, and I started when I was very young with CORE and Bayard Rustin in New York {unclear}. So that's what I knew. But my question is, I think to premise it is, the image I had of — and I was also raised in an integrated community my whole life, I have had Black friends all my life and then Puerto Ricans because my father worked for a Puerto Rican. Anyway, so the changing image of the Afro-American community, like when we — I also taught the History of the Civil Rights Movement — so when I kept teaching those videos that we saw, that series of eight videos that came out? I forgot the name right now. But anyway, you see the image of all these kids being shot down with the water hoses and there's no — 

Ron: Eyes on the Prize.

Karen: Eyes on the Prize. And teaching that to kids, because I also have watched the changing affect towards the Civil Rights Movement. The image of the African-American people, it's a stereotype, but was not of an aggressive people. When the Civil Rights Movement started, Blacks were much more in the shadows of American society, for the majority of people. And one of the outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement was to really change the image of African-Americans in the United States. When we had the Black Panther Party, they walked around with guns, and you had the SNCC workers. You know, real — and I think that has made a profound effect on this country and its view of African-Americans. And I'm making generalizations and I know it, but my question is, does anyone else see it that way? Is that something that is a useful observation? Or is it even accurate? And am I being clear? I'm not being clear, I don't think.

Ruth: I have a funny response. And that is in Doug McAdam's book Freedom Summer, he doesn't say this, but I shared a podium a little bit with him — that is, he was a major speaker, and I was a very small slit of it — but he made fun of something that I said, and then I had the opportunity to make fun of the fact that he was wearing jeans, because he said something about how far we've come or something. I said, "Yeah, those jeans are really cool." Or whatever. And it was very funny.

But in any case, he just said, "You know, we changed the country. The SNCC workers changed the country with their bib overalls and the rise of wearing jeans." And I thought, "That's so interesting," if you think about what happened to — you know, I grew up in a formality. You always wear skirts to school if you're a kid, and whatever else you dressed. And that was a reflection too of your lack of ability to think more broadly. So I just thought I'd throw that in, because it was very funny at the time, but it's also interesting to think about. Going from something pretty rigid to maybe something more open.

Karen: I'm sort of wondering if that is a real change, to the African-American community. They were seen differently, but is that a reality? Did the violence become...?

Ron: Agency. Agency. The act of going down to register to vote.

Karen: Changes your life.

Ron: Changes you. It changes people who see you. It changes how white folks see you. They might kill you for it; they may take your job for it, but other Black folks are always watching very carefully. Will he survive? Or will she survive? And everybody's got to make their own journey. They really do.

And then sometimes it's about, "I'm not alone." And sometimes it's just, "I'm tired." This is not living.

But yeah, the change in the image of African-Americans, the most fundamental and important change was how we saw ourselves. You know, my wife and I sometimes talk about that we were the first generation to go to white schools, she in San Francisco and I went to an all-white college in Kansas my first year. Through the church — she was Catholic, and I was Presbyterian. We went to these summer camps and these programs where you did volunteer work in the summer. And we felt comfortable among white people, where I think particularly looking at some folks of the generation before us, they were really afraid of white folks. And we could see those differences.

It also affected us in the sense that sometimes we were separated from Black folks, because when somebody tells you, "You know, you're different from other colored people," that's not really a compliment. What does that mean? But we were. We were. And so all that stuff happened. But it had — I think the foundation of it is in the physical act of standing up. And so I think that rippled across the country. How many people have watched Four Little Girls and have been moved by that, been changed by that? Lots of stuff, lots of stuff.

 

Strategies, Tactics, & Consequences

Mike: I have maybe, I guess, a different take. I think we made progress on one front. We opened up the area of formal segregation. We broke the walls of formal segregation. And a number of, for lack of a better term, "identity groups" followed in the footsteps of the Movement to open up, create openings for themselves. And I think all that's to the good, and that's a contribution.

But I think the Black community now is, in many ways, worse off than it was 50 years ago. I think the concentration of wealth and power in the country is greater than it was. The absence of democratic — real participatory, democratic forums — is greater than it was. And that aspiration for empire continues, whether it's Obama or Bush. So I think the country is really in very bad shape, despite what we did.

What we did made it better. I don't doubt that at all, but so that's part one. Part two, I think our biggest mistake was the failure to understand that you have to measure the reaction that you're precipitating by your own action. And we did not know how to contend with the reaction.

Sue: Wait, say that again?

Karen: Or say that differently?

Mike: When you're in the field of action, your action is going to precipitate a reaction.

Karen: And we weren't ready for that.

Mike: And so you need to — if you're a strategist of action, you need to anticipate what those likely reactions might be and have some idea of how you are going to counter those. And we had no idea how to do that. And so we fell back on moral language that "we are right." Well, people who exercise power don't care if you're right. They're interested in preserving their power. And we had little idea, even though we spoke a language of power and empowerment, we really had little idea of how to deal in the arena of power.

Sue: Well, just a sort of question to that. Do you think there's some virtue in people being so young that they act without knowing what — I mean, that they're so passionate that they do something without really knowing how they're going to deal with that kind of reaction? I mean, of course it's dangerous and you can make mistakes, but also, you can make mistakes on the side of caution, of waiting too long to figure it all out, and well, that wouldn't really be a wise act. And sometimes, it seems as though there's some usefulness to just that kind of willingness to jump in and take a risk.

Mike: Well, I'm talking more about the '64, '65 period, when SNCC people have dropped out of school. They've become full-time field secretaries. And they already understand themselves to be organizers. They speak of themselves as organizers. When you are at that — when you're doing that, you need — [First], we didn't really know how to be an organization of organizers. That was one problem. And secondly, when you're engaged in that way, you need to be strategic.

Sue: OK, that makes sense.

Marion: I'm asking you, do you think that in terms of — I'm thinking the question of training, that quite often, we as community organizers, I've always thought that there is room for improvement, and I think that one of the things that is missing is the lack of training on strategies. And also because strategy forces you to figure out where you are coming from? And how would you respond?

I'm always learning, usually sometimes when things come to me, let's say something that I didn't expect, and there's a real sense that I'm being discriminated against, all right? Maybe because of my age, the way I look, that I'm Asian, and that I'm a woman. Sometimes, I wasn't prepared for it, and then maybe five minutes later, "Darn, I could've said that. I should've done that." And because I wasn't ready. Maybe somebody else, a sister of mine, or my husband would've been ready, but I wasn't ready.

And I'm just thinking that I've always felt like there's a lack of training about how to do it, coming from and sharing all the experiences of how to react. Because you're talking about something that I think is very important, how we respond to things, how we represent ourselves as an organizer or as someone who's gone through the Civil Rights experience. What have we learned? And how do we respond? To educate, as a part of education.

Quite often I missed a lot of the opportunities. I've gained a lot, but there's always the other balance that's not there yet, and somehow, how can we improve the way we do things? One point which brings to mind is the Occupy Movement [2011]. I feel like they're different from the way we organize, and I think that's a good thing, because they're showing me how they're doing it. And it's still a mass movement, but it's sort of — there's a kink to it. It's very different now. And whether it's because of the electronic age where they're able to organize it in a way that is their way. But how they do it in a mass meeting was very interesting. It cut through a lot of shit, you know, in the way they organize now. And that's good for the 21st century. But just talking about strategy, tactics, what went well for us? But what do we still need to do? So I'm thinking of both.

Bruce: Well, I want to follow up on what Mike was talking about. I agree that to the degree we can strategize and plan and figure out what the reaction is going to be — that's always a good thing. But I'm a little skeptical about how far we can actually do that in real life. For one thing, there's the Law of Unintended Consequences.

I remember participating in strategy meetings where we were really trying hard to figure out where is all this is going to go? One of the things we discussed over and over was the impact we hoped to have on Congress. Because of Black disenfranchisement in the South and the corrupt election practices in the South as applied to white voters, you had a situation where the Senators and the Congressmen — and they were all men — from the South got reelected term after term after term after term. They almost never lost, so they built up huge seniority. Since the crucial committee chairmanships were determined by senority, it meant that in the '50s and '60s, the conservative, segregationist Southern bloc controlled Congress even though they they were outnumbered in terms of total votes in both the House and the Senate. And that affected every piece of legislation, not just civil rights but military, education, housing, foreign policy, health care, labor — everything was shifted to the right because of who controlled the committees.

There's a new book out called Fear Itself that analyzes the New Deal in terms of the compromises that Roosevelt had to make with Southern segregation and racism in order to get some of his legislation through Congress. So in our strategizing, in the 1960s we were very focused on the belief that if we could create a situation where Blacks can vote, and a Black electorate comes into being, you won't have this situation where [Senator] Strom Thurmond and [Senator Theodore] Bilbo and these people are elected over and over and over again and are able to totally control Congress. And to a large degree, we were right. We did do that.

But the unintended consequence that I don't think any of us would've been able to envision was that the South would then not only become the bastion of the far-right-wing of the Republican Party, but shift the entire Republican Party far to the right of where they were in the 60s. I don't care how many strategy sessions I was in, I would've never thunk of that. And I don't know how many other people would've.

So in my experience, you do as much strategy as you can, as much analyzing as you can, but as Susan said, you gotta just jump in and do something when the time is to do it.

And you know one of the things I think we did that I don't think we're given enough credit for — Most of us grew up in a society of the 1940s and '50s in which the concept of ordinary people taking action to influence politics was absolutely out of the question. To picket, to protest, to question authority — that was "subversive." Even signing petitions was considered "un-American." Dissent of any kind was treated as tantamount to treason. The FBI, the McCarthy committee that Mike mentioned, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and similar national and state bodies pilloried, persecuted, politically isolated and economically destroyed anyone who questioned the status-quo or spoke of change.

We broke that. The Civil Rights Movement made it impossible to automatically equate any and all dissent and protest with "red subversion." No fair-minded American could hear Dr. King's "I Have a Dream," and believe he was a Communist agitator serving the interests of Moscow. And those in politics who continued to claim so were isolated and eventually became laughingstocks. Even J. Edgar Hoover, though that took awhile. HUAC its ilk are gone. The FBI's self-assumed political-police role is drastically curtailed from what it was 50 years ago, it's still not completely ended, but it ain't what it was back in the day.

We created — and legitimized — a concept that people can affect change and history. In fact, one of the things on our literature table in the lobby is Howard Zinn's article, "What the Civil Rights Movement Proved" in which basically that's what he said.

You know, I'm the last — I live in a building with 14 apartments. I'm the only one who still gets a newspaper. And I read the [New York] Times every day. And every once in awhile I come across some article about some people in Ukraine or somewhere, and they're talking about trying to make change, and they touchstone back to the American Civil Rights Movement. They say, "Well, remember Rosa Parks. Remember Martin Luther King. Remember Freedom this." All over the world, and in this country too, the American Civil Rights Movement is a touchstone of the concept that we don't have to totally rely on politicians and lobbyists and lawyers and judges. And I think that's a huge accomplishment. And I wish the younger generation would take that up more.

Karen: I wanted to respond to Mike and what I understood he said which was the consequences. You're addressing the long-term consequences. When I left Tennessee, the Black people that I lived with in their homes, because that's how it was worked out there, had their homes burned down. People lost their jobs. There was a white teenager who worked with us. He got shot. I'm sure he probably got killed. So we had a Klan rally in our town. They had a Klan rally in their town, and we ran as far as we could go. So the consequences — I don't know if you were talking about the long-term or the short-term consequences.

In Western Tennessee, they shot all the male Civil Rights workers, so they had to leave. It was chaos, and I was 17 years old. You know, we were totally unprepared, and we were sorry. We didn't mean it. And that's been another part of this discussion, yes, again, from my perspective, you go and you do something that's correct; it's morally correct or politically correct or whatever, but there are consequences.

And the question is — you did that in the Women's Movement too, is consciousness raising — do you take responsibility for being more aware, and do you ever take a risk if you take responsibility? You know, it's a big question. I talk like this, so I'm sorry, I'm a New Yorker. But that was another response. I felt guilty — I mean, guilty isn't the right word — confused is how I could have done this to other people when I thought what I did was the right thing for me, for them, and for the history of this country. But in the short term, I spent years, I never told anybody what I did, because I didn't know how to talk about it, because people would look at you and say, "Wow, that took courage." I said, "No, I'm not sure if it's courage. I don't know what it was."

Mike: When Bob Moses went to Mississippi in '61 or '62, he very carefully went around to local leaders. In McComb, he was taken around by a guy, Webb...

Bruce: Webb Owens?

Mike: Webb Owens, a retired Pullman porter, and a private lender. He loaned money to people, didn't charge them a high interest rate. Highly regarded guy. Webb Owens introduced him to all the key people in the Black community in McComb. It's a part of this story of the Movement that's not very often told. And Bob also went into the [Mississippi] Delta. He went with Amzie Moore. He had a list of people, of local leaders with whom he should speak. That list came from Ella Baker who had been director of branches of the NAACP.

So there was already a consciousness of how you ought to enter a community in the very earliest organizing work of SNCC. And Bob was saying, "What do you think we should be doing here?" So the thing that came up was voter registration. We want to break through this on the right to vote. Sitting at a lunch counter for a hamburger isn't the greatest priority that we've got now. And that's what dictated SNCC's work in Mississippi. So this notion that you just don't — I mean, maybe for the Freedom Rides and the sit-ins, I think that was great. That was a moral impulse that led people to act. But by '62 — '63, SNCC people were pretty politically conscious people. They were thinking and strategizing about what they were doing, and Guyot was a brilliant strategist.

And there were lengthy strat — I mean, someone just handed me this paper. It's amazing. It's a three-page memo that I wrote October 23, 1964 to the Waveland National Staff meeting. I may read one paragraph though. Let me just read this one. If all this seems scrambling, let me try to sum up.

"We are an organizing staff who views ourselves as frontiersmen for the "beloved community." We are firmly and fundamentally committed to what most America only preaches. We are democrats believing that men free themselves and become full citizens only by full and conscious participation in the decision making processes of their society. We also believe that it is only through the mobilization of people in grassroots organizations that we can break through the deadlock that exists today in American politics. And we believe that this is true whether one attributes that deadlock to the power elite, the corporate state, the military industrial-complex, the ruling class, the military industrial coalition or whatever.

"Because we have this view, we don't attempt to speak for the people. Our interest is in building the organizations through which the people can speak for themselves. As staff, we will attempt to analyze the alternatives facing a community organization. We will argue about and discuss the different alternatives. We may recommend a given alternative, but we will always finally say the decision is yours, and we will stick with it unless it violates the fundamental commitment of this organization.

"In our own discussions as a staff and our executive committee or in our coordinating committee, we will make decisions as to where we organize in relation to these goals. We will not be a part of the marketplace that now characterizes American politics. We are not satisfied that our party is the Democratic Party as it is. We seek change not only in Mississippi but in the nation. Our priority at the present time may be Mississippi, but this does not mean that we are uninterested in northern relationships with people like ourselves working in the North. Nor does it mean that we do not believe that at some point the grassroots organizations of Mississippi must be linked to those of the North."

And this kind of conversation was going on.

Marion: When was this?

Mike: October '64 that I wrote that.

Sue: Do you remember writing it?

Mike: No, I knew I'd written it, but I had no idea what was in it.

Bruce: This was just after Freedom Summer.

Mike: Yeah. SNCC was in a huge post-Summer Project internal discussion about, what do we do with all these people who want to stay? What are we? Who is SNCC? What is SNCC? Etc, etc, etc. And this memo responds to questions that were sent out to every staff person, to write a working paper for that Waveland Staff meeting.

[See Waveland Papers for background and documents.]

Sue: So this was addressed to SNCC staff, essentially.

Mike: Yes.

Ron: That thing sounds like it was written yesterday.

Mike: So I said to Elaine when she handed it to me, I said to her — I looked at it — she said, "Read this paragraph." She pointed to this paragraph. I read it, and I said, "That's just about what I would say today."

Ron: It's amazing.

Sue: Except that you'd say "men and women."

Mike: Yeah, the only addition — the only change I would've made.

[But] I want to go back to the people today citing the Movement with King and so on. And they repeat the errors too. I have a piece in the coming issue of Social Policy which, if you give me your email, I'd be happy to send to you. What happened in Egypt, for example, to the Movement there, from my point of view, was predictable, that it was ultimately defeated. And so people cite — they learn the wrong lessons, I think, if they depend only on the nonviolent Movement of the South and don't look at what subsequently happened or what others have learned. There's a lot more, from my point of view, being learned looking at the CIO in the 1930s, in some dimensions, than there is looking at the '60s and the Civil Rights Movement. Both have important things to teach, but if you fail to look at the lessons of the industrial union movement in this country, you're in deep trouble when it comes to understanding how power works.

Ruth: I was just wanting to go back to that question of, "Are we going in to do what we know should be done in a community?" Or, as your statement suggests, "Did we go into communities and say, 'Help us to define what you need or want?' And, 'What are the community's interests or values?'"

I looked at that issue also very, very carefully and was really excited about what happened first in South America and then in Central America with the Sanctuary Movement, with the priests and the nuns who are risking their lives to be with and of the people in those places.

[The Sanctuary Movement was a faith-based political campaign in the 1980s that provided safe-havens in churches and synagogues for Latin Americans fleeing dictators and death-squads. Many of the "authoritarian regimes" waging dirty wars against leftist political dissenters and popular social movements were overtly and covertly supported by Presidents Reagon and Bush the First. Their administrations shaped federal immigration policy to favor deporting political refugees back to home countries where they faced torture, rape, imprisonment and death. The Sanctuary Movement encouraged Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, and Quaker congregations in America to declare themselves "sanctuaries" for those fleeing political persecution. In many instances, actions taken by the Sanctuary Movement to hinder or block refugee deportations were acts of civil disobedience against U.S. immigration laws and agencies.]

And the difference between those of us who were Christians and went in as missionaries to convert people, but instead went in to be of and with the people and to ask those questions, "What do you need?" Again, my church which was Presbyterian, a couple of people mentioned Presbyterian churches here or there, I didn't know what it meant to be a Presbyterian. I just went to a church, and they happened to be talking about peace and justice, and I thought, "Wow! Churches do this?" [Laughter]

Ruth: I started going back to church, when I thought I was just going so my adopted daughter would have a sense of my background. But that movement has been very interesting to watch, and again, did some of those people take from our movement? Or share the ideas? And South Africa was[n't] mentioned earlier, where we learned some things from them, and they learned maybe from our Freedom Summer and so on. Cross pollination, I guess.

 

What We Achieved? Where Did We Fail?

[Bettie Mae Fikes joins the group.]

Ron: We're going to ask Bettie to introduce herself for the purposes of the microphone. So we're just going to bring you in, and tell everybody your name — So the next thing is who you are, where you served, and yeah.

Bettie: My name is Bettie Fikes. I bring greetings from Selma, Alabama. I'm so glad to be here. I'm one of the original SNCC — not original, one of the SNCC Freedom Singers. I [am] a field secretary and still traveling the country. As a matter of fact, I'm a tired camper now to get here for this, because I'm still doing what I would say the Dr. Martin Luther Kings, the John Lewis, and the Fannie Lou Hamers left on my doorstep 50 years ago. So I come in and travel around the country, embracing the children of freedom and what was done 50 years ago, and what people like you did to lay the foundation.

And what I do is to sing for the unsung heroes, and that's you, you, you, you, you, you, and you who mostly names that are not in history books. And you don't see us in documentaries, but [we] laid the foundation for the path of freedom today. And even though a lot of things have been changed, and like I was saying in Minnesota yesterday evening, at the university, that we fought a lot of battles for the war that still have not been won. And we're still fighting, and we as the soldiers, now have become the generals and the colonels and a lot of us don't go back into the communities. We're still doing what we're doing today, sitting around a table organizing.

Ron: What did we achieve?

Bettie: Well, when you look at what was achieved, I always say, "Look around you compared to 50 years ago." Materialistic things are not so important. What we achieved are things like — in my home town, where people lived — what we call the "rural area," we didn't call it the "rural area" then. It was called the "country." Where you could go in homes and look straight up and look through the roof and see the moon and the stars. Now, those people live in beautiful homes, or they used to, because now it's completely different.

But what we achieved are better jobs; when we talk about the diversities that, you know, schools were Black or white. Now when I travel and look at a diverse campus, I see that's the achievement that makes it something that we were a part of [Governor George] Wallace stood in a door to the University of Alabama and said that no Black would ever cross the threshold. We achieved that. There are thousands and thousands of people crossing the threshold today.

The city buses where there were so many seats for the Blacks, and it was always in the back. We achieved that 50 years ago. Interstate transportation. We achieved that 50 years ago. What did we achieve? We achieved the success of life, that you could live in a way that you want to and choose. We choose to live a good life. We achieved education. They fought for education, because they told us that education is the one thing they can't take away from you. So now we have college students that have become attorneys, judges, doctors, that 50 years ago as a teenager, the only thing we could look forward to was becoming a nurse or a teacher.

What did we achieve? We achieved many things. But what did we lose? Where is the spirituality? The most important things, we lost. We achieved the things that we thought were great, but look at us now. We're not able to fight the same fight that we fought 50 years ago, in the same way, in the same manner. So you have to look at what was achieved and what was lost, and what we do about that. Then you look at your students, and you say, "What did we achieve?" Well, I tell everybody, 30 years from today, everybody's going to think Dr. Martin Luther King was a white man. Why? Because we lost the battle somewhere along the way.

Ron: So, we're gonna — I think we found out who you are, and I'm wondering if there's gonna be time for you to sing later on? Give it some thought.

Bettie: Oh, OK. And then to remind you, I'm just one of the teenagers, you know, SCLC and CORE and all those, they were nice, but they called us "militant." So, you know, I still fight a hard fight, and my energy is very high, and I have a low tolerance for any of the things that have not been achieved. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke last Saturday at Temple, and it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee before I left, and to hear [his] speech, I was kind of in awe of him. But the speech turned out to be — it was a nice gathering of people and a nice gathering of information.

Ron: One more thing. What we're doing right now is — to bring Bettie up to where we are — is that we're now in sort of an open conversation based upon an evaluation of the Freedom Movement. This afternoon we'll talk about how it affected us in our personal lives.

 

Jews & the Civil Rights Movement

Karen: If I may add one thing. That's very helpful to me, and thank you. But I also — I don't know if any of you saw the movie on Hannah Arendt or read her.

Ron: Which book?

Karen: It's the biography of Hannah Arendt. A-R-E-N-D-T. Anyway, the issue there is — she wrote a book on [Adolph] Eichmann — Eichmann, the Nazi murderer — that was very controversial, especially in the Jewish community, because she complains about the lack of activity on the Jewish counter, you know, fighting against Nazis by Jews.

And I remember, because I read it when I was 16, remember getting furious at my father, because of course our whole family was killed in Auschwitz, so I said, "Why did they go? Why did they just stand up and go? Why didn't they fight back?" And that was before the history came out that there was fighting and so forth. I was very — yeah, at 16, things are right and wrong, and you know that right and wrong. And so I think listening to you, that's sort of shaped how I tried to understand the Civil Rights Movement and why I personally got so involved in it. I think it's a way of standing up, and I think standing up, as you said, really, really changes you.

Ron: I have a comment. When I went to training in Ohio, I went that first week, and I think because I was Black, I only stayed a week. You know, I think they thought that we were just, "OK, we would know." Boom. Didn't know nothing. I had no sense of what Mississippi was about. But, I saw all these white kids there, with dark, curly hair. And I was like, "What's going on?" They're Jewish. "What's that?" I mean, literally, yeah. I think that must've been the majority of folks there, were Jewish. And I could only assume that from your culture, that something awoken. I may be wrong about all of that.

Anyway, the last thing I wanted to say is in regard to being Jewish, since that came up. When I was in rural Alabama and rural Mississippi as a Civil Rights worker, I was often called to speak at the church. And I always began by saying, "I'm Jewish." And every once in a while, some five or six or seven- year-old would come and would pat my head. And I finally asked, "Why are they patting my head?" It turned out that they wanted to feel the horns that Jewish people — these are kids from very rural — and I was not only the first white person that they'd ever had a human social reaction with but the first Jew they'd ever seen (at least that they knew of).

Rosa Parks said that going to Highlander Center and having human interactions with white people had a profound effect on her. And to some degree affected her decision to not give up her seat on that Montgomery bus. Well, I think a lot of us, as whites in the South, were involved those kinds of interactions. And I had the additional of being the only Jew they had ever seen, so that was an interesting experience.

Karen: Two comments. One is, that happened to me at the University of Wisconsin in my dormitory.

Bruce: Really?!

Karen: Just so you know.

Bruce: What? You mean patting the head to feel the horns?

Karen: She came over. She was from Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a strange place, and she came over, and she said, "You're Jewish, aren't you?" And I've experienced an enormous amount of anti-Semitism, and I'm not a religious Jew, so it was totally cultural. But she said, "Could I see your horns and a tail?" And I thought it was a joke. I literally thought, "You must be kidding!" Because I'd read about this, you know, given my background I'd read a lot of that stuff, and she said, "No, no. I was taught in church that Jews had horns and a tail."

Ron: Ooh, that's rough. [Laughter]

Sue: And she was in college?!

Marion: I've never heard of this before. So ignorance is bliss, maybe. But I just had to ask this question. What is this all about horns and tails? What the heck is that? I've never heard of it.

Karen: Historically, Jews were — 

Ruth: Devils.

Marion: That's weird.

Karen: Historically, Jews were seen as they drank the blood of [Christian] children — prejudice against Jews goes back to Medieval times or even to Greek and Roman times.

Marion: From Europe?

Karen: Yeah, it was very different in North Africa. They had a better relationship, I'd say.

Marion: Wow!

Karen: They were the devil, and they drank Christian blood, babies' blood for Passover, and they worshiped the devil. I mean, it's just prejudice and stereotypes. It goes way back. Every culture has it absolutely.

Marion: Yeah, but this is the first time I've heard it, so thank you for explaining it to me.

But there's a question I've always wanted to know. A friend of mine, Ira Grupper, who's in Kentucky right now, but he was with COFO and SNCC. I asked him the same question, and I couldn't get a right answer, but I'm just wondering, in the Civil Rights Movement, there was a huge percentage of Jewish Freedom Fighters. And I just wonder if there's an explanation? I don't know. I mean, this is a naive question, all right?

Karen: I think a lot of people would have a lot of different answers. I can start with my experience. I don't know if that is something we want to talk about, but I think — 

Marion: Not the stereotype. I'm just curious.

Ruth: McAdam documented that.

Marion: Yeah, right.

Karen: Well, you can answer it too, but I think from my experience, coming A) from New York and B) from my particular background, it's part of the Jewish sense of self to be discriminated against. It's very controversial, and if you take courses in Jewish history — I just finished taking one — I had never known before that that was one of the tenets of Jewish history, because I had never studied it. But I think for me personally, you know, there's a tradition in the Jewish community of being — the Jewish community is split between left wing and not so left wing. But because of the history of the ghettos in Europe, the left wing movement was very strong in Jewish ghettos in Europe, and so when they came here, they brought a lot of the left wing traditions here.

And then the conditions for Jews in this country until the end of the Second World War were very difficult for many. There was still upward mobility, but I could tell you family stories about people who had education but couldn't get a job because they were Jewish, before the Second World War. After the Second World War, a lot of that changed, but I think it comes from being an oppressed — it's not the reality in this country anymore, so I think Jewish kids have a different relationship to it, but also, in the religion, there is a very — which I know very little about, but I know there is a whole component of social service. So a lot of kids that go to synagogue are required to participate in some social service. But historically — I can tell you that. And in my personal background, I was raised by [Holocaust] survivors.

Marion: [...] your empathy.

Bruce: To supplement what Karen said — Probably the most important religious ceremony of American Jews is the Passover Seder. Most American Jews only go to one or two religious events a year. Weekly attendance at synagogue services by Jews is not typical the way that Sunday church is in the Black community. But many Jews participate in the Passover Seder which celebrates the escape from slavery — from Egypt. There's a whole ceremony that people read which varies widely according to who's doing it, but it's often quite political in terms of slavery and racism and freedom. And I think for some Jews that has a personal effect.

I think the other thing is that historically Blacks and Jews were brought together by the Ku Klux Klan in that both were — the most extreme racists and right-wing forces in America attacked both Jews and Blacks, and sometimes Catholics. Blacks, of course, worse than Jews. So there was a feeling of, "Well, we're natural allies because we have a common enemy." There was that movie, I don't know if you ever saw it, called Driving Miss Daisy in which this old Jewish woman, the Klan bombs her synagogue, I guess in Atlanta or Birmingham or wherever they were. That kinda shit happened.

So going back all the way to the founding of the NAACP in 1909, Jews were part of, and supported it because we had this common enemy of American racism and anti-semitism. So I think that was part of it.

The other thing I'll say though is I'm — as a Jew who was active in the Freedom Movement, I knew a lot of other Jews. And a lot of the Jews who were in the Movement were there not as an expression so much of their Judaism but as a rebellion against the bland assimilation, middle class values of their parents and the kind of 1950s Jewish life which was to go along, get along, make money, be a success, and be accepted by the Christian majority as "normal" Americans (as opposed to being seen as outsiders and interlopers). So much so, that many of the Jews active in the Freedom Movement saw themselves as rebelling against what they had been told was their Jewish culture. So it's very complex.

Marion: OK, this is the first time I've heard. It's the first time I've heard that the Ku Klux Klan included a white group. I'm just impressed — I've never heard that in the United States...

Karen: Jews were not considered white.

Bruce: Well, some Jews were — sort of. There were Jews in Selma going back to the 1800s. Unlike most southern towns, Selma had a large enough Jewish community to support a small synagogue with a full-time rabbi. But most all of them aligned themselves with the white power structure. In fact, there was one Jewish businessman — I forget his name — who was one of the public spokesmen for the segregationists. I and other civil rights workers were the first Jews that the West family, who lived in the projects — I lived with them for awhile — we were the first Jews they had ever been able to talk to on a personal basis, on a basis of equality.

The Jews in Selma were the ones who owned many of the downtown stores that served Blacks. The Jewish store owners would sometimes allow Blacks to buy on credit, which few of the white Christian merchants would ever do. But the Jewish store owners would never, ever, hire Black people for anything other than janitorial, because if they hired, for example, a Black salesclerk, they would've been boycotted by the White Citizens Council and run out of town.

So most of the Selma Jews walked a tightrope, fearing the Klan and the Citizen Council, treated as not quite white, yet perpetuating their own forms of racism and discrimination. Some because they believed it and some out of fear they would be targeted themselves if they didn't toe the racist line. And, of course, when the Movement began boycotting the downtown "white" merchants, it was mostly the Jewish stores because those were the stores that Blacks bought from. You know, in all the time I was in Selma, I never set foot in one of those stores because of the boycott. And I don't believe there was ever any communication at all between Jewish civil rights workers and local Selma Jews, or if there was it was so clandestine I never heard of it. So it's kind of complex.

Marion: All right. Thank you, appreciate it.

Bettie: And then another thing I'd like to mention, the Jews in Mississippi that took plight for the Movement. As a matter of fact, at a pilgrimmage this year, where we normally go from Birmingham, to Selma and Montgomery, this year they were celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Medgar Evers, and it went through the Jew communities, the churches, that embraced the Movement in the '60s, so it was just like any other nationality of people. You had some for us and some against us, and even though we were in different nationalities, it was the heart of the people, whether they were Jews, Christians, Hebrews or whatever. The hearts of people gathered together 50 years ago in collaboration for freedom.

Ron: Sorry, I was just researching [on his cell phone] a couple of books. Stayed on Freedom Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and After. This is McAdams' book. Going South, Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement, Debra Schultz and B.W. Cook. And then there's a paper out there that actually Miriam Glickman is featured in. She's here today. So they've begun — there's a conversation going on, that probably if you're not Jewish you may not be aware of. So I don't know. But it was such a prevalence, and Jews were having such an impact on the Movement that you just can't ignore that.

Karen: What was the impact?

Ron: I don't know, but when you have those kinds of numbers of folks... I was sent into Starkville, Mississipp. I was 19, and I went in with an 18-year-old kid from New York. His name escapes me for the moment. I can see his face. I can see him when he was 18. We've been corresponding a little bit, and he's a professor at NYU now. But also, he happened to be Jewish. And at the time, I didn't know that. But it was everywhere. Like when you went into Oxford [Ohio for the Freedom Summer orientation], and all these kids were there. I can see they were not the kids I knew in Kansas. They just were not. And so there was that story of what drew Jewish-American kids to the Civil Rights Movement, to risk your lives when you didn't have to. That's an important story and should be part of the story of America.

Bettie: The impact in Mississippi, just like Dr. Martin Luther King's home, shells were thrown, bombs. Jewish ministers in Mississippi, homes were bombed, churches were bombed, just because of their participation in the Movement, of helping people in the Movement. So some of them suffered the same plight as we did. Well, I take that back. Some of them suffered worse, because if you were white, whether you were Jew or not, you were known as a nigger-lover. So their fight was rougher than ours, in a sense. So their plight was just as deadly but just as Godly, in a sense, because they were doing the same thing that we were doing, but more prevalent because they could do things that we could not do.

Karen: One comment ... In the history of Jewish stuff or Jewish identify, since Jews have their particular legacy, the struggle between assimilation and identification. It's the same struggle that African-Americans have had in this country. Are you more Black if you study Greek and Roman history? Or less Black? You know, I assume it's the same with every upwardly mobile — I come from an immigrant family, and it's also a particular kind of mindset. Your parents are expecting you to make their life meaningful, in a way, that I think might be different for non-immigrants.

Ron: My mother, who's 85 and in Los Angeles, I spent this weekend weekend with her, and she told me a story that I didn't remember. She told me that when I was arrested in Columbus — I was arrested with this young man, and I called her from Columbus, Mississippi in jail, and I said to her, "Call this boy's father. Get him out of jail." I [asked her], "Why did I say that?" She said, "Because he was white." And she said, "Well, what about you?" I said, "I'm safe. I'm in a segregated jail. I'm going to be treated quite well." In Columbus, it wasn't in the Delta, so the sheriff wasn't going to beat me, and Black folks were going to protect me. But he was being put in with regular white folks [prisoners]. So there were a lot of conversations that were happening.

One last piece. A friend of mine — Bill Light — anyway, he's down in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He's going to the 50th [Freedom Summer] reunion in June in Jackson. And he called me and said, "I've got some extra miles, and you can go with me, free." OK. And I get off the phone, and I said to my wife, "My first thought was, 'I can't ride through Mississippi with a white man!'" And she said, "That's not happening any more." But that was the first thought, you know? Deeply.

 

Working With the Delta Ministry

Marion: Marion. You know, speaking of taking advantage of your skin color during the '60s. The director of the group I was in, Bob Beech, he was the director of the Delta Ministry in Hattiesburg. He set up shop. He sent his entire family, which includes three little boys, grammar school age, and one pregnant on the way. He sent for his family, and they rented a house and stayed there. And he was there for the long haul. He wasn't there in and out. And I found out that he was — when I first met him, I thought, "There's this big, huge white man, overalls and overalls," and I thought, "Oh my God, is he one of the red necks there, you know?" And he came over and just gave me a real strong handshake, and he said, "I'm the director of the Civil Rights Movement. Welcome to the South. If you step into my office, just make sure that you know that the FBI already knows who you are." I said, "OK." [Laughter]

I was fresh off the bus, you know, just graduated from college. I went with a girlfriend of mine. And what I'm trying to say is we quite often had meetings at his home, so there were maybe like 20 of us. This is a typical meeting where we were really engaged in what we were talking about — strategies and what to do. Something came up, and we had issues to talk about. And then the phone rang. And so we all had to stop so that he could talk, because the phone was in the living room. And he said, "Hello? Uh-huh. I doubt it." And he shut the phone down, and we all asked, "What's going on, Bob?" "Oh, somebody just told me that my house is going to be bombed."

And this happened before. And it did. There was a bomb. I mean, his kids weren't there at that time, but there was a bomb under his house once upon a time. And we said, "How come you're so calm about this?" And he said, "I just know; I have a gut feeling it just was a ruse. It wasn't real. But next time, I can figure out whether it's gonna be real or not." And that's how astute he was.

And I also learned from the community that he was one of the very few visible people who are — everybody knows; the Black community knew, and the white community knew who he was. And he was one of the few who were respected by both which gives me something about what he's like, that he can talk to the bigots there, the segregationists, and he can talk to those of us who are Freedom Fighters. And it took a lot of skill for someone like that to not only bring his family but to reside there as his permanent home and to be confronted.

And it was really interesting, because one week we would be there, and I could play basketball out there with his kids and with an integrated group, and then at other times, "No, we can't go out there today, because they don't like us this week. Be careful. Don't be out there today." And so this is a kind of — my eyes and my mind, I was just open to all kinds of stuff. And I was like amazed.

I mean, this is quite — such a learning experience for me, because people come to me and say, "Who are you? What are you doing here?" And they say, "Are you a foreign student?" "No, I'm not." "Are you Chinese?" "Yeah, I'm Chinese." "Wow, you are so cultured." And I said, "I am? I don't know anything about China. I was born and raised here." So it was just, "Oh, OK, thank you." And then, so when I got back home to Chinatown, I would say, "I better start being cultured." [Laughter]

I mean, I don't know what Chinese is, so I started learning about what China is all about. I know what it's like to be Chinese-American. And I know how to shut my mouth up and not tell my parents that I'm going to danger. You know, she would've stopped me, but she didn't know anything about what I was doing. So it was an adventure, but I didn't realize when I came back that I was not just Chinese anymore. I'm a Chinese-American, and I'm a Freedom Fighter. And I'm fighting for my own community when I got back.

OK, I'm fighting for what it is to be Chinese and how to figure out why I was discriminated against all my life, and I just didn't learn about it, because my parents didn't know English. And I'm the one who told my parents how to sign a check, and I had to sign it for them, because — or how to take the bus somewhere, because they don't know what to do. So being first generation immigrant, Chinese, when I came back, I was changed. Well, we'll talk about it later, but anyway, that's — talking about being a white person, a Freedom Fighter in Mississippi in the Delta, I was watching how scary it was for him, how courageous the people down there were. And also, I learned a lot about my own identity, because they didn't know where to put me. So I learned a lot about myself. So it was great.

 

 

We Challenged a Feudal System

Bruce: We were talking earlier about what we accomplished and what we didn't accomplish, and one of the things that was very clear in the South when we were there is that you had a system that was almost like a feudal system in the sense that the people in power could do anything to anyone that they wanted to do. They want to throw you in jail? They throw you in jail. No worrying about lawyers or civil liberties or trials or none of that stuff. And we, in a sense — I think we may not have completely destroyed that system, but we broke its back. And what I think a lot of people don't understand is that one of the main beneficiaries of the Freedom Movement were white Southerners.

I got arrested a lot in Selma. Your town, Bettie, just kept arresting me all the time.

Bettie: We loved you so much!

Bruce: I always preferred to be arrested by the Chief of Police, a guy named Baker, because he would put white Civil Rights workers into the Black cells, and I was safe there. One time I was arrested by the Sheriff, a guy named Clark, and he put me in a cell with a white guy. And he said, "Oh, you know, nigger, this is, ..." So basically saying, "Beat this guy up." So the guy did that.

But I had been trained in nonviolent tactics and defense, so he didn't really hurt me. He gave me pain and bruises, but he didn't break any bones. And after awhile, he got tired. What TV and the movies don't reveal is that beating someone up, fighting, is hard, exhausting work. So, this is a young white guy, 20, 22, 23. So he wore himself out, and then we had nothing else to do. We're in the jail cell together, so we started to talk. And I said, "Well, you know what I'm in here for. What are you in here for?"

And he started off on this whole long story, the basic thrust of which was he didn't know why he was in there. He had pissed off Clark for some reason, and he'd been arrested. And I said, "Well, how long have you been in here?" He said, "Four weeks." And I said, "Well, what does your lawyer say?" "I haven't seen a lawyer." I said, "Well, what are your charges?" He said, "I don't know. They didn't tell me." And he had basically been thrown in jail, because he had pissed Jim Clark off.

But then he starts bragging that, "I was a member of Jim Clark's posse." Now, the posse was the unofficial law enforcement that Jim Clark used to beat up Civil Rights people. The posse were the ones on the horses on the Edmund Pettus Bridge when they were beating people.

He asked me, "Did you ever go to Wilcox County?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Did you see me there?" I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "I was in the posse that was beating you up." And I said, "Why did you go? You're Dallas County. You're Sheriff Clark. Why were you in Wilcox?" He said, "Oh, when Sheriff Clark tells you, 'you gotta go,' you got to go." And basically, Clark was ruling that county like he was the duke or the earl. You had to do what he said.

Well, I suspect that under today's Republican regime, there's still some of that left, but it ain't like it was back in the '50s and '60s. And even though this guy was beating us up, and was a posse, he benefited from the eventual weakening of that southern feudal system. Black folks benefited, but so did the whites. And I think that's something that people don't ever say, and certainly the white Republicans don't ever like to mention, but it's true.

 

Talking to Our Kids

Ron: I have a comment. My wife and I talk a lot about the '60s and how things have changed. She said that we thought we had won. And so we went on about our business of raising families and living our lives. And then you know, the rise of all this reactionary Republican stuff and poverty, starting to wash it all away. Passing all this legislation to take away the rights of women. Passing all this legislation to take away voting rights. And I think it follows with what Mike was saying in a different way, that we thought we had won, and we could forget, since you didn't have to remain vigilant. And here they come again.

And one of the things our kids said, this was when Jena, Louisiana happened, they said, "You didn't tell us about what it took for us to get here, this integration and freedoms and all this stuff that we enjoy. And so we are left unprepared in the face of the reactionary."

[Jena is a small town in rural Louisiana where whites outnumber Afro-Americans by about seven to one. It's an hour drive west of the Mississippi in an area of Louisiana with a long history of racial violence and KKK activity in the 1950s and 60s. In 2006, a Black student at Jena High School sat under a tree where white students were accustomed to congregating. The next day, lynch-rope nooses were hung from the tree as an act of racial intimidation. Tension between Black and white students escalated sharply. Fights between Afro and white students broke out. In one incident, a white student was injured — a concussion and bruises. Though no weapons were involved, six Black boys, ages 15-17, were arrested on felony charges of Attempted-Murder and Conspiracy. No serious charges were made against any of the white students responsible for the nooses or involved in the fighting. To civil rights supporters, lodging such charges against juveniles over a schoolyard fist-fight, and arresting only the Black kids, continued a consistent pattern of racial bias on the part of local law enforement. Mass protests were organized and legal defense for the "Jena Six" was mobilized. Eventually the county prosecutor was forced to give way and the boys were allowed to plead guilty to minor misdemeanors.]

We know that in Jena, Louisiana where the kids were put on trial, and Jesse Jackson and all these folks came down there, because of the internet. My contention is, a kid with a laptop can alert the world. Back when we were there, those kids would've just disappeared. But they — one of the things we've talked about is that we didn't tell our children, because we didn't want them to be bitter. But one of my theories is we didn't tell our children because we were ashamed.

Karen: Why ashamed?

Ron: Well, I raised my kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and my neighbors were white, and some Black folks lived over there, and some Indian folks lived over there. And they went to a high school that was 20% Black, and you know, just ... But they didn't understand that everything they had, had had to be fought for. I knew. My neighbor, Kathy, she still lives here, her son got a little pissy in his teenaged years and took her car. She called the police. They went and found him and said, "Take your mother's car home." He did. I would never do that [call the police]. My wife would never do that with our sons.

Karen: Of course not.

Ron: She doesn't know what's going to happen. And so the essence of that is you don't feel like you can protect your children in the same way that your white neighbors can. And that is a reality today. So do you tell your kid that? That's a little hard.

Karen: Well, I mean, when I was thirty — I want to collaborate with that, because my parents never talked about their experience, so for all I knew, they came from the moon. But we spoke German at home, so I knew that the moon was German-speaking. And then in the early '60s [we started seein] pictures of the concentration camps, and my parents were very ambivalent about whether we should be allowed to see that or not. So you know, there is something there, but they didn't know how to talk about it.

And we raised our children that way too. So I think you're right. It's a very — you don't want to damage your children's sense of hope and security, and yet, I think it's very hard. I have an African-American biracial child, and it's very hard to deal with that, because he has problems. And you don't know how the world is going to treat him, and I do think it's different for white children. I don't know the same as you do, but I know it's a very, very difficult thing to ...

Bettie: That's so true. All of that is entwined, and those are some of the things that we are leaving behind. And back to the question, you know, we don't allow our children to know our past, I find that from slavery time up until our time. And also that even in that, when I go from school to school, I tell all the students that whatever nationality you are, whatever country you come from, every nationality and country, when they come to America, they bring their heritage and their culture with them. And they pass it on from generation to generation, but they leave out that ugly part. They really don't want that to be known, because they want better lives.

But even what you were talking about, we have to go all the way back, further back, in the civil rights struggle, because all of the struggles are entwined. I just finished a panel discussion with a young man from Thailand that came to this country when he was two. And he was pretty much like you [to Marion], and he was saying he couldn't speak English. And how he was bullied and ridiculed in school, and he said he was American when he went to school, but he was a Hmong when he went home, and those two had him confused. But now he is a Ph.D., and he's traveling the world and teaching.

But it's things like that, when I tell people — when I say I'm a Freedom Fighter, when they ask what I am and what I do, just because I tell the stories of the Labor Movement, because the Labor Movement was entwined with the Civil Rights Movement, all the Movements that we've gone through, from Egypt — when I tell them, when you're looking at Germany, when you're looking at China, anywhere there's a fight, we are in that fight, because the fight is the same. And it's all entwined together from 100 years ago until this new world today.

And when I look at students today and ask them if you know who — if you just know who Dr. Martin Luther King was, you'd be surprised at the Black students that don't know. You would truly be surprised. And I tell them — 30 years from today most of our younger generation will think that Martin Luther King was a white man. And now that was not only a breakdown with organizers, it was a breakdown with the parents, a breakdown with the teachers, and a breakdown with students who have not had enough struggle in their life to research it, their history. And when I go into private schools, they know more about me than I know about myself. I find that strange.

Ron: That's real.

Ruth: You folks are sharing examples. I just wanted to share this one, because I don't know who else I could say it in front of that would have the feeling that this brought me. When we had the 40th [Freedom Summer] reunion in Jackson last time, I had brought the Doug McAdam book, and I've referred to it a couple of times. Do you all know it? It's called

  Freedom Summer. There are about three books that have that same title, I think. And if you know it physically, on the front of it, it says, "June 1964," and then it says, "One thousand young volunteers go to Mississippi. During that time, 67 churches, community centers are bombed or houses," and it says, "A thousand people are arrested, and four people are dead." I talked with a young man at the hotel where some of us stayed in downtown Jackson, and I kind of felt like I had gotten acquainted with this young, Black student from one of the colleges there. And so I had just bought the McAdam book. It was more than I usually pay for books, because I go to a used bookstore. But I had it, and I'd read very little of it, thought I might read more while I was there. But after talking with him a bit, I knew he needed that book. He would like to have that book.

Sue: The hotel guy.

Ruth: The young man who worked there, yeah. So we meet, and we're talking, and I hand him the book. Now there aren't many words at the top of that book, right? That's why I said what was at the top of the book. I gave it to him, and this is what he did. [Long pause] And after way too long, after way long, after he would've read it, he lifted his eyes to me, and he said, "Did this really happen?"

Marion: Oh my gosh.

Sue: Wow.

Ruth: I almost went through the floor. He had lived his whole life in Mississippi. Twenty years old. That, and just one other comment about the Holocaust, because my dad was German, but he wasn't Jewish. But he grew up, as I said, during the First World War he was there and suffered tremendously. So my learning was that there were great musicians who were German, and there were great scientists who were German. But now, I was born in '41, so as I grew up, I didn't hear about the Holocaust.

Woman: Really?

Ruth: And when it started to be talked about, I thought to myself, [bangs table] "I've been cheated. I've been given a wrong impression of Germany." And I became really, really angry. And then, to deal with that, to try to heal from that legacy, I began to search out people who had resisted.

And of course, I had gone to Freedom Summer, so it became part of a larger picture of saying, "Which struggle? Who stands up?" And my favorite one, I mean, there were the theologians, and I loved — I read their work along with people like Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian of that time, but my favorite one ended up being the artist, Kathe Kollwitz, if you know who she is, and she was Christian — well, she wasn't Christian. Her grandfather, I believe it was, started this whole kind of different religion, and it's so interesting to know her history, but I just wanted to share those two things with you, thank you.

Marion: Marion. I would like to ask Ron or anyone else, after I talk a little bit, I would really welcome your response about why we don't tell the next generation about our history, what shame means. When I was working at the City College of San Francisco, I also had a training group of college students, and it's mixed. A lot of Blacks and so forth, I mean, it's a mixed group. And when there was a subject that came up about Malcolm X, and there was an African-American student and I said, "Do you know who Malcolm X is?" And the question raised by one of the students was, "Why did he have an X?" And I said, "What do you think?" And this was an African-American student. "Oh, I don't know. Is it because he couldn't sign his name?" That's why he had an X there. And my mouth just sort of fell open.

Which taught me a lot about — this is, you know, the year 2000? Year 19-something? And you know, this student, among other students, lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and yet she doesn't know what X meant. And then about seven years ago, we had a reunion in Hattiesburg, so we invited the community to have a reunion with us. So some of us came from all over the country down there, and among the group are people from the community, including inviting a lot of teenagers from the community with their families, so they came.

And one day we spent a whole day talking about — the University of Southern Mississippi is right there. And so we were asking the young people, "This is a Civil Rights Movement reunion, what do you think about it?" And they said, "I don't know anything about it, and I don't care. I was just dragged here. It's like going to Sunday School." And we were just really concerned about where is the history? It's in their own backyard, and yet, it's important for some reason for community to isolate itself from the struggle, because of survival. But it's like, "Wow, a whole generation." And I'm just leaving this out.

Karen: Because I happened to have spent — I taught high school in the inner city for 25 years, and kids don't want to be different. I mean, I had that experience no matter what I taught. But I taught a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, because I believe in that, and I believe in integration, so I taught that, and the struggle and the history and the Union Movement in this country. Kids don't want to be different, and my experience for African-American students is that there's a mixed message. One is to be proud of your background, and the other one is, "Oh no, we're gonna learn about slavery." And that Black people come from slaves, and we're so pathetic.

And so it's a very, very mixed message, and then when you have — My school was integrated and had the white working class kid who, "I don't want to hear it! My background! We suffered too! Why do they get to suffer? And our suffering isn't as legitimate as their suffering!" And so it brings out such ambivalence in the kids, and some of the problem, I think, is because they want to fit in. They want to believe that they can have the American Dream, and they're now taught — they don't want to admit how discrimination affects them, and to really integrate young people into understanding discrimination and the psychological impact, they then have to look back on their parents and how come their parents aren't doctors and lawyers.

So it is a very profound psychological issue, and the African-American kids have it, then the white kids have it because they resent. That's why you hear so many white adults saying, "Oh, we've had enough of that. They've had their chance." Because it's a very profound issue. Not that I know — but I've taught it for years, and I had to be very, very careful about teaching anything that involved struggle. It's very interesting for all groups, but it was particularly ambivalent for African- Americans.

Mike: People learn their history from their families, and when you grow up in a family that did not participate in some aspect of the liberation of your people, that family is not going to tell you, "We were absent when we should've been present."

Bettie: That's very true.

Ron: I have one thing I want to share. I worked at a community college in Ann Arbor, and I had a student group, African-American humanities group, but we used to take these kids on tour for like a day. Rent a bus, 50 kids.

Karen: All African-Americans?

Ron: No. No, the school was about 20% African-American. But the majority very often were, because we'd go down to a wonderful museum in Detroit called the African-American History Museum, which is the largest in the country, and it walks you through our history. But also in Farmington, Michigan, there is the Holocaust Memorial Center, which is the second largest in the country. And the final tours that we had those last two years was spending the morning at the African-American History Museum and the afternoon at the Holocaust Memorial Center. And then going to dinner at about 4 o'clock at a lovely African-American restaurant in Southfield, Michigan.

[People would say] "Why would you put those two together? And part of it was for African-American students to understand that, "We ain't special. Lots of folks have suffered, and lots of folks have found their way home." And one other thing about the Holocaust Memorial Center is that when you finish your tour on a Friday, a Holocaust survivor speaks. And so it wasn't just my group, usually, but there were a number of people. And some of these people were in their 70s or plus, and the stories they told about how they survived, I mean, the whole group was just weeping and hugging these folks, you know?

And I don't know all of the things that came out of that, because all those things — you know, they'd write about it for their classes, and teachers would give them extra credit if they went and saw. We're selling this thing, but the humanity that it awakened in people, I just think it is the best work I've ever done.

Marion: You know, for me, I don't see it as shame to have been forced, kidnapped, bludgeoned, coming from Africa to the shores of America, that is not one people's fault for having been victimized that way. To me, it's the pride — what I see about the African-American history is it's amazing. I mean, I learn so much from one group of people, and I don't see why there's any shame. There's so much for me to learn from this group of people who survived and whose — you know, if they were of another color, it would've been exactly the same. It would've been done exactly the same way. And how this race of people has overcome so much and has so much to teach other groups. There shouldn't be any shame in it. So it's just my own — 

Sue: But it seems like maybe that's a good — shame is a good topic to come back to this afternoon if we're talking about personal stuff? Yeah, it's a great — 

 

 — AFTERNOON SESSION — 

[For the afternoon session Bettie Mae Fikes joined the Group C discusssion.]

 

Sue: Going South

Ron: So we are talking about this afternoon, why did we participate? What did it mean to us? How did it change us? And how has it affected our lives? I think we'll follow the same scenario as this morning and start with an opening statement that may not go as long, and everybody goes around once. And then we kind of start. Who'd like to begin?

How did participation affect us? We've been dancing around that all morning.

Ruth: I said all of the answers to that this morning. I'm sorry.

Sue: Well, OK. I'll start. Well, I participated because I was just finishing college and was about to graduate, and I was hearing about what was going on in the South and SNCC and there were meetings, and Howard Zinn was talking about it on Cambridge Common, and I just thought, "Wow, this is what's happening. This is really what's happening."

So, plus, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I had a boyfriend who was already in the Civil Rights Movement, so — 

Ruth: That's OK.

Sue: It was an added encouragement. He was in Albany, Georgia.

Ruth: He was probably cute.

Ron: It all comes out now.

Mike: Who was that, Susan?

Sue: You might know him, Peter de Lissovoy? Did you know Peter de Lissovoy?

Mike: Only by name.

Sue: Yeah. Well, he later became my husband, but at the time, he was my boyfriend.

But anyway, so I just really wanted to go to Mississippi and be part of this. And I still feel this really amazing gratitude that it was like a mysterious timing that worked out, that I happened to be in the right place at the right time of the right age to be able to have the privilege of being part of that. You know, it was just a stroke of luck. But if I had been a couple of years younger or older, it probably wouldn't have happened.

Anyway, not to talk to long, I went for this week of preparation in Oxford, Mississippi, and I was in the second week, so it was during that week that the three people disappeared, and we didn't know what had happened to them yet. And every day, we would come to the meeting and see if they'd turned up anywhere, and they hadn't. And it was getting scarier and scarier, and some people dropped out and didn't go to Mississippi after all. A friend of mine from Cambridge decided to go home, and I decided to go [to Mississippi], and my parents were a little frantic, but I went anyway.

But then I had this — it wasn't any choice somehow. It just seemed so important. And then, it just was so amazing to me to feel, in a very personal, non-political way, I would say that it opened up my heart and my imagination in a way that I hadn't dreamt of, of being involved with other people together, doing something important. To be a part of something that was so much bigger than me and to be able to be a part of it.

This one moment in Moss Point in the community hall one night, having a mass meeting, and the meeting was at the end, and we were all standing in a big circle. There were probably 75 people, most of them Black, local people. And we were singing, "We Shall Overcome." It was the end of the meeting, and we were holding hands, and some car drove by outside, and there were gunshots that came right into the meeting. We heard the shots, and somebody said, "Hit the floor," and we all lay down on the floor, and a couple of people got hit but not seriously hurt — luckily. Somebody got shot in the leg; somebody else got shot in the arm. And there was some car full of white guys that was driving by outside, and that moment of danger was also a moment of just this amazing togetherness.

I don't know. Something about the compassion. It was a chance for me to develop a lot of compassion that summer in that experience. And then I think I took that with me in the rest of my life and in other ways. It's affected my life in a lot of ways that are hard to pinpoint specifically, but in terms of what I think of as possible and in terms of the importance of people coming together and taking risks together, and all the different Movement things I did later, and getting arrested lots of times in the Anti-Nuclear Movement and stuff like that, and just the kind of loss of feeling alone — loss of loneliness, the sense of connection that I gained was very valuable to me. So, that's enough for the moment.

Ron: Thank you.

 

Mike: Joining and Leaving SNCC

Mike: Well, I'm a little older, I think, than most people who were in Mississippi. So I'm 77 now. And I had already been quite active in a number of things before SNCC. This campus political party, SLATE, that I mentioned this morning had an annual summer conference, and it was summer of '62. The conference was called, "The Negro in America." And Chuck McDew who is here, who was then Chairman of SNCC, spoke. He was our keynote speaker at the conference, and he stayed at my house. And at the end of his stay, he asked me to be the SNCC rep here. So that was summer of '62.

And then in the winter, Sam Block came out on a speaking tour. Sam was the Greenwood Project Director. And by then, I knew that I could not continue to be the SNCC rep here without going South myself. So I asked him if I could come to Greenwood, and he said, "Yeah, sure. Come this summer." So that's what I did. I drove to Atlanta in probably June of '63, and I went from Atlanta to the Delta for this folk concert that I mentioned. It was billed as the first — it was the Delta Folk Jubilee. So Theo Bikel, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and the Freedom Singers all sang on Laura Magee's farm which was a triangular piece of property bounded by I think a state highway and a major road. So on the major road there was a long line of local sheriffs and cop cars, and on the state highway, a long line of state patrol cars.

And we were all singing...

Ron: About how many people?

Mike: There were probably between 50 and 75, maybe even 100 people were there. Staff had come from all over the state and from Atlanta and Alabama. And there maybe 25, 50 local people. It was still pretty early in terms of people getting involved. Dick Gregory had been there I think a month or so before. So my going was just kind of a logical next step for what I'd been doing for a number of years. It was an extraordinarily moving experience, similar to what Susan said. Those years, '62 to '64, I think were SNCC's best years.

So I was on the staff 'till — I was at the Pegleg Bates meeting where whites were voted out. It was — 

Karen: That was later, right?

Mike: Yeah, at the end of '66. So, I had this extraordinarily wonderful experience and a deeply painful experience as whites were getting marginalized in SNCC. People with whom I had had what I thought was a good relationship weren't talking to me anymore, and I can still feel the pain of that.

So in October '66, Saul Alinsky asked me to direct the project of his in Kansas City, Missouri, so I decided at that time — because to me SNCC was unraveling — I decided I would do that. And I went to Pegleg Bates really just to say goodbye to people. I had formally submitted my resignation.

So what did it mean? The meaning of SNCC is really not too different than my more general commitment that I had already made when I dropped out of graduate school earlier in the student movement, that somehow or another I was going to find a way to devote my life to social and economic justice and small "d" democracy, and I managed to be able to do that.

And the SNCC influence — the two big influences in my life are Alinsky and SNCC, and I've tried to find ways to weave those together. And while I was still on the SNCC staff, I was actually trying to get a relationship going between Alinsky and SNCC, and just a few months ago, I had an extraordinary experience. A friend of mine in New York who has a friend who had been at Newsweek with her when she was a reporter there and knows a guy in Detroit by the name of Paul Lee, a Black guy in Detroit who's chronicling Movement activities, and put us in touch.

And this guy, Paul Lee, told me about Stokely and Alinsky appearing together at the end of '66 at a meeting that was billed as a debate over Black Power, in a church in Detroit. So this took place, I think, in December of '66, and Alinsky's opening lines were, "If you came here expecting a debate, you're in the wrong place." He said, "We do not go into Black communities and end up with Pastel Power." He was wonderful with quips like that. And a little later in the meeting, according to this report that I got, someone started attacking Stokely for his hatred of people, blah-blah-blah. And Alinsky interrupted Stokely as he was about to respond and said, "Wait a second." He said, "You are not witnessing the passion of hatred. This is the passion of love. This man loves humanity. And that's why he is so passionate about what he's doing."

And according to Paul, Stokely started crying, which I find believable. So there was a brief period when Stokely was speaking nationally on behalf of Alinsky's project in Rochester which was called FIGHT. And FIGHT had a big campaign against Kodak over hiring, and Stokely's famous quote is that — the President of FIGHT was a man named Franklin Florence, Minister Franklin Florence, so Stokely said at a mass meeting, "When Minister Florence says to Kodak, 'Jump,' Kodak is gonna say, 'How high?'" And of course the crowd all cheered. But that didn't last, and in February '67, at the Executive Committee meeting of SNCC, the relationship with Alinsky is discussed, and it's dropped. So I think it was a sad thing for both of them that they didn't connect. I'll stop there.

 

Marion: Black and White and Me

Marion: I heard about Mississippi through a professor at a college within the year that I was to graduate, and not wanting to go home, a classmate and I got on a bus.

Ron: Where were you?

Marion: In Nebraska — Hastings, Nebraska.

Ron: A Presbyterian college.

Marion: Yes. I'm no longer Presbyterian, but anyway, that's my past.

Ron: That's all right. Me neither.

Marion: So after graduation, we took the bus, and my first experience was, when we got off the bus to have a meal, everybody got off the bus and went into this place, and I didn't know there was a Black section and a white section. So that was my first experience. And by the time — 

Karen: Was the bus from the university? Or a public bus?

Marion: A public bus.

Ron: And where did you sit?

Marion: In the colored section, because, you know, I'm colored. Well, I didn't know it, but I thought it was safer to go colored.

Sue: It probably was.

Marion: Yeah! So by the time I got into the office of the Delta Ministry — they were waiting for us — I was told that if I were to cross that line into the office that I'll be part of the FBI list. And do I really want to do this? And we decided, "Well, I'm just out of college. I can do anything I want. You know, I'm invincible." So I just went in.

And then the next day I was told that we were going to support one of our Freedom Fighters who was arrested on the highway for walking along the highway. So he was in jail, and we needed to get him out. So my next day my task was to go to the courthouse. So when we went to the courthouse, we sat at the nearest area we could find [in the courtroom], because we didn't care whether it was white only or Black only. So we went to the nearest one, so we sat on chairs right by the door, and there was a deputy sheriff in charge of the hearing, and before we could hear anything, the deputy sheriff's responsibility was to get people into the right sections. But we're all integrated in our sections, you know, Black, white and me. And so — 

Bruce: That's a great title for a book.

Woman: Yeah, it is.

Marion: So anyway, you can imagine all of us sitting in one line, I mean, in the courthouse in one row. And so the deputy sheriff went to each one of us, so if it was wrong, he would say to Ron, "You need to move. You're in the wrong section." So he went down to each one of us, and by the time he got to me, I was sort of in the middle of all of us. There were people, you know, Freedom Fighters, my colleagues, were to the right and left. And I was waiting for him to come up, and he came to me, and he stood there, and he started scratching his head like this. And he looked again, and he was just frozen. And he didn't know what to do with me. So he went back to the judge who was standing right in the back and whispered something to the judge, and the judge said, "This case is dismissed."

Mike: He just said what?

Marion: "This case is dismissed."

Sue: You just threw a monkey wrench into the whole thing.

Ruth: Wow, if it was that easy! Another strategy!

Marion: They didn't know what to do with me. And that was my introduction to the Civil Rights Movement.

Sue: Amazing. What a great story.

Karen: Did that make you feel powerful? Or weird?

Marion: No, I was like, "What the hell just happened?" And I turned to my director, and I said, "Tell me what happened." He says, "Let's go out and talk about it." So that was my first experience, and I used my advantage by doing a lot of other integrations. Some of them went well, but others — I mean, it was OK. I came out unscathed in some ways, but I think what it's told me is that as a minority, as another kind of minority, when they found out I was not a foreign student, and I was there really seriously being a Freedom Fighter, they just didn't know what to do with me. There was a lot of confusion, and so it was hopefully a way to jolt people's awareness without having to say anything about how absurd this whole issue was.

But what I learned from it was when I got home I realized that I have a lot of work to do. Somebody asked me one time, "If I were to have a feeling, if I were to give one emotion of what changed me when I got home?" It was an emotion, and the emotion was anger. I learned anger. As a Chinese-American growing up, as a female, you're not supposed to express that. You're supposed to be quiet and docile and subservient. Your brothers come first. You don't matter. You're invisible.

When I came home, nobody could stop me from talking. So, from there on, I became aware of — Well, who am I? Do I have a culture? What is my culture? So I started exploring about myself. So what I'm saying is I think that by leaving your home turf, you learn more about yourself than if you were stuck in your home turf, because you can be complacent, and you can take advantage of not doing anything. I learned never to do that again.

I am proud of my struggles, because every moment when I'm with my kids, I make sure that their classmates from kindergarten on up is anybody they choose. And they can come to my home, and I can go to their home. And I think that's what changes people is when you change yourself first, and then hopefully — I think it's a very Confucius idea, of in order to change the world, you need to start from yourself and your home, and then your community, and then your state, and then your country, and then the world. It just has to go from there on.

And to me, I have always learned that part of the reason that — it's important to never lose sight of who I am as much as I know who I am. Or what I'm all about. And if I do good to people, if I do no harm — if you make mistakes when you do integration, or if you make mistakes when you get into the Civil Rights Movement, if your intention is pure and if it's good, you can make all of the mistakes you want, because it comes from a point of growing and of change, and it's OK to make mistakes so long as you're doing it with good intentions and you learn from it.

So for me, it's a hit and miss what I do with other cultures, but I think the important thing that I got from it was I'm finally comfortable that I can show other Asians that it's OK if a Black man comes up to you, or a little kid comes to you. If they're in harm's way, you take care of another fellow human being. And that's what I learned, that no matter what your skin color is or your lifestyle, or your sexual orientation, you do what you need to do.

And I think Martin Luther King was — I was always very impressed with him when he was not only fighting for civil rights in the United States, but he was anti-Vietnam War during the same period. I was very impressed, because he saw underneath the whole principle of what it is to be a human being or to be a man or to be a woman, that unless there is equality of anybody, it doesn't matter. It's not just for Blacks. It's for everybody. And so it's so deep for me; that's what I got just out of crossing into the Southern border. That's what I learned. And it's the lesson that I really feel I need to pass on to my kids, and there's no shame in that. I think it's really important. That's my story.

 

Ruth: More Than the Sum of Our Individual Selves

Ruth: I'd like to go next. Thank you for sharing, Marion. I told you and answered some of those questions earlier. The most difficult issue for me — was my family, I think. And there were dynamics in my family, my own personal family, that were very difficult. The person that I was emotionally safe with was a younger, little brother. And when I was 10 and he was 4, he died. So that kind of split our family up in this horrible way, and it was always difficult for me after that.

The divisions that I think in my young life I was always trying to put together — it never happened really. So with Freedom Summer — I told you about immigrant family. My mom had four sisters. She was the oldest, and because of some difficult circumstances with her parents, she became kind of the de facto parent of these other kids. And when I was young, there was one aunt in particular that did nice things for me. Eventually — she played the guitar, and I loved it, and we'd sit on the floor and listen to Grand Ol' Opry, and we'd sing. And then she took me to a dude ranch once which was kind of like the most wonderful thing that a little girl who loved horses could do, and I had to leave kindergarten for one week to go do it.

So go forward to Freedom Summer. My parents lived on the East Coast. I had been on the West Coast for one year, not far from where my only brother then, who was older, lived with his family. And our relationship has always been a struggle. He was bullied. As a really young girl, I tried to defend him by jumping on this boy's back, who had attacked him. But he bullied me too. So Freedom Summer time — my parents who lived in the Schenectady region of New York, decided to move to be out where my brother was in Washington.

They couldn't afford to stay in New York. It was too expensive. Heating the house alone for a month would've been a huge bill. So they came out two weeks before I was going to get in my little red Volkswagen and go to Mississippi. And so the excitement within the family was not about what I was going to do, but about them arriving. So they came, and then we didn't talk about it much. I left and went back to New York, met the supporter folks in Schenectady who said they'd raise bail if I got arrested.

Then I went from that area, where my relatives still were, and I went to the aunt's house who took me to that dude ranch and played that guitar, and by then, I played the guitar, and I loved to sing. And it was while I was there that the three fellows went missing. They didn't usually watch the news. They didn't take a regular newspaper, but they did get a little once a week local paper, I think it was. And it said what had happened. And then we tried to pay a little bit of attention on other news. So I was going to go from their home near Boston and pick up a friend who was in Rhode Island, in Providence, and go to her home near New York City for a couple of days before heading to Mississippi.

The night before I left, my aunt kept me up till two in the morning, saying the awfullest things that anyone could say. "Why do you want to go there? You could stay here. There are a lot of poor people here. You could help them. What has a nigger ever done for you?" And on and on. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. She kept me up until two, as I said. So that's how I left, and that's how I left my family. And it was kind of like, to this day, in a sense, I feel like — I mean, I've come to peace with it, sort of. She just turned 90, and she's the last one left. But I could tell you what she said not too long ago, even though she has whatever — Alzheimer's or something at this point, which was horrible.

And I got to Port Authority after visiting my other friend, picked up this guy, don't know how we arranged to meet, because he was standing out in front of Port Authority, and I was driving around in this little red Volkswagen, looking for somebody named Gary. And he had been told to go to Memphis for training, because we were too late for the Oxford [orientation].

And I had never heard from anybody accepting me. I just knew I was going to Mississippi. I had sent them my application, so nobody had a record of me. So Gary and I get in the Volkswagen, and we're driving for about a day and a half, almost two days, and all along the way — not every second or every minute, like the part when I almost hit an armadillo — but he was talking about how he thought he would never see his family again. And you know, I mean, I didn't know what I was getting into. I told you I had no background in the Movement or the literature, and all I knew was I was going there.

We arrived in Memphis, and he was going to get training, so I thought, "Well, I probably need some training too." And then I found out I was supposed to curl up on the ground, "OK, OK, I think I got it." But we were staying — I was in a little room. Gary was in a tiny room. And it was a big house that a Black doctor had set up as a clinic, and now the wife was remaining, but he had died. So she was welcoming us to stay there. We went to bed the first night; it was in the middle of a three-session. I got up in the morning, stepped out of the room, and Gary's suitcases were next to the wall, outside his door. And he was going home. That was a lonely day. That was a really lonely day.

So as I said before, it changed my life forever, but I can't not also tell of that other part of it. You know, I always thought everybody wanted good things for everybody else. I was a very innocent person. And you know, I got pretty angry. You [Marion] said "anger," and that's another reason why I wanted to [speak] next.

And because I was then [after Freedom Summer] isolated pretty much — I didn't have Movement people to be around after that. There was a small group in Olympia [WA], a few of us that they were interested in, so I could appeal to them for some funds. I kept trying to funnel money back to Holly Springs, which I did for some time. But it was like nobody to talk to. Where do you go with all of that?

So those of you who are in this Bay Area and have done this all these years, I think, "Wow, what those folks have is so wonderful, because you've always had each other to share the journey with." And you've had people with those same values. Which doesn't mean that I haven't got allies in Eugene, Oregon, because there are some. But they didn't experience the same kind of thing we did, with the danger and the music and the crossed arms and the "We Shall Overcome." And what was in that room was

 

Karen: Feeling Like a Real American

Karen: Well, let's see. I've shared my background. I didn't mention a couple of things, that I was in CORE in New York with Bayard Rustin, and I taught reading in East Harlem with the Quakers, so I came from an activist background.

I don't think anything prepares you for my experience in the South. I mean, I didn't come from that. But also I didn't mention, Michael Schwerner's mother was my biology teacher. [Ahhhs] I think that really impacted on me when he was killed, and I'm sure — I haven't thought about it much, but I'm sure that's one of the reasons that I went South. I was friendly with her. She was a very good teacher and a very sweet woman.

Ron: When did you go South?

Karen: '65. I went with a group from the University of Wisconsin where I was a student, and we all went to Western Tennessee with Bob Gabriner. I think, for me, as ironic as it might sound, it made me feel like a real American. I've said that before. One of the issues in my family, since I spoke German at home, and Jews didn't like Germany, but I was a German Jew, so I spoke German and ate German and played piano. I was a real German kid in some ways, German-Jewish kid. And we were Commie Lefties, so we didn't fit into any community.

Ron: I guess not. [Laughter]

Karen: So it was hard to figure out. You know, in the '50s, I remember in the sixth grade that the teacher put all the Black kids — I went to integrated schools my whole life — but they put all the Black kids in the back of the room and the white kids in the front of the room and said, "They're just going to prison anyway." And so I dutifully went home — I swear this happened, and I said to my parents, "You know, what kind of crap...?"

Ruth: This was done seriously?

Karen: Yeah.

Ron: Where was it?

Karen: In New Rochelle, New York, a suburb of New York.

Sue: It was said, "They're just going to prison anyway"? Out loud?

Karen: Hm-hmm.

Sue: By a teacher?

Karen: Hm-hmm.

Sue: Really?

Karen: New Rochelle, which is quite famous. It was the first desegregation case in the North of the public schools, which my father was very active in. And I remember going — 

Sue: So you went home — 

Karen: I mean, that's why I'm saying, I've experienced a lot of that stuff. I'm fascinated that nobody else is telling those stories. The "otherness," I was raised to feel other.

So I think in some ways [the Freedom Movement] was really — it opened the South to me, like I said initially, and in some ways it made me feel American, because I was with all these Americans, and they were different than me, you know? And I was very overwhelmed by the poverty that I experienced. No running water, toilet outhouses. I assume we all experienced that. Living in homes with people — I mean, the diet was incredible. I mean, I had fried chicken for breakfast and grape soda, and I mean, it was just the most horrible food. And I gained a lot [of weight]. I eventually got quite heavy and ill, so it had an impact on me.

But to be confronted with this level of poverty and then to be confronted by people who have never — I mean, I remember going out in the field the first time, because I was recruiting kids for the [freedom] school that we were working on, and nobody would look at me. None of the people in the fields would look at me. And I didn't understand. I was 17 years old, you know? "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" But that lack of — the idea that a white person would go into the field and allow you to look at them. I mean, I didn't act out; I was very shy. I know it sounds strange, but I was. [Laughter]

Woman: That's another big change.

Karen: That's another big change! Well, it's true. I mean, it changed everything for me. I used to remember seeing subservience on a level that didn't — You know, I met older people who were wonderfully warm and respectful and giving, but it was so clear to me that they felt very worried about my presence in their life. And they were being as gracious as they could be, but I was threatening their life. And you know, at 17, you don't really get a lot of that stuff.

I actually felt some of that when I first moved out here. I lived in Pescadero [CA], and I found that the Mexican people there would not look at me. And I wasn't prepared. You know, they work in the fields, and they just didn't look at me in the eye. That was just a few years ago.

So there was an issue of guns. My experience was very violent. It was quite — well, first of all, to see all those guys driving around with those rifles in the back.

Bruce: And Confederate license plates on the front [of white-owned cars and trucks].

[Throughout the South, pickup trucks were a common means of transportation for both white and Black. Many of the trucks driven by whites had racks across the back window of the cab holding rifles and shotguns. That was rarely (if ever) the case of pickups driven by a Black drivers. In the highly racialized culture of the Deep South, the public display of weapons by whites was understood by all as an unspoken threat against "upitty" Blacks. A similar display of weapons on the part of Blacks would have been seen as an act of defiance and provocation. However, it was also understood by all that many, if not most, Blacks were armed with concealed weapons.

Karen: Yeah.

Ron: They shot a lot of people in your project.

Karen: Yes, they did. Men. They didn't shoot any of the women. It's chivalry, I think. [Laughter] Men are chivalrous.

And then the issue of going to church for me. I mean, I don't know; this is very detailed. I went to church for the first time in my life, and I loved the songs, and the whole place shook. And people were so friendly, and the culture was really lovely. And then I saw my first dead body, because you have an open casket, and everybody had to go and look at this dead body. Jews don't do that, first of all, and second of all, I had never seen a dead body. And of course, you don't want to stand out, so you do what everyone's doing. And looking, and the people screaming and shouting, and the whole dead thing, it was just such culture shock. It was just overwhelming.

Ron: So how long were you there?

Karen: Four months. Very intense. And most of what I did, and what I brought back to the rest of my life, was teaching. I became a teacher there, and I've been a teacher ever since. I love teaching. I've loved my students all my life. I like inner city kids. And by that, I don't only mean African-Americans. I worked with predominantly African-Americans. Where I taught in New Haven, Connecticut, I started an alternative, regional magnet high school that I started with a group of teachers, not me. And I taught there for 25 years, and then we got a grant from the State of Connecticut. We were the only integrated public high school in Connecticut. It's a small school, and so we got a grant for a building and stuff like that. And then I was the principal, and then I came to this school [Envision Academy] to be a principal. As the principal here, six years ago.

Ron: How long were you here?

Karen: Just a year. This is a charter school, and I'm a public school person. It was a cultural difference, and I had a lot of personal problems, but it's a very interesting school.

But I think, how did [the Movement] affect my life? I really do believe in integration, so even though over the last 50 years that's gone in and out of respect, I very profoundly believe that cultural differences are enriching for all of us. And I think the question of violence and fighting for what you believe in is still an open question, and I'm not sure it's a choice. And I'm not a violent person, but I'm not sure that's a choice though.

Ron: [Laughter]

Karen: Why are you laughing?

Ron: I don't know who I'm sitting next to. [Laughter] I'm teasing.

Karen: I know you are. But what are you responding to? I'm not defensive.

Ron: Just whether violence is a choice that you have, that you get to make.

Karen: Do you think it is?

Ron: You do. I hear you saying that you may have to choose violence in order to achieve — 

Karen: Yes, you're hearing that. I'm saying it's an open question, because the violence I experienced in the South was so horrendous and so unfair. I mean, power to get — it was race. It was money. It was power. And the Black community had everything to lose. They had nothing except their culture and each other to hold onto, and that was a dying culture — rural, Black South at that time. I mean, you mentioned that yourself in what you saw.

So I mean if you look back on it historically, and then you look at all these other countries where people are trying to have peaceful revolutions against a power that has all the power. You know, Egypt or — And I sure as hell didn't ever want to kill anybody, you know? So that's why I said that. I don't know if it's a choice. I don't think it's a — 

Well, I also saw, and I guess all of you did, people that you knew getting shot or beat up. We had the Klan march through town. I don't know if any of you have seen a Klan march, but there's a reason why people were terrified of it. It is horrendous, and it is bizarre. I mean, they should make a movie of the Klan. I mean, to see all these grown people in sheets, with decorations and hats and shooting guns. I mean, it was like — So I think that's another legacy, the violence of America. And I can go on, you can tell, I can talk forever, so I'll be quiet. I'll share.

 

Ron: Worthy of the Faith They Put in Me

Ron: The question, How did it change you? I'll go next, since we're at the — I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, before it was South Central Los Angeles. It was just, you know, you fought. You ran. You didn't have guns. You didn't have crack and all that stuff. But nonviolence wasn't something that anyone practiced or even thought about. But when I went to Mississippi, that's what you were doing.

But the local people weren't doing that. It was very clear to me that the reason I got into Mississippi and got out of Mississippi in some reasonable physical shape was that the local people had guns. And there was one moment that I talk about, that I was thinking about. There are formative years, and there are formative moments. Mississippi was a formative moment for me. I was out in a rural town called Maven, Mississippi, maybe 30, 40 miles out into the country, maybe three of four hundred people. And I was with a family of what we called a local leader, Mrs. Graham. Single mother, probably six, seven kids, you know, the kind of two-room place where you're using newspaper to block the cold from between the — and you had this pot belly stove, and everything is kind of sooted up inside, but this is your heat. And there really wasn't heavy snow, but it was cold.

We were out there, me and another kid, and it started getting dark. We noticed that two carloads of men were circling the corner. It was unpaved, but it was still a square. And there were maybe two or three houses on that little square, and they were circling it. And so we've got to drive 15, 20 miles to get back to Starkville [project headquarters], which is where Mississippi State University is. So it was a fairly liberal town compared to Philadelphia, Mississippi which is 50 miles away and south of there. So, you know, it was just kind of — 

Karen: Did Mississippi State have African-American students?

Ron: No, not then. It was totally segregated. I wouldn't be surprised if it had an African-American president at this point.

So we were pretty frightened. And what Mrs. Graham did is she had her 18-year- old son — I think she's passed away, but he still lives there — maybe he was 16 — sit in the back of our car. And he had a rifle. And he rode with us all the way back. And as the cars — two cars — started to move up beside us to push us off the road, he just put the butt of the gun on the floorboard so that the barrel is visible through the window. And they started to move back. So we got home safe, and he went back home the next day. But I've always lived with the thought, "I could leave, but they've got to stay." [Sounds of assent]

There had to be a price for what she did that night. So, my mother who's 85 and I still have a wonderful opportunity to go spend time with her, the way she puts it is, "When you came from Mississippi, I lost my sweet little Ronnie." I was pretty angry. I don't think about it that way. We had, I guess, really strong arguments about whether I should return to school, and I didn't see any reason to go back to school anyway. I've been to two colleges. I a semester of credits, but so I went and found Mike in San Francisco and kept working for SNCC.

But it certainly — that experience certainly shaped my life. You know, everything that I've done since, good and bad, is informed by that year or so, because after a year, it's time to go for me. You did live with a certain kind of pressure, a certain kind of fear. And so, it wore on me. But yeah, I just kept evolving, and I got up into the San Francisco Bay Area, and by then in '66, Stokely came out here, and he was over at Berkeley and pronounced Black Power, and you had the Panthers, and all of that continued to spin.

But how did it affect me? All my values about who I need to be in life, about protecting those people who cannot protect themselves, all of that is just — Now, I look back on my grandfather, and I've been studying him lately, he was in rural Arkansas, and his goal was to found as many Black schools as he could. And so he was a principal and an educator, and I find myself not very different from him. I have an aunt who is in Berkeley, Maudelle Shirek? And that was his oldest daughter, and so the family has a tradition, from looking at it.

The whole thing with guns. I just probably thought we couldn't win that battle.

Karen: What did you think when the Panthers were walking around the Capitol?

Ron: I thought it was a good idea. Again — 

Karen: It was intense though. That was Black guys carrying guns, walking around the Capitol.

Ron: This is about, what is it called? Agency. And this is as much anything, theater.

Karen: That was theater, absolutely.

Ron: You know, because it changed the way that we could see ourselves. You raised the question before about chains. I was raised on John Wayne. Some of these kids [today] don't even know who John Wayne is, you know? You took a pick-ax handle, and you bopped the kid upside his head. That's the way you resolved your conflicts. So the idea of walking around in chains, having your children and your wives sold away, it is very difficult to find some sense of empowerment or anything but shame in that. I mean, we do have to look at the history, and my wife teaches African-American literature, and she talks about how we wrote ourselves out of chains. I got that. But there's another part that's difficult.

Marion: I mean, are you saying that you caused that?

Ron: No. I'm saying, "That's part of my heritage." You see, my grandfather was a principal of a school, but he had to get his paycheck or whatever little scrip they gave from the head of the school board who was a poorly educated white man, who didn't allow Negroes on his front porch. So he had to go to that man's back door. I remember my grandfather stepping into the gutter as we walked. This is like wooden sidewalks? And I couldn't have been any older than six, but the memory stays with me that he stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter and pulled me with him because white folks were walking. So you have to do something with that in your own mind, and you can't let it harm you. You don't want it to harm your children. So it's just the way it is.

Mississippi, I went there, and I had no earring. I saw Black people [who had come to Mississippi for the Movement] from New York who had earrings and stuff and naturals, and I was like, "Oh my God! Who are these people? They're from like — they were hip and cool." So I found an identity, and that's what I was supposed to do.

And somebody else mentioned finding something that was greater than your own self, a purpose in life. And I am thankful and appreciative, and I try to be worthy of the faith that those people put in me, because I didn't think I registered a lot of folks to vote. I think I survived, and my lesson was, "You can stand up in Mississippi and stay alive."

Now there was an old woman on a phone back here in Los Angeles who was calling everybody in hell, and I didn't know that until later on, see? But down there, I was all pumped up. My mother was going nuts up here. She is a pharmacist, and she knows how to do stuff, and she was connected through the parents of the kids who were from New York, and they were, "Don't touch our babies." Which is what I think Bob Moses understood, that nothing was going to change in Mississippi until you brought the rest of America there. And their kids. Who will bring you someplace faster than your children? And so he brought America to Mississippi and changed the conversation. I think that's me.

 

My name is Bruce, and I'm an Addict

Bruce: Before I go into my personal story — a general observation about the "How did it change us? How has it affected our lives?" questions. As you know, I handle the website, and if you read through the Veterans Roll Call where people give some sort of statement about themselves and the Movement, over and over and over you see written exactly what everybody here has said. "It changed my life." "It gave me direction." "It made me who I am today." And that's true for me too.

Some veterans define how the Movement changed them in personal terms, others in a political framework. I'll offer just one illustration of the political effect: I live in the Mission District of San Francisco. And like a lot of places around the country, there's tension between Blacks and Latinos around immigration issues because so many jobs that used to be done by Afro-Americans are now being done by undocumented workers who can be forced to work for lower wages, under more dangerous and less-safe conditions, and who cannot even complain for fear they'll be turned over to La Migra [Immigration Dept.] and deported. And that's a whole big discussion which is off-topic for us right now, here today. But my general observation is that I've never met any civil rights activist — Black or white — who does not clearly and strongly support immigrant rights and their struggle for dignity, justice, and a path towards full citizenship. I think that's indicative of how the Movement shaped our politics.

Anyway, for me personally, my participation in the Freedom Movement focused my life. Sometimes when I'm asked to speak to student groups, I'll start off by saying, "My name is Bruce, and I'm an addict. I'm an addict to peoples' freedom movements. I have tried every drug there is, and none are as addictive as sharing a struggle with other people who are freeing themselves from oppression." And I totally believe that.

I was — like Karen, I'm from a Red background. I'm what they used to call a "Red Diaper Baby," because my parents were Commies. [Laughter]

Some people think "Red Diaper Baby" means that you were born sick or something, that it was like a hospital emergency room thing. No, that's not what "Red Diaper Baby" means. But as a kid I wasn't particularly political. When I was in high school — I did refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and I got into all kinds of trouble over that. But that wasn't really about politics, it was about hating high school and rebelling for the hell of it.

So, anyway, eventually I was at Los Angeles City College. Had no idea what to do with my life. Had no idea what I was doing at City College other than my parents made me go. And I started hanging out at a Beatnik — You're all old enough to remember Beatniks. Nobody else is. It was a Beatnik coffee house called Pogo's Swamp. Now, at this time — 

Mike: What year is this?

Bruce: This would be very early '63. Anyway, in high school I got very deeply affected by the Holocaust. I read everything. The Wall, Ann Frank, Exodus, fiction and nonfiction both. And like you, I said, "Why didn't they fight? Why didn't anyone help them?" And I was actually more angry at the American government and the so-called "democracies" who stood by and did nothing than I was at the Germans. Oh, I was angry at the Germans too. I was a very angry young man. But those who stood aside, averted their eyes, and did nothing made me the angriest.

So one of the odd things about Judaism is that most Jews are responsible for deciding for themselves what it means to be a Jew. In most Jewish denominations, Rabbis are teachers, but they have no authority to tell you how to be a Jew. Like Christians, Jews have different denominations. You know, Reform, Orthodox, Haredi, Conservative, and so on. So in my own mind, I created my own Jewish denomination, my very own private sect. I decided I was a "Four Nevers" Jew. Never forget, I forget the second one, Never again, and the last one was Never stand by when someone else is oppressed.

Ruth: I wonder if it was "never forgive." I was going to ask you.

Bruce: Yes! That's it! Never forgive. Never forget, Never forgive, Never again, and Never stand by. To this day, I will not buy a Volkswagen or any other German car.

Ron: Forget, forgive...?

Bruce: Never forget. Never...

Marion: Never forgive.

Bruce: Never forget, never forgive, never again, and never stand by.

Ron: That'll work for us too! [Laughter]

Bruce: So anyway, I'm in Pogo's Swamp, and the manager comes up and says, "Oh, you should stay around. A guy's gonna come and show movies. A guy from CORE is gonna show some movies taken at the CORE demonstration in Torrance." Well, I knew what Torrance was. It's a suburb of L.A., but I didn't know what a CORE was. CORE, of course, was the Congress of Racial Equality, and Torrance was an all-white housing development that refused — you could only buy there if you were white.

So the film was of CORE picketing, and there must've been at least 10 or 11 or 12 people on the picket line, and there were 30 American Nazis in full swastika uniform. I mean, literally Brownshirt uniform, swastikas, those caps, "Sieg Heils," "The Fuhrer was right," "Down with the Jews!" "Down with Niggers!"

Ruth: What year is this?

Bruce: This was the spring of 1963 in Los Angeles, California.

Ruth: Oh my goodness.

Bruce: And given how I felt, I went up to the CORE guy, and I said, "Well, I don't know what a CORE is, but if you're against the Nazis, I'm with you. When is the next thing?" And that's how I got into the Freedom Movement.

Marion: That's the way to go.

Bruce: But you know, I didn't know anything then. I can't remember a single course or a single thing I ever learned in two years at LACC, but the leassons CORE and the Freedom Movement taught me are in my memory till the day I die.

So I eventually ended up in Alabama on the SCLC field staff and went through Selma and the Grenada campaign. I worked in rural Crenshaw County [AL] where they made me the Project Director because I'd been, you know, in the South by that time four months.

Ruth: You were old timer.

Bruce: I was an old timer.

One of the interesting things — there was a lot of violence. I mean, we don't talk too much about the violence, but I experienced a lot of it. But it didn't affect me as much as some other stuff — the poverty being the most profound thing. It was the poverty that affected me most, not the violence and danger.

Another thing, whenever I canvassed out in the rural, I always went with local, Black students. And there were a number of reasons — obviously there were political reasons — but one of the most important reasons was that as you go along those dirt roads, some houses that are really nice, brick, painted, OK, you know that's a white house, and you don't go up there. But there would be other houses that were just as poor as anyone else's house, and you didn't go there either, because that was poor-white and very very hostile.

And then there were the houses which were the same poor, and the children in the yard had blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin, but you can go up to them, because they're known as, and treated as, "Colored." Because of the systematic rape by white men of Black women. And you needed someone local to let you know which house is which. And I'm thinking, "Now here are these people, whites, talking about race and Blackness, and here are these people who are as white as they are, yet they're still being exploited and oppressed. So there's something else going on here — other than what they say is going on." And that really began to get me to think about things like class and what the hell is really going on here?

Mike mentioned the Pegleg Bates SNCC meeting and the expulsion of whites from SNCC. I never experienced that because SCLC didn't do that. That was just not part of SCLC, partly I think because in SCLC they weren't concerned about whites taking over, because if you weren't a Black male minister in SCLC, it just wasn't even conceivable that you would have any leadership role at all. Period. End of story. Leadership was the ministers. So this never — whites, Blacks, that was not an issue in SCLC and I think that for me that was a good thing.

Anyway, I was in Alabama, and then I was in Mississippi. By '67, I was just burned out. I mean, I was down to 130 pounds. I weigh 230 now. And you know, if a cricket scratched outside the door, I was jumping up at night. Sometimes I carried a gun. Sometimes I didn't. It's a good thing I didn't ever accidentally shoot anybody — I was so jumpy. So I knew I had to leave, and eventually I left for that reason, not because of SCLC saying, "No, we can't have any whites."

But I was addicted to people's movements, and ever since then, I've been searching for another hit, for another fix. And I only — and I've participated a lot in the Left, but the only other movement I was ever part of that felt as real and as true as the Freedom Movement was the GI Resistance Movement to the Vietnam War. I went to Asia and was in places like Laos and Vietnam and Japan and Hong Kong, working with U.S. Marines who were resisting the war. And that had the same feel for me as did the Freedom Movement.

I agree with what everybody has said, pretty much, but one thing that hasn't been said is that being active in the Freedom Movement gave me enormous self confidence. People are telling me, "Oh Bruce, you did a great job organizing this event." And I appreciate the compliments, but compared to getting people down to the courthouse in Crenshaw County, Alabama? This is bupkis. This is trivial. You know, I ended up coming out of the South feeling, "If I wanted to do it, I could do it."

Anyway, when I came out of the South, I went to San Francisco State and encountered SDS, which I immediately became active in, and I encountered the Marxist Left, at which point — well, there's a group called Progressive Labor Party.

Karen: Trotskys.

Bruce: Well, whoever. I don't know. They tried to recruit me, and it became very clear to them that I was not material for group-think. Partly because I wouldn't give up smoking dope, but mainly because I thought for myself.

So anyway, I encountered the Marxist Left, and when they couldn't recruit me, they decided that I was a threat to their control over SDS, and they proceeded to attack and smear me. I was a "bourgeois integrationist" when nationalism was the true "revolutionary" position. I was nonviolent when "Free Huey, Pick Pp the Gun" was the politically correct slogan. Basically, they just savagely did everything they could to discredit me so that I couldn't challenge their control over SDS. And one of the results of that was that I did not talk about my Southern experience, about being a civil rights worker, about working with Dr. King — oh, working with Dr. King was another terrible thing I had done according to the Marxists — 

Karen: Some. [Meaning that only some Marxists took that attitude.]

Bruce: Some, OK. I bear this tiny little chip on my shoulder — as you can tell.

Karen: I can tell. [Laughter]

Bruce: I did not speak to anyone about my Southern experiences from 1967 until 1999 when this fellow here, Mike Miller, talked me into coming to what eventually became the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. And I had not spoken about my Southern experiences, or what they meant to me, for what was it? 30-odd years. Yet, it profoundly and totally affected my entire life.

And so I still feel it's completely legitimate for me to sit in a group like this and say, "My name is Bruce, and I'm addicted to Peoples' Freedom Movements." [Laughter]

 

Mike's Family Background

Ruth: Mike, I have a question for you. I wonder, have you shared with us about your background? Your family and so forth? I couldn't remember.

Mike: You know, I'll tell you a story.

Ruth: I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable.

Mike: My parents were politically left, and they were assimilationist Jews. And I grew up not around Jewish people, so I didn't even know what it meant to be Jewish until I went to college. And I only recently discovered — there was a great mystery — I grew up in the housing projects, so we were relatively low income, but in 1945, my father translated the founding meeting of the United Nations. He was an immigrant from Russia, and he spoke a number of languages. And so in 1945, in our little modest housing project apartment, Tung Pi-wu, do you know this name? Tung Pi-wu came to visit. Well, Tung Pi-wu was a member of the Chinese delegation to the founding meeting of the U.N. Later, the President of the People's Republic of China.

And then in 1946, through what I thought were contacts in the Fisherman's Union that my father had, he got a job as an import/export representative for a fish packing company. And so we went to Europe, and in Norway, Poland and Czechoslovakia, which were the countries we ended up being in, he had a slight heart attack in Norway, so we never made it to Moscow, which was our destination. He had the view that trade would contribute to peaceful relations after the war. So in these three countries where we were, he had access to the highest levels of government through Communist members of Parliament. We had a party at our hotel in Prague with like a whole number of people from the Czech government. My dad died in 1950. And I could never get my mother to talk about our family history, and I could never piece these things together. How did growing up in a housing project, kind of modest background — 

Karen: Was she Russian Jewish too? Your mother is also Russian Jewish?

Mike: No, German. German. So I've talked to friends about this off and on over the years, and this is just like three or four months ago, a friend of mine said, "You know, I've got some time on my hands. I'm gonna dig into this history of your father. So tell me, what is his full name?" So I told him, "James Walter Miller." The next morning I get a call. "Mike, Google your father." [Laughter]

Karen: Should've done that a long time ago.

Mike: Of course, of course.

Sue: You never thought to do that?

Mike: Never occurred to me.

Ron: I remember you telling me this story, but this is before four or five months ago. What did you find out when you Googled your dad?

Mike: OK, so my friend phones me up, and he says, "Mike, have you ever heard of the Venona files?"

Karen: The what?

Mike: The Venona files. Do any of you know what the Venona files are? OK, so now I have to tell you about the Venona files. In 1943 — the cryptology unit of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, which is our World War II predecessor to the CIA, the cryptology unit of OSS broke the Soviet code, and so for the years '43 to '45, they were transcribing the exchanges between American agents of various kinds and the Soviet Union. And in the Venona files you will find my father.

Sue: The Venona files are the files of that correspondence?

Mike: Yes.

Sue: About breaking the code?

Ron: How do you spell it?

Mike: V-E-N-O-N-A. That was the code name for what they had done.

Karen: So your father was a spy?

Mike: He was.

Ron: For who though?

Mike: He was sending information to the Russians.

Ruth: Really?!

Ron: He was a Russian spy.

Mike: Well, he was actually — he was working for the Bureau of Censorship, because he was a linguist. And during World War II, any correspondence in or out of the country was opened in the U.S. Postal Service Office of Censorship, because people might be innocently transmitting information that would be useful to the enemy. Like you might write, "Gee, we had this huge convoy arrive in the Port of Seattle or in the Port of San Francisco." Well, you don't want that in a letter that's getting sent abroad, so he with scissors would clip this out of this letter and then reseal the envelope and it would go on. But if he read something that he thought might be useful to the Russians, he had a contact here who was the editor of the People's World newspaper which was the West Coast Communist newspaper.

Karen: Do you think he was a Communist?

Mike: Yeah, oh yeah. Now I do. Yeah, at the time, I didn't. Until four months ago.

Ron: Were the Communists working with the U.S.?

Mike: Yes. So the Russians were our allies during this time, and to American Communists — 

Ruth: Before we knew that Communists were bad.

Mike: For people who were in the Communist Party in those days, I'm sure you heard this from your folks, the Soviet Union represented the future of mankind.

Marion: Freedom.

Mike: So lo and behold, this is what I discovered about my father.

Sue: Interesting. How amazing.

Mike: Four months ago.

Females: Four months ago! Wow!

Sue: How did you feel when you discovered that?

Mike: Well, I tell you it was a great relief, because I couldn't put these things together about my childhood. It just didn't make any sense.

Ron: So no wonder your mother didn't tell you anything.

Mike: Yeah, but she was protecting me.

Karen: Did she know?

Mike: I can't believe that she didn't.

Sue: It would've been bad for you to know too.

Mike: Yes, yes.

Ron: Make you a little paranoid there. That's when the McCarthy Era came along.

Mike: Exactly.

Woman: Yeah, exactly.

Karen: Do you think it impacted unconsciously on your choice of profession?

Mike: Well, as I say, someone else said they were raised — I think you did — you were raised with these values from your mother's milk.

Sue: Well, he was the Red Diaper Baby — [Laughter]

Karen: If you want to know about Jewish geography I can tell you, but there's all sorts of sub-groups about Red Diaper Babies, not Jewish. There are Red Diaper Babies who are — 

Mike: Not Jews.

Karen: — not Jews. There are even Red Diaper Babies who are African-American.

Ron: Yes. Not very many, but some.

Mike: So anyway, but I was disagreeing — I started disagreeing — 

Ron: Seventy-five years old before you find this stuff out.

Mike: Seventy-seven. Seventy-six years old.

Sue: That is really amazing. It's a great story.

Mike: Yeah. And I started differing with my folks around '49, '50, because I differed with them on the Korean War. And then I started developing a Civil Libertarian position on the First Amendment, which was different. The Communists were for civil liberties for some people but not others, and I didn't agree with that. So by the time I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, my politics were more — I don't know what you would call them, but — 

Karen: But the CP [Communist Party of the U.S.] didn't survive after your parents' generation, I mean, in America. It grew, but it was never powerful in our youth.

Mike: No, no, no, that's right. But here in the Bay Area the CP had a presence in three major unions, the Marine Cooks and Stewards, the Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union, and the Fisherman's Union, all of which were booted out of the CIO as "Communist dominated" in 1949, and they were influential in other unions around here as well.

Karen: It was very big here. In New York it was so — well, that's another discussion.

Mike: So anyway, that's — 

Ron: We need to go back to who we are.

Marion: Well, that's quite shocking at this age.

Mike: Yeah, so I was — but it made sense out of Tung Pi-wu. It made sense of what happened in Europe. It made sense out of all these things.

Marion: I see. Yeah, why he was all over the map.

Mike: So, I mean, I think he was a fairly high — not high level, but he was a respected person in Communist circles. And that gave him access in all these European capitals that we were in, Oslo, Warsaw and Prague.

Karen: And he was also, if I could add — I also could add that I knew a man, a friend of my parents, who was a chemist who invented — but he also used his left wing things to get into Europe after the Second World War, and I don't believe he was a spy, but I believe he was using those connections and maybe reconnecting business-wise after the war.

 

Jumping Off the Truck & Reflecting on the Day

Ron: If I could interrupt, we have probably less than a half hour left. This time has really gone fast. But I would like to suggest — and it's only a suggestion — that we take this time, and each person just share their final thoughts around this discussion today.

Mike: And I would appreciate it if people would add in those final thoughts what you think of this question, "Why did you go and a lot of people like you didn't? What is different about the roughly thousand people who went? From those who considered it or who were good, liberal, radical students active in this and that?"

Ruth: Six of us in a half hour, and we're gonna do that, right? [Laughter]

Sue: We'll have to be brief, really, because otherwise everybody won't get a turn too. Three minutes each if there's twenty minutes, yeah. Three minutes each.

Mike: And what's the general question you asked, Ron? What do you want us to address?

Karen: Anything.

Ron: Whatever you want.

Marion: Last thoughts about — 

Ron: Including what Mike just asked.

Mike: So I made a decision in 19 — let's see, it was '62. I was in graduate school at Berkeley, and I was a teaching associate in the social science program, and I was on a Ph.D. track in sociology. And I made a decision that I was going to be a part of the Movement. I was going to drop out of school, and I was going to be in the Movement. But that was in response to Chuck McDew inviting me to become the SNCC rep out here, so the key decision for me was to leave the university and give up pursuit of an academic career, which I could've done, and become the SNCC rep. And then once being the SNCC rep, going to Mississippi just kind of logically followed. So why did I make that decision when other people didn't? I'm not sure about it. I don't know how to answer that, really.

Ron: It's your question.

Mike: Yeah, I know. I don't know why.

Ruth: Maybe if we answer his question, he'll have an answer to his. [Laughter]

Mike: You know, I know a lot of people who were deeply committed who were in the Northern Student Movement with me who were activists at Berkeley but who pursued much more traditional — they became doctors, lawyers, public health workers, teachers, blah-blah-blah. I have a dear friend, Herb Mills, who dropped out and became a longshoreman and a leader in the Longshore Union.

Ruth: So what do you think happened to you here today?

Mike: Oh, here today. I mean, I love — I've been in — this is not the first time I've been in a circle like this. But every time I am, I'm deeply moved by everybody, and I love these stories, and I treasure being among people like you. I mean, I really do. I don't know what else to say right now.

Ron: Good.

Marion: That's good.

Sue: OK, gee. I don't know why I went and others like me didn't, but I think it had to do with a longing for connection with people, other kinds of people. And as a matter of fact, I was in South Africa the summer before, in the summer of 1963, in between my junior and senior years in college. I went to South Africa to be a volunteer, working on the Rand Daily Mail, which a friend of mine had set up, which was an anti-apartheid newspaper.

And I got to know some people in South Africa, and I was staying with a white couple. And I was so shocked by the apartheid there, and this man in the couple I was staying with kept saying things to me about, "Yeah, it's really bad." I mean, he was risking his life to fight against apartheid, but he was saying, "It's really bad, but you know, your country has the same thing. It's just not quite so legalized." And he knew all about American jazz. He knew so much about civil rights in the U.S., and he kept talking to me about how my country was so bad. And I think I really credit him a lot with me wanting to then go and work in the Civil Rights Movement at home.

And also my parents — my father was very committed to social justice, and I was pretty inculcated with values about trying to work for justice. And I mean, there's probably some part of me that did it, not to please my parents but to — it just seemed like that was the thing to do. I owed it to — part of it was the sense of the good fortune I'd had and the good education and everything, that I shouldn't just squander my own privilege. I should go try to make use of it.

So I think it was a combination of those things that made me go, and a very deep feeling — some hunger for the kind of connection that I thought I was going to find there. And then about today, I also just feel so moved by it, and I see us from a distance, sort of I look down at this building full of people — 68 to 78, whatever. We're all of an age together and how interesting that we're here, looking back at something that happened so long ago. And it wasn't really so long ago, and how we still care about these things so that we've carried it forward in our lives, these concerns, in different ways, and they've played out in so many different ways.

And we've influenced other people too; it's not just — a lot of people who didn't go have been touched by the Civil Rights Movement because of our lives and what we've said about it, and how we've talked to — I talked to my niece the other day about it. You know, it just goes out in waves, so I love this chance for the life review together, a generation's look together, it's really touching. Thank you all so much for what you've shared.

Ruth: I've waited 50 years to do this. Thank you. If you've not spoken with young people, and you have the opportunity, please do it, because what I've experienced with them is that is a hunger to hear truth, like we have. And on an incredibly hot day, 90-degree weather, last day of school, Eugene, Oregon, 80-minute class, but you don't have to fill it all. Well, maybe I'll talk for 40 minutes. But how am I going to keep these kids entertained or whatever about Freedom Summer, when they don't even have to be here today? Their grades are already turned in.

Eighty minutes were up, and they still had questions. When I finished, some of them came up, and they hugged me. Others had other questions. They clapped. They stood and clapped. Kids need us. They need those stories of truth. And I just was thinking that these are pictures I brought from Holly Springs that some people have seen, and some have never seen. And I also brought pictures today of my grandson and my daughter, because I thought maybe I'd see some people I know. And why do we do what we do? We did it those years ago for change. And we can do it now for young people now. And I'm telling you, the kids are so — you all know this. They're so impacted by media, but when a flesh and blood person is standing there and looking them in the eye — 

Karen: It's very different.

Ruth: — and saying that the woman in the little house — who described it? I think you described it, with plain boards and the one light bulb in the middle, and she had this dinner for us, and more of us had to come, because there was too much food, and I knew that they were of such modest means. It was two sisters. And I say to the kids, "You know, for that kindness that that woman showed us, that generosity, they could've had that little house burned down. If they had jobs, they could've lost them. And they could've been killed for what they did for us."

For me, in my life, that and for some things in Nicaragua, in India and South Africa, were very similar. That's the definition of generosity. And so thanks for the opportunity to think it through. And I'm very involved with a Native American tribe today, not far from here, Shasta. They'll lose all their sacred sites on the River McCloud if Shasta Dam is raised higher, which is in the legislature right now as a proposal. But again, as I said about other things, I wouldn't have been with them, I don't think, if it hadn't have been for Freedom Summer. I'll just pass those kids' pictures around.

Mike: Where do you live now?

Ruth: I'm up in Eugene, Oregon. Which is a progressive city, but its reputation is not deserved. In one sense, it's not that many.

Mike: Do you know the name Carolyn Egan? She was in Greenwood, a former wife of mine. But she lives in Shasta, so you might want to get in touch with her. She's Carolyn Miller.

Ruth: She's Carolyn Miller? Egan?

Mike: She was Carolyn Egan.

Ruth: Now she's Carolyn Miller?

Mike: Yeah.

Ruth: She was with SNCC?

Mike: Yeah.

Marion: You know, just to PS what you're saying. I would love to have been in your class, because what I want to do is learn how other people do it, and how I can do it myself, just some training, I mean just learning from each other. I wish that that could be something in the future that we could all share.

Ron: It can be.

Marion: Yeah, I'd like to see that happen with our group, I mean this group.

Ron: The Civil Rights group actually takes requests from middle schools and high schools, history teachers primarily, who want people to come in and just talk to their class. So if you're willing to do that — 

Marion: No, no, no. What I'm saying is I don't mind, but I want some — 

Ruth: Right. Some training.

Marion: — training first. See, once I get going, I'm on my own. I mean, there's no way stopping me, but I just want to get a feel of it first.

Sue: They want to hear the stories.

Marion: Certain ages are very different.

Sue: They want to hear the stories.

Marion: Yeah, yeah.

Ron: Talk to Bruce.

Marion: Bruce, OK.

Sue: They find me through the Civil Rights Vets website, some of them.

Marion: Yeah, I think I had an email a few times, so I did that. Thank you.

Karen: What are your feelings about today?

Marion: You want me to talk? A few themes come up for me, OK? I'm not sure how I'm going to say this without — Some words that I'm going to throw out that may be misunderstood, but I'll say it anyway. The few words coming out would be, for me, karma, the human condition, and sensitivity. I feel like since I was growing up, nothing I do in my personality fits what I knew I was going to do, that I was going to go become a Freedom Fighter.

Nothing prepared me, at least in my head, because I don't fit that description of a rabble-rouser or somebody who causes trouble or who is a liberal. Nothing like that would ever fit in my life until I went down there, and I came back. So I feel like there is something in me that propelled me to do this, and for me it's part of my karma. The second thing about the human condition is that I was open to human suffering, because I grew up poor, and I can quickly identify with the human condition so that when the Civil Rights Movement came about it was a natural connection for me.

Just as much as I've heard so much Jewish history that came up today, I feel very privileged to hear that, because I can connect with that, coming from a minority, low-income background. It fits for me, so I can slip right in and understand what you're going through. So it's the human condition that makes me identify with that. And then the sensitivity is more something that I think I connect with each of you, because we all have that. You can't turn away from being sensitive to human suffering.

And so all this connects for me into where I am, and it doesn't stop. It doesn't stop just because we left the so-called Movement. The Movement continues every minute. No matter what role you play, I feel like that's what I am. I'm a Freedom Fighter every single minute of my life. And I felt the same way with all of you. It's a connection we have. It's a human condition that we have that's connecting, and it's the spirit of it, that I feel that we have, that we're open to it.

Whereas, my brother or my sister may not. I mean, we're not all cut from the same cloth necessarily, just because we have the same last name. We all go in different directions, and it's up to our sensitivity as to where we want our path to go. There are so many paths, and we chose the path that we — some of us chose the path, and it was the same path, that I see us connecting. And I don't know why others? It's just my only — I like your question, but that's the only answer I could give about it. I don't know. I don't have a definitive answer to that.

Karen: I think that's a very important question, but I don't have an answer for you. And I think, for me, I just found college so boring. I mean, that's a very concrete example. This is a true story. I was a freshman in college, and I was in pre-med, and I was the only girl in all of my classes, and I really found that really difficult, and so I wasn't doing very well. And the Civil Rights Movement was happening, and so I called my mother, and I said, "I really want to get out of here. I want to drop out of college." And my mother said, "I survived the concentration camp. You'll survive college." Hung up the phone, and it was never raised again. And it was never discussed again. I finished four years of college, thank you very much. And that's sort of how I was raised. It was very tough, I'll tell you, because nothing compares to a concentration camp.

Sue: Really! You can say that to just about anything.

Mike: It's a great trump card!

Karen: So I know I raised that a couple of times in here, and I'm somewhat embarrassed. Anyway, my identity is not just being Jewish or concentration camp, but it's a big part of who I am.

Ron: Oh yeah. You know, you're misinterpreting me. [Laughter]

Ron: You are.

Ruth: I think she is too. [Laughter]

Karen: I thought you were teasing me, but no. But it's OK.

Ron: Well, you have a gift for understatement, if that's what you mean.

Karen: So I just didn't want to be in college. I wanted to be in the world. And in the world, I didn't understand the value of money. I didn't have money as a child, and we were a different generation. It was a different time, and we didn't relate to — you know, wearing gold chains was not our identity. And I didn't know what else to do, and I really — I was very moved by those movies of the kids being — or the people, I mean the horror of those movies in the early '60s.

There were the Holocaust movies, and then you'd go to these movies [of brutality in the South], and it was really not that different. And so it called the question, "Are you going to stand up and fight? Or are you going to be a sheep to slaughter?" And I didn't identify as Black, obviously, but I didn't think it was a different struggle, because that I think as my background. So I think that's what I would say about that. And my brother was very active, but not in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement. So it sort of was in the family. He's older than I am.

So in terms of being here, I found these stories wonderful, and I agree with you, they're always inspirational. Just to hear, it's affirming about how interesting people are and how we all — you know, you make very important decisions for no reason. You know, you just — again, the Holocaust, but it's the last one I'll do. You know, I met this woman who said she was on the truck, and they were taking all the kids out of — all the Jews out of Belgium to the camps, and she jumped off the truck. She has no idea why she jumped off the truck, but she was 16 years old, knew nobody, had no idea what she was going to do, but she jumped off the truck. And that has been the image for me in my life. You know, you just take a chance. You jump off the truck.

Mike: This is your mother?

Karen: No. This was another woman who survived the war. All of her family was killed. Because I also go and ask people for survival stories, because like here, I mean, everybody comes from such a different thing. And I assume many of you have children, and your children don't turn out like you think they might if they were your children. [Laughter]

Ruth: Now, we can talk about that a whole other day!

Karen: And you wonder, "How come my kid isn't more political?" Or "How come my kid...?" I mean, my children are perfect.

Ron: Yeah, got that.

Sue: It's the grandchildren who are really perfect. [Laughter]

Karen: But I just wanted to thank you, and I do enjoy your humor, but I am slightly defensive on ...

Ron: I'm sorry.

Karen: No, that's OK. I enjoy it anyway. And so I thank you all. I think I learned just so much about this country, which is a very interesting country. It's so diverse, and we don't get to enjoy the — and that's a word that's used too much anyway, but human beings are so diverse, so profoundly interesting. We make choices, and you look at somebody, and you don't know anything. I mean, that's age. I think at our age we know that — anyway, my time is up.

Ron: Yes, it is. You know, that's a wonderful title for a book too, She Jumped off the Truck.

Karen: Yeah!

Sue: Yeah!

Ron: It could be an opening line for you.

Karen: Yeah, right.

Ron: Tell the story.

Marion: OK, you're the next writer.

Ron: I never thought of myself as a Freedom Fighter until now. To assume that title. I had my own unique story. Mike knows it, and I'm not going to belabor it, but I can say that from 1969 until 2011, I never talked about Mississippi or that whole experience.

Sue: Really?

Ron: Yeah. And my wife is very conscious of that, so when I ran into Mike again in 2011 — in fact, they had this event, the MoAD 2013? Yeah, it's '13. And the Civil Rights Veterans asked me to speak about my experiences, and a lot of people were talking about it. We [each] got up and talked for 10 minutes.

Sue: Where was that event?

Ron: At the Museum of African Diaspora.

Marion: San Francisco — 

Sue: I was at that event, I think, yeah.

Ron: OK. And that's probably the first time I had publicly spoken about that in all that time. And what I found tremendously interesting was I always knew that it had shaped the course of my life, but I had not been around other people. And so to be around a room full of people from all kinds of walks of life, who were saying the same thing, that that moment transformed the course of their lives. I said, "Oh, I'm not alone." And perhaps that's what this is all about, is not being alone. Why me? I didn't fit anywhere. I played football. I wanted to hang out with the tough guys, but I wasn't a tough guy. I played the violin. [Laughter]

They wanted to hang out when I changed to the bass when I got into high school. I didn't want to hang out with the musicians. I didn't want to hang out with the smart kids. I didn't fit in anywhere. So I was in college, and I was in an all-white college, and I didn't fit there. I went to an all-Black college, and they were so conservative, they said — there were two of us who went to Mississippi and they said, "If you go to Mississippi, you're not going to be welcome back here." It was in Knoxville, Tennessee. Well, I'm sure the people who were their endowers in the local white power structure would not raise young Black kids to go in to challenge the social order.

But it didn't mean anything to me. I wasn't doing — it didn't — so I found my place. I found that in that place, I could see in the eyes of the local people, the people in that community, a reflection of myself that meant I had significance. They valued me in the way that I didn't see reflected in any place else in this country. You have your own family, but that's different. No, not for a young Black man.

And I'm a kind of — I don't know where I get this from; it probably comes out of my family — a pretty stand up guy. You know, I will defend the weak and all that crap. I probably watched way too many John Wayne movies. I bought that. And they didn't try to draft me. Once I was in SNCC, they never drafted me. I went crazy for a little while, because I thought they were going to draft me. That made no sense at all. But — 

Ruth: SNCC taught you well.

Karen: Why do you think you didn't talk to anyone about it?

Ron: That's a whole longer story.

Karen: Because that was true for me too. I just can't — 

Sue: And it was true for Bruce.

Mike: If you want to hear this — can I send them the letter I wrote?

Ruth: Well, he needs to finish.

Ron: The letter you wrote?

Mike: For you? The one that — it went out to a lot of people — 

Ron: Yeah, I know. It's no secret. It's all over the place.

Mike: If you want to know Ron's story, give me your email.

Marion: OK. Go on, just say it.

Mike: He's right. It's too long a story.

Sue: Ron's telling his story.

Mike: It's too long.

Karen: Really?

Ron: Yeah, you can give Mike your email, and it's easy. So anyway, so it's not that strange. I mean, he didn't talk about it for one reason.

Karen: I didn't really talk about it.

Ruth: I didn't either.

Ron: You have to be with people. My kids would get tired, if I tried to talk to them.

Karen: Oh, kids, yuck.

Ruth: I didn't immediately, but not for like 25 years.

Ron: You had a very difficult experience, to say the least. You know, you don't revisit that stuff easily.

Marion: You know, I want to say in response to all this is my friend, one of my long-term friends, knows about my history, and I said, "I couldn't believe — you know, my whole life, I'd never had any recognition or don't want any." I mean, I just want to — I'm just who I am. But I didn't feel that I was significant nor do I need to be significant. I was just surviving.

But she knew — and I said, "I didn't have any mentors. I didn't have anybody to guide me." But she knew — one of the things I did was the Civil Rights Movement. And she said, "All this stuff you've done that I've known you," she said to me, "was amazing." And I said, "Yeah, I don't know how I did it." And she said, "You did it. I mean, you were a real leader." But I said, "But I was very quiet." "Everybody knew all about you. And as soon as you walk into a room, people listen to you." I don't say anything much. "Because the few words you said were all that they needed to hear." And I said, "I had no idea. I don't know how I got to this point." So I guess what I'm saying, responding to what you're all saying is, we all did make a difference. But we just were alone in being our own leader. We didn't know it. But maybe that's what makes a great leader is that we don't know it.

Ron: Back to what Bruce said, if he could take somebody down to register to vote, he could do this. And nothing has been as challenging in my life since then.

Mike: Since what?

Ron: Since then. I mean, 19 years old, and you drop me on a highway out there, and say, "Survive." You know? That's really — you know, you can do stuff.

Karen: It's true. I agree with that, very much so. I was just going to say, that just being able to go and meet people who were so different from you and for there to be a real connection. And nobody's telling you how. You really come from inside.

Ruth: Well, this just one little thing, not necessarily at the beginning of talking to kids, but somewhere in there, I say, "You know, some days I made peanut butter sandwiches. We ate a lot of peanut butter that summer, because we didn't have much money. And some days, I swept the porch of the Freedom House, or I ran the mimeo machine." I said, "It's not all danger, and it's not all big stuff. But all of us that went there did something together, and in the end, we held hands around the circle, and we knew that..." And I said that earlier, that "The sum of all of us did something quite amazing. And the peanut butter sandwiches needed to be made. Somebody had to do it."

Ron: The singing of Freedom Songs, I didn't understand how singing together could pump up your — could push fear away. Because what we were doing was really quite unreasonable.

Marion: Well, that Baptist church taught me how to sing really with a lot of gusto. [Laughter]

Ron: Love those songs.

Ruth: The Presbyterians don't do it that way in my town! But down there they do, actually.

Sue: I just wanted to say also that I think this day today was very well conceived, and the idea of these small groups and the way we're talking together, I think it was really great. I'm grateful for today, and I didn't know any of you before today. And maybe you knew each other, but just around this table, we're pretty much strangers to each other, and yet we're not strangers to each other. I feel this tremendous amount of closeness to every one of you, already from just having this talk. And I think it's been a great opportunity.

Ron: It occurs to me that eventually we will be able to read the conversations of these other seven groups, because I don't know if they're going to be the same.

Karen: I think they're different. I spoke to one group that they were talking about the Vietnam War. They got a little off the subject. We were well disciplined.

Ron: I loved doing that.

Marion: Thank you, Ron.

Karen: We had a good disciplinarian.

Sue: Yeah, thanks a lot, Ron. You did a great job.

Ron: It's my pleasure.

Karen: Thank you, Ron, for keeping us going.

Ruth: You did a very good job, thank you.

Karen: Thank you, everybody. It was really very nice to meet all of you.

Sue: We could hold hands and just say our farewell, and — 

Marion: And "We shall overcome."

Ron: And let's hope that a year from now we'll be able to hold hands again.

Karen: Oooh. Are we meeting again?

Ron: Well, at least we're in the world.

Sue: Blessings to all of us.

Ron: Yes. And you're a Zen?

Sue: Yeah, I'm a Zen person.

Ron: What is your official title? You're a teacher.

Sue: Well, yeah, but it's not — I don't have a title.

Marion: What is that?

Sue: Well, I've been studying Zen Buddhism for years, and I do some teaching in Zen.

Marion: Oh. I'm also a Buddhist.

Sue: Yeah, I was wondering if you were a Buddhist because you were talking about karma.

Marion: I didn't want to bring Buddhism up.

Ron: All we knew was that you weren't a Presbyterian anymore.

Sue: I used to be a Quaker.

Karen: Did you become a Buddhist in your search for your culture? Is that part of your...?

Marion: No, it was just — it just felt right. It wasn't until the last 10, 12 years that I — it was very late.

Mike: Are you still in San Francisco?

Marion: Yes and no. I actually right now live in Alameda, so it's the Bay Area. And I also live part time in Taos, New Mexico. So yeah, yeah.

Ruth: That's a hard life.

Marion: It's very Zen there too.

Sue: Yeah.

Marion: I mean, so problems won't — now, I'm actually with the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery.

Sue: Yes, I know it. Yeah.

Marion: Yeah. And I play in their orchestra. There's a traditional — 

Sue: What do you play?

Marion: Traditional Chinese music and Buddhist music.

Ron: What do you play?

Marion: The flute.

Ron: You know, I can't take credit for this. Bruce — when I got — I just joined the group. And there's probably about 10 of us, I guess, but they were already well into planning this, and they were very clear about the need to have the opportunity for people to share their stories.

Sue: It's a great idea.

Ruth: It's wonderful.

Ron: So it becomes hard for us to stand up, huh?

Marion: We really don't want to leave, do we? [Laughter]

Marion: What does that say?

Ron: It's so interesting.

Marion: Yeah! Yeah, it's really wanting to connect. I think it's like a chain that we don't want — 

Karen: It feels — like you said, you haven't talked about it. I haven't talked about it. I did teach it a little bit, but when people say, "Well, you were in SNCC," I sort of go, [mumbling] "Yeah." And now I'm wondering — I think partially because I'm ambivalent about the consequence, the violence that went on when I left has left me really — we started using the word shame, but we didn't go in that direction.

Ron: No. You mean the violence on your project?

Karen: Yeah.

Mike: Did you get on the SNCC staff after Tennessee?

Karen: No, I was in Tennessee on SNCC.

Mike: Oh, you were on the SNCC staff.

Karen: No, it was a SNCC project. I don't know. I wasn't on the SNCC staff.

Ron: You were only 17, right?

Karen: Hm-hmm. Yeah.

Ron: Yeah, yeah.

Karen: And so I think part of it is that issue where people romanticize something that should be respected, I think, but it's not romantic. Somebody else said, "It's not romantic." You do make peanut butter sandwiches, and it's not romantic.

And also, I think part of the problem was the project I was on we didn't have follow-through because of the racial stuff that started, and people just didn't know how to deal with — the white kids were very offended at being rejected and wanted to be supportive, and yet they didn't know how to do it, because none of us knew what we were doing. The Black kids didn't — I mean, we were all kids, and nobody knew what we were doing. We were going — you know, you could say it was a reaction to what they saw, they being Black kids as much as white kids. We had different react — I don't know. We didn't go into that, so I think it's an interesting question how lonely it is to be a Civil Rights worker. And even though I'm proud of what I did, and it sounds like everyone is, but — 

Mike: Well, I think in the earlier part of SNCC, there was a deep sense of community among us, that I've never known since.

Sue: It really was a lot of community.

Mike: Yeah. And I mean, it was really striking. Now, I knew that in the Berkeley Student Movement in '57-'58, '60-'62 period also, but in SNCC, it was that same feeling, plus every single one of us was a full-time worker in the Movement. And so you had this deep — 

Ron: Ten dollars a week. [Laughter]

Mike: And then when that all started unraveling, it was deeply painful, deeply painful. And then in my organizing life, I mean, by definition, I'm a stranger. I'm like a sociological outsider.

Ruth: We also didn't talk about some of the sexual issues.

Mike: Oh yeah.

Ruth: We didn't talk about that.

Karen: We didn't solve any of the problems.

Ruth: And we didn't talk about some of the young folks that died, like in Holly Springs, the fellows that died. The one fellow that died.

Mike: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Who talks about that?

Ron: I wish I could.

Mike: Chude. Chude talks about that.

Ruth: Well, because we were both on that project.

Mike: Yeah.

[Sounds of other groups breaking up, and singing in the assembly hall.]

Ruth: And those guys had just driven me up to Memphis, and I never knew it until about three months later that on their drive home, Wayne was killed, and Charlie would've died had Kathy Dahl, who was a nurse, and she had been trained with me, saved him.

Ron: What was it from? An accident?

Ruth: It was a car accident. They always wondered, but you know, the guy that hit him was an African-American guy, and he said they came out of nowhere, so I don't know.

[END OF TRANSCRIPT]


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