LETTER HOME: Saturday, July 11, 1964
Dear Mom and Dad,
Forgive me for not writing this week. We have been really busy here and I have had little time to prepare my lessons much less write letters. In fact, I have been so busy that I had to take an hour out this morning to reread all the letters I have received this week because I had had only time to scan them when I got them. It was really nice to take an hour out this morning and think about other people who love me and care about me. I doubt if I will be this busy again but one can never tell around here.
School is going just fine. The kids are draining me of all I know. They want to learn so badly. We have no problem with attention drifting. Our problem is dismissing a group so it can go to another class. I feel so humble because the girls I work with are so wonderful. They are so eager to learn that I don't feel that I can ever begin to give them all that they are ready for.
School starts at nine every morning Monday through Friday. We meet on the porch of our freedom school. We have been very lucky in terms of facilities here in Holly Springs. We have two houses right next to each other and right across the street from Rust college. The Freedom House is made up of our office, a kitchen, and bedrooms for the boys. The freedom school has five classrooms and three bedrooms for boys. The girls, as you know, all are living in the girls' dormitory on Rust campus. There are about 35 people involved in our project. The majority are involved with the freedom school and community center, which in our case, is in the same building.
We have begun to branch out into counties and have already started one school in a rural church. On the first day we sent out 5 teachers and 61 people showed up. We are about to start another school in another county. So all I can say is that the response around here has been fantastic. The age of the people who attend school ranges from 4 to 60. It's fantastic.
I will not be going out to the counties to teach most probably. One reason is that someone has to stay here and teach. I have gotten along so well with my students that we decided I should start another class here while some of the others go out and teach in the counties in the afternoons.
Our schedule goes something like this:
School begins 9 A.M.
Singing until 9:15
Talk given by one of the voter registration people concerning events of the day before in Mississippi.
9:30 - 10:30 classes on the core curriculum, which is Negro history and the Movement.
10:30 - 11:30 classes in special interests — dancing, arts and crafts, science, sports, etc.
School closes at noon and opens again at 2 P.M. with a French class, an arts and crafts class, a music class.
At 3 P.M. there are a play writing, debate and journalism classes for the teenagers.
At 4 P.M. there is a seminar in nonviolence, which I am teaching.
There will be a few more classes in things like politics and economics which have not been scheduled yet because we just got more teachers three days ago and they haven't quite decided who's going to do what.
In the evenings the school is open for adult literacy. One night a week has been set aside to help people learn the voter registration form and the five parts of the Mississippi Constitution which the registrar can ask to be interpreted. We are also going to start a sewing class. We have one nurse who has already started a class for girls who would like to become nurses at 8 A.M. each weekday morning.
There are always kids around the freedom school playing ping-pong, listening to records or talking. Right now I am sitting in one of the classrooms writing this letter. There are about five boys on the porch playing ping-pong. Another boy has brought over a number of his favorite records, so show tunes are drifting in from another room. The majority of the staff has gone out to a picnic in one of the counties. I decided not to go because I knew that I would not have for certain a block of time that I could sit down and write letters if I did not take advantage of this quiet Saturday afternoon. Sundays are anything but quiet around here since we all split up and go to churches, some of which don't get out until three or four in the afternoon.
As I think I told you in my last letter, we have had a number of the boys who were to go to McComb, which is a town in Pike County in the southwest. Sunday three left us to go to Batesville, the other project in our area. They will work there until Bob Moses calls them. Thursday two boys left us to go to McComb. One was a Negro, the other white. Again, I faced the difficulty of saying goodbye to people I cared about who were going into a more dangerous area. Only two days before we had heard that the freedom house in McComb had been bombed. There had been 10 in the house and although none had been killed, two had been hurt. And so we said goodbye to Ralph and Lee, sorry that they were going because they had contributed so much to our project and concerned because we did not want to see them hurt.
Yesterday, Ralph, who had been assigned as coordinator of a freedom school in McComb, if a school could ever be organized, called Barbara Walker to say that he had already found a building with blackboards even, and wanted her to come join him and teach there. Barbara, as you know, is our coordinator. So she was faced with the problem yesterday of deciding where she would be most valuable. We talked for a long while yesterday afternoon and then this morning about her going. She had decided not to go but it was hard because Ralph would not have called if he didn't need her there. She did decide that she was needed here.
I believe that she has made the right decision but it was hard for me to advise because I am so close to her but also because I had become close to Ralph and I was concerned about him too. I tried to keep my personal feelings out of it though, and to look at the situation objectively. Barbara has done a good job here. Because Staughton Lynd knows her, he has given her a number of "problem people" to work with. We have a couple people here who shouldn't really be here but who wanted to come to Mississippi so badly that Staughton decided to give them a chance. Because Holly Springs is relatively safe and because he knows Barbara he has sent these here. Barb has done a good job helping them to become part of the group. If she left, I'm afraid these two or three would be sent home by our project director because no one else here has the quiet patience and understanding Barb does.
Personally I am glad that Barb has decided to stay because I like the role I have assigned myself. I have set as my goals for the summer to be the best teacher possible and the best follower possible. Never having been a follower, this of course has been hard! But I learned at Spelman that there are times one should stay quiet and watch and wait until one really knows what he is talking about. Our group has too many Northern whites in it, all of whom think they have every answer to every problem. Barbara has the patience to work with us.
I kid with Barbara that I see my role as her "personal confidant" because, in all seriousness, there are times she needs to be with someone and talk "soul" and not organization. But this doesn't always work because I am always seeing problems that she has not yet become aware of, just because I am not involved in organization and have time just to watch. But I have learned to give Barbara my ideas and advice and then be quiet and not try to push her into my way of thinking. And that is one way in which I think I have grown here.
I am starting to ramble because there is so much in my head and heart that I want to say but cannot. It has been a big week filled with so much enthusiasm and love that I feel overwhelmed. The girls I work with, who range from 15 - 25 years of age, have accepted me completely. They have told me this in the way they have responded in class, and some have told me this directly in their essays they have written me or in actual conversations. After all the hostility and suspicion at Spelman this abundance of love and gratitude and acceptance makes me feel so humble and so happy.
I wish you could meet and see the way some of [the] girls' faces shine when we talk. And I wish you could see how hard they work and how much they want to learn and to become part of the Movement. I wish you could have seen the smiles on their faces when I told them the history of how the Negro slaves in Haiti revolted and succeeded in establishing the Republic of Haiti, even though France and England tried to invade and recapture the island. I wish you could see these smiles, and you could hear the excitement in their voices because they have now met white people who not only see them as equals but care enough to risk their lives to share their knowledge with them.
If only you could meet Rita Walker, who is 25, married with [four children], who cannot write well grammatically but who has begun to write me extra essays because she now has so much to think about and to be proud of and so much to do to help get the rest of the people in Holly Springs registered to vote also. Rita had never tried to register before we came. She was one of the first to go to the courthouse. She attends school faithfully every day and has begun to help on voter registration [in the afternoon].
There is no doubt in my mind that this is worth dying for. I wish you could see because then you would know that all your suffering from worry and fear was making possible real love between some whites and blacks in Mississippi and in the world. And you would know, then, that it was worth it because this love is growing every day and will continue to expand and expand until it defeats all hate all over the world. An 18 year old girl yesterday told another teacher that when they buried Medgar Evers it was like planting a seed which has grown into a tree of love and commitment that has expanded way past the few who knew him and worked with him.
Please do not worry too much about me. The chances of my being hurt are slim. If I am, just remember I could be hurt in an automobile accident in Solebury, Pennsylvania. I love you and cannot even begin to tell you how happy I am that you have begun to actively support SNCC. The whole summer is worth that to me alone.
Sunday. One more note about the Episcopal church here. The minister told the minister working with our project that if any of us desired to come we would be welcome. He said this on his own as the church was not integrated. Last Sunday four boys — two white and two Negro, three of whom were confirmed Episcopalians, went to the Episcopal church. On the steps their way was blocked by some of the men of the church. They asked to see the minister saying that they had been invited. One man left, came back a little later and with a statement which ran something like this: "Remember this is our church." led them to the front pew. The service proved to be a communion service, so when it got time to take communion, the congregation waited until the three (2 Negroes and one white) had taken communion by themselves and then they came forward. We felt that it was a good beginning. A few people did walk out but not many.
Today another girl and I went to the Episcopal church alone. The three boys who went last Sunday and were planning to go with us had to leave at the last minute and go to Greenwood. As we were both white, we decided that it was safe to go alone. The minister preached a beautiful sermon about how ashamed he was that he had not had faith in his congregation and did not believe that he would have still been preaching this Sunday. The sermon was very subtle. He talked about the community of the church under Christ. He never mentioned integration or anything like that. Both Bettina (the other girl) and I feel that it is essential that we keep going and that we be integrated when we go because the church needs us.
P.S. Your questions:
Do send newspaper articles and magazine articles. They are invaluable for teaching and for demonstrating to the students the concern in the North. For my personal curiosity, send the articles from the Gazette.
About the Holly Springs incident — it wasn't anything to merit the publicity it got.
About money: I received $6 from Mrs. Brochett's prayer group. $10 from Mrs. Darnell. I do not need any money yet. Please send me an account of where I stand financially.
People keep asking what they can send.
1. Cars — or money for cars.
2. Sports equipment.
4. Money to SNCC or COFO.
About adopting workers — go right ahead. As you probably know, they only receive $9 and some cents every two weeks now. Helping to finance some workers to stay in Mississippi after we leave is a wonderful idea.
Dad — please have your secretary make copies of the FREEDOM PRESS and send these out with my letter to all our friends.
I do not want to fool you about the danger even here in the Holly Springs area. Two of our voter registration people have been arrested — with one they pressed charges, with the other they did not. The only problem about Cliff's trial was that the lawyers had him plead guilty to a traffic violation he did not commit. Cliff is very upset about this, as is the whole project because it seems important to us to stand up for justice even if you don't have a chance, rather than to give in to a corrupt system just to get a smaller fine.
Today a group almost got arrested at the picnic. It was because all twelve said that they would go to jail if the one arrested did that they all got back home safe and sound. They were told to leave by the sheriff for breach of the peace.
TEACHING IN A FREEDOM SCHOOL. Mid-July, 1964
Note to my parents: This is a rough draft of a letter to Staughton Lynd, which I am also using for the papers. Would you send a copy to Mr. Shaw (New Hope Gazette) and to the Doylestown Intelligencer. I sent one to the Philadelphia Inquirer. This has been cleared for publication by Carl (Se-Keung 'Imiola) Young. I'm sorry you are stuck with my typing but that's life!
I would like to give you some idea of what I have been doing as an example of what one freedom school teacher is experiencing. I start out teaching what we call the core curriculum, which is Negro history and the history and philosophy of the Movement to girls ranging from 15 to 25 years of age. I have approximately fifteen girls in this group. We debated for a long while splitting this group up but decided to keep it together because it had become very much a unified group and the girls did not really want to split up. Another teacher, who came down later, has become my partner to help teach this class since it is so large and so anxious for as much as we can give them. Alvin Pam is a professional teacher and has given me many ideas for teaching the class as well as a lot of praise and criticism for what I am doing. I am still in charge of the class but he has helped me with ideas and has give one lecture to the class.
My core class meets at 10:30 every day for an hour. The majority of the girls are juniors and seniors in high school. I have one student who is 25, married with four children, with a very poor educational background.... The majority goes to a Roman Catholic school in Holly Springs and have, therefore, a fairly decent education by Mississippi standards. They can, for the most part, express themselves on paper but their skills in no way compare to juniors and seniors in northern, suburban schools.
The atmosphere in the class is unbelievable. It is what every teacher dreams about — real, honest enthusiasm and desire to learn anything and everything. The girls come to class of their own free will. They respond to everything that is said. They are excited about learning. They drain me of everything that I have to offer so that I go home at night completely exhausted but very happy in spirit because I know that I have given to people.
Let me describe one of my first classes and one of my favorite classes. I gave a talk on Haiti and the slave revolt, which took place there at the end of the eighteenth century. I told them how the slaves revolted and took over the island. I told them how the French government (during the French Revolution) abolished slavery all over the French Empire. And then I told them that the English decided to invade the island and take it over for a colony of their own. I watched faces fall all around me. They knew what was coming. They knew the story of their people well. They knew that a small island, run by former slaves, could not defeat England. They knew that the Negroes always lost to the Europeans. And then I told them that the people of Haiti succeeded in keeping the English out. I watched a smile spread slowly over a girl's face. And I felt girls sit up and look at me intently.
Then I told them that Napoleon came to power, reinstated slavery, and sent an expedition to reconquer Haiti. They looked at me and their faces began to fall. But they waited this time. They waited for me to tell them that France defeated the former slaves, hoping against hope that I would say that they didn't. But when I told them that the French generals tricked the Haitian leader Toussaint to come aboard their ship, captured him and sent him back to France to die, they knew that there was no hope. They waited for me to spell out the defeat. Former slaves, Negroes, could not defeat France who had the aid of England, Holland, and Spain, especially without a leader. And when I told them that Haiti did succeed in keeping out the European powers and was recognized finally as an independent republic, they just looked at me and smiled. The room stirred with a gladness and a pride that this could have happened. And I felt so happy and so humble that I could have told them this little story and it could have meant so much.
We have gone on to talk about why a revolt such as that in Haiti could not have happened in the U.S. We have talked about the Movement and about what it means for Negroes to be finally standing up and saying "no". We have talked about what they can do here in Holly Springs. I have told them quite frankly that we are hoping to train them as leaders to carry on after we leave.
We have talked about what it means to be a southern white who wants to stand up but who is alone, rejected by other whites and not fully accepted by the Negroes. We have talked about their feelings about southern whites. One day three little white girls came to our school so we no longer needed to talk on a theoretical plane but could actually talk about an actual situation. I asked them to understand how the three girls felt being the only white girls in a school by remembering how it feels when they are around a lot of whites. We agreed that we would not stare at the girls but try to make them feel as normal as possible.
Yesterday Al gave a lecture on the rise of racist philosophy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This took the whole concept of race out of the Negro-white context as it dealt with anti-Semitism and racism within the same races. Today I asked for questions and one of the girls related the lecture yesterday with its generalizations about the character of racists to the southern white.
Every class is beautiful. The girls respond, respond, respond. And they disagree among themselves. I have no doubt that soon they will be disagreeing with me. At least this is one thing that I am working towards. They are a sharp group. But they are undereducated and starved for knowledge. They know that they have been cheated and they want anything and everything that we can give them. I feel inadequate to the task of teaching them but I keep saying to myself that as long as I continue to feel humble there is a chance that we might all learn a whole lot together. I am very thankful for Al and his advice and for another teacher who is teaching these girls English.
Along with my core class I teach a religion class at one every afternoon and a class on nonviolence at 4:15. All my classes are approximately an hour. Both these classes are made up of four to six girls from my morning class and about four boys of the same age group, In religion they are being confronted for the first time with people whom they respect who do not believe in God and with people who believe in God but do not take the Bible literally, It's a challenging class because I have no desire to destroy their belief, whether it be Roman Catholic or Baptist, but I want them to learn to look at all things critically and to learn to separate fact from interpretation and myth in all areas, not just religion.
My nonviolence class started off slowly but intensely. It has really picked up fire. Some of the kids in this class are the ones who are especially interested in committing themselves to the Movement. At least three have already decided that they would like to work full time next summer for COFO. We have talked a lot about commitment and responsibility to oneself in terms of further education and responsibility to one's parents. It too is a challenging class.
I feel very tired sometimes from the great responsibility I have in teaching all these classes. We must leave these students prepared to carry on without us, not just in terms of voter registration but in terms of sharing with their peers all that they have learned and teaching as much as possible to the younger kids, as well as registering all the people they can in Marshall county and working with the Rust College students in any demonstrations that might be planned.
I have a great deal of faith in these students. They are very mature and very concerned about other people. I really think that they will be able to carry on without us. At least this is my dream.
After having been here almost three weeks there is no doubt in my mind that what we are doing is worth the risks we are taking and the suffering we are causing our parents and friends. The enthusiasm and gratitude with which we have been received by the students more than pays for the pressure and tension we have had to live through. I wish that LIFE MAGAZINE or some other magazine would do a spread with pictures on an actual working freedom school. I would love to have a sensitive photographer sit in classes for one of two days so that he could really catch the spirit of a school like the Holly Springs Freedom School and so that he could capture the expressions on the faces of students who are intensely absorbed with learning.
Mississippi is not just harassment and brutality. It is also the emergence of beautiful people who are beginning to stand and demand to be respected for what they are and to given what is their due. I have no doubt that this summer is good and right regardless of what may happen, even to those whom I love who are here. It is not an easy job to teach or to canvass and to live in a tense atmosphere. But the response from the students with whom I have worked would make all this worth it were it twice as hard. I am not stationed in a very dangerous area but if I were to lose my life, I couldn't think of a better way to die then to die giving all that I could of myself and my experience to others who want to give also.
NOTES ON THE FREEDOM SCHOOL PLAY: SEED OF FREEDOM: July
I found the following typewritten notes among my letters from Mississippi. I had the privilege of assisting Debby Flynn as she worked with the Holly Springs students to develop the play. Along with presenting the play to their parents and the community in Holly Springs, the students performed in August at the statewide convention of Freedom School students.
Last night, Sunday, July 26th, students of the Holly Springs Freedom School gave a play called SEED OF FREEDOM. The play grew out of an English class that the older teenagers had with a teacher from New York, Debby Flynn, who had come to Mississippi for the summer. Except for guidance in acting techniques and help in structuring the play from their teacher, the students developed and wrote the play themselves. The idea was theirs.
Debby Flynn typed up a rough draft of the main ideas of the play after about a week of spontaneous acting. She began with an explanation of the type of play that the students were working on: "A sense of immediacy and identification can be achieved if no sharp distinctions are drawn between actors and audience. The actors may sit in the audience and come forward to tell their part of the story in their own words. The dialogue, therefore, except for quotes, is indicated or simply outlined as a series of suggested ideas to carry forward the action of the play. Dialogue in this type of play should never be considered as words to be studied by heart and repeated by rote. This play form is particularly well suited to present ideas of action."
SEED OF FREEDOM is a play about freedom. As the first narrator says: "And this is a play about Freedom...about us! Yes, us because every step we take along the Freedom Road, every time we act, every time we do something to move forward along the Freedom Road we plant a seed. And seeds are blowing in the wind today...." The narrator goes on to say what he believes Freedom means — loving all people... (and) that we have all learned from those who died for freedom,... such as Herbert Lee, Lewis Allen, Medgar Evers.
The narrator then takes us to Hinds County, Jackson, Mississippi to look in on the Evers family to see what we can learn from them. We see Mrs. Evers and her two children as they are waiting for Medgar Evers to come home. Mrs. Evers explains to her children what kind of work their father is doing. After receiving a threatening phone call, she shares with the audience her fears and her anxieties, her weariness and hope that someday they may be able to live a normal life, free of fear. But she concludes that it is all worth it because what they are fighting for is so precious and valuable. Then the car is heard, and then a shot.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the play is when Mrs. Evers and the children come home from the funeral. Darrell, the son, is very bitter about the killing of his father and wants to hate and kill white men. Mrs. Evers comforts him and tries to exlain why they must not hate, but must love. Ira Moore, the girl who played the part of Mrs. Evers, wrote out in her own words what she wanted to say. The following is a short note that she wrote to herself while working on the part.
"Oh Darrell, don't talk this way. I too hated all whites the first day Daddy was murdered. But I don't hate anymore. We must not hate even our worst enemy. We may hate only what they do. It was Daddy himself who taught us this. He wouldn't want you to hate or kill. Daddy is not dead in the inside of us. But if you hate, you will kill him."
Copyright © 1964 & 2008, Chude Allen
Copyright © 2008