See 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer
Events for background & more information.
See also Freedom Summer for web links.
What can the parent of a Mississippi volunteer say that would add to Mrs. Chaney's words or the Pieta beauty of the photograph of the Goodmans as their son's body came off the plane?
My boy and his delightful wife are safely home, and a second summer stress for us is ended. (He was there last year too.) More was accomplished in Mississippi than the volunteers themselves seem to realize. This was more than a matter of modesty — and I find that to be a nearly universal quality of the volunteers. They are so overwhelmed by what remains to be done, so troubled by the things that were not done right by the incredible group of amateurs who have cracked the South and riveted the attention of the nation in less than five years, that their eyes have not yet found perspective.
Consider what it means to go into a plantation hamlet regarded as so dangerous that the decision to tackle it was not made 'til a month into the summer, and find that 315 of 350 eligible were willing to register with the Freedom Democratic Party in three days' time ? And that carloads of these plantation hands, their utterly unprotected day-labor jobs and very lives at stake, were willing to escort the Freedom Riders safely out of range — people they had never met or had any contact with before?
Or in a state where unions won't touch the Negro, outside a handful of crafts and enterprises, for a housemaid to speak out at one of the nightly rallies and say it's about time they went on strike and made some real money? Or for three local Negro workingmen, youthful to middle-aged, now to be circulating a petition asking President Johnson to set up a pilot project of the war against poverty in Clarksdale, and to be planning a delegation to take the petition to Washington themselves?
The people are in motion! The People, Yes!
Without this, the individual heroes die in vain, suffer beatings in vain, go to jail in vain. With this, everything, anything is worthwhile.
Here, perhaps, is where the perspective of an older generation is helpful. For some of the volunteers tend to place to much stress upon those who refused to register, those who were apathetic or still fearful, or those who may have done things because it was a white person telling them to. But that was always the case — at least since Reconstruction and the later black-and-white Populists were crushed, and the little-known Sharecroppers Union of the 1930s. It is the new that is important, and there are respects in which the South already need make no apologies to the North.
For example, my son wrote last month that "only" eighty had come to a precinct meeting. Only! I happen to belong to a Democratic club. Believe me, no one short of Gov. Brown could bring out eighty to one of our meetings, and few clubs are more active than ours. The right to participate is only the precondition for democracy. It is the actual participation that counts. And I wonder if there is more today in any state of the Union than among the Negroes of Mississippi? 100,000 Freedom Democratic registrations! In a population only ten times that large, including a huge proportion ineligible because they are under-age, with semi-literacy the usual standard, and fear reinforced — or so the killers thought — by many murders this very year.
But numbers without clarity are worth little. And the Freedom Movement is succoring America from a hypnosis that has crippled the country for a generation. Thirteen years ago I participated in what might be called a premature Freedom Ride. It developed into a remarkable movement of brief duration, and the local leaders, knowing that I write, asked me to come back the next year to gather material for a book. And so I asked the one pastor of a major denomination who had made his church available to us what he thought of the Red smear had been used against us. He answered: "When that Freedom Train come down the track, my people gonna get on board, and they ain't gonna care what color the cars are painted!"
No rational man believes that today's freedom train is a red express, but there are those who wish to make us see it through a red filter, and others who are terribly distraught that some drops of red might actually have splashed on it the last time it was in the shops. But the former are failing, and the latter find that most people couldn't care less.
A month ago, Senator Eastland made a speech about alleged "second-generation radicals" in the Summer Project. The New York Times published his names, presumably in pursuit of its function as a newspaper of record. But the San Francisco Chronicle, receiving the same UPI story, dropped the paragraphs that named names, except for one individual in the East. The Examiner and Tribune did not carry the story at all. And the reason was spelled out by, most amazingly, the editor of a Mississippi newspaper, who also refused to report the speech by "his own" Senator, explaining this in conversation by saying that the "Communist" issue "is irrelevant!"
Last week some Democrat politicians in Sacramento — men of very good will — learned this too. I was about to drive down to the bus station to pick up my son and daughter-in-law on their return from the South, when the phone rang. The mother of another volunteer told me that the pressure was being applied to cause the new Democratic State Committee to reverse the pro-Freedom Democratic Party decision of the outgoing committee, and every parent who could should go to Sacramento to lobby. My son and I went. The next day he was to be one of the four Summer Project volunteers addressing the open session of the Resolution Committee. One newspaperman asked him, in unfriendly fashion, whether he was the son of the Mandel of "Operation Abolition."
["Operation Abolition" was a politically-motivated film produced by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). HUAC claimed its purpose was to uncover and expose threats to national security and the "American way of life" (which in their view was equivalent to the "southern way of life"). But in fact its two actual goals were to: First, smear and pillory "Reds," "pinkos," "fellow-travelers," liberals, trade-unionists, and anyone else who dared dissent against their far-right dogma. And, second, to coerce "unfriendly" witnesses into becoming political informers against their friends, family, and collegues. While HUAC was greatly concerned about "Communist influence in the (nonviolent) Civil Rights Movement," they had no interest in the Ku Klux Klan and its wave of bombings, lynchings, and beatings. William Mandel, the author of this article, was one of those attacked in HUAC's "Operation Abolition" film. The ACLU of Northern California later produced a film called "Operation Correction" to expose and correct the lies and falsehoods in the HUAC film.]
The very sincere man in charge of the lobbying asked Bob to withdraw as a speaker, as did the legislative secretary of a man who was really pushing hard for the resolution. Neither of them had anything against Bob or myself: they feared that Red-baiting might be used against the resolution. Bob insisted on speaking, and did. No one echoed Eastland. No newspaper dared to question the motives of anyone who had put his life on the line in the South.
When the resolution passed the next day. the full committee of 900 tough politicians rose in a standing ovation for the kids who represent what America really believes in deep down in its soul. And every newspaper reported this with amazement, and with the reverence it deserved. I discuss this issue because we are not done with it. The House Un-American Activities Committee held secret hearings in San Francisco during the Republican Convention to gather material for an open hearing here according to very well informed people in the newspaper world and elsewhere. The intention will be to smear the civil rights movement as Red.
People have to give thought right now to how they will react to this. And any who believes they may be subpoenaed must decide what course they will pursue. I cannot conceive of what the Committee could possibly wish to ask me about the civil rights movement except whether I can prove to their satisfaction that I am really my son's father. However, there was no more reason to call me in 1960. Therefore, I wish to put them on notice — and thereby offer a suggestion to others who think they may be called — that I will answer no subpoena from them, because their chairman, Edwin Willis of Louisiana (and "Operation Abolition") is not a United States Congressman within the meaning of Article 14, Section 2 of the Constitution. Permit me to cite it:
But when the right to vote ... is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, ... or in any way abridged, ... the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
It is no accident that Willis was the leader of the fight against the Civil Rights Act in the House.
Any form of non-cooperation with HUAC is honorable, but no test of 14:2 can be made if people take the Fifth Amendment.
[In the 1960s it was not a crime to be a member of the Communist Party. The Communist Party was a legal organization and candidates could run for office as party members. But socially and politically, it was a pariah. If you were identified as a "Red" or as someone who knew or associated with "Reds" you might be fired, or your business boycotted, or be subject to violent attack.
Under the HUAC rules, if you answered any single one of their questions, you had to answer all of them or go to prison for "contempt of Congress." So if you answered, "Do you live in California?" you then had to answer, "Is your friend Thomas a Red?" "Does your sister Rosa contribute money to the NAACP?" "Is your union shop steward a Communist traitor out to destroy America?" "Is your daughter's kindergarten teacher a subversive commie filling young minds with red propaganda?"
If you refused to inform on your friends, or you lied, you went to prison. The only defense was to refuse to answer all questions, no matter how innocuous, on your Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. But "taking the Fifth" was interpreted to mean that you were guilty of whatever they were asking you about.]
Nor will the issue of voting rights be clearly joined if people take the First Amendment.
[Those willing to risk prison often defied HUAC by courageously answering questions about, and forthrightly defending, their own political activities and beliefs, but refusing to answer questions about their friends and family by asserting their First Amendment right to believe whatever they wished and freely associate with whomever they chose. Many of them served long prison terms for "taking the First."]
I hope witnesses will confine themselves to 14:2. If a thousand young people, Mississippians and outsiders, could put their lives on the line to win the right of Mississippi Negroes to vote, we can put some period of our freedom on the line to win that right for the Negroes of Louisiana by facing the courts with the need to answer publicly whether or not Willis is a Congressman. And as he is not, no subpoena issued by a committee he chairs can be legal.
[So far as we can determine, this strategy was never implemented in regards to HUAC. But the MFDP Congressional Challenge in late 1964 and early 1965 echoed some of its concepts.]
In this problem and in others, the Freedom Movement must think beyond the problems it has already faced. Elsewhere in this issue there is a review of an article on the Civil Rights Movement and employment. I have not had the opportunity to read it, but the aspect of the problem to which I would like to direct attention has usually been missed by writers on the subject.
A major reason for the violence used by white building trades workers in Philadelphia last year against pickets seeking jobs for Negroes was direct fear of losing their own jobs in an increasingly automated society. In addition to the need to opening unions to Negroes, and to pass New deal-type legislation creating useful jobs meeting internal American needs — both of which are essential, and both of which will take hard and long fights — there is an additional means of easing the pressure on the job market. Because it falls into the category of policies that have made President Johnson popular with all classes in society (if not with all sections of all classes!), it is something toward which we can move more rapidly than either of these other areas of enlarged employment.
There are today two crises demanding immediate solution: Negro equality and foreign policy. Had there been any doubt of this, Barry Goldwater has laid it to rest. These are the issues on which he is seeking to turn the clock back. One aspect of the Cold War that we have still not moved very far out of is the policy of refusing to trade with the countries regarded as probable adversaries in World War III.
Today those countries produce half the gross product of the entire world outside the United States. The history of foreign trade shows that it is in very close proportion to a country's gross product: we do much more business with advanced countries than with underdeveloped ones. Therefore, were we to resume commerce with lands now producing as much as those we presently permit unrestricted trade with, our foreign trade would double. As foreign trade now permits two million jobs, this change in policy would provide two million more. Most of these jobs would be in fields that the Negro finds it "easiest" (if that word is ever applicable!) to get into: industrial production, warehousing, longshore, maritime transport. In any case, by taking that many people, of whatever race, off the labor market, opportunities for the rest would rise by that number.
My point is that America is one, and its problems are one. This is already recognized by the Freedom Movement when its spokesmen say to Washington: if you can send troops to Vietnam, why not to Mississippi? Civil rights without jobs means little. Negro unemployment cannot be seriously dented without seriously reducing white unemployment. Expanded foreign trade is the easiest way to do it, although it cannot solve the problem by itself. The only place where an explosion of foreign trade can be achieved is with countries with which we have barred it. This is why there is a relationship between jobs for Negroes and ending the Cold War. It cannot be dodged.
Copyright © William Mandel, 1964.