The food drive you organized and publicized with the help of Dick Gregory and others has resulted in and served as the immediate catalyst for opening new dimensions in the voter registration movement in Mississippi.
Wherever food has been sent it has given the opportunity. depending directly upon the amount of food, for:
1. Contact with hundreds or thousands of Negroes.
2. Development of a core of workers who come to help process the applications, packaging and distribution of the food, and stay to help on the voter registration drive.
3. An image in the Negro community of providing direct aid, not just "agitation." The food is identified in the minds of everyone as food for those who want to be free, and the minimum requirement for freedom is identified as registration to vote.
The voting drives I've experienced in Mississippi have proceeded by steps instead of slopes and we have been on a deep plateau all winter, shaking off the effects of the violence of August and September and the eruption that was Meredith at Ole Miss.
We know this plateau by now; we have had to crawl over it in McComb city, Amite and Walthall Counties, Hattiesburg, Greenwood and Ruleville. You dig into yourself and the community to wage psychological warfare; you combat your own fears about beatings, shootings and possible mob violence; you stymie, by your mere physical presence, the anxious fear of the Negro community, seeded across town and blown from paneled pine and white sunken sink to windy kitchen floors and rusty old stoves, that maybe you did come only to boil and bubble and then burst, out of sight and sound; you organize, pound by pound, small bands of people who gradually focus in the eyes of Negro and whites as people "tied up in that mess"; you create a small striking force capable of moving out when the time comes, which it must, whether we help it or not.
When a thousand people stand in line for a few cans of food, then it is possible to tell a thousand people that they are poor, that they are trapped in poverty, that they must move if they are to escape. In Leflore County there are 14,400 nonwhite workers, 12,060 make less than $1,500 a year and 7,200 of these make less than $500 a year.
After more than 600 lined up to receive food in Greenwood on Wednesday, 20 Feb, and Sam's subsequent arrest and weekend in prison on Thurs. 21, Feb., over 100 people overflowed city hall on Mon. 25 Feb. to protest at his trial, over 250 gathered at a mass meeting that same night and on Tues. by 10:30 A.M., I had counted over 50 people standing in silent line in the county courthouse; they say over 200 stood in line across the day.
This is a new dimension for a voting program in Mississippi; Negroes have been herded to the polls' before by white people, but have never stood en masse in protest at the seat of power in the iceberg of Mississippi politics. Negroes who couldn't read and write stood in line to tell the registrar they still wanted to vote, that they didn't have a chance to go to school when they were small and anyway Mr. John Jones can't read and write either and he votes.
We don't know this plateau at all. We were relieved at the absence of immediate violence at the courthouse, but who knows what's to come next.
The weather breaks in mid-April and I hope you will be able to continue to send food until then.
[See Greenwood Food Blockade for background information.]
Copyright © Bob Moses, 1963
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