As remembered by Paul T.
January 28, 2014
Tracy Sugarman was two decades older than most of his fellow Mississippi Summer volunteers and was no stranger to danger. As a young ensign in the Naval Reserve, he ferried supplies to American troops landing at Utah Beach on D-Day. Years later he recalled, "I was more scared in Mississippi than I had been on D-Day."
Sugarman was a successful magazine and book illustrator when he left his comfortable Connecticut home to join the students heading south in the summer of 1964. He decided to use his talents to tell their stories to the American public. He attended the orientation in Oxford, Ohio, and spent ten weeks in Ruleville in the heart of the Delta. There he formed close friendships with veteran activists Fannie Lou Hamer and Charles McLaurin. He also befriended the college students working on voter registration and teaching in Freedom Schools. "They were terrified every day, but they went out and did their job," he observed. Stranger at the Gates, published in 1966, is Sugarman's deeply personal account of that summer, illustrated with dozens of his evocative drawings. In the preface he wrote, "No one who went to Mississippi in 1964 returned the same. I came home from the dusty roads of the Delta with a deeper understanding of patriotism, an unshakable respect for commitment, and an abiding belief in the power of love."
We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns, published in 2009, is a sequel to his earlier work in which Sugarman reflected on the relationships formed that summer and how his life and the lives of his fellow volunteers were shaped by their experiences. It is both a personal memoir and a collective biography of the people he met in Mississippi.
Sugarman was one of the principals behind Rediscovery Productions which he formed to produce documentary films about often overlooked black contributors who enriched American society. One of its early projects was "Never Turn Back: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer." At the age of ninety-one, Tracy Sugarman completed his first novel, Nobody Said Amen, the fictional story of two Mississippi families, one black and one white, coping with the turbulent changes brought by the Civil Rights Movement.
For thousands of readers who never set foot in the Magnolia State Tracy Sugarman's writing and drawings brought to life the courage and commitment of those who fought for justice as part of the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project.
Tracy Sugarman died on January 20, 2013.
Paul T. Murray