Nine hundred fifty civil rights protesters, I among them, were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi in June of 1965. This was one of the largest mass arrests of the Civil Rights Movement.
I was in the first wave of those arrested in Jackson, Mississippi. We were protesting the illegal convening of the Mississippi state legislature, illegal because of the disfranchisement of its black citizens.
Women were separated from men, and I did not see my imprisoned sisters-in- struggle until we were released on bond, almost two weeks later.
We arrived in prison trucks at the state fairgrounds, where cattle had been kept and then moved, and which was the same building, and the same concrete floor, where we would be housed.
After being booked, we had to pass thru a cordon of Mississippi state police. Some of us were beaten. In the cavernous hall where we wound up, there were additional beatings--for protesting the cops segregating us, African American civil rights protesters on one side facing white freedom fighters on the other.
When "dinner" was to be served, the guards, as a form of control and humiliation, forced the whites to line up first. Each white inmate was given a slice of bologna stuck between two stale pieces of bread, and a paper cup with milk, or rather tepid water with a little milk powder.
Each white guy returned with his meal to his spot on the cement floor on the "white" side, sat down cross-legged, and placed the cup on the floor, sandwich on top of the cupin front of him.
Then the African American prisoners were ordered to line up to get sandwich and milk. They returned to their spots on the "colored" side, sat down cross- legged, placing cup on hard cement floor and sandwich atop.
No one ate. No one drank. We all simply looked at each other across the vast expanse.
After the last black prisoner took his seat, all of us prisoners, black and white together, and without pre-arrangement, picked up our sandwiches and broke bread as one.
Were I a Catholic I suppose I would have had visions of holy communion at such spiritual unity. But I am a Jew. So I must relate this to the Jewish culture and religion of this secular Jew, in Psalm ninety one, which I will make gender-neutral: I am with those in distress. I will release them, and I will honor them.
[Ira Grupper was active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's in his native New York City, and then in Georgia (SNCC), and Mississippi (COFO and MFDP). He has lived in Louisville, Kentucky since 1969.]
See Jackson, MS Protests
for background & more information.
See also Jackson, MS, Movement for web links.
Copyright © Ira Grupper. 2016
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