Origins Tarrytown, NY
Swarthmore & Cambridge MD Demonstrations
Leaving Swarthmore & Joining SNCC
SNCC National Office Atlanta GA
Greenwood MS, 1964
Origins Tarrytown, NY
Jean: This is Jean Wiley, and I'm talking with Judy Richardson. So let's start at the beginning: where did you grow up?
Judy: I grew up in Tarrytown, New York which is about 45 miles north of New York City. And my mother at that point was a homemaker, had been both a seamstress and a jazz pianist in a big band in well, a small band, probably in Westchester County. And I think my father probably had enough of that, so he said "No," she would not be doing that any more. So, my father had helped organize the UAW Local at the plant. So everybody in town knew Billy in town. When I was seven, my father died on the assembly line, so they came and told my mother and stuff.
Jean: Do you trace your activism to your dad and his work with the union?
Judy: Not really, because I didn't know my father that well. But my mother always talked about unionism, I mean, she thought [UAW President] Walter Reuther was just the greatest thing ever.
And she was very You know, it's funny, my mother had an eighth grade education, but she read everything. I always remember stacks of New York Posts when the Post was actually a liberal paper in New York and they would be piling up in her bedroom. And she listened to Barry Gray on WMCA-AM, which was a station that interviewed newsmakers like Malcolm X (though I suspect she wouldn't have agreed with him). His show was "the" talk radio show at that point in New York. And she was just aware of everything going on. It was amazing. And she would listen to Meet the Press every week, every single week.
But because she did not have the school training, when my father died she ended up her first job was, I think, a clerk in Macy's, and that was the first job that she had, and then she went and worked for the county as a secretary.
But my mother and my father both booked numbers. My mother once said that they caught my father with the policy slips, and he had tried to eat them. [Laughing] It didn't work! And that was the only time he got arrested, which was funny, because I mean all the cops knew my father too. I mean, even the mother of the mayor used to come down the hill and play the numbers with my mother. And so, I guess somebody must not have paid the right officials and so they decided they were going to arrest my father. But he was only in overnight. And it was before I actually knew anything about any of this. All I remember is they used to hide the policy slips in the refrigerator in the bottom. [Laughter]
The "numbers game" was an illegal lottery widely played in poor and working-class communities where it was considered a normal activity — a part of the daily economy. To some extent it has now been supplanted by state-run lotteries, but it still exists today in many areas. Players pick a 3-digit number and place a bet with the bookie who either memorizes it or writes the player's name, number, and the bet amount on a "policy slip." If that number, usually based on the results of certain horse races or the daily stock-market report, comes up the next day the player wins a goodly amount. Some of the bet money that remains after paying the winners is kept by the "bookie" and the "runner" and the rest is forwarded to the syndicate that runs the game.]
Jean: That's one of the untold stories. I don't think I ever knew a Black family, growing up in Baltimore and Washington, who wasn't in one way or another into the numbers. I mean, it was part of the culture!
Judy: That's it. It was part of the culture. And it was the other little pot of money which you could make.
Jean: So you go to school there...
Judy: When I was in seventh grade, they tried to put me into what do you call it? Secretarial courses. They call it "tracking" now. Which was interesting, because I was making good grades. And when I was in seventh grade, my sister was at Bennington College. On a scholarship, of course we had no money. But I was one of the few Black students at that point in my class. I remember a few others [in the school], but not in my grade. And I can't remember whether the few other Black students had been shifted to secretarial courses, too.
So my mother raised hell, and I think I was taking secretarial courses for maybe a year. But during that year, I learned how to type real quickly, so I could type 90 words a minute. And I learned Gregg shorthand, which was great, because when I got to SNCC, that's how I took my notes.
And in fact, I remember at the 1994 Mississippi reunion conference in Jackson, Joanne Grant came up to me I was sitting by the swimming pool at the hotel, or motel, whatever it was and she was doing her book on Miss Baker [Ella Baker: Freedom Bound] and she said, "Look. I've gone into the King Center for the archives, and I see all the notes that you took for the Executive Committee minutes and the Atlanta staff meetings, but I can't read them." Which made sense, because they were in shorthand! So she gave me a number of them to transcribe, and luckily I actually remembered enough shorthand to do it. And so I made copies, and I now have them myself. I have the Xeroxes of all that. Those secretarial courses really served me in good stead all the way through. But my mother understood what they were trying to do. And so she said, "No." So I went back on the academic track.
Jean: Had you experienced any other examples of that type of because you were one of the few Black students. Had you experienced other things like that? Where you were placed at the bottom or ?
Judy: Not so much in school. I mean, because I was at that point, by the time I got to tenth grade, I'm the only Black student in the AP [Advanced Placement] courses.
But, what's interesting is that when I remember one really clear scene in my AP history class. It was either in the 10th or 11th grade, and we were using what I later found out from some of the historians who worked as consultants on "Eyes on the Prize" I think it was John Ditmer who wrote Local People I said, "John, I remember this textbook that had I was in tenth grade in the AP [Advanced Placement] course, and it was a chapter on Reconstruction, and it showed this graphic illustration that I later found came directly from Birth of a Nation."
Birth of a Nation, the viciously racist, 1915 film by D.W. Griffith, glorified the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. The Klan still uses it today as a recruiting tool. And it is often used in film classes, usually without adequate historical context, because of its advanced film technique.]
He said, "Oh yeah. That was a nationally prescribed textbook at the time." And that's the only one I remember. That's the only thing I remember about that class, and they were talking about it, and in this illustration which was supposedly a South Carolina Reconstruction legislature, and the bare feet of the Black legislators were up on the desk and hair all tousled, and they just look unkempt and stuff. And so when we were doing the chapter, all the white students turned around and looked at me. And I remember feeling so ashamed. I mean, oh my goodness, you know?
I was always aware that, for example, there were no Black people who could buy any property above Broadway [in Tarrytown]. Just about all the Black folks were either in the projects which were down the street from us, or under the hill where we lived. Or they were on Mechanics Avenue. It was a very segregated pattern. It was not, you know, interspersed much. Even where we were, we were the only Black family on Franklin Street, and we lived with next door to me was Elaine Kollar, Polish. Gregory Mosciello who was Italian. But what was interesting was Elaine's father, who also I think worked at the plant well, they all worked at the plant. Everybody's father worked at the plant.
Jean: What plant is this?
Judy: The Fisher Body plant which manufactured parts for Chevrolet. There was no IBM in Tarrytown at that point. It wasn't a middle class thing at that point, as it has become. So that most of the folks I knew, they all were connected to the plant. I mean, you could tell time in Tarrytown by the shifts. You know, at a certain point, oh it must be 5 o'clock. You know, they're all coming back from
Jean: So it was a company town.
Judy: It was a company town, in that way, yeah. But I suspect also very pro-union because of the UAW. When Blackside's "The Depression" series came on PBS, I was talking to my sister, Carita, who was seven years older than me, and she said, "Oh you know, looking at that Depression series reminded me of when Daddy was organizing the Local."
And I said, "What!?" Because of course, I have no memory of any of this.
And she said, "Yeah, Daddy would be talking to one of the guys from the National from the national office of the union and they'd be sitting in the kitchen, and Mommy would close the curtains, because she was so worried that Daddy was going to lose his job for trying to unionize."
And my sister said, "Sometimes we would go out on the front porch." We had this little house, and she said, "We'd go out on the porch, and there would be bags of groceries that the people from the community had put there, because they couldn't openly support the building of the Local." But this was their way of saying, 'We're supporting you in what you're doing.'
And I would never have known any of this had she not seen this thing, you know, because she's not It's funny. I realized I know so little about all that part of it, you know?
So I veered off, you asked me some other question Oh! Racism. The other thing, social things happened. So, for example, I remember a good friend of mine, there were three of us (the other 2 were white) who would study together, and one of the friends was having her Sweet 16 birthday party, and I was all excited, because I just assumed of course that I was going to be going to this. And she called, it must have been a day or two before the night, because it was after school. And she called me, and she said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, Judy, you know, that you won't be able to come because Roger" who was the little Black boy "he's not going to be able to make it." And so it was assumed that, well, since he can't come I mean, I was not going with Roger. As a matter of fact, Roger was gay, if I'm not mistaken. But for her and it came out of nowhere for me, because you know, she was like a good friend of mine.
Jean: And how old were you?
Judy: Sixteen. That's right. So little things like that would happen, but nothing big.
Now this was also Westchester County, so it was a Republican county, so separate from the discrimination, when my mother decided that she wanted to leave Macy's and get a job where she would get a pension and all that stuff and, I guess, hospitalization too, she put her name She took the Civil Service test. And she came out first on the list. I remember her saying, "I was first on the list, and nobody is calling me to get a job."
And she went down, and she talked to Mr. Slaven, who had the stationary store, and he said, "Well, how are you registered?"
And she said, "Well, Democrat. Democratic."
And he said, "No. You will not get called. You got to change your registration." And so she did. And I remember her saying, "I got called. I got called." So she worked for the rest of that time, all the rest of her life, as a junior clerk in White Plains, which is the county seat.
Swarthmore & Cambridge MD Demonstrations
Jean: So you leave there when you go into college where was that again?
Judy: I was at Swarthmore. I assumed I was going to Bennington where my sister had gone. I got this letter from them. It said, "You're accepted, but we understand that Swarthmore has given you a full scholarship." Which was a way for them to say, "And we're not." So I ended up I had applied to Swarthmore and Bennington and Sarah Lawrence and I think Antioch at that point. So I ended up going to Swarthmore.
My sister and my mother take me down there, which was good, because I was very I was fairly shy, and my sister was always gregarious, and so I knew, well, if she comes with me, she'll meet people and she'll talk to them, and then maybe I'll talk to them. Who knows? So they loaded the car, and what was amazing was that my mother actually let me drive the car. I was changing lanes in the Holland Tunnel! You're not supposed to do that. It was just amazing.
So we get down there, and what I find though is that now this is a good Quaker college, right? We used to say we got the Radcliffe rejects, and so there are people who are wealthy supposedly intelligent and all that stuff, and non-Quakers as well as Quakers. What they did was they roomed all the Black students with Quaker children this new incoming class of Black students in the freshman class, eight of us, four boys and four girls which I have always assumed was so that we would not date outside our little Black group.
I remember Sarah Lawrence, who becomes Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot, was in that freshman class. There were African students at Swarthmore, I understand, but I don't remember them that well. I do remember one African-American senior and one African-American sophomore, both female. And those are the only ones I remember. And then the eight of us.
And then after I get there, I find that there is an SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] chapter on campus. The co-chairs of the chapter were Mimi Feingold and Carl Wittman who later becomes very major in the gay movement and who later died of AIDS, as a matter of fact. So I go on this bus to Cambridge, Maryland, on the eastern shore of Maryland, mainly because I just want to see what it's about. I mean, it's not because I'm fired up about anything. It's just
Jean: And this is arranged by that group?
Judy: By the SDS. That's right. They were organizing busloads of Swarthmore students to participate in desegregation protests. And the SDS chapter itself is called SPAC, I think Swarthmore Political Action Committee. And so they had been organizing Swarthmore students and I suspect other students in the area, maybe Bryn Mawr and Haverford, who are the other two Quaker schools with Swarthmore to go down on this bus to help Gloria Richardson with the Cambridge, Maryland movement. [Judy Richardson is not related to Gloria Richardson.]
I get there, and that's when I first meet Reggie [Robinson, SNCC's field secretary in Cambridge] because Gloria has contacted SNCC, the national SNCC office, for assistance in organizing in Cambridge. So SNCC sent Reggie, since he was from Baltimore and a long-time SNCC organizer. Gloria says that it was her daughter who had really initiated the demonstrations and the young people there. And so the adults were kind of brought into it, and that's when they realized, you know, we need some help in terms of organizing and working out all the logistics and all that stuff. And then, Swarthmore is not the only campus coming down. There were others I want to say Goddard, but that's not it. It was a "G" school [Goucher in Baltimore]. Anyway, there were other schools who were coming down for these demonstrations.
Jean: We're talking '62 here?
Jean: And what did you do when you were there?
Judy: Demonstrations. It was mainly demonstrations, because they had the vote. As a matter of fact, there was a Black city councilman in Cambridge already, but he was considered an "Uncle Tom."
Jean: So this is public accommodation?
Judy: Public accommodations, that's correct. Public accommodations and it was also a lot of it was geared around the skating rink. That was the big thing. The rink, to integrate that, because a lot of people wanted to rollerskate, and they just closed that out. And as a matter of fact, it's the rink where Governor Wallace from Alabama comes to speak at one point during I think I had already left, but that's where people would come to.
And it was the first time I had ever been denied entrance to some place. I mean, I was just absolutely enraged. I tell people now folks talk about, you know, "you were just full of love" I was [Phfffft] I mean, people really got mad about stuff. I remember getting very mad that I was not being allowed into this place. My clearest memory, the first one I remember, is trying to integrate the Chop Tank Inn, which was a bar and grill, and it was nasty smelling and stuff, but we were trying to get in there.
For me it was that you could now put a name on stuff. That all the little stuff that had happened growing up in Tarrytown and all, that at least this [segregation] was clear. I could understand this, and it was very helpful. And then I started being in jail more. I was getting arrested, and I started being in jail more through the weekends, and then sometimes it would overlap into Monday. And so by the second semester of my freshman year
Jean: Oh, this is your freshman year?
Judy: It was my freshman year, oh yeah. I started right in. Because again, it's like, I'm free as a bird, you know?
Jean: Right. I'm out of here!
Judy: I'm out of here! That's right! That's it!
Jean: I think you're the first person we've talked to who actually worked in Cambridge. So I guess I'm wondering, since you worked in a number of campaigns down South, what stands out for you about Cambridge and about what you and others were doing there?
Judy: Hmmm. I know what always stood out for me was Gloria. Gloria was just I mean, Gloria was strong! Cantankerous, too. But I remember how strong she was. That's the thing. She just seemed unbending. And what I remember when I was staying at her house was that we'd be hearing her and Reggie and others as they sat around her kitchen table and talked about what was going to be going on in the demonstrations. And the planning, the level of planning that took place.
Jean: And the white retaliation.
Judy: To tell you the truth, I don't remember that that much, and it may have been because I left [before the worst of it]. Like, I was never tear-gassed. I was arrested in Cambridge, but I was never tear-gassed. And I suspect it's because I left. I remember General Gelston of the National Guard. But I was there I'm trying to think if I I don't know whether I just have selective memory on this, but I don't remember any of the horrendous stuff. I [only] remember being arrested there.
Jean: How long did you ...?
Judy: Not long. No, not long. It couldn't have been but a few days [in jail]. I mean, it couldn't have been more than four or five days.
Jean: See, at the point that you're there, I'm not that far away in Baltimore. And what I remember about Cambridge is how it ignited this energy in the Black community in Baltimore. Everybody I mean, people adored Gloria.
Judy: No kidding!
Jean: I mean, she was phenomenal.
Judy: Yes, she was.
Jean: I mean, she was big time as far as I was concerned. But I never went there.
Judy: Now, why?
Jean: Because..., probably because Cambridge Maryland is the eastern shore of Maryland, which is Maryland's Mississippi.
Jean: And I hadn't made the commitment to go South, and South to us was Cambridge and the eastern shore.
Jean: Things were horrendous there. They always have been. You know, most people in Baltimore have their roots in the eastern shore.
Jean: So it would have been very difficult for me to up and go with my family as they were. And I think that I kind of felt that I didn't need to. That there was a lot of support coming out of Baltimore and coming out of colleges in Baltimore. But I don't recall like busloads, like you did, of students going there. What I recall is kind of a sense of refreshment. Because that's coming out of the Freedom Rides.
Judy: There was Route 40 stuff too, right? You had the Route 40 stuff too, though.
Jean: Yes. But this is coming out of the Freedom Rides when obviously there's a lot of heroism in the Freedom Rides.
Judy: Yeah, that's true.
Jean: But it's kind of a downer too?
Jean: When you're as far removed from it, it's kind of a downer too. But here you could see people really doing things that were heroic, that were close-by, and that were in your grandmother's neighborhood and family. I just find it amazing that you would just get on that bus from Swarthmore and just go.
Judy: Well, part of it is really ignorance. I mean, really.
Judy: Naivete, that's true. It is naivete. That's exactly it. Because I don't really know what I'm getting into until I get there. I mean, there's no way that they prepare you for it. I mean, I'm sure they told us at these meetings at the SDS, the SPAC meetings but I have no real It's not like my roots are Southern. My mother's grandmother my mother's mother was Jamaican, right? And my mother's father was from South Carolina, but he was an orphan who ends up being raised by Quakers in Pennsylvania. So I don't really And my mother's sister, close sister, Helen, my aunt Helen, had worked in Tuskegee, had worked at Tuskegee College and loved it. And would have stayed there except that she, you know, falls in love with my uncle Buster. They get married, and so they
[If I had known], who knows, I might not have gotten on the bus. For me, that first [journey to Cambridge from Swarthmore] really is just a lark, it's just "Let me go see what I'm going to see on this adventure." It was an adventure. It's only when I get there and get mad, and decide "Oh no, no they can't do this. No, no." It's at that point that it becomes something else.
Jean: The Cambridge Movement. It's one of the campaigns the movements, I should call it, there were several movements but it doesn't get enough attention.
Judy: No, that's true.
Jean: I think maybe because there isn't as much footage or something.
Judy: That's absolutely true. And the other thing was, Gloria would be led by nobody. And so at one point, where you get to the point where the city council wants the whole community to vote on whether the facilities should be desegregated, and Gloria's thing was: Black people should not vote. We shouldn't have to vote whether Black folks would have basic American rights. And Forman [James Forman, SNCC's Executive Secretary], even Forman says, he tries convince Gloria not to take this position opposing putting it to a vote because it's almost I suspect, he felt it couldn't be represented. It was too complicated an argument for people outside Cambridge to understand, since folks in the Movement were risking their lives so that Black folks could vote.
Gloria didn't care. She said, "I'm not going to ask people to vote for this." And at some point, Reggie leaves too because of that. I don't know whether she asked him to leave, or he leaves because he's pulled out. I don't know what's going on. But I do know that for awhile Gloria was mad at SNCC, because they're not supporting her in this. Bobby Kennedy is saying, "What are you people doing!?" Basically, "You're making my life difficult. You know I've gotten this compromise. And now you're telling Black folks not to vote, and it's not going to win if Black folks don't vote."
Jean: What was the compromise?
Judy: Well, the compromise was that there would be a vote on it. That was the thing. It would be an open referendum on whether to That's right, it was the referendum. And she just wasn't going for the okey-doke. And now, I'm trying to remember what happened with it? I don't even remember what happened.
In July of 1963 Attorney General Robert Kennedy met with Gloria Richardson, John Lewis of SNCC, and representatives of the Maryland white power-structure. Out of that meeting came an agreement known as the "Treaty of Cambridge," (or sometimes the "Cambridge Accord"), which called for establishment of a local Human Rights Commission, creation of a job-training program, faster desegregation of public schools, construction of public housing, and amendments to the city charter to make racial discrimination in public accommodations illegal. But segregationists in Cambridge forced a public referendum on the amendments to the city charter that would have outlawed segregation. Gloria Richardson opposed participation in the referendum on the grounds that peoples' constitutional rights cannot be granted or withheld by popular vote. "A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom," she said. "A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights." With many Blacks and some white-supporters boycotting the vote, the pro-segregation referendum passed. But less than a year later the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation nation-wide. See Cambridge MD, Movement — 1963 for details.]
Leaving Swarthmore & Joining SNCC
Judy: The other thing I realized about Swarthmore was that it was I had always been a good student and I get to Swarthmore, and it's like I'm meeting people who have been to Switzerland in their summers and had so much more experience, world experience, than I ever had, who knew all this information that did not come just from books. I had gone to what I considered a fairly good public high school, Sleepy Hollow High School, Tarrytown, New York. At Swarthmore, except for writing — I was always good in English so I did well in that course — the other courses were just very, very difficult for me.
So I think in some ways it wasn't only that I grew I mean I came into this kind of fervor about really getting mad about the injustice of slavery, segregation, and all of that. I also think I was, in some ways, escaping what was a very difficult academic year for me.
So by the second semester of my freshman year, which would have been '63, Penny Patch comes back from southwest Georgia. She had left her sophomore year at Swarthmore to go work with SNCC in southwest Georgia. She comes to my room, and she says, "Oh, I understand that you've been going down to Cambridge. Have you considered maybe taking off the next semester and go and work on staff with SNCC?" Which would be the first semester of my sophomore year. She said, "If you decided to do that, you got to go by Ruby Doris [Robinson]. You got to apply." And she also told me, because I was still straightening my hair, "And you know, you're going to have to stop straightening your hair, too." [Chuckling] I said, "Oh, Okay." [Laughing]
That's right. She told me what I had to do and who I had to write and all of that, and so I did. I don't know whether I knew I had been accepted at that point or not, but after I send in my application I screw up my courage to call my mother and tell my mother that this is what I want to do. And again, I mean, my mother had an eighth grade education. She has seen this campus — I don't think she ever went to Bennington. But you know, she really this is like amazing to her, you know, that her daughter's there at prestigious Swarthmore College. And I say, "I just want to do this next semester, the first semester of the sophomore year."
And she seems to take it so calmly that I just, I can't believe it, because I had been so worried But then not soon after, my sister calls back, and she's screaming over the phone. And she says, "What are you talking about?! What are you talking about you're going to take off? Take off a semester?" And I realized that my mother had just told my sister, "You talk to her. You talk some sense into her."
Well, what was interesting was that both of them and I don't remember what I said but both of them went along with my decision. They understood that I really wanted to do this. And again, neither they nor I knew it was going to be three years [working with SNCC]. They assumed really, we all assumed it was going to be just the next semester. So I gave notice, whatever. I let the college know, and they said, yes, the scholarship would still be available to me when I came back.
And my sister, Carita, ended up coordinating fund-raising parties for SNCC out of our NY office, and my mother began sending me newspaper clippings from the NY Post. She even began writing these wonderful letters to the Tarrytown Daily News in response to letters from Mrs. Kenney, a woman who claimed that SNCC was a communist organization.
I remember talking to there was a little lady from Texas who was my Phys-Ed teacher, who was basically the Athletic Director, I'm sure, at Swarthmore. And she had been so nice to me. I had been afraid of the water; she had told me what to do, "Keep your eyes closed when you jump in. Do this, do that."
When we started going on the demonstrations, her attitude totally changed. It was very interesting. And I said to her, "Is there a way I can make up the credits?" Because they were going to my thing was not to have to take gym again. I said, "Can I come during the summer?" "No." She was absolutely I mean, her whole attitude just changed, and I knew it was because of the demonstrations, because a lot of other things had changed on campus.
Because the demonstrations absolutely split the campus this good Quaker campus. And so my "big sister," who had been just as nice as she could be, who was the one who would help orient me in my first year, she basically stopped speaking to me. There were people on my hall who were giving me the silent treatment. Folks on campus who were saying, "A store has the right to refuse service to anyone." And people forget...
Jean: I remember.
Judy: That's right. "They own the store. They have the right to do that." And people, again, on this good Quaker campus who were saying, "You're rushing things. Give it some time." And the states' rights argument coming from that good Quaker campus as well.
And then SDS decided — and this is really what upset a lot of students — they decided that they were going to put up some candidates for the May Queen. There was a big thing around the May Day Court and this big procession. And so Mimi Feingold, she's put up by SPAC to be the May Queen. And it used to be — Swarthmore didn't have frats or sororities on campus — wait a minute, that's not true, we didn't have football on campus, because there had been an injury. We didn't have that, but there were frats and there were sororities. So it used to be that the most popular little girls would get put up as the May Queen and the court and stuff. But what we did is we bloc voted, and so Mimi became Mimi Feingold head of this SDS chapter becomes the May Day Queen. I'm in the court. First Black child in there, I think, that they had ever had in the May Day Court. And, as a result, there are a number of students who do not attend the ceremonies.
Jean: Out of protest.
Judy: Out of protest. That's right. Now my mother my mother is so excited, and she takes the train down, and she sees me in the May Day Court, and she's just so pleased and stuff and then goes back that day. And I don't know that I ever told her that there was all this stuff around this. I have no idea. But on campus it was, it was very difficult at that point, because you would have assumed that this was a campus that would've understood why all this was necessary but they didn't understand.
Jean: Do you think you were treated differently in that situation? Several of the students from SDS went to the South, right? You were among them. You were the only Black student among them?
Judy: There were three of us. One was the daughter of a diplomat. I want to say was she Dominican? I think she was [from the] Dominican Republic. She was a Black student, but the daughter of a foreign diplomat. And she was absolutely gung-ho, but her father pulled her back and said, "No, you cannot jeopardize what we're doing here." And then there was another Black guy, whose name I can't remember now, who was one of those as well. But those were the only Black students I remember going on these demonstrations. It was he and I and then this other woman for awhile.
Jean: And was there any difference in treatment of the
Judy: Oh, between the white and the Black?
Jean: Of those of you going down [to Cambridge], between the Black ones going down like you, and the white students.
Judy: Oh I see. I don't think so. I mean, I think the campus resented Mimi and Carl as much as they resented me. Absolutely. But see they were high they were upper classmen too. I think Mimi must have been a junior maybe, or a senior, and I think Carl was too, if I'm not mistaken. I know they were not in my class. It wasn't even that the faculty all resented us. I remember only this athletic director who was from Texas. That's the only one. I don't remember any of the rest of them.
Jean: So you applied to SNCC. Which is funny, because by the time I got there, nobody was applying, they were just showing up!
Judy: [Laughing] That's true! That's true.
Jean: So you applied. This is the fall then, of..
Judy: Spring of '63 is when I apply and get in.
Jean: So tell us what the application process was.
Judy: I actually don't remember. I remember filling out this application, and I think I had to say why I want to be part of this movement and part of SNCC. And I think I might have put down skills, but I'm actually making that up. I actually don't remember. I just remember a real form. It was a real form. And it was so funny. And waiting to see, "Are they going to let me in?" [Laughter] It was so amazing.
And getting very excited, when I got it back that, yes, I can come down and work. I had a summer job in Irvington which was near Tarrytown, and I had gotten this before I knew I was going to go work for SNCC, and so it was working as kind of a junior staff counselor at Irvington House Irvington House serviced children who are part of what do they call them? Who are part of the system. They were now in the system. They had been abused. They had been taken from their families. So I was working there during the day, and that was my summer job. And then I ended up just giving notice even before it was to be ended, because I wanted so badly to continue working in Cambridge. And so I just left early.
Jean: So at that point, SNCC has assigned you to Cambridge? That's an assignment?
Judy: I'm truthfully not sure. I just knew that It was assumed I certainly always assumed that I would be going back to Cambridge.
Jean: And that's where you wanted.
Judy: Yes. Because I knew that. At first we were living above Gloria's house, and then I lived above Pop Herb's, who was her uncle and owned the funeral parlor.
Jean: So what drew you there that you would want so much to go back?
Judy: Well, that's the only thing I knew at that point in the Movement. I mean, I knew I wanted to be in the Movement, and so for me, the Movement was Cambridge. And there was a passion. There was an excitement. There was I don't know if I could even put a name to it. It was a sense that you were just you had found your place in life, you know?
SNCC National Office Atlanta GA
My assumption was that I would probably be going back [to Swarthmore], but there was a part of me that felt like this I don't know if I knew at that point. I was going to say that I knew even in Cambridge that I would be doing this the rest of my life doing SNCC. I mean, there was a point when I was in the national office where I just assumed I would always be doing this. I will always be in this organization for the rest of my life. I'm not sure if I felt that at that point in Cambridge. I think it was the excitement of it and the sense of
I remember being amazed at when people would speak at mass meetings and just being amazed at how they could move folks. I mean, when I was in SNCC, I never spoke. I never spoke at meetings. I never spoke.
Jean: Neither did I!
Judy: You didn't either! Isn't that funny! Now why didn't you speak?
Jean: Because I had the sense that I had so much to learn.
Jean: And in order to learn it fast, I had to listen. I had to concentrate. On what people were saying and what people were doing, and so that's what I did. It wasn't important to speak. It was important to get it. For me, it was, you got to get it.
Judy: Ahhh. I see. Okay. See that was part of it for me. But, more than that, it was, "You're really going to make a fool of yourself if you open your mouth." It was that I really didn't know anything. Your assumption was that you were learning. I don't know if I was ever that sure of that. I was just, "I don't know enough to say anything. All these people are brilliant. They are brilliant organizers. They know all this stuff, and I know nothing, and so, if I just keep quiet, they won't maybe they won't find out."
Jean: Another thing was, "If I just keep quiet, maybe they'll forget that I'm here."
Jean: "And they won't put me out."
Judy: You got it. That's exactly right. That's right. And they won't call on me. If I'm quiet, they won't call on me to say anything.
Judy: That's exactly right. And the other part was I realized, I guess early on, how political those meetings were, particularly [SNCC] staff meetings. And so it seemed like any little thing could mess up somebody's position. And I remember being very aware that even when I supported a position, I would not come out and say that verbally, because I might say it the wrong way. I might make the wrong points that would then eliminate the support for that position. It just seemed that there were so many things that were going on at so many different levels at SNCC meetings, that I couldn't afford to mess up somebody's position by saying something.
Jean: Interesting. At that point, you're at the national office?
Judy: Yes, I'm in the National Office in terms of the staff meetings. But let me back up to when I'm still in Cambridge and I'm working with the SNCC project there, and Mark Suckle is there. I'm trying to think who else, because Mark later goes down to Atlanta as well. And I don't know at what point I decide I'm not going to go back [to Swarthmore], and I actually don't even remember what my mother says. I don't remember telling her. I mean, obviously I had to, but I don't remember what that meant.
It might have been because I go from Cambridge with Reggie to Cincinnati to Bill Hanson, Bill and, oh gosh, his wife I'll think of her in a moment [Ruth Buffington]. Their wedding in Cincinnati. And I remember being poured into this little black dress, because I think Hanson's family had not come to the wedding. She was from southwest Georgia. And I don't think her family had come either, because he was white. Bill was white, and she was Black. And my memories were that both families were not happy about any of this. So she had no maid of honor. Now I don't even know the child, right? I get there, and they pour me into this You know those fitted Black dresses that everybody wore in the early sixties? And these high heels. And I became her maid of honor.
Judy: And then on the way back, Reggie says, let's go by Atlanta so I can show you the Atlanta national office. And I remember the office just looked so un-national-like.
Judy: I was so prepared for I don't know what I was prepared for. And then you know, Forman's sweeping the stairs, and I don't know it's Forman, and it was just amazing. It was only when Reggie hollered up to him that I realized, "Oh my gosh! This is Jim Forman! Good gosh!" And it was part of that Forman thing: No job is too lowly for anybody in the organization. Yes. Every job is important.
And so then Forman finds out that I can type 90 words a minute and, yes, I can take shorthand. He said, "Oh no, you're not going back to Cambridge. You're going to be my secretary." Okay.
But it was great, because it gave me a bird's eye view of this organization from the jump. And it was so important. And Mildred Forman [Jim Forman's first wife] was wonderful in this. Because she would always call up when she was trying to reach Forman, and she would say, "Hey, Cap'n." And it just made me feel, oh, I'm part of this organization. "Hi, Mildred! How are you doing?"
Because I felt very outside, I mean that was the thing. I'm a Northerner who has really not been around that many Black people. And now I'm coming South. I don't know the rhythms of the South. And I remember, Cordell Reagan coming and saying — [he had] come into town from the field. And he said something about, "So, the eagle's flying today, huh?" I had no idea what he was talking about. That's paychecks, but I learned that only later.
Judy: I had no idea. So it was all that. So for me, it was a growth in a lot of different ways when I get into SNCC. And I think it's only after I get to the Atlanta office that I realize, "Oh, I'm not going back again." Because I don't think I made that decision in Cambridge. And I never made it back to Cambridge.
Jean: Okay. So, you're at the national headquarters, and you're Jim's secretary. And you're not saying anything at meetings.
Judy: That's right. But I'm talking to a lot of people over the phone. And I'm writing letters and talking to the pro bono lawyers like Mike Standard at Rabinowitz and Boudin. I always remember, Mike was our main lawyer. And then I'm doing the WATS line reports with other people of course.
The Wide Area Telephone Service (WATS) line was like an 800 number before 800 numbers existed, it allowed SNCC workers in communities around the South to make low-cost, long-distance calls to SNCC headquarters that were billed directly to SNCC. With the WATS line, long-distance calls could be made from pay-phones, or the phones of local Blacks who had no money for long-distance bills. Many isolated rural communities in the deep South did not yet have long-distance direct-dial, so out-of-area calls had to go through the local operators (all white, of course) who would sometimes block or tap calls from freedom fighters. But the WATS line allowed SNCC workers to bypass the local operators, which meant that they could reach the SNCC office when under siege by cops or the Klan. As the calls came in over the WATS line each day reporting attacks and arrests and crises, the substance of each call was added to the daily "WATS Report." For an example, see "Civil Rights Incidents in McComb" for a compilation of WATS reports from a single Movement town in the year 1964.]
Jean: Were you there when the WATS line was set up?
Judy: I'm trying to remember, I thought it was there already, but it must not have been because I remember what we did [before the WATS line] the staff people, the people in the field, would call [collect] and they'd just say, "This is so-and-so calling." No, they'd ask for somebody [who didn't exist], "Is Phyllis there?" "No, I'm sorry Phyllis isn't here." And you would recognize their voice. And so you'd realize, Okay now, that's McComb calling, and we've got to call them back [at the Freedom House or Movement office]. And so you'd call them right back [so that the call would be charged to SNCC]. And it's funny, because it got to the point where the [local] operators realized what we were doing, and so they would try and cut us off before the person on the other end got to say too much. That was the other thing.
Because I took shorthand, and also because I was in such awe of all of these folks, I took very long notes my first staff meeting. So I had 33 pages worth of notes on the staff meeting. And I have my diary entries that keep saying, "Still doing the minutes. Still doing the minutes." It was just amazing. Day after day.
The problem was that we had these humongous flying water bugs that only the South can breed in the work room. And so I'd be there at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, and you would actually hear them scratching. Oh, it was a horrible sound. And the problem was that if you needed to go into the work room to get anything, you had to steel up your courage, and then put the light on and hope you weren't going to touch one of these things, and that they weren't going to fly at you. And then, hurry, scurry back to actually, I always had an electric typewriter by that time. But I was doing [the minutes] on these mimeograph sheets, so every time you made a mistake, of course, you had that little green liquid that you had to put on it and do it all over.
So when I finally finished, I got these 33 pages, and I was running them off on the mimeograph machine.
Jean: The olden days.
Judy: The olden days. That's right. Exactly.
Jean: Did you ever feel You know, in subsequent years, a number of women in SNCC had said that they resented that they were office workers, secretaries, clerks and stuff like that. And in this stage, did you resent your work?
Judy: Not at all. Not at all. In fact, for me, that was the best place to put me, at that point. Well, first of all, I am Northern, right? And it's not like I have roots in the South. It's not like I've been going every summer to my relatives' home in, you know, Rocky Mount, North Carolina like Ruth. I mean, I didn't have that connection, so in a lot of ways this was the most useful I could be to the organization.
There does come a point where I get tired of doing the minutes. And I get tired of the fact as do other women in the office of the fact that only the women are doing the minutes, even in the office. So that's when the staff meeting happens. It's not just that I and Mary King are doing the minutes, it's that the guys aren't doing them Julian [Bond] certainly isn't doin' no minutes. You know, Jimmy Bolton wasn't doing the minutes. You know, none of the men were doing the minutes. That's when we had I still have the photo that I recently got a JPEG of that sit-in in Forman's office. It's the Atlanta sit-in. And it's Bobbi Yancey, who of course is number two now at the Shomburg, and Mildred [Forman], and Mary King, Ruby Doris [Robinson], and I. And we're sitting down
Jean: Who organized it?
Judy: I think I helped.
Judy: That's right! We're sitting down, and Danny Lyon took a photo of it, and we're holding placards reading "Freedom Over Me" and "No More Minutes." Oh no, "No More Minutes Until Freedom Comes to the Atlanta Office." That was Ruby's sign. And you know, we did it half playful, but the other thing was, we're not going to do this anymore. And you see Forman in the back.
Now, the other part of that is that when I'm at
Blackside Productions in Boston, in the middle of production for "
Eyes on the Prize," the first series, and Forman has his book
party for the reissue of The
Making of Black Revolutionaries, so I go down. I take the
train down from Boston to New York. And I'm reading it. I had just
gotten the new book, the new edition of the book. And I see a preface
that includes his new notes, an update on what he's written for this
new edition. And there's a new section about feminism where he talks
about the "Atlanta sit-in." And he says, "
Some women have asked
me to elaborate on the sit-in in my office." And he actually
says that we came to him, because we had been having a problem with
sexism in the organization, and so we came to him to ask his advice,
and he suggested that we role-play a sit-in in his office.
So I had an aqua highlighter and I put I still have it in the book I put, "What!!" Exclamation point, exclamation point. And so I get to the party, and I wait until the end, and I'm sitting there with Forman, in the room, and nobody's around, and I say, "Forman, I want you to sign my book." I said, "But Forman, how could you have said that crap about how the sit-in came about? You know it didn't happen that way." And he just looked you know how Forman could look he just said, "Wee-e-lll." No explanation. No, "I'm sorry. Yeah, you're right." Nothing.
So, now later, at the "We Who Believe in Freedom..." conference around Miss Baker, in Raleigh, and I was on a panel with Forman, and Forman referred to that sit-in, and he looked over at me, and he said, "Now, I know Judy has a different interpretation of it." And I said, "No! I have the right interpretation, but this is your panel right now, so you go ahead and talk." Because I mean, by that time, I had gotten my voice, you know!
Jean: [Laughing] But [the sit-in] worked. It obviously worked.
Judy: Well, see that was the point of SNCC. It was that as a woman, I mean I really did feel nurtured by the guys. I felt that they respected me for whatever skills I had. I felt that they you know, you never felt, for example, that Ruby Doris was not absolutely respected in that organization. I came in after Diane Nash, but the way people talked about Diane, even when I was there, was with so much admiration. I mean, it was a sense that women in the organization were respected for their capabilities even within the context of sexism, that (and yeah, you know, there was little stuff that would happen every once in a while). But most of the time, I never felt limited. Never limited about what I could do.
I remember when I came up with this idea for a residential freedom school, and I was going to bring young people from the Southern projects together with some of our Friends of SNCC organizations support groups in the North. And I was going to have the sessions take place a couple of weeks in southwest Georgia and a couple of weeks in Chicago. When I came up with this idea, nobody says to me, "You have never done this. What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ivanhoe [Donaldson] says, "Put down your thoughts. Do a proposal." Tells me basically what I should do to get it funded. He said, "Let me review it, and I'll tell you if there are any things I can think of." And also start thinking about some foundations that you might want to submit it. It wasn't that he was going to do it, but that you might want to submit it to. I remember Stokely [Carmichael] saying, "You tell me where you want me to be, and I'll be there. Tell me what time." And he was. Charlie [Cobb] was there. Nobody, men or women, ever said, "You don't know what you're doing."
Jean: Yeah. That was my experience too. And I remember sometimes I didn't know what I was doing. [Laughter]
Judy: Exactly. That's right. Yes. I felt limitless possibilities in terms of And it's exactly what you're saying. Pushed into things that I wasn't even sure about. When Julian wins the [state Assembly seat] Because I come back from Lowndes County to work on Julian's campaign. As a secretary in his office, 'cause Ivanhoe and Charlie were co-campaign managers. And when I get there, I'm also working on the Student Voice.
Now I had never done the Student Voice before, but there comes a time when Julian cannot do it for all that he is doing. And that actually might have happened after he won the election. And at that point, he can't handle the Student Voice and stuff. I guess somebody told me what to do, and it was enough of a machine by that time and enough kind of automated in some ways, just in terms of how things happened, that I was able to take it over.
But, as a woman, I just felt absolutely powerful, just powerful. It was amazing. Actually, it's only when I get into the nationalist we come up against some of the "narrow nationalists," as they say, in '68, that you suddenly realize, "Oh, I see. All guys aren't like the SNCC guys. Okay."
Jean: It took me years to learn that. It took me years. I thought all the [Movement] guys were like the SNCC guys.
Judy: That's right.
Jean: It was a huge disappointment.
Jean: When I saw that.
Judy: That's right.
Jean: They're not.
Judy: They're not. No, they're not.
[Then there came] a point where I started saying, "Forman, I want to go to the field. I want to go to the field." I mean, it was like a mantra with me. "I want to go to the field." Because for me, that's where the excitement was. It wasn't sitting up there in the office. And I was getting arrested down in Atlanta demonstrations too, but that's not where the action was. So, "I want to go to the field."
Greenwood MS, 1964
Jean: So take me back to your first field experience.
Judy: Oh, okay fine. Mention the first field experience?
Jean: After your sit-in.
Judy: After the sit-in. My first well, you can't really call Atlanta the field. At some point, I probably need to go back to Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, but that's kind of So let me give you the most vivid field experience for me. Can I do it that way? That's when we move the Atlanta office down from when we move the national office to Greenwood, Mississippi in '64. The [Freedom Summer] of '64.
So I was sitting in the office [in Greenwood], and it was nighttime, and the McGee brothers in Greenwood had sat-in, and at this point, in the summer of '64, you weren't supposed to be doing any sit-ins because we were supposed to be focusing all of our resources on voter registration and building of the MFDP. So it was frowned upon. But the McGee brothers were like, they're younger, and they wanted to do what they wanted to do, and so they sat in.
June Johnson comes running in. I was manning womaning the WATS line, and June came in. She said, "Judy, Judy, we got to ride to the hospital." Because the McGee brothers Silas I think, Silas McGee had come out of the sit-in, and he had gotten in the car. And some racist had come by and thrown a rock through the window or something. So this glass had splintered and gotten in Silas McGee's eye, and he'd been taken to the hospital.
On July 26th, 1964, three weeks after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a white mob attacked the McGhee brothers, Silas and Jake, when they attemped to sit in the "white" section of Greenwood's movie theater. Charles Payne, described what happened in I've Got the Light of Freedom: ...:
Jake got the SNCC office on the phone again, and they promised to send a car. They sent two cars, the first to decoy the crowd, but the brothers hadn't understood that and tried to fight their way through the crowd as soon as they saw the first car. They were pummeled, with Jake taking the worst of it. After they made it to the car, something was thrown through the windshield, and Silas got cut by flying glass and had to be taken to the hospital. While he was there, his mother came, accompanied by Clarence, the oldest brother, a soldier home on leave from Korea, who had joined his brothers on some of their theater excursions. Another mob formed outside the hospital, and the family was unable to leave, the sheriff saying there was nothing he could do about it. He insisted that they had to leave the hospital, and they insisted that they weren't going to do that. Clarence called his commanding officer, and the SNCC office called someone from the Justice Department who promised to intercede. Around one or two in the morning, a phalanx of state troopers and local police materialized and escorted them home.]
So June came to get me, because I had the keys to a few of the cars from the SNCC fleet of Plymouths. So I get in, and I'm driving. We hear these pops, and June says, "Hurry up, Judy, they're shooting at us!" And I said, "Oh no, June, they're not shooting. Those are just backfires." And I continue going 25 mph, as we had been taught. And you would have assumed that I, who was from Tarrytown and knew nothing, would understand that this person sitting next to me, who was born and bred in Greenwood, had been years in the Movement, would know whereof she was speaking, right? But no, "Oh no, June, that's just a car backfiring."
So I kept going, and then we get to the hospital, and there's this small mob of white men with bricks, with bats, baseball bats and stuff. And so I parked the car I remember the hospital being single story, but I may be wrong, but this big parking lot. So I parked it somewhere. It wasn't like I picked a spot. It was open. It was outside.
We ran quickly into the waiting room which had this big picture window. And I'm trying to think she went to see about Silas, and I started calling the Justice Department. I started calling John Doer's office. So I'm calling and calling, and there were six FBI men in that waiting room, just roaming around, doing nothing. And I remember saying to them, asking them, "Have you called your office?" No response. It was as if I were not asking anything.
So I'm calling; I'm calling. I'm leaving messages. I called Forman. I think he was I'm not sure if he was in the state, in Mississippi, or whether he was in Atlanta at that point. And then at some point, somebody threw a brick through the window. I had never seen FBI men run that quickly. I mean, they ran behind the wall so that they would be out of harm's way. I followed, because I was no dummy at that point. But the only public phone because, of course, this was before cell phones the only public phone is the wall phone in the reception area which had this picture window.
So I remember going behind the wall, screaming at the FBI men, because they are at this point, sitting like the monkeys, the three "see-no-evil, hear-no-evil" monkeys. I mean, just sitting, sitting on the floor in the hallway, and I'm screaming at them, "Why don't you do something?" And of course, they look at me again like I'm a crazy lady.
And then, at some point, I kept peeking around to see whether anybody was there. And I then went back to the hall, to the phone, to the reception area, and started calling. Now, what's interesting about this is that in my mind, for years, I had that we were rescued by Forman and Stokely and Ivanhoe and other SNCC men. That was in my mind, that they had come, gotten us out of there.
Fast forward. [The film] Mississippi Burning had just come out .
Freedom fighters from every Movement organization hated and despised Mississippi Burning because it falsely portrayed FBI agents as heroes who opposed the KKK. In truth the FBI worked hand-in-glove with the racist local police throughout the South, did nothing to protect the rights of Blacks, and actively tried to undermine and suppress the Civil Rights Movement. It was headed by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, an avowed racist who implied, in 1964 when the three Movement workers were still missing, that they were deliberately hiding to gain publicity for Freedom Summer. They were later found shot and beaten to death in an earthen dam in Philadelphia, Mississippi.]
I had done a number of panels around screenings of the film and how stupid it was. And I had been called down to D.C. because I had already done one with the Co-Executive Producer at this Harvard University panel. So now I'm at this one in D.C., and other SNCC people are on this panel including June Johnson. And we're in the "Green Room" before we go on, and I said, "June! Remember that time when we were so-and-so and in the hospital, and then Forman and so-and-so came and got us?"
She said, "No, they didn't. Don't you remember, Judy? You kept calling. You kept going to the phone and calling the Justice Department. And then finally, they got the sheriff to come and take us out of there." I had no memory of this. So that's how we got out, and I'd remembered it completely wrong. But we didn't leave until June had made sure that Silas was going to be okay. Because of course his family was already there, so somebody was with him. And then, we went back. I certainly went back that day to our Greenwood national office and resumed my activities. But it was very strange. Yeah.
I'm going to probably have to, because my voice is starting to go on me with this cold so that's about all I can handle right now...
Jean: So, we're stopping at Greenwood, summer 1964. This is Jean Wiley talking with Judy Richardson, and signing off. Over and out. Or rather, to be continued.
Judy: To be continued. That's right. That's right ...
Copyright © Judy Richardson, 2007-2008
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the information and stories contained in the interview belongs to Judy Richardson.