Written sometime between 2003-2006]
Peter de Lissovoy was a SNCC worker in 1963 and worked in Atty. C. B. King's campaign for Congress in 1964.]
Randy Battle was setup man, or advance man, for C. B. King's campaign for Congress from the second district in Southwest Georgia in 1964. He had a partner who was a preacher, and they would drive out to the little towns around the district, Dawson, Cuthbert, and so on, all around the countryside, and place placards in barbershop windows, purchase ads on the little radio stations, and cajole country preachers into allowing C. B. to hold a mass meeting in their churches.
Those were some sleepy little old wooden churches deep in the piney woods where the folks would gather to hear C. B. speak and tell his audacious plan of running for Congress — first Negro to run for Congress from south Georgia since Reconstruction. Sometimes it took some talking to persuade the preachers to open up their churches and Randy's preacher sidekick knew how to talk to them just right. But a lot of them were enthusiastic and downright curious too, and happy to have the Counselor to come to their church. Some were afraid and didn't believe in it; but most were ready to believe.
If you think how ordinary it is now that African Americans are well represented in Congress, so much so it would be remarkable only if you did not see black Congresspeople on the evening news, back then it was uncommon, unheard of completely, down South, and damn near terrifying for some to contemplate — and anathema to the crackers of course.
On a couple of occasions, when the preacher didn't go with him, I would
ride out there in the country with Randy. We had to dress up for the
occasion, and we donned suits and ties and shined our shoes. On the
corner in Harlem [
One of Albany's Black neighborhoods] as I
walked over there to join Randy at the "King for Congress" office above
Dick Gay's poolroom, when I passed some cats I knew hanging around
there, they stared at me in my suit: "You goin to a funeral?"
Actually it was a sort of a birth process we had adorned ourselves for. And you had to look good when you talked to any preachers; they checked out your threads and looked down at your feet for your shoeshine instantly so they could know who they were talking to. It didn't hurt in general out there to be well dressed no matter who you were talking to, and we represented the campaign. You know, most especially, your boots or shoes had to be well shined.
So one time we were way out in the woods someplace, out in the pecan groves, in "Bad" Baker county somewhere, and outside some sleepy hamlet we passed by a hot dog stand, and as it was lunch time we stopped for a bite — to carry out, of course. At a place like that they didn't mind serving black people as long as they bought to carry out. It was another thing to be "black and white together" as the song went. The little crackers at a hot dog stand or something like that didn't know that song for sure. It was not exactly the place to be wearing our best sharpest suits either. That just added to the joy of it for us of course.
We were about laughing and chuckling as we walked up and ordered some hot dogs and drinks to go. It seems we were always having a good time on days like that. The Movement was always not only a grand and noble adventure for guys like us, but quite exciting too. We loved to put the crackers on, and basically we knew no fear. As Randy puts it now, too dumb to be afraid, that's what we were, but we didn't think of it like that, and actually I still don't. I consider it a time of freedom and innocence that I wish I had back. We were way ahead of our time.
Well, we had a lot of cash on us because we had to pay the radio stations in advance cash money. As far as that went, they might give a contribution at the churches too, for all I knew, but it was not up to us to give the churches or preachers anything, they would have been offended. Anyway, the idea was that a collection would be taken up for the campaign at the mass meeting, although I don't think C. B. ever got more then ten or twenty dollars at any such a meeting out in the country there, if that. People might put in a dime or quarter in the plate for him. The Albany Movement and SNCC were mostly bankrolling the campaign. It was all too new for the people — they barely believed it could exist, let alone chip in for such a near chimera. Out there those poor farmers had nothing anyway. But that was the point of C. B.'s campaign.
We traveled with quite a bit of campaign cash and I believe we had some hundreds in our hip pockets. I definitely had one C-note which I proceeded to stick under cracker's nose in the window of the hot dog stand — a C-note to pay for about three dollars and a half worth of dogs, fries, and cokes. Then the two of us stood there and eyeballed the guy as he stared at the hundred dollar bill and began to steam like his hot dog cooker as he went in the drawer and very annoyed and fuming made the change.
This sort of thing was the height of fun. One time C. B. gave Randy and me a subpoena to deliver on Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett. It was a Sunday and the idea was to find him at home and stick it on him before he got his wits about him, and it worked. Randy Battle enjoyed this sort of thing very much, so did I. And these sorts of jobs C. B. King always entrusted to Randy. I always did enjoy sensing the vibes and watching the eyes of everybody at moments like these. Pritchett was Sunday afternoon sleepy and guarded and didn't show any expression, but we laid that paper on him before he realized it. He took it and went back inside.
I never really disliked Chief Pritchett, he was not that type of man or cop you could dislike, and a lot of others felt that way. All in all he believed in being rather gentle with the demonstrators if his officers did not always feel the same. Randy told me one time he stopped a wagonload of watermelons and brought them in to the demonstrators in his jail. But we enjoyed jiving with the Chief and putting him on. I told him one time, "Chief Pritchett I'm going to write about you in a book one day!" And he replied, "No, de Lissovoy, I'm going to put you in my book!" Randy was always cold and calm at moments like that, and that's how he was at the hot dog stand, just staring at the guy as he made the change. I guess I was just having fun showing off with that hundred.
We just got a kick out of putting on the dog with those people like that. Behind us on a sort of patio a bunch of white kids were lounging around at picnic tables and watching us. When we got our change and food and drove out of the place, a gang of those boys got in a car and followed after us. They tailed us for a few miles through the woods, and the woods got deep and dark, and I was thinking to myself, hey, we have irritated these crackers more than a little bit. I think I got a little vaguely anxious, but the funny thing it wasn't in any of us to know real fear — too dumb I guess. By now, I can look back and imagine what we were messing with, and what the outcome of such charades might just as well have been.
"Whata ya spose they want?" I might have mumbled or something like that but Randy was keeping silent.
We kept driving, now and again glancing in the mirror. They were right on our tail. Randy sped up and careened around a curve. All of a sudden the road made a bend and where there was a wide shoulder against the pine woods, Randy pulled the car over, and I thought, oh boy, this is it though. We were truly out in the middle of nowhere. The car tailing us pulled up sharp. They parked about one hundred feet behind us. We were both eyeing them in the mirrors and through the rear window.
They just sat there and didn't get out. There were four to six of them back there in that car. We all just sat there for a minute. Randy opened his door and so did I. I was hoping he had one of those knives or guns he usually had about him. (He has a saying, which he likes to say with a chuckle, that goes: "I am not a big person in size, so I have always kept me a little 'evener.'" By "evener" he meant a knife or a gun.)
I believe in those days if we had ever been caught by the Klan I would have been acting cocky and talking trash till I got a bullet in the head, I simply didn't know any better yet, is all. Randy had a different idea. He says, "No just wait here." I guess he didn't think it was a moment for black and white together but I thought he had some idea in mind. Randy had more street sense and common sense than anyone I knew so I never questioned his judgment. In fact I depended on it. For that matter any of the black guys from Sherrod on down, or black women too, I knew they knew the score as I couldn't, and lived here and would live here, and I never second guessed their judgment about anything let alone a situation like this. So I sat there.
He got out and walked back to the car and leaned down on the driver's window and had some kind of word with those guys. I watched through the back window. After half a minute or so he straightened up and turned his back on them and walked back to our car never looking back at them. After another half a minute their car spun around and they took off the other direction.
There was something so grave about him when he got in the car again and I was rather ashamed of my lack of participation, really, and so I couldn't bring myself to speak. I didn't quite feel up to saying, well what did they want, or what did you have to say to them? or anything lame like that, and I never did say anything. We rode along in total silence. I never did ask him, then, and as the years went by, I never did.
Around about the year 2000 or so, we were sitting in the Albany Civil Rights Museum and the curator there was talking with us and she suddenly had a brainstorm that the Albany Herald was doing some features on Martin Luther King Day and she would call a reporter friend of hers there, and tip her off that a story was sitting right in the Museum — namely, us.
A very nice young woman who hailed from Americus came over and interviewed us, and she called a photographer, who was freshly graduated from an art school in New York, and this was her first job in Albany, GA, and she came and took pictures. I suddenly thought to tell the story I have just been telling on Randy when we were out by that hot dog stand in "Bad" Baker county that day someplace to the Albany Herald reporter about our being out there on campaign advance work and paying with a C-note at the hot dog stand and what happened, and finally — I finally came to the point in the story then I am at now in this telling — and in the Museum there I turned to Randy, and I said to the reporter, "... and you know I never have asked Randy what did he say to those guys that day." So we all turned to Randy and there was another silence from him.
Finally he said, "I have no idea, to tell you the truth. Well, I believe I said to them, like, What do you fellows want?"
That was about it, but you have to understand the kind of emphasis or lack of same with which he must have spoken those words. It never had been what he said. There was an extremely sober vibe that came from Randy in those days when we had any little confrontation with crackers, and the interesting thing it must be a cultural thing, a southern thing, they always got it. He always got it over that there was nothing in the world that impressed him about them, and it was do or die right that moment. Somehow, he and we all escaped with our lives from those days to tell about it.
So I never did find out what he said, really, and in the Herald that is what she wrote, that he didn't know what he said! That the Herald published a piece about us "Two old friends from the sixties," was the ultimate irony though, because the owner of the Herald in the old days was James Gray, who bought Tift Park pool to prevent its being integrated and who was a diehard segregationist — although he was from New England. During those days with the pool on the line, James Daniel and his boys used to waylay cracker newspaperboys and steal their Albany Heralds from them as a form of protest. So times change, the Herald's policy has changed, and surely the country is keeping up with the times, to some extent, and there is hope that America will get together and be strong and right.
We had lined up a church for C. B. to speak at that day and placed some advertising for a mass meeting, and a week or so later we all rode out there again deep in the woods. And in the twilight the little old wooden church was lit by one oil lamp only. There were only about twenty people in attendance as C. B. in his resonant deep voice gave his thoughtful and heartfelt speech about the meaning of the vote and the meaning of his campaign for Congress in the shadows of the dim little church.
Farmers sat there on the pews in clean overalls. Never before had they voted, nor their fathers. I was C. B.'s speechwriter. As usual he glanced at what I had written for him for a minute and then let my pages drop aside as he reminisced about growing up in Southwest Georgia and just spoke his mind about what a run for Congress meant for him and for the people in the church and for everybody. The bitterness and loneliness of the Struggle came over me in the little unpainted wooden church with one oil lamp flickering in the night in the lost and obscure Georgia pine woods, and an almost unbearable sweetness of pride to be there for the start of things with the farmhands in their overalls who would cast their first ever vote for C.B. King for Congress.
Copyright © Peter de Lissovoy
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