1965: Selma & March to Montgomery

1966

1965

Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense (Jan-July)
Issues of Poverty, Exploitation, and Economic Justice
Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (Jan)
Issaquena County School Boycott (Feb-May)
Passage of the Voting Rights Act (Mar-Aug)
Cracking Lowndes County (Mar-Aug)
Jackson, MS Protests (June)
Summer Community Organization Political Education Project (SCOPE)
The Southern Courier (July '65-Dec '68)
Americus GA Protests (July)
Murder of Jonathan Daniels (Aug)
Vietnam and the Assembly of Unrepresented People (Aug)
Natchez MS — Freedom Movement vs Ku Klux Klan
ASCS Election Campaigns (Fall)
Crawfordville GA School Bus Struggle (Jun-Oct)
Poor Peoples Corporations, Cooperatives, & Quilting Bees
Birmingham Voter Registration Campaign (Dec-Mar)

 

Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense (Jan-July)

See Deacons for Defense & Justice Founded for preceding events.

Contents:

Bogalusa, Louisiana — "Klantown USA"
CORE Comes to Bogalusa
Deacons for Defense and Justice — Bogalusa Chapter
CORE and the Deacons Confront the Klan
Negotiations
The Klan Strikes Back
Murder of Deputy O'Neal Moore
Bloody Bogalusa
Bogalusa — Some Important Points

Bogalusa, Louisiana — "Klantown USA"

Wood pulp, paper and chemicals are the economic mainstays of Washington Parish Louisiana. Back in 1906, the Great Southern Lumber Company bought 600,000 acres (937 square miles) of virgin pine forest, built the world's largest sawmill, and founded the town of Bogalusa to serve it. During those mill years, Bogalusa was a classic company-town, Great Southern owned everything — houses, stores, electric utility, schools, even the segregated parks.

They also ran the government. The mill's general manager was the mayor and the police department took their orders from the company. In addition to the cops, Great Southern maintained a private armed security force to maintain "labor discipline." In 1919 after World War I, white and Black workers tried to form a biracial union (with segregated locals as required by Louisiana law). The company organized racist whites into the Self-Preservation and Loyalty League (SPLL). Company gunmen and the SPLL assaulted union members, evicted them from company housing, burned private homes, kidnapped, and tortured organizers. Finally, to suppress the union and end interracial cooperation, they formed an armed posse of more than 150 men, attacked the union hall, and shot to death four union leaders.

In the late 1930s, the last stands of virgin timber fell to the saws and the huge mill was torn down, it's scrap metal sold to Japan for use in their war of conquest against China. But Bogalusa survived because the logged-over acres had been replanted with fast-growing yellow pine which sustained paper-products and chemical plants built on the old mill site. In 1939, the new plants were unionized under the protection of the New Deal's Wagner Act (today, the National Labor Relations Act) into separate white and "Colored" locals, with whites holding the majority of the jobs — and all the better-paying positions.

By the 1960s, Bogalusa has evolved into a new kind of company town. Three big factories in the heart of town are owned by Crown-Zellerbach (CZ), one of the 100 largest corporations in the nation (today they are part of the Georgia-Pacific conglomerate). The company's $19,000,000 annual payroll dominates the economy, 40% of Bogalusa adults are employed by CZ, and the pervasive stench of its noxious fumes fouls the air. But unlike the old Great Southern days, the company no longer foots the bill for schools, hospitals, and other public services — taxpayers get to do that. While City Hall is nominally independent, politicians and public bureaucrats clearly understand that CZ still calls the tune — 70% of city taxes come from CZ, two of the City Council's five members work for CZ, and other CZ employees serve on the school board and other civic bodies.

Economically and culturally, Washington Parish is similar to adjacent Pike County Mississippi (McComb), and the Pearl River region on both sides of the state border is often referred to as "Klan Nation."

According to the 1960 Census, Blacks make up more than a third of the 44,000 people who live in Washington Parish and some 35-40% of Bogalusa's 23,000 inhabitants are Afro-American. The town is thoroughly segregated — neighborhoods, schools, parks, restrooms, lunch counters, and, of course, jobs. There are no Black cops, firemen, or public officials. In the CZ plants there are "white" jobs and "Colored" jobs. Blacks cannot be hired or promoted into "white" jobs, and whites will not demean themselves by doing "Colored" work. The facilities in CZ plants are segregated, toilets, time clocks, lockers, even the pay-windows. Afro-Americans are served food in the cafeteria, but only after whites, and then they have to eat the food in a separate wooden shack. While CZ will only contract with whites to cut the timber that forms the raw material for their plants, the actual cutting and hauling labor is done by Black subcontractors who pay a commission on each load to the white man who holds the prime contract with CZ.

Back in the 1950s, the NAACP managed to register a number of Black voters in Washington Parish. When a state injunction drove the NAACP underground in 1956, activists formed the Bogalusa Voters & Civic League (BVCL). In 1959, the White Citizens Council orchestrated a purge that removed 85% of Afro-American voters from the Washington Parish rolls. A court ruled the purge unconstitutional in both purpose and effect, but that did not restore Black voting rights. By 1964, most parish whites are registered, as are roughly 20% of Afro-Americans. This means that Blacks comprise a bit under 10% of the total electorate — not enough to elect any Blacks to office, but enough to swing a tight election between two white candidates and give the BVCL at least a little negotiating power with the mayor and city council.

The rising tide of Freedom Movement activity in the early 1960s inspires Black workers to begin challenging job discrimination and segregation in the CZ plants. Reed Hunt, Chairman of Crown-Zellerbach, responds that the company has no inclination to "alter the accepted pattern of race relations in the community." But under pressure, particularly from CORE in San Francisco where CZ has its corporate headquarters, the company is forced to make a few cosmetic steps towards equality. In 1963 they end segregation in the company cafeteria, allowing Blacks to actually eat in the same room with whites. White workers are furious. They boycott the facility and force it to close. When the shower-room is integrated, whites refuse to take showers.

During this period in the early '60s, CZ carries out a mechanization program in its Bogalusa plants. Hundreds of white and Black workers are laid off. A joint seven-month strike by both the white and Black union locals is unable to halt the lay-offs. By 1964, some 500 jobs have been eliminated and the workforce cut to 2900 (2500 white, 400 Afro-American). Membership in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan increases, as does their influence with the white population. When news reports announce that President Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, white patrons in the local bank burst into spontaneous applause.

In January, 1964, the KKK stages multiple cross burnings around the parish. On May 30, some 800 Klansmen, half in white hoods and robes, stage a Klan rally in Bogalusa. The wearing of hoods to conceal identity violates both Bogalusa's anti-masking ordinance and Louisiana's anti-Klan laws, but city officials make no effort to enforce those laws or halt the "Klonklave." Uniformed police (some of whom are Klansmen themselves) work with the Klan marshals to facilitate the event. In an article for The Nation magazine, author Paul Good later refers to Bogalusa as "Klantown USA."

CORE Comes to Bogalusa

Crown-Zellerbach and moderate civic leaders know they are sitting on a racial power-keg. In an attempt to head off a social explosion, Bogalusa mayor Jesse Cutrer forms a 21 member biracial committee that includes some of the old-guard Black leaders from the BVCL.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) has been active in nearby East and West Feliciana parishes since 1963. In the Spring of 1964 they send a small team of organizers to meet with Black leaders in Bogalusa about expanding CORE activities into Washington Parish. The BVCL leaders ask them to hold off and give the biracial committee a chance. They believe they can use the threat of CORE protests to extract concessions from the white power-structure. CORE organizer Mimi Feingold reports to CORE headquarters: "White people here are really afraid of CORE and demonstrations. They'll do almost anything to keep CORE out." [1]

CORE honors the local leaders' request. They agree to delay activity in Bogalusa until the end of 1964. The BVCL strategy fails. Moderate civic leaders and Crown-Zellerbach are more afraid of the Ku Klux Klan than they are of CORE. The Klan rally in May reveals a membership of at least 800. By some estimates more than 100 CZ employees are in the Klan, as are many business owners, police officers and firemen. Robert Rester, the City Attorney, is the Exalted Cyclops of the local Klavern which also includes a number of other city and parish officials. Klan harassment and threats drive a white family suspected of socializing with Blacks from town, a white Tulane student who participated in the New Orleans sit-ins is brutally assaulted, a white CZ worker is kidnapped and whipped with leather belts for the "crime" of playing folk music with Blacks in his private home. When the Bogalusa Daily News editorializes against the Klan, crosses are burned in front of the editor's home and office. The editor, Lou Major, begins carrying a pistol because of death threats. Terrified of KKK violence and economic boycotts, business owners are unwilling to end segregation as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the end of 1964, Bogalusa is still as segregated as it was in the 1950s.

As year ends, a small committee of racial moderates seek assistance from the Federal Community Relations Service (CRS) which was established by the Civil Rights Act to help communities ease racial tensions. They invite former Arkansas Congressman Brooks Hays, now a CRS official, to address an invitation-only, interracial dinner at a prominent white church. The Klan mobilizes to stop this "race-mixing." Racist hate leaflets threaten the handful of white moderates, who the Klan claims "... [want] your children to sit by filthy, runny-nosed, ragged, ugly little niggers in your public schools." Crosses are burned in front of committee member's homes, their businesses are boycotted, and they are threatened with death. Warned it will be bombed, the church withdraws use of its facility. The meeting never occurs.

CORE's moratorium on Bogalusa activity expires at the end 1964. In January of 1965, two experienced field-secretaries, Bill Yates and Steve Miller — both of whom are white — arrive and begin organizing Black youth to test compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Some businesses obey the law and serve them, but many others refuse. Frustrated at the lack of progress and the failure of the "threaten-them-with-CORE" strategy, BVCL members oust the old-guard leadership at a tumultuous meeting in the union hall of the Black local. A.Z. Young, union leader and WWII vet, is elected president. Crown-Zellerbach worker Robert Hicks is chosen vice-president and Gayle Jenkins, a hospital food-service worker, becomes Secretary.

The Ku Klux Klan knows that Yates and Miller are staying at the home of Robert Hicks. On the night of February 1st, they form a lynch gang to get the two white activists. Police Chief Claxton Knight refuses to provide protection: "We have better things to do than protect people who aren't wanted here," he tells them. He warns the two CORE workers to get out of town for their own safety and offers an escort if they agree to permanently leave Bogalusa. Recalling the police role in the Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman they refuse. "We just knew that if Yates and Miller left our house at that moment, we would never see them alive again," Robert Hicks later recalled. He summons help from neighbors, and fifteen armed men arrive to defend against the KKK. The CORE organizers work the phones, activating the national CORE network. Phone calls and telegrams pour in to news bureaus, FBI, Department of Justice, Governor McKeithen and Crown Zellerbach headquarters in San Francisco. The Klan raid is called off.

A day and a half later, on February 3rd, Klansmen in cars chase Yates and Miller as they leave the union hall. Miller manages to reach Andrey's, a Black-owned cafe, but the gang surrounds Yates. They beat and kick him until a group of Black men force them back long enough for Yates to reach the cafe. More and more Klansmen gather outside the cafe, chatting amicably with the cops. When darkness falls, the police withdraw and all the phones in the neighborhood suddenly go dead. Armed Afro-Americans manage to move the two CORE workers to a home that can more easily be defended. Eventually, FBI agents and State Troopers break the siege.

Meanwhile, CORE demonstrators — mostly teenagers — continue to test compliance with the Civil Rights Act and protest segregated facilities. They are heckled and abused by whites, and often physically assaulted by Klansmen who the cops treat as honored civic benefactors. To a degree, the presence of news media and Justice Department observers limits the intensity of the violence, but each protest and sit-in is an ordeal of raw courage for the young girls and boys who defy the Klan day after day in the downtown business district. Their bravery inspires the Black community.

On February 15, the Ku Klux Klan renames itself the "Anti-Communist Christian Association" and obtains a state charter as a nonprofit organization. Behind the protection of this patriotic cover, they sharply escalate their violence. Death threats and White Citizens Council economic warfare drive the few white moderates out of the county or into deep hiding. Club-carrying Klansmen force Blacks out of cafes. They hurl bricks and bottles from speeding cars at Black pedestrians regardless of whether or not they are active with the Movement. Cars driven by Afro-Americans are stopped on the street and the occupants beaten. Blacks are assaulted when they stop for gas or groceries. High-speed chases of CORE organizers in the rural areas of Washington Parish are frequent. The violence becomes so intense in "Klantown USA" that the desegregation testing and protests have to be temporarily halted. Neither the police nor the town's political leadership do anything to halt the escalating violence. CRS head LeRoy Collins reports to Washington: "The Mayor and the police seem to feel that the way to avoid violence and maintain law and order is for the Negro citizens not to seek to exercise their constitutional rights."

Deacons for Defense and Justice — Bogalusa Chapter

CORE organizer Bill Yates asks the Jonesboro Deacons for Defense & Justice for assistance. On February 21, Deacon leaders Ernest Thomas and F.D. Kirkpatrick along with CORE field-secretary Charles Fenton arrive in Bogalusa. They present a strategy of self-defense in cooperation with nonviolent direct action. "It takes violent Blacks to combat these violent whites," Thomas tells them. "It takes nonviolent whites and nonviolent Negroes to sit down and bargain whenever the thing is over — and iron it out."

With the help of the experienced Jonesboro activists, a well-organized Deacons chapter comes together in Bogalusa. Led by Charles Sims, it provides armed guards for the mass meetings at the union hall, escorts for CORE cars on rural roads, riflemen to protect activists and the CORE office at night, and roving security patrols to protect the Black neighborhoods after dark. Though heavily outnumbered and outgunned by both Klan and cops, the Deacons are determined that if blood flows in the street some of it will be the blood of white racists. For all their bravado, Klansmen show little enthusiasm for a stand-up fight with Blacks armed and ready to return fire. Governor McKeithan orders the State Troopers to disarm the Deacons — but not if it means putting their lives at risk. Which it will.

In Bogalusa, the national mass media suddenly discover the Deacons as a BIG story. The Deacons become a Rorschach test upon whom the media project white fears and fantasies. Press and TV reports distort and sensationalize Deacon goals and activities, lumping them into "kill-whitey" scare-stories about the Nation of Islam and violent urban uprisings in the North such as the Harlem Rebellion and Watts uprising. They invent nonexistent controversies between the (bad) "violent tactics" of the Deacons and the (good) nonviolence of CORE, and they enormously exaggerate disagreements between the Deacons and other Freedom Movement organizations and leaders. For security reasons, the Deacons sensibly keep their membership numbers and chapter organizations confidential. But that encourages the press to let their imaginations run wild. By June of 1965, the Los Angeles Times is claiming that there are 15,000 Deacons in 50 chapters across the South, other publications see in the Deacons ominous portents of Black terrorism and guerrilla armies. Completely ignoring the fact that the Deacons risk their lives to protect white activists with groups like CORE, MCHR, and ACLU, some reporters portray them as a "Black racists," or a "Black Ku Klux Klan."

Local, state, and Federal police agencies question and harass Deacon members. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considers them a "national threat" and they are targeted for "intensified attention" along with CORE, SCLC, SNCC, and the Nation of Islam. FBI field reports on the Deacons total more than 1,500 pages.

On February 21st, CORE resumes testing compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Not a single establishment is willing to serve Blacks, not even those that had previously complied during the tests in January. They are terrified of the KKK. Any business that dares to serve Blacks becomes a target of a Klan "wrecking crew." CORE staff report: "Each time a Negro enters an establishment, the manager says that he can neither serve nor protect them. Then he makes a phone call and within five minutes a mob comes in and forces them to leave."

Faced with this violence, the Deacons have to maintain a delicate strategic and tactical balance. To paraphrase Admiral Mahan, the "Deacons in being" deter the Klan from lethal violence. But for that deterrence to work, the Deacons have to continue to exist and operate as an organized force. The cops, of course, are eager to bust Deacons on the slightest excuse, and Deacons in jail or tied up in lengthy felony trials can't defend against Klan assassins or lynch mobs. If a Deacon responds with defensive-violence when Klansmen punch and kick a nonviolent protester, it is the Deacon who will be arrested, not the KKK. To remain ready to protect protesters against lethal attack with knives, ax-handles, firebombs, and guns, the Deacons have to hold themselves in check when demonstrators — mostly women and teenagers — are assaulted with less-than-deadly force. Day after day and minute by minute, the Deacons make constant tactical decisions over if, when, and how to intervene. With the possible exception of clueless reporters, everyone on the street — Deacons, demonstrators, cops, Klan — all understand this fluid, intricate social dance of violence and maneuver, provocation and reaction.

CORE and the Deacons Confront the Klan

During late February and early March, 1965, while most media attention is focused on the historic Selma Voting Rights Campaign & March to Montgomery, testing and protests continue day after day in Bogalusa. As do attacks by Klansmen. But CORE and the young activists are not cowed; they demand that Black salesclerks be hired in the downtown stores and they escalate the struggle by boycotting the white merchants and mounting picket lines on Columbia Street the main commerical artery.

Led by Wilfred Ussery, San Francisco CORE steps up pressure on Crown-Zellerbach to intervene in Bogalusa where their economic and political clout could be decisive. CZ headquarters are picketed, letters, phone calls, and telegrams flood in demanding that CZ publicly oppose the Klan and support desegregation. But Chairman Reed Hunt refuses to "promote social reform." Nor will he remove active Klansmen employed by CZ on grounds that "An employee's private life is his own." Even though CZ has dominated local politics for decades, Hunt claims that the company has no responsibility or authority to be involved in "local affairs." CORE field-secretary Bill Yates counters that, "The worst segregated conditions in Bogalusa are inside the plant, and here they have full and complete jurisdiction."

On April 4, student volunteers on spring break from Kansas State University (KSU) arrive in Bogalusa for a voter registration drive in Washington Parish. A couple of days later a gang of more than 50 Klansmen menace the union hall where a registration class is being held. They leave two coffins, one with CORE organizer Bill Yates' name on it. Later, Klan nightriders shoot into Robert Hicks' home. He and the Deacon guards return fire, driving them off. The next morning, KSU students canvassing for voters are chased by four carloads of KKK.

In flagrant violation of the Constitution's First Amendment rights of free speech, the city passes an ordinance on April 7 that limits pickets to no more than two people at a time and defines almost every other Freedom Movement activity involving three or more people as "Disturbing the Peace." On April 8, national CORE leader James Farmer arrives to lead a mass march to City Hall on the following day. Tension is high. The CZ plants close for the day (freeing up Klansmen who might otherwise be working). The downtown area is sealed off by police barricades. Fearing violence, most of the stores and cafes are closed. Some 400 Black high-school students try to stage an impromptu march, but they are forced back by the cops.

Personally committed to Gandhian philosophical nonviolence, Farmer is uncomfortable with the armed guards provided by both the Louisiana State Troopers and the Bogalusa Deacons for Defense. But he accepts and respects the right of local Blacks to determine for themselves how they respond to Klan attack and fight for justice. "CORE is nonviolent," he tells the press, "but we have no right to tell Negroes in Bogalusa or anywhere else that they do not have the right to defend their homes. It is a constitutional right." [3]

On April 9, Farmer leads 500 protesters, mostly Black, a few white, out of the union hall for the two-mile march. More than 100 police try to keep order, but they are unable (or unwilling) to prevent Klansmen from darting in to attack the marchers. Nor do they stop the Klan from assaulting reporters and smashing their cameras. Under heavy attack, the march retreats back to the union hall. Six hours later, after more State Troopers are brought in, the protesters march again. This time they reach City Hall and are able to hold a rally.

All of Bogalusa's doctors, nurses, and dentists are white. Some are willing to treat Blacks (after first treating whites, of course). Others won't treat Afro-Americans at all. None are willing to treat civil rights activists or anyone injured on a protest. The Federally financed Community Medical Center will only see Blacks on Thursdays except in serious emergencies. The Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), which supplied emergency-medics for Selma and the March to Montgomery, sends health workers to Bogalusa. They accompany protesters under Klan attack and set up a medical aid station in the Black community.

Led by Berkeley CORE, a group of University of California students arrives in Bogalusa over their spring break. When they return to the Bay Area, they are interviewed by radio host Ira Blue who asks them if the police provided protection:

"Protected us? They terrorize us!" They explain to him that the police yell insults and hurl as much obscene language at picketers as the hecklers; they feel free to swing their billy clubs at youthful picketers; and it pleases them to stand by and laugh while rocks, lighted cigarettes, insecticide, and snakes are thrown into the picket lines and marches. An effort was made to get badge numbers of these police officers; however, the effort was frustrated when both State Troopers and City Police began covering their badges with metallic tape to hide the numbers. [4]

Negotiations

With Selma now out of the headlines, the march led by Farmer and the ongoing Klan violence receive renewed attention from the national media and the Federal government bestirs itself into modest action. Vice President Humphrey meets with Governor McKeithan in Baton Rouge, Community Relations Service officials urge negotiations, and the Justice Department threatens to prosecute the owners of segregated establishments under the Civil Rights Act (which they have been violating for the past nine months). Mayor Cutrer refuses to negotiate with Young, Hicks, and Jenkins of the BVCL. Both the Governor and Crown-Zellerbach support his intransigence. Instead, Cutrer maneuvers to satisfy the feds by negotiating with a hand-picked group of "Black leaders" chosen by the white power-structure.

The protests and Klan violence continue during weeks of maneuvers over who the city will negotiate with — the BVCL or "responsible Negro leaders" chosen by whites. In one of many attempts to avoid sitting down with the BVCL, Mayor Cutrer claims that "CORE and the voters league are a small group of self-styled leaders who do not represent the Negro community." He devises a survey to determine the "real leaders" of the Black community. In a single day the BVCL collects some 2,000 signatures of Black supporters to decisively block that ploy.

To keep the pressure on, James Farmer leads another mass march to City Hall. Eventually, the Department of Justice (DOJ) gets around to finally filing suit against half a dozen segregated establishments for violation of the Civil Rights Act (the first such enforcement lawsuit in Louisiana). Governor McKeithen appoints a three-member committee of "racial moderates" to help mediate. Anticipating a violent Klan reaction, he dispatches an additional 300 State Troopers to Bogalusa. More than 3,000 whites attend a fiery Klan rally that denounces all attempts to end segregation or negotiate with the BVCL.

In mid-May, after weeks of stalling, Cutrer and the city council finally agree to meet the BVCL in face-to-face negotiations. CORE suspends protests pending the outcome. As the talks get underway, trucks loaded with furious Klansmen slowly circle City Hall. The city agrees to repeal its municiple segregation ordinances (which are illegal and unenforceable under the Civil Rights Act) and desegregate government buildings and facilities such as parks (which is also required by the Act). They promise to improve city services such as lighting, sewage, and paving in Black neighborhoods and enforce housing health and safety codes. They also promise to hire some Afro-American police officers and "consider" employing Blacks in other city jobs. They refuse to repeal the emergency ordinance that limits the right to picket, but they do say they'll "consider" modifying some other portions of the unconstitutional law. Maybe. Someday.

The Klan Strikes Back

Mayor Cutrer announces the agreement on May 18. The Klan is outraged. They distribute "Who Bought Jess Cutrer" flyers calling for him and other city officials to be tarred and feathered. Not included in the Klan's list of "race-traitors" are Claxton Knight, the Klan-friendly Chief of Police and Arnold Spiers the Commissioner of Public Safety. The next day, BVCL leaders Robert Hicks and Sam Barnes notify the FBI and police that they plan to lead a group of Afro-Americans to Cassidy Park, previously "white- only," but now supposedly desegregated under the agreement. When they arrive at the park, a gang of whites are loitering nearby, hanging out with a group of cops. As the Afro-American children approach the playground the white men attack with clubs and leather belts. Police, deputies, and troopers order the Blacks to leave the park. A police dog is set on 15-year old Gregory Hicks, son of BVCL leader Robert Hicks, biting him in the leg. Sam Barnes is arrested for carrying a pistol. When he is taken to the parish jail, three Black convicts are forced to beat him.

The following day, May 20, a mob of 500 whites wait for Blacks at Cassidy Park. When none appear, they attack reporters. The police do nothing. The city then closes all parks, rendering the agreement to integrate them meaningless. CORE resumes direct action protests and the Klan continues to attack them. On Saturday, May 29, CORE sends out waves of pickets to enforce the merchant boycott. They are opposed and attacked by hundreds of whites who rove the downtown area assaulting Blacks. On Sunday, the stores are closed for the sabbath so all is quiet. On Monday the confrontation between CORE demonstrators and the Klan mob is renewed. 125 State Troopers and more than 30 police are unable (or unwilling) to maintain order. A reporter notes: "Crowds of whites remained on the streets ... until the stores closed." On June 1, Mayor Cutrer bans all marches.

As described by author Adam Fairclough in Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972:

Klansmen had a remarkable facility for blending in the with the milling white onlookers, darting out to strike demonstrators and then darting back to the crowded sidewalks. On July 11, for example, an FBI agent saw forty to fifty young white men moving towards a BVCL march; when a contingent of state troopers approached they "seemed to melt into the crowd and the clubs, sticks, and ballbats ... seemed to disappear." On occasions, troopers were lured away from the marches by false reports of nearby altercations; "when they ran off to investigate, members of the Klan ... coming from the opposite direction would throw punches or flail away with clubs at the unprotected marchers." — Adam Fairclugh. [1]

Murder of Deputy O'Neal Moore

On June 2nd, Sheriffs deputies O'Neal Moore and David "Creed" Rogers, the first two Black deputies ever hired in Washington Parish, are patrolling a rural area a few miles north of Bogalusa. A pickup truck speeds by them. Two white gunmen in the back open fire. Moore is killed instantly. Rogers, on the passenger side, is wounded and permanently injured when the patrol car veers off the road and smashes into a tree. An hour later a police roadblock in Mississippi stops a truck that matches the description given by Rogers. Ray McElveen, a CZ employee, is arrested. He has membership cards for the rabidly-racist National States Rights Party and the White Citizens Council. He is also assumed to be a member of the KKK. He is charged with Moore's murder, but never brought to trial. The murder remains "unsolved" to this day. FBI agents later tell reporters that they believe it was a Klan operation.

Louisiana Attorney-General Jack Gremillion rules that O'Neal's widow is not eligible for state employee survivor benefits because he had not been killed "while engaged in the direct apprehension of a person."

Bloody Bogalusa

Through June and July the struggle continues in the sweltering streets of Bogalusa. The Klansmen are confident that Bogalusa cops and Washington Parish sheriffs will not arrest them for assaulting CORE protesters. The demonstrators, however, are busted on the slightest excuse. Reports one:

They handcuffed me with my hands behind my back and took me to the city jail in a city police car, with the Sheriff's car following. When they took me from the car at the jail they started shoving and kicking me. This continued as they brought me into the jail. While I was being booked, in front of the Desk Sargent, I was kicked and knocked down on the floor. The only time they said anything to me was when I had been knocked down. One officer said: "Boy, what you doin' down on the floor. Get up from there!" [4]

On June 25, the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (ACLU) files a lawsuit against Police Chief Knight in Federal Court on behalf of BVCL leader Robert Hicks. The suit demands that the Bogalusa cops protect Afro-American protesters from the Klan and white mobs, and stop harassing, beating, and arresting demonstrators exercising their Constitutional right of free speech. Police complicity in the brutal attack at Cassidy Park on May 19 is presented as a case in point.

On July 8, there is another CORE march. Hattie Mae Hill (17) is wounded by a rock that strikes her in the head. Leneva Tiedman, a white nurse working with the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) rushes the bleeding girl to a car driven by two Deacons, Henry Austin and Milton Johnson. Since the public hospital won't treat protesters, they try to get her to the MCHR aid station in the Black community but they are attacked by angry whites. Klansman try to grab the two women in the back seat, they pull Johnson from the car, beating and kicking him. Austin tries to push them back and rescue Johnson. When that fails he fires his pistol in the air. To save Johnson he then shoots one of the white attackers, injuring but not killing him. The police then arrest both Johnson and Austin. The Klansmen, of course, are left free to continue attacking other protesters.

On July 10, Federal Judge Herbert Christenberry rules in Hicks vs Knight. He issues an injunction ordering Bogalusa police and Washington Parish sheriffs to protect Black protesters from mob attack and to halt their own "... violence, harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, unnecessary force, and unlawful arrest." Furious at the ruling and the shooting of the Klansman, thousands of whites rally to hear J.B. Stoner — Imperial Wizard of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Chairman of the National States Rights Party — tell them "The nigger is not a human being. He is somewhere between the white man and the ape. ... What the nigger really wants is our white women."

The Klan circulates a petition to recall Mayor Cutrer and 3,000 whites sign it, but a legal technicality prevents the recall election from going forward. Cutrer and other city officials know their support among white voters has dropped to almost nothing and with it their ability to control events. They ask Governor McKeithen to send in the National Guard to maintain order. McKeithen refuses, but offers to help broker a deal. He meets twice with Young and Hicks, offering to set up more negotiations with city officials if they agree to suspend protests for a 30-day "cooling off" period. The BVCL refuses to halt direct action in return for vague promises of more talk.

The BVCL and Mayor Cutrer jointly appeal to Washington for Federal help. In mid-July, DOJ official John Doar is sent to investigate. Appalled at the ease with which the KKK roams the streets and assaults CORE demonstrators, he reports that the State Troopers are trying to enforce Judge Christenberry's injunction, but the city police and parish deputies are ignoring it. As described by Fairclough:

On July 16, for example, Doar saw whites attack pickets at the Pine Tree Plaza shopping center; the next day a barber drenched two white pickets with a hose and smeared soap on their arms and shoulders, commenting, "You pickets smell like niggers and need a bath." During the first incident, the police were conspicuously absent when the attacks took place; when they finally arrived on the scene they arrested two of the beaten pickets. During the second incident, policemen stood by laughing. — Adam Fairclough. [1]

Doar convinces the Justice Department to make Bogalusa a test case for enforcing the Civil Rights Act. The DOJ intervenes in the Hicks case seeking criminal and civil contempt against Police Chief Knight and Commissioner of Public Safety Arnold Spiers. They file a lawsuit to enjoin the KKK and 35 named Klansmen from violence. Another Federal lawsuit seeks to desegregate several restaurants, and brutality charges are brought against the parish K9 squad for the beating of Sam Barnes in the parish jail. Pressured by Attorney General Katzenbach and President Johnson, Hoover sends in a swarm of over 100 FBI agents to monitor compliance with court rulings and target the Klan. On July 30, Judge Christenberry finds Knight and Spiers guilty of civil contempt. He orders them to comply with his previous order and cooperate with the DOJ or face jail and daily fines of $100.

With the cops enjoined from aiding and abetting them, and now facing some actual risk of fines — or maybe even jail — the white mobs abrubtly evaporate from the streets of Bogalusa.

Overnight, Washington crushed the white supremacist coup in Bogalusa and forced local authorities to uphold the law. In retrospect, what is remarkable was how little was required to destroy the Klan and force local authorities to protect citizens' rights and liberties. The Federal government did nothing more than threaten city officials with modest fines and light jail sentences. — Robert Hicks. [2]

But though the white mobs and overt, public, Klan violence is largely (though not entirely) suppressed, the struggle for justice and equality in Bogalusa Louisiana is just beginning.

See Bogalusa to Baton Rouge march for continuation of the Bogalusa movement.

Bogalusa — Some Important Points

See Bogalusa to Baton Rouge march for continuation.

For more information on the Bogalusa Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Louisiana, Bogalusa, & New Orleans
Web:
   Armed Defense Interview With Charles Sims (Bogalusa, LA) 1965
   Bogalusa LA Movement
   Deacons for Defense
   Louisiana Movement
Documents: CORE ~ Louisiana in Brief

 

Issues of Poverty, Exploitation, and Economic Justice

For preceding events see:
ASCS Elections — A Struggle for Economic Survival
Scripto Strike, Atlanta

It is the nature of social movements that they move — they change and evolve. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 lays the legal foundation for finally dismantling the overt, state-enforced system of Jim Crow social segregation. And in 1965, the struggle for the ballot reaches its climax with the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, the March to Montgomery, and passage of the The Voting Rights Act. But laws passed in Washington mean little until they are implemented on the ground by courageous social pioneers. In some places change comes peacefully, in others such as Bogalusa Louisiana and Grenada Mississippi white resistance is fierce and the struggle is brutal. So despite passage of these landmark laws, campaigns to end segregation, register voters, elect Blacks to office, and achieve a share of political power continue for years.

While voting rights and the steady dismantling of segregation begin to bring profound changes to the "southern way of life," by 1965 it is becoming increasingly clear that those landmark victories are having little effect on the grinding poverty and ruthless exploitation endured by both nonwhites and poor whites — South and North. Nationwide, Freedom Movement activists begin to seek ways of addressing systems of economic injustice that are ultimately rooted in enormous inequalities of political and economic power between rich and poor, white and Black. In the South, efforts to create new kinds of labor unions, welfare and food rights groups, poor peoples' organizations, effective War on Poverty programs, and variety of farm, commercial, employment, housing, and purchasing cooperatives are all undertaken, as is a SNCC-supported effort to organize poor southern whites. But successes are few.

This shift towards economic issues begins to take hold in the Fall of 1964 when SNCC/COFO launches an organizing campaign aimed at electing Afro-American to the economically crucial ASCS county committees and Dr. King and SCLC come to the aide of the Scripto strikers in Atlanta. Simultaneous with the voting rights battles of 1965 are efforts to obtain adequate food for the rural poor, organize the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union, form the Poor Peoples Corporation in Mississippi, unionize a brick factory in Marshall County, as well as ongoing struggles within the War on Poverty, and in early 1966 the Greenville Air Force Base occupation. From 1965 onwards, coperatives of many kinds are proposed and some are successfully organized. Starting in 1967, SCLC's Poor People's Campaign and Dr. King's support of the Memphis Garbage Workers Strike continue the effort to find some effective way of winning justice and addressing the political roots of poverty.

But the deck is stacked against achieving significant economic reform. Nonviolent protest tactics such as sit-ins, freedom rides, mass marches and merchant boycotts proved effective against segregation and denial of voting rights, but they are harder to apply and less successful against economic injustice. Strikes require a strong union supported by the majority of employees, but state anti-union "right to work" laws, biased anti-union courts, pro-business NLRB procedures and rulings, and internal union weaknesses all cripple labor organizing. Racism pits white and Black workers against each other and the Jim Crow history of many unions makes bridging racial divides difficult. Despite its stirring "War on Poverty" rhetoric, the Federal government is unwilling to encourage (or even allow) reforms that significantly alter the existing relations of economic power between white and Black, rich and poor. Department of Agriculture collusion in excluding Afro-American from farm programs and maintaining the ASCS county committees as all-white bastions of economic power provides a clear example of Washington's political commitment to established power-structures. And War on Poverty programs themselves often prove divisive as people, many of whom were former allies, scramble and compete for grants and positions.

From state to county to town, the white power-structure views any effort to alter the economic status-quo as "Communist subversion" which they ferociously suppress. In this they are abetted by local media, civic organizations, and many religious leaders who spread and promote a culture of anti-Communist fear and hysteria. The White Citizens Council is well organized and ever vigilant, ruthlessly wielding economic power to counter and destroy any attempt to organize unions, form cooperatives, enact reform legislation, or elect Blacks to office. And hanging over everyone is the pervasive threat of socially-sanctioned, police-enabled violence against anyone who steps out of line — Black or white.

Moreover, addressing economic issues requires enormous long-term patience, steadfast energy, and new tactics, techniques, and organizing concepts; but by 1965 burn-out and exhaustion have become significant problems among local community leaders and Movement activists who have been enduring deadly danger, jail, beatings, economic hardship, and intense pressure for years. Many of the young organizers who dropped out of college in the early '60s are now returning to school, and while their replacements are equally committed to the struggle they are far less experienced. At the same time, divisive and debilitating internal disputes over issues of race, class, nonviolence, and ultimate strategic goals are weakening the cohesive bonds of unity and solidarity that hold the Movement together.

In the rural South, the situation is grim for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Mechanization and technology are swiftly eliminating the economic need for the unskilled, ill-educated, hand-labor sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and day-laborers who have been a main focus of SNCC organizing. Herbicides are eliminating the need for hand "chopping" of weeds, and machines can now pick the cotton cheaper and quicker than Black field "hands." And cotton itself is being replaced by less labor-intensive alternatives such as livestock (chickens, cattle, and catfish), row-crops like corn and soy, and timber for pulp mills.

In the urban centers of the Deep South — Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Mobile, Birmingham, etc, — the situation is only marginally better. Local power-structures are eagerly seeking northern industrial investment, and their chief selling point is a low-wage, non-union business environment. They are determined to prevent any form of union organizing or campaigns for economic reform. And when economic issues are on the table, some members of the Black elite who supported struggles for voting rights and against Jim Crow find themselves torn between community solidarity and their personal financial interests.

Nationally, some leaders of the Democratic Party who supported the struggle for Black civil rights in the South are unsympathetic, or actively opposed, to campaigns around issues of economic justice and efforts to empower the have-nots of American society. They favor a "War on Poverty" that grants financial incentives and tax-breaks to businesses and employes middle-class professionals to provide services to the poor — not efforts to organize those at the bottom of the heap to oppose exploitation or win some share of political power for themselves.

For continuation see
Mississippi Freedom Labor Union
ASCS Election Campaigns (1965)
Poor Peoples Corporations, Cooperatives, & Quilting Bees
War on Poverty & CDGM
Greenville Air Force Base Occupied
Alabama ASCS Elections, 1966 — The Struggle Continues
From Co-Ops to Pigford
Poor People's Campaign Launched
Memphis Garbage Workers Strike

 

Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (MFLU)
Photo

In the Mississippi Delta, Black agriculture workers are paid starvation wages. Cotton "choppers" — many of them women and children — manually hoe weeds under the blazing summer sun for $3 per 10-hour day (equivalent to $2.19/hour in 2012). The men who drive the tractors and other farm machinery earn only $6 per day. Pickers are usually paid by the pound, the scales are often crooked, and in many cases earnings are not paid in money but rather as deductions from debt owed to a plantation store where the books are secret and the amount owed is whatever the overseer says it is.

In January of 1965, adult cotton workers attending a COFO Freedom School testify to their desperate economic straits. Many are dispossessed sharecroppers now forced to eke out what little they can as day laborers. The idea of a union is discussed, if they cannot improve their lives individually, perhaps working together they can survive. But no formal action is taken. In April, a small number of Black agriculture workers meet in the tiny Shaw Freedom Center in Bolivar County. They decide they need a union and bring the idea to the county mass meeting where it is enthusiastically accepted by all. The first 50 members sign up, union officers are elected, and they begin planning a strike.

Though COFO/SNCC and later Delta Ministry civil rights workers — white and Black — provide assistance, the union is led and run by its members and elected leadership. They make the decisions, write the materials, organize new members, run the meetings, and keep the books.

Why make your child work for low wages when you all of your life have been working for nothing? Why buy the white man steak when you can't hardly eat neckbones? As cheap as chicken is you can't eat it but once a week on Sunday. Wake up and think. We as Negroes should want to be equal and get high wages. For over two hundred years we have been working for nothing. Please join the union because if you are not in a union you just aren't anywhere. — MFLU Organizing Flyer, 1965 [PDF]

More strikes erupt in the Bolivar County communities of Shaw and Rosedale, and ten women working as maids in Cleveland also strike for $1.25/hour. In Sunflower County, cotton workers in Indianola strike. Union secretary is Mrs. Edna Mae Garner. She and her seven children live in a three-room, company-owned shack — no electricity, no indoor plumbing, holes in the floor and walls.

The lady I used to work for would give me dinner and let me off early. I used to do chopping later in the day and I would make three dollars a day. But after James Meredith at 'Ole Miss in l962, she let me off. The last times I worked for her she wouldn't even give me dinner. I expect the boss man's going to come 'round here to ask me to leave any time now. When he asks me "will I do some chopping" and I tell him, "No, I'm on strike 'till I get $1.25 an hour," I expect he's going to ask me to move on. — Mrs. Edna Mae Garner.[27]

News spreads quickly, and by the end of May the new union has almost a thousand members in six Delta counties. Laborers on the A.L. Andrews plantation in Tribbett (Washington County) ask for $1.25 an hour (equal to $9.11 in 2012). When the owner refuses, they go on strike. The Sheriff sends a prison work-gang to evict them from their rundown homes which are owned by the plantation, dumping all of their belongings out on the highway. Other white plantation owners try to force their Black tenants to scab for Andrews. When that fails, he imports poor whites from Arkansas to maintain and harvest his cotton.

By June, 600 are on strike in the Delta. County welfare authorities cut off the free Federal commodity food that people rely on to feed their children. A local court issues an injunction limiting pickets to no more than four. The isolated strikers are shot at, sprayed with ammonia, and have to dodge cars that try to run them down. Local law enforcement ignores their complaints. Strike supporters are arrested on trumped up charges. The Federal government proves at best indifferent, and in the case of the Department of Agriculture actively hostile, to the strikers and the plight of Blacks in general.

Evictions mount. Friends of SNCC chapters in the north send food, clothing, and small amounts of money. The AFL-CIO and United Auto Workers (UAW) contribute funds. The Delta Ministry provides tents and food to house evicted families on a Black-owned farm in Tribbet not far from Greenville. They call it "Strike City" and it is sustained with the aid of Delta Ministry activists.

By cotton-picking time, close to a thousand workers are on strike in six Delta counties. But that is only a fraction of the total number of Black agriculture workers in the area. Despite their courage and determination, the strikers are unable to affect the owners' ability to tend and harvest their crop. Some planters increase wages for their nonstriking tractor drivers by a dollar or so a day, but the strikers fail to win any concessions and they are blacklisted from future work for white employers. As the hard times of Fall and Winter close in, some strikers join the mass migration of dispossessed Blacks from rural to urban areas, while others hold out as best they can in Strike City and other Delta communities.

See Greenville Air Force Base Occupation for continuation.

For more information:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web: Mississippi Movement
Documents: Mississippi Poverty Issues Documents

 

Issaquena County School Boycott (Feb-May)

Bordering on the Mississippi River just north of Vicksburg, Issaquena County lies at the southern end of the state's rich Delta region. It's a small county, much of it bog and alligator-infested swampland. In 1960, the total population is just 3,500 (down from 5,000 in 1950). Two-thirds of them are Black, but as of October 1964, despite efforts by Freedom Summer voter registration workers, not a single Black citizen has been registered (white registration, however, is 100%).

Throughout the Fall of 1964 and into early 1965, SNCC and COFO organizers and volunteers continue to work with dedicated local activists to provide a Freedom Movement presence in Issaquena County. Some of the local high school students belong to the Issaquena branch of the Mississippi Student Union (MSU) which has grown out of the 1964 Freedom Summer and Freedom Schools. In late January, local COFO activist Becky Merrill (19) hands out some SNCC pins to MSU members in Issaquena. Some students from adjacent Sharkey County take some too. On Friday, January 29, a few of the students wear them to school. "We had no special plan in mind. We just wanted to wear the pins, that's all," said one of them later. [SNCC pin]

Eleven years after Brown v Board of Education, the small Issaquena school system is still totally segregated into separate and unequal white and Colored schools. O.E. Jordan, the Black principle of the all-Black Henry Weathers High School is appointed by the all-white county school board. He has no job tenure, there is no teachers union, and he can be fired at will. He orders the students to stop wearing the SNCC pins.

Over the weekend, the students talk among themselves, "We got together with a lot of other kids and we all decided to wear the SNCC pins on the next school day." They obtain more buttons, and 150 students wear their pins to class on Monday, February 1st. They pass out additional pins to others in the hallway. School administrators later allege that some of them, "Accosted other students by pinning the buttons on them even though they did not ask for one." They also claim that unwanted button-pinning caused a younger child to cry.

Principal Jordan again orders the students to remove their SNCC buttons. At least 179 refuse. They are summoned to the principal's office, their names are noted down, and they are required to wait in the hall while Jordan calls the white Superintendent. After more than an hour, the students are again told to remove the pins and return to class. Most of them continue to wear their buttons. Under orders from Jordan, teachers refuse to let them into the classrooms. The entire student body is called to assembly. While Jordan confers with the teachers and white authorities, the students waiting in the gym talk among themselves.

We decided that we wanted to ask him some questions. We asked him, how would he feel if his own daughter was forced to bend over, touch her toes, and get whipped on the backside like we do. And we asked him, how come there was no Colored people on the school board even though 70 per cent of the county is Colored people? And we asked him, was he registered to vote? — Unidentified student. [6]

Principal Jordan has no answer. He orders them to stop asking questions and return to class. But by now the school day is almost over and everyone goes home. The next day, Tuesday, February 2nd:

So many kids came to school wearing SNCC pins that we couldn't count them all. The principal began the day by calling a general assembly. He said that he would listen to no more questions. Then he read from a book a rule saying that, "Any student who disrupts school can be suspended or expelled by the principal." He told the students that the SNCC pins were disrupting school. Any student who wore a pin the next day would be suspended, and any student who wore a SNCC pin on Thursday, said the principal, would be expelled and not allowed to go to school anywhere in Mississippi. — Unidentified student. [6]

As the students see it, the only people being disrupted by the SNCC buttons are the school authorities and it's not the pins causing disruption, it's the effort to deny them their freedom. Few of those wearing freedom buttons take them off.

On Wednesday, more than 300 of the 1,100 students wear pins, as do some of the children in the elementary school. And over in adjacent Sharkey County, some high school students do the same. Again Principal Jordan calls an assembly. To quell this spontaneous defiance of the "southern way of life" where "Colored folk" are submissive, docile and contented with their lot, he suspends the 179 students whose names were taken down on Monday and threatens the same for anyone else who continues to defy the edict against freedom buttons. He tells them they can only return to school if they sign a written promise not to participate in any kind of civil rights activity including wearing SNCC pins. Close to 150 pin-wearing students who have not (yet) been suspended walk out of school in solidarity with those who have been expelled.

Parents and others from the community, many of them MFDP members, meet in the evening. Led by MFDP Delegate Unita Blackwell, they agree that the issue is more fundamental than the right of their children to freely wear whatever pins they want. The white power-structure is using Principal Jordan to suppress the Freedom Movement in Issaquena County. Students who sign the "no movement activities" promise won't be able to work with COFO on voter registration, join the MFDP or the MSU, or even attend community meetings. They call for a school boycott to support the students.

On Thursday, close to 700 elementary school children are kept home by parents supporting the boycott. The majority of the 1,100 students at Weathers High School refuse to attend class. A parents committee tries to meet with the all-white school board to discuss the situation. The school board refuses to sit in the same room with them. The boycott spreads into Sharkey County. By the next week, more than 1,000 students in the two counties are on strike. (With national media attention focused on Selma and Bogalusa the boycott is ignored by the press.)

Parents and students begin organizing Freedom Schools in local churches and homes. Older students teach the younger ones. A few SNCC & COFO organizers, and northern white volunteers provide assistance, but the effort is predominantly run by local activists. Freedom Schools elsewhere in the state send books, materials, and expressions of support.

"We are ready to stay in Freedom Schools for the rest of the year. The teachers in high school never did try to teach us anything. They don't care about us or about Freedom." "So what if we don't get our diplomas. All we can do in this county is chop cotton anyhow. We don't need a diploma to chop cotton. We want our Freedom!" — Unidentified students. [6]

The Issaquena-Sharkey Freedom Schools are different from Freedom Schools that operated in Mississippi last summer because students are teaching themselves. What is happening in these Freedom Schools is that students are beginning to discover that they know a great deal about what they need to know — that is about the things that matter in their lives. This is a revolutionary concept in education. Students can give themselves a better education than the local schools can about what democracy is, what freedom means and how people work together to bring about changes in the society. These are the most relevant things to their lives." — Judy Walborn, SNCC Staff Education Coordinator. [7]

Many of the Black teachers support the students — most clandestinely, a few more openly. They understand, and share, the students' frustration with the strictly limited, racially-biased curriculum they are forced to teach. But the white school board can fire them at will, and they have to toe the line or lose their jobs.

As the boycott continues, a total of 300 high school students are suspended for the remainder of the year. Teachers suspected of supporting the students are informed that their work contracts won't be renewed in the Fall. Community leaders Unita Blackwell and Clarence Hall contact Marian Wright of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Jackson for legal assistance. In early March the NAACP petitions the school board to re-admit the suspended students and allow them to wear civil rights pins. There is no response.

On April 1st, 1965, Blackwell v Issaquena County Board of Education is filed in Federal district court demanding re-admission of the suspended students, free speech rights, and the desegregation of the Issaquena County school system. The lead plaintiffs are Jerry and Jeremiah Blackwell, Unita Blackwell's son and husband.

The case is heard by Judge William Harold Cox, a white native of Mississippi and an outspoken segregationist. A former 'Ole Miss college roommate of the racist Senator James Eastland who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, he had been appointed to the Federal bench in 1961 by President Kennedy as part of a back room deal. In a 1964 voter registration case, Cox referred to Blacks as "a bunch of chimpanzees," and he told Justice Department attorney John Doar that he was, "not interested in whether the registrar is going to give a registration test to a bunch of niggers on a voter drive." At the same time as the school boycott in February of 1965, Cox was dismissing the Federal indictments against all but two of the Neshoba County conspirators (a ruling later overturned by the Supreme Court).

Cox hears the case in May. He rules that denying the students their free speech right to wear political pins was justified because of their "disruption" and "discourteous" behavior" — ignoring the fact that there was no disruption until the principal denied them their rights. Under this kind of "Catch-22" rationale, protesting a denial of freedom then becomes legal justification for denying that freedom. On appeal, Cox's ruling is upheld by the Federal 5th Circuit Court the following year.

However, eleven years after Brown v Board of Education and one year after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Cox has no legal choice but to order Issaquena County to begin (slowly) desegregating their school system. But under Cox's supervision, the school board is permitted to drag out the process for another five years until 1970.

In the Fall of 1965, the "no movement activity" promise is not enforced and most students return to class. The popular Freedom Schools are continued every summer until the schools are finally desegregated.

For more information on the Freedom Movement in Issaquena County:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web:
     Mississippi Newsletter February 18, 1965 Martin Nicolaus
     Mississippi Winter: 1964-1965, Marty Nicolaus
     Interview With Unita Blackwell (Eyes on the Prize)
     Selected Interviews: Unita Blackwell (American Radio Works)
     Mississippi Movement (CRMVets Web Links)

 

Passage of the Voting Rights Act (Mar-Aug)

See 1965: Selma & The March to Montgomery for context and background.

After accepting the Nobel Prize in December of 1964, Dr. King meets with President Johnson in the White House. The President informs King that voting rights are not on his agenda for now. Johnson's priority is his "Great Society," War on Poverty legislation. (And, though he doesn't mention it to King, the war in Vietnam he is about to greatly expand.) LBJ assures King that he'll get around to Black voting rights someday, but not in 1965. "Martin," he says, "you're right about [voting rights]. I'm going to do it eventually, but I can't get a voting rights bill through in this session of Congress." [8]

Dr. King and the Freedom Movement are unwilling to wait for Johnson's "eventually." On January 2nd, 1965, King, SCLC, and SNCC kick off the Selma Voting Rights Campaign with a mass meeting in Brown Chapel that defies the illegal Selma Injunction which has suppressed Freedom activity for six months.

When Johnson is inaugurated on January 20, his speech makes no mention of the hundreds of Americans in Alabama who are being arrested and brutalized for trying to register to vote. But the Black citizens of Selma and the surrounding rural counties refuse to back down. Public pressure on the White House to do something intensifies. On February 4th, LBJ issues a general statement supporting Black voting rights and promises: "I intend to see that that right is secured for all our citizens." Though preoccupied with Vietnam, he tells King that he will send legislation addressing the issue to Congress.

Johnson orders the Justice Department to draft a legislative strategy for ensuring Black voting rights. Except for prohibiting certain kinds of discriminatory restrictions, the U.S. Constitution is silent on voter qualifications and procedures. Historically, determining who can vote, and how voters are registered, has been left to the states. Attorney General Katzenbach is reluctant to encroach on these traditional states rights, he sees it as unknown legal territory frought with legal and political risks. He and his staff toss around the idea of some kind of new constitutional amendment, perhaps something like the 19th Amendment granting woman suffrage.

But civil rights activists adamantly oppose that idea as a stalling tactic. The Constitution already guarantees full citizenship to non-whites including the right to vote, the problem is enforcing those rights in the face of procedures and barriers enacted by the states. A new national voting law is needed, one that will enable and require the Federal government to protect the voting rights of racial minorities. As a practical matter, both a law and an amendment first have to be fought through Congress and overcome a southern filibuster, but once a bill is enacted it immediately becomes law while an amendment has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states — a process that may well take years and could easily fail. And if an amendment is eventually ratified, Congress will then have to enact new legislation (a bill) to implement it and that requires overcoming yet another filibuster.

The days and weeks of February pass by with little legislative progress. By the end of the month, more than 4,000 people have been arrested in Alabama, many have been fired or evicted from their homes, others have endured brutal police violence, and Jimmie Lee Jackson has been murdered. And no more than a handful of Blacks have actually been registered. In Washington, public and Congressional pressure to do something continues to intensify. Adding to that pressure is international condemnation, Soviet propaganda, and the realities of Cold War geopolitics. As political pressure mounts, the Justice Department grudgingly begins to consider what role (if any) the national government might play in securing voting rights for Blacks and other racial minorities faced with state voting barriers.

On "Bloody Sunday," March 7th, hundreds of nonviolent marchers are savagely attacked by police and civilian "possemen" on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. News coverage of this brutal assault on peaceful protesters is broadcast world-wide. In the words of many, "All hell breaks loose." Public outrage in the North explodes, demonstrations demanding immediate action on voting rights erupt in cities across the nation — sit-ins blockade Federal offices, mass marches snarl traffic, pundits pontificate, notables issue statements, telegrams, letters, and phone calls flood the White House and Congress. Katzenbach huddles with Justice Department lawyers. They now accept that something has to be done about Black voting rights this year — not at some vague future date. But what? Reluctantly, they shelve the Constitutional amendment plan and turn to drafting a voting-rights bill.

Civil rights leaders are pleased that the administration is now willing to consider legislation rather than some chimerical constitutional amendment but there still remains an underlying difference in approach. To Freedom Movement activists voting is a fundamental right. All citizens should have the right to participate in the democratic political process regardless of their economic status, education level, or any other factor. This stand is summed up by SNCC's "One Man One Vote" slogan. Given the long and brutal history of southern states systematically denying the vote to nonwhites, simple justice requires that the Federal government finally implement the 14th and 15th Amendments by enacting legislation to grant all citizens the right to vote wholesale. But the Johnson administration, and the Washington power-elite in general, accept the traditional premise that states have the right to establish qualifications which restrict who is allowed to vote. Only now are they reluctantly being driven to the conclusion that some new legislation must be enacted to require that those qualifications no longer be explicitly race-based or applied in a race-biased manner. There is simply no way they will consider any "register-everyone" type bill.

Democrats have a 2-1 majority in the Senate, but the southern wing of the party — the "Dixiecrats" — are bitterly opposed to any legislation that will increase the number of Black voters. The inevitable southern filibuster cannot be overcome without substantial Republican support. Katzenbach negotiates with Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL). Then he meets with Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT). Soon Katzenbach, Justice Department lawyers, Republican and Democrat Senate leaders, Senate staff, and civil rights leaders are all involved in negotiating a bipartisan voting bill that can effectively end racial voting barriers yet still gain enough Republican support to defeat a southern filibuster.

Though the protests have focused on Black voting rights, Freedom Movement leaders insist that the bill address all forms of vote-related racial bias. Latinos trying to register or vote in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and parts of California have long faced discriminatory procedures, intimidation, and economic retaliation; as have Native Americans throughout the West, portions of the Northeast, and Alaska.

Feeling the heat both domestically and internationally, LBJ pushes them to move fast, the voting rights issue is diverting attention from his "Great Society" legislation and undermining his Vietnam strategy. He now wants a bill and he wants it now. Katzenbach is ordered to come up with something the President can present to Congress on the weekend of March 13-14, just days away. By Friday the 12th, the negotiators have agreed that the bill must include some provision for suspending the so-called "literacy tests" and also Federal authority to register voters in counties that continue to systematically deny voting rights. But there is no agreement on the formulas or thresholds that would trigger such "drastic" action. (By an odd coincidence, all the formulas proposed by Johnson administration officials are drafted in such a way that none of them will apply to conditions in Texas where Blacks, Latinos and Indians all face voting rights discrimination.)

In the South, Blacks who attempt to exercise their rights as citizens face terrorism by white racists — many of whom belong to organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and National States Rights Party. Afro-Americans trying to register may be intimidated and beaten — often in full view of law enforcement officers who do nothing to protect them. Homes of voting rights activists are shot into and bombed. Memories are still fresh of Black leaders assassinated for advocating the vote. Churches and offices used in registration drives are burned. Police intimidation, retaliation, and political suppression are flagrant. Voting applicants and civil rights workers are subject to arrest on trumped up charges, peaceful voter registration rallies and nonviolent marches are broken up with clubs, gas, and mass arrests.

A general clause outlawing threats and intimidation is added to the draft bill. But "Law and order" Republicans (and Democrats) adamantly oppose any kind of specific restriction on police actions, or any sort of oversight of local police behavior on the part of Washington. Movement activists recall the criticisms that John Lewis made of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: "... there's nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstration. In its present form this bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia, who must live in constant fear of a police state. It will not protect the hundreds and thousands of people that have been arrested on trumped charges." Their pleas for police-specific remedies are ignored.

Economic retaliation — often organized by the local White Citizens Council — is another method of suppressing voting rights. Blacks in the South who attempt to register, cast ballots, or participate in Democratic Party activities are fired from their jobs or evicted from their rented shacks. Banks foreclose on mortgages and suppliers boycott Black businesses. Similar tactics are used against Latinos in the Southwest. But pro-business Republicans and Democrats oppose legislation that might grant any arm of government authority to "intrude" on the "business decisions" of private enterprise or to investigate or regulate the motivations behind individual business actions. A bill that contains any such restrictions on "free enterprise" cannot possibly pass. Economic barriers to voting are not included in the draft bill.

With specific restrictions on police conduct and economic retaliation off the table, poll taxes emerge as the main bone of contention. These taxes are used to prevent poor Blacks (and poor whites) from voting. Annual poll taxes in southern states range from $1 to $5, and some towns and counties levy additional fees. These taxes are often cumulative and have to be paid even in years when there are no elections. In Mississippi, the state poll tax is $2 per year (equal to $15 in 2012). That might not sound like a lot of money, but for impoverished Blacks (and whites too) with hungry children and only seasonal employment, it forces an economic choice between voting and the necessities of life. And many sharecroppers and laborers precariously exist entirely outside of the cash economy. They "buy" their necessities "on account" at over-priced plantation or company stores, and their "pay" is simply a bookkeeping notation that reduces their debt to the store. They see little or no cash at all.

In 1964, the 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes in elections for Federal offices, but all southern states except Maryland still retain poll taxes for state and local elections. (Vermont is the only non-southern state with a poll tax.) Senator Ted Kennedy proposes an amendment to eliminate poll taxes in all elections and that is added to the draft. Conservatives object. In their view, a state's right to levy taxes must be held sacrosanct from Federal "meddling." If the Federal government is allowed to legislate against a state poll tax today, might not other matters of state tax policy someday come under scrutiny tomorrow? The enormous disparities between "rich" and "poor" school district funding, for example?

There is also an unspoken partisan subtext to the poll tax debate. Historically, wealthy voters tend to favor Republicans while the poor are more likely to vote for Democrats. In the South of the 1960s, of course, race is the electoral fault line, not class (and so it still remains today). But as a matter of habit and principle (then and now), some conservative Republicans favor anything that discourages or restricts low-income voters.

In a televised address to the nation on March 15th, President Johnson presents the proposed Voting Rights Act (VRA) to a joint session of Congress. Many southern congressmen boycott the session. Johnson condemns the denial of fundamental rights based on race, and the nation's failure of to live up to the promise of its creed. "There is no Negro problem, there is only an American problem, and we are met here tonight as Americans ... to solve that problem. ... it is not just Negroes, but really it's all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And—we—shall—overcome."

Dirksen and Mansfield jointly submit the Voting Rights Act to the Senate on March 18. It goes to the Judiciary Committee for consideration, with an April 9 deadline. Civil Rights leaders and Congressional liberals want a stronger bill, conservatives want a weaker one. Shortly before midnight on April 9, the Judiciary Committee sends the bill to the full Senate. In some respects, the intense lobbying of liberals has made it stronger than the original Dirksen-Mansfield draft — but it's still weaker than what Freedom Movement leaders and activists had hoped for.

Senate debate on the VRA begins on April 22. The southern Dixiecrats argue that it's an unconstitutional intrusion on the right of states to impose their own voting procedures and requirements. Their filibuster takes the form of a flood of weakening amendments, each of which have to be debated and voted on separately. The battle continues for weeks. The filibuster can only be broken by passing a cloture motion which requires at least 20 Republican votes to pass. But conservative Republicans oppose expansion of federal authority into areas traditionally reserved to the states. To win over Republicans, the poll tax ban is watered down so that it only applies to six states: Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The states of Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas are exempted. (In 1972, Texas is added back in during the Nixon administration.) The cloture vote takes place on May 25th. It passes 70-30.

  Cloture Vote (an "Aye" is for the Voting Rights Act)  
  Total Democrats Republicans
Aye 70 47 23
Nay 30 21 9

The next day the Senate passes the full bill by a vote of 77-19.

The House then becomes the focus, and again poll taxes emerge as the critical issue. Liberals from districts with large numbers of Black and Jewish voters don't want to be seen as laggards on civil rights, so they fight for a total ban on all poll taxes — everywhere. All through June the battle continues. With the Senate hurdle passed at the end of May, the expectation had been that the bill would be law by mid-June. SCLC, CORE, and SNCC all have summer programs to implement the Act and use it to register large numbers of Blacks. But instead of becoming law, the bill is bottled up in the House.

By a vote of 333-85 on July 9, the House passes a Voting Rights Act containing a complete ban on all poll taxes. Because the Senate and House versions of the bill don't match, it's sent to a conference committee to resolve the differences. The House negotiators refuse to budge — repeal all poll taxes now! The Senate negotiators refuse to budge — the Senate won't accept a bill with a total ban. Deadlock.

Impatient at the delay, President Johnson forges a compromise and rams it through. Accept the Senate's poll tax language, but add a "declaration" that poll taxes abridge the right to vote, a directive ordering the Attorney General to immediately move against poll taxes in Federal court, and instructions that the courts are to expedite hearing the cases at "the earliest practical dates." He asks Dr. King to support the compromise. With hundreds of SCLC summer volunteers in six southern states waiting for the Act to become law, King assures the House negotiators that the new language is acceptable. They come to agreement on July 28. The final bill passes the House 328-74 on August 3rd, it passes the Senate 72-18 on August 4, and is signed into law on August 6th with King, Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin, and other civil rights leaders in attendance.

[Bills are normally signed into law at the White House, but the Voting Rights Act is signed in the U.S. Capitol building. After a ceremony in the Rotunda the actual signature takes place in the "President's Room" close to the Senate Chamber. Historically, that room had been used by presidents to sign legislation but the practice was discontinued after passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933. Johnson tells reporters that he chose to sign it there in order to, "dramatize the importance we attached to this bill — and to give full measure to the Congress." Some observers, however, suspect that the 600 demonstrators protesting the Vietnam War in front of the White House have something to do with the shift in venue. Many of the anti-war pickets are civil rights workers participating in the Assembly of Unrepresented People which has been jointly organized by Freedom Movement and anti-war activists.]

The Justice Department immediately files suit against poll taxes in four states. Eight months later, the Supreme Court rules in Harper v Virginia Board of Elections that poll taxes in state and local elections are unconstitutional.

Initial implementation of the VRA falls far short of Freedom Movement hopes. Many county registrars continue to use now-illegal schemes and procedures to deny Black voting rights. Klan terrorism and Citizens Council economic retaliation also continue in many areas. Federal enforcement of the Act's criminal provisions is weak and at times half-hearted. Black voters and civil rights workers see little immediate change.

The VRA specifies that Federal registrars (called "examiners") be sent to counties who persist in denying the vote to nonwhites. But the Justice Department sends them to only a fraction of the counties that desperately need them.

[The VRA uses the term "examiners" because they could not legally register anyone to vote, only the elected county Board of Registrars could actually register a voter. Instead, Federal officers dispatched to a county under the VRA examined potential voters to see if they met the voting requirements of state law as modified by the VRA. The examiners were authorized to list the applicants they determined were qualified and give that list the county board, who was supposed to register them. The board could object to anyone on the list. But if a hearing confirmed that someone was qualified and the board still refused to register that person, then the Department of Justice could get a court order to compel registration. As a practical matter, those listed as qualified by the Federal examiners were almost always registered by the county boards, so in the short-hand jargon of the Freedom Movement the Federal "examiners" were usually referred to as "registrars."]

But over time, Federal enforcement increases and the Act takes hold. Today, it is arguably the most effective and important civil rights legislation ever enacted. In 1965, less than 7% of Mississippi Blacks are registered, by 1988 it's almost 75% (compared to 80% for whites). Similar enormous increases occur in other southern states. The number of Latino and Native American voters also increase dramatically. (Many observers believe it is the large blocs of Black and Latino voters in Virgina, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado who make the difference between victory and defeat for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and that without the Voting Rights Act those citizens would have been denied the right to vote.)

By the 1980s, almost every Black Belt county has a Black sheriff, and many Black-majority towns and cities have Afro-American mayors. Latino-majority counties and districts in the Southwest see similar results. Nationwide, barely 100 Afro-Americans hold any elective office in 1965, by 2010 that number has increased to over 9,000, the majority of whom are in the South. With the ballot and the potential to influence elections, there is a sea change for the better in the way elected officials treat their Black, Latino, and Indian constituents.

But dramatic as those changes are, fundamental race-related inequalities of political power remain. In 2010, roughly 12% of the American people are Black, but Afro-Americans comprise less than 2% of elected officials. The corresponding disparity between population and elected office is even greater for Latinos — Latinos are 16% of the population but less than 1% of the elected office-holders. The number of Black or Latino-majority districts are few. In most areas Blacks and Latinos are racial minorities and only rarely do white-majorities elect a non-white candidate to office. And, unsurprisingly, disparities of economic class are even greater than those of race. The great majority of office-holders come from the wealthy few — few come from the middle or lower classes who are the great majority of the population.

See State Poll Taxes Ruled Unconsitutional for continuation.

For more information:
Books: Civil Rights Legislation
Web: Voting Rights Act — 1965

 

Cracking Lowndes County
Photos

See Selma Voting Rights Campaign and The March to Montgomery for preceding events.

"Bloody Lowndes"

Lowndes County Alabama adjoins Dallas County (Selma) on the east. It is a large but utterly rural county with a total population in 1960 of just 15,000, some 81% of whom are Black. White voter registration is an amazing 118% (whites who die or move away somehow manage to vote for the incumbents every election day). No Blacks have been allowed to vote in Lowndes since the end of Reconstruction. Says Carl Golson, the Lowndes County Registrar of Voters, "I don't know of any Negro registrations here, but there is a better relationship between the whites and the niggers here than any place I know of." The Ku Klux Klan is strong in Lowndes, whites are a small minority and they maintain white-supremacy with economic dominance and brutal violence. The history of "Bloody Lowndes" is a tale of racially motivated land seizures, murders, evictions, lynchings, exploitation, beatings, arson, and frameups on false charges.

One of the poorest counties in the nation, [Lowndes] was feudal, Jack. It actually made the Mississippi Delta look advanced. About 80 [white] families owned 90 percent of the land. ... Half of our people were below the poverty level, most of the other half at or barely above it. Mostly agricultural day laborers and share-croppers. Fully half of the women commuted to Montgomery for housework at $4 a day (equal to about $29 in 2012). — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]

As the Selma Voting Rights Campaign begins to take root in January of 1965, SCLC and SNCC activists try to develop a registration campaign in Lowndes, but white terror is so strong and fear so pervasive that no Black church dares risk opening its doors for a freedom meeting. In mid-February, SCLC project director James Bevel tries to stealthily infiltrate the county, "like Caleb and Joshua," seeking to find a church that will host a voting-rights meeting. He fails.

Once a month, Rev. Lorenzo Harrison of Selma preaches to tiny Mount Carmel Baptist Church a few miles from Hayneville, the Lowndes county seat. Word of Bevel's effort somehow leaks back to the white power-structure and a rumor spreads that Harrison intends to speak about voting-rights. Carloads of Klansmen armed with rifles and shotguns surround the church. The church has no phone to call for help — few Blacks in Lowndes have telephone service and those who do suspect their calls are monitored and reported to authorities. With quiet courage, a 37-year old deacon named John Hulett manages to smuggle Harrison to safety. (Five years later, in 1970, Black voters will elect John Hulett county sheriff.)

No Black family in Lowndes dares host a civil rights "agitator" for an overnight stay. They know the Klan will lynch both the freedom worker and whomever provides housing. So SNCC and SCLC field organizers are limited to occasional stealthy day-trips from Selma. But that does not mean that nothing is happening. As with other Black Belt counties, there has always been a hidden history, a secret thread of covert resistance to white-supremacy. And like a smoldering ember beneath dry leaves, Movement activities in neighboring counties are igniting a freedom spark in Lowndes County Alabama.

The voter registration office at the county courthouse is only open on on alternate Mondays. Inspired by the dramatic events in Selma just 30 minutes drive away, John Hulett leads a nervous band of 37 Blacks to apply for the vote on a cold and rainy March 1st. They are told by Registrar Golson that voting applications are taken at a location two miles down the road. Most give up, but a dozen of them walk through pouring rain only to be told that no, it's the courthouse where you register to vote. When they finally make it back to Hayneville, Golson tells them it's too late, the office is now closed though it's still early afternoon. Driving from county to county to encourage the effort, Dr. King arrives and tries to speak to Golson who refuses. Wet, chilled, and dejected, the twelve return to their homes.

On the next registration day two weeks later — a week after "Bloody Sunday" in Selma — Hulett again leads a small group to the Hayneville courthouse to once more try to register. This time Golson sends them to the old, long-abandoned county jail. Inside is an ancient indoor gallows with a noose still hanging from the arm. "I wonder if that ol' thing still works," a deputy sheriff mutters ominously to them. One by one they go in alone to fill out the registration forms and take the so-called "literacy test." Weeks later they learn that two of them — John Hulett and John Lawson — have become the first Black voters in Lowndes since the late 1800s. Apparently the power structure has gotten tired of news stories reporting that there's not a single Black voter in the entire county. Now there are two.

In the dark of night on March 19th, some 30 Lowndes County Blacks, most of whom had tried to register the previous Mondays, furtively gather in a small rural store owned by Frank and Rocena Haralson to meet with James Bevel and Andy Young of SCLC. They form themselves into the Lowndes County Christian Movement for Human Rights (LCCMHR), a name chosen to emulate the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights led by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham which for years has been the most active and courageous local civil rights group in Alabama.

John Hulett, is elected Chairman, railroad worker Elzie McGill is chosen Treasurer, his daughter Lillian who works as a maid for a white family in Montgomery becomes Secretary, and Charles Smith, a farmer, is the Vice Chairman. They ask Bevel for an organizer to work the county and help build the LCCMHR, but all of SCLC's resources are focused on organizing the March to Montgomery which is about to commence. No help is forthcoming.

The March to Montgomery Crosses Lowndes

On March 21st, the March to Montgomery steps off from Brown Chapel in Selma under protection of the U.S. Army. Within SNCC, the march is highly controversial. John Lewis, Ivanhoe Donaldson and a few other SNCC members join the march, but most oppose it and refuse to take part. They see it as a meaningless media extravaganza — the "reverend's show." Stokely Carmichael, Bob Mants and a handful of others decide to use both King and the march as an organizing opportunity to break the grip of terror that the KKK holds on "Bloody" Lowndes County.

Highway 80 traversed the length of the county. We knew that there was no way the march could go through without the aid of local people strong enough to let them pitch their tents on their land. People brave enough to come out, cheer them on, offer a little food or some water, etc, etc. So what Bob Mants and I did, we trailed that march. Every time local folks came out, we'd sit and talk with them, get their names, find out where they lived, their address, what church, who their ministers were, like that. So all the information, everything, you'd need to organize, we got.  — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]

On March 22nd, 300 marchers accompanied by news crews and guarded by soldiers in jeeps and helicopters begin to cross Lowndes County on U.S 80, the "Jefferson Davis" Highway. At first, the few isolated Afro-Americans living in dilapidated, roadside shacks watch it go by in silent astonishment. None of them have ever seen such a public display of Black pride, Black assertiveness, and Black opposition to discrimination, racism, and white-power. Equally astounding is the sight of Black and white, men and women, marching together as friends and allies.

As word spreads through the rural grapevine, Blacks begin to gather along the road. At the Trickem cross-roads a score or more are waiting when the march arrives. Though they know they are under observation by hostile whites, they move onto the highway to welcome the freedom marchers with smiles and waves and cheers. Juanita Huggins raises her strong voice in, "Lord, I Cannot Stay on This Highway by Myself," Dr. King and others join her. Later on, Napoleon Mays, deacon of Mt. Gillard church joins the march with his children, nieces and nephews. Further down the road so does old Frank Haralson who with the aid of his cane limps the last miles to the second campsite.

Behind the march come the handful of SNCC organizers, quietly sitting down and talking to those who have come out to see the spectacle.

We told them we'd be back. I promised them the movement was coming to Lowndes. ... Of course they were skeptical. Didn't really think we'd be back, y'know? ... [Hulett] wasn't at all convinced. He said, "Young fella, you one o' them nonviolence folk? ... If you do come back, you all gon' have to find a different way to come in here." I told him we were coming back, by any means necessary. He just looked at me and smiled. — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]

It takes two days for the march to cross Lowndes County. One day more to reach Montgomery, and then the march through the city to the Alabama Capitol, the "Cradle of the Confederacy" where on the 25th, Dr. King tells 25,000 freedom marchers that, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

When the rally ends, the marchers have to return home. Buses, trucks and cars shuttle thousands back across Lowndes County on Highway 80. One of the cars is driven by Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo. Four Klansmen, one of whom is an FBI informant, spot her and give chase. Their car is faster. They pull along side and open fire, killing her instantly. Her Oldsmobile veers off the road and skids to a halt on the side of a grassy embankment in the middle of Lowndes County.

Taking Root

Three days later, on Sunday evening, the county's first public mass meeting takes place at Mt. Gillard Missionary Baptist Church on Highway 80 a few miles down the road from where Mrs. Liuzzo was murdered. Exactly four weeks earlier, gun-toting Klansmen had forced Rev. Harrison to flee for his life because of a mere rumor that he might speak about voting. Now, sentries armed with rifles stand guard as 170 Black citizens gather to talk of justice and freedom and voting rights. Shopkeeper William Cosby, an LCCMHR stalwart, presides. The main speaker is Bernard "Little Gandhi" Lafayette, the SNCC organizer who began the Selma project two years earlier. The next day is a voter-registration Monday and he urges them to show up at the grim and forbidding old county jail in Hayneville to apply. Many do so. None are registered, but their very appearance is an act of defiance. In Lowndes County, the hidden embers of freedom fire are bursting into visible flame.

On Tuesday afternoon, March 30, a memorial for Mrs. Liuzzo takes place at the spot where she was gunned down. Wright Chapel AME Zion is just a few hundred yards from where her auto came to rest. A car caravan from Selma organized by SCLC brings 10 empty coffins representing those killed fighting for freedom in Alabama over the past two years. After the church service a roadside vigil is held on the embankment where she died. Hand in hand, Black and white, they form a circle around the spot, speak, pray, and sing We Shall Overcome. Bob Mants, Stokley Carmichael, Silas Norman, and other SNCC activists single out the Lowndes residents to talk with them about building a movement and finding places for organizers to stay.

One thing that SNCC did for us in that county, they aroused us, getting up off ourselves to do something to help ourselves. ... Every member organization has four kinds of bones. There's a wishbone — folks who sit around and don't do nothing and wish somebody else would do all the work. You also have a jawbone — there's a lot of jawbones in SNCC too, folks who sit around and talk and don't do nothing else. Then you have the knuckle bones — folks who knock everything you do and don't do anything else themselves. And lo and behold, you have the backbone. If I could say anything about SNCC, they were the backbone of the movement. SNCC was the kind of organization who got under the load to do the work. ... One thing SNCC taught me is that time does not change things, men change things. When you act, something would happen. If you don't act, won't nothing happen. — John Jackson, 1988. [10]

SNCC organizers Stokley Carmichael, Bob Mants, Judy Richardson, Ruth Howard, and Scott B. Smith enter the tiny town of White Hall to meet contacts made on the march. The segregated school — officially a "Negro training center" rather than a "school" — is letting out for the afternoon. They distribute leaflets for the students to take home. John Jackson (16) who drives the school bus asks for some he can distribute to others. Sheriff's deputies and the county's State Trooper roust the SNCC team for handing out "Communist" materials near a school. The SNCC car is equipped with a CB radio and a long whip antenna. Though their base is far out of range, Stokley pretends to report the cop's actions, listing car numbers and other details. The police back down and let the four go without arrest.

I was driving a school bus, sixteen years old, making $50 a month, ... And I was crazy enough to stop my bus and take some of the leaflets. And I went home and I talked to my father about it. We had an abandoned house that my brother had just left, and I said to my father, "Them boys are going to get killed trying to make it back to Selma, and George Wallace is going to hang them if they keep going into Montgomery. So they need a place to stay." My father met with them, and I think he kind of liked those fellows or he was about like me, half crazy. So he said, "Hey, boys, you all could take this house over here, there's nobody staying in it." They were kind of glad, because they used to have to get the hell out of Lowndes County before dark. ... Of course, the week after I took the leaflets, I was fired. ... And the white folk in that county called my father in and said, "Hey, you ain't got to be in that mess, you don't need those folks staying there" and, clearly, I remember his words: "If we are not for ourselves then who can be for us?" — John Jackson. [10]

Located in the Trickem community near Highway 80, the new SNCC "freedom house" lacks indoor plumbing, has no telephone, and the roof leaks (see photos). But it's an organizing base that local Black men armed with rifles can guard at night. With the help of student volunteers from Tuskegee, SNCC staff dig in deep, working the county day after day, going from house to house, sometimes by car, sometimes by borrowed mule, sometimes on foot. Local Blacks are unfamiliar with the name "SNCC," so when they ask, "You one of Dr. King's men?" Stokley cheerfully replies, "Yes, ma'am. I am." When Stokely tells him about it, Dr. King smiles and laughs.

Sometimes the SNCC organizers and Tuskegee volunteers are accompanied by one or two white civil rights workers based in Selma. One of them is seminary student Jonathan Daniels who answered King's call to Selma after "Bloody Sunday" and has been working with the Freedom Movement ever since.

The organization grew steadily, but real political progress was slow. In six months we succeeded in registering only two hundred or so people. Though hundreds made the effort. This was the work I truly loved. The meetings in rural churches with people who seemed to step out of the pages of black history. The singing, the eloquence, the determination and hope in their faces, the spirit. People who carried so much vulnerability in their eyes, who knew exactly what they were risking by being there, but being there anyway, steadfast. — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]

By the end of June, almost 500 Lowndes County Blacks have attempted to register, but less than half have been added to the voting rolls. Early in July, with the Voting Rights Act clearly on the verge of passing, Registrar Golson hopes to forestall Federal registrars being assigned to Lowndes by accepting a Justice Department request to increase the number of registration days and halt use of the so-called literacy test. Though they understand Golson's ploy, LCCMHR leaders and SNCC organizers mobilize those who had been denied in the past to go back to the old jail in Hayneville and try again. Daily mass meetings are held at Mt. Gillard church and the registration lines grow longer. But few are actually registered. Meanwhile, the KKK holds rallies, urging violent resistance at all costs.

The freedom spirit is strongest in the northern part of the county near Highway 80 where many local Blacks watched the March to Montgomery pass through. At the southern edge of the county is Fort Deposit. With 1,200 people and two traffic lights, it's the county's biggest town and home to the largest concentration of Lowndes County whites. It's also the Klan stronghold. Fear is pervasive among Fort Deposit Blacks. SNCC organizer Jimmy Rogers later recalled:

I can remember one time when Stokely and I went into this church in Fort Deposit, Alabama for the first time. And when we got there, there were about 100 people in church. And we walked in wearing these overalls [the SNCC "uniform"], and it was about a second, and there was only three people standing there. Church was over. [They were scared to be seen with us.] I mean, they locked up everything, and we were standing outside talking to three people who later became the Lowndes County Freedom Organization representatives from Fort Deposit. Everybody else didn't want to have nothing to do with us. — Jimmy Rogers. [11]

One of those three is Bessie McMeans. She invites Jimmy to stay in her home which becomes his organizing base. She convinces the deacons of Bethlehem Christian Church to allow a mass meeting. On Sunday, August 8, a caravan of 25 cars brings in reinforcements from the northern part of the county and 400 people hear John Hulett talk of voting rights. Three of those present in the church are white — Jonathan Daniels and Rabbi Harold Saperstein and his wife Marcia who are Movement supporters visiting from New York. A large gang of armed Klansmen gather outside. FBI agents hold them at bay until the meeting is over and the cars depart for White Hall, the center of Freedom Movement activity in the northern part of the county.

The Voting Rights Act is finally signed into law on Friday, August 6. Under its provisions, Federal examiners (registrars) can be dispatched to counties with a clear pattern of disenfranchising Black voters. They are authorized to register Afro-American voters without regard to literacy tests or the opposition of the white power-structure. Lowndes is one of the first 10 counties where this occurs. On Tuesday, August 10, four examiners arrive to supplant Registrar of Voters Carl Golson. He is furious. His pretense of reform has failed, and now Yankee interlopers are going to put Blacks on the voting rolls. Somehow, though, he manages to convince the feds to set up shop in the Klan stronghold of Fort Deposit rather than Hayneville the county seat or White Hall the Freedom Movement center.

As Blacks line up day after day to register with the Federal examiners in Fort Deposit, it becomes clear that Blacks will eventually have a voting majority in the county. That shifts the question from voter registration to how the ballot can be used to improve their lives.

At this time, Alabama is a one-party state and Lowndes a one-party county. Democrats rule. There is no Republican opposition. The Democratic Party primary is the real election, candidates who win the primary run unopposed or against just token opposition in the general election. All-white primaries were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court back in 1944, but in reality they still exist through ploys and subterfuges. Under Alabama law at this time, for example, you cannot choose a political party when you register to vote. Party membership is determined by the county- level party bosses, who pick who can run for office and vote in party primaries. Blacks who manage to get registered are told they cannot participate in the Democratic primary because they're "not party members."

The Democrats are the party of George Wallace and segregation. It's all-white all the time, and its symbol is a white rooster with the slogan "White Supremacy For the Right." In theory, once Blacks have a voting majority in Lowndes they could take over the county Democratic Party, but that would require time-consuming and expensive litigation in court to open up party membership to Blacks and then ferocious procedural battles with local and state-level party bosses. And in the end, they would still find themselves subject to the party's white majority from other areas of the state.

Lowndes County Blacks could organize themselves as Republicans. But nationally, the Republican Party is aligning itself with "states rights" and the racist "white-backlash." Lowndes County Afro-Americans are poor, and historically the Republican Party has represented the interests of wealth in opposition to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Black Republicans in Lowndes would find themselves enmeshed in constant, and ultimately futile political battles with the national party leadership.

What Lowndes County Blacks need is a party that will represent them, a party they control, a party that will fight for poor people regardless of race. At Stokley Carmichael's request, Jack Minnis, head of SNCC's small research department delves into Alabama law. He discovers an old Reconstruction Era statute that allows voters in a county to create their own independent political parties. It was originally intended to help former Confederates regain political power after the Civil War, but it's still on the books and anyone can use it.

We figured with their one-party state, the politicians, almost all Democrats, had forgotten it. There wasn't even a Republican opposition to speak of. So, to them it must have been unthinkable that anyone would think of trying to start an independent party in Alabama. Much less their "nigrahs." And in Lowndes County? Forget about it. So the process was actually quite simple. All any group had to do before the primaries was hold a convention and nominate a slate of candidates. If your slate received more than 20 percent of the primary vote, you were in business. You could then call yourself a party, whose name and symbol would have to be on the ballot for the [general] election which would then become necessary. The Democrats were arrogant and complacent. I'm not sure whether they had ever had to bother with an election after the Democratic primary, since there had been no organized opposition since 1880. So technically it was surprisingly easy. All right. There it was. The primary was next May. Ten months off. In Mississippi we'd had five months to organize an entire state [for the MFDP]. Here we had nearly a year to do a single county. We were psyched, Jack. — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]
See Murder of Jonathan Daniels and Lowndes County Freedom Organization Founded for continuation.

For more information:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web: Lowndes County Freedom Organization
Documents: Lowndes County Articles & Documents
Personal stories from Lowndes County:
     Jimmy Rogers
     Ruby Sales

For more information:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web: Lowndes County Freedom Organization
Documents: Lowndes County Articles & Documents
Personal stories from Lowndes County:
     Jimmy Rogers
     Ruby Sales

 

Jackson, MS Protests (June)

By early June of 1965, it's obvious to even die-hard segregationists that the Voting Rights Act is eventually going to pass. Under its provisions, Federal registrars might soon be registering voters in Mississippi and that would inevitably result in a large number of Black voters — enough to influence election outcomes and even elect Afro-American officer holders in Black majority counties. To prevent this from occurring, and also to strengthen their case for overturning the Act as a usurpation of state's rights, the Mississippi legislature meets to repeal or revise some of the most egregious laws and procedures used to prevent Blacks from participating in the political process. They hope they can make enough cosmetic changes to forestal Federal registrars yet still deny Afro-Americans full access to the political process through more subtle and less explicitly race-based methods. In essence, this is the same strategy of tokenism and sham reform that they have used for 11 years to keep the state's schools segregated.

The MFDP meets in Jackson on June 14. Applying the same concepts that underlie the MFDP Congressional Challenge, they declare that since Blacks were denied the vote and access to the political proccess, the Mississippi legislature was fraudulently elected and is therefore an illigitimate body. They organize a march to protest the legislature's sham action and the continued denial of Black voting rights. More than 450 are arrested as the approach the capitol.

In Jackson Mississippi, 472 members and supporters of the , attempting to peacefully protest convening of undemocratically elected state legislature were arrested, taken to Jackson State Fairgrounds. There men made to run gauntlet, beaten by city policemen and state highway patrolmen with badge numbers covered. At least five were hospitalized as result of police brutality. — Telegram from John Lewis, SNCC. [15]

The next day, John Lewis leads another march and more than 200 more are arrested on trumped up charges. Soon more than 700 prisoners are being held under brutal conditions in the fairground animal sheds.

They literally picked us up in garbage trucks. They backed us up, stopped us, put us in garbage trucks. John Lewis was with us. They hauled us off to a jail, and they gassed us. What they did was they put us in one of these county fairgrounds, and they backed Jeeps up to the thing, and they turned on the engines. — Hardy Frye, SNCC. [16]

Savage brutality is imposed on the imprisoned protesters. Three white ministers from the North describe the conditions in a statement they submit to Congress:

We appear here today as representatives of the National Council of Churches of Christ. For two hours yesterday, June 21st, we inspected what we can only describe as a concentration camp in which were incarcerated hundreds of citizens of the Unites States of America.

Fear was induced by a policeman with a bullwhilp which he cracked again and again. Morale was undermined by separating all the leaders and removing them to another penitentiary. Exhaustion was achieved by waking the prisoners to the cold air of huge blowers and repeatedly awakining them throughout the night by banging nightsticks on garbage cans, amplifying music over bullhorns. For the first six days of their confinement the prisoners had no blankets and only one narrow mattress for each three prisoners. ... Women asking for medical attention were subjected to physical examination in full view of staring policemen. ...

Individuals [were] sujected to a brutal "gassing" euphemistally termed a fumigation by Jackson police. We saw — and were ourselves subjected to — a chocking, eye-smarting cloud of gaseous fumes 10 to 15 feet high, which emanating from a state spraying machine rolled through the compound. ...

We are absolutely convinced that the primary purpose of the Jackson concentration camp is not to serve as a place of incarceration, but rather to serve as a place to break the spirit, the will, the health, and even the body of each individual who dared to assemble peacefully to seek a redress of grievances.
 — Rev. Ian McCrae, Rev. W. Raymond Berry, John M. Prat, NCC. [17]

For more than two weeks until they are finally released on bail in early July, the freedom protesters endure. They do not break. White Mississippi cannot force them to submit.

One of the great things about that experience was everybody in SNCC was a leader, and they didn't understand that. And so they were trying to figure out who was a leader. And I was one of the first ones they picked to say: "He might be leading something," and so they drug me off to [Hinds County] jail; they put me in isolation, And John Lewis was there. But they kept trying to figure out who the leaders were. And so they dragged some of us off. But they didn't know that they could drag one off, and someone else just steps up, right? They drag off one "leader" and you know the next person just steps up. That could be the legacy for SNCC. The people did not stop when we left. And they didn't go back. — Hardy Frye, SNCC. [16][18]

And just as the cops and jailors fail to break the Freedom Movement's spirit, once the Voting Rights Act passes in August, the tricks and ploys of the legislature fail to prevent immediate dispatch of Federal registrars to the worst offending Mississippi counties.

For more information:
Books: Jackson, MS, Movement
Web links: Jackson, MS, Movement

 

Summer Community Organization & Political Education Project (SCOPE)

See Selma Voting Rights Campaign and The March to Montgomery for preceding events.

Now What?
Go North?
Alabama Boycott & Montgomery Direct Action?
Summer Community Organization & Political Education (SCOPE)?
SCLC/SCOPE and SNCC
SCOPE Recruitment and Training
SCOPE-ing
Direct Action
Voter Registration
Going Forward

Now What?

The Selma Voting Rights Campaign and March to Montgomery are victorious — a voting rights bill has been introduced in Congress and with LBJ's backing it is certain to eventually pass. But SCLC as an organization is in disarray. Dr. King is physically and emotionally exhausted, and the savage murder of Viola Liuzzo, mother of five, hits him hard. And like soldiers after a long, hard-won battle, SCLC's small field staff in the Alabama Black Belt is worn down from three months of intense and brutal action.

On the plus side, the organization is flush with money and as Spring evolves towards Summer contributions remain steady. With this new influx of cash, the staff of several dozen is now swelling towards 200. Half of SCLC's income is personally raised by Dr. King through his speaking engagements and appeals in the North. Most of the rest comes in the form of modest mail-in contributions averaging around $10 (equal to $70 in 2012) — primarily from New York City and other urban areas of the Northeast, the Chicago area, Southern California, and the San Francisco Bay region. But this means that SCLC is becoming financially dependent on northern whites rather than its original financial base of southern Black churches.

Unlike CORE with its semi-autonomous chapters and projects, and unlike SNCC with it's independent projects and consensus decision-making, SCLC is a hierarchical organization with a formal structure of officers, executive staff, and board of directors. This doesn't mean that SCLC is governed in the disciplined, authoritative style of a corporation, but rather that decisions are made at the top through some complex mystical melange of personality, maneuver, soul, personal loyalty, charisma, deal-making, and "movement logic."

A week after the march ends in Montgomery, SCLC leaders meet in Baltimore to plan what the organization should do next. There is dissension, disagreement, and fierce rivalry among the Executive Staff directly below King. Three quite different strategies are proposed and argued:
     Undertaking a new initiative in a northern urban ghetto.
     Extending and expanding the Alabama campaign with direct action and an economic boycott.
     A massive, multi-state voter registration effort.
There is no consensus. Unable to agree on a single strategic direction, all proposals are approved in one form or another even though everyone knows they don't have the necessary staff or funds for three major initiatives.

Go North?

One unintended result of the Selma victory is that Black communities in the North are now intensifying their calls (demands, in some cases) that Dr. King and SCLC apply their magic touch to the festering misery of urban ghettos. King, himself, had previously said, "I realize I must more and more extend my work beyond the borders of the South, and become involved to a much greater extent with the problems of the urban North." At the Baltimore meeting, Andrew Young proposes that SCLC answer those calls.

But many SCLC leaders oppose any move North. SCLC's southern affiliates all face urgent local problems with scant resources. They desperately need help and support from Atlanta. Some board members argue that SCLC has no base of churches or affiliates in the North, little experience with issues of defacto rather than dejure segregation, and no strategy for addressing pervasive covert discrimination or intractable urban poverty. Many question how — and whether — nonviolent strategies and tactics can be applied in the North, and what support they will find among the bitterly alienated urban poor.

Bayard Rustin observes, "Even if tomorrow Negroes were to become white, they would still be entrapped in their joblessness." Everyone understands that confronting urban ills means addressing economic issues like unemployment and housing — and not just racial discrimination but also government policies and spending priorities, and investment practices by banks and corporations. Those questions are far more complex and enormously more controversial than segregated lunch counters or denial of voting rights. And when economic interests become the focus, old allies may turn out to be fierce new adversaries.

The SCLC board adopts a compromise motion, "SCLC will continue to devote most of its energies to the fight against injustice in the South ... [but] many so-called southern problems are national and require national solution. Therefore, ... SCLC will respond in an ever-increasing way to demands from northern communities to provide assistance." In actuality, this means exploring and evaluating the possibilities of a northern campaign, but no immediate action or commitment of major resources. Nevertheless, the gravity of urban violence and urban misery is inevitably beginning to pull SCLC northward.

Alabama Boycott & Montgomery Direct Action?

James Bevel, architect and field commander of the Birmingham and Selma campaigns, passionately argues for continuing and intensifying the freedom struggle in Alabama with both an economic boycott of the state and a return to the original Alabama Project concept of mass direct action and civil-disobedience in Montgomery. "We want the Federal government to come in here, register Negroes, and throw out the present government as un-Constitutional," and then hold new elections in which everyone over the age of 21 is allowed to vote.

Dr. King has already announced the boycott as necessary to halt Alabama's "reign of terror," and at the Baltimore meeting he lays out a strategy of three successive stages. First, applying pressure on Washington to enforce the laws denying Federal funds to programs practicing discrimination while simultaneously issuing a call for northern corporations to halt new investments in the state. Second, mobilize unions, businesses, churches and other organizations to withdraw their investments from Alabama. Third, organize a massive consumer boycott of Alabama products.

Public opposition to the boycott is immediate and intense. The Johnson administration condemns the idea. The New York Times calls it "wrong in principle ... and unworkable in practice." Sympathetic politicians like Governors "Pat" Brown of California and Mark Hatfield of Oregon reject it. Labor unions who had supported SCLC in the past come out against the boycott. (Some cynics grumble that labor's real objection is that they view economic issues and actions as their turf, which the Civil Rights Movement should butt out of.) The NACCP declines to support the boycott, and opposition from Whitney Young of the Urban League is so strong that Bevel — never one to bite his tongue — denounces him as a stuffed shirt, "..with a $50 hat on a $2 head."

There are also practical problems. Business and consumer boycotts are difficult at best and require a massive commitment of organizational time and resources. Corporations are rarely amenable to altering their investment strategies to meet social concerns, and prodding the Federal government to enforce its own civil rights laws has so-far proven a tough row to hoe. It's hard enough to organize boycotts of foreign nations, such as South Africa, when products come with "Made in ..." labels, but items manufactured in Alabama have no such labels. Nor can the consumer boycott be easily organized around brand names or specific kinds of merchandise because most nationally-sold brands and goods made in Alabama also come from other states as well. So people either have to be convinced to boycott an entire brand because some of it's products come from Alabama or a huge (and expensive) effort is needed to educate supporters as to what, precisely, not to buy. Ultimately, the Alabama boycott proves unworkable and withers away. By Summer it has been effectively dropped (though some of the rhetoric lingers on).

The direct action component of Bevel's campaign also encounters problems. From January through March there had been well over 4,000 arrests across the Alabama Black Belt with the largest numbers in Selma, Marion, and Montgomery. Those cases are still meandering through the judicial system leaving enormous sums tied up in bail bonds. Many of those arrested had been bailed out on property bonds, but people willing to put up their homes and farms for bail have already done so, and property that was used to bail someone out in February cannot be used for someone else in May. Without assurances that SCLC will bail them out of jail, it will be difficult to mobilize thousands of protesters to deliberately court arrest by engaging in mass civil-disobedience. And it's not clear there's enough public support, North or South, to raise those funds.

SCLC's local affiliate is the Montgomery Improvement Association and its leaders — mostly ministers and businessmen — have little enthusiasm for Bevel's radical plans. After the March to Montgomery, with finals and term papers now on the horizon, a form of protest-fatigue sets in among the students who had earlier filled the jails. They show little enthusiasm for another round. Turnout at mass meetings in Montgomery is disappointing, and what was supposed to be a kickoff protest at the state capitol on May 25 fails to ignite support for massive civil-disobedience. The direct action campaign sputters out and is quietly shelved.

Summer Community Organization & Political Education (SCOPE)?

Hosea Williams, leader of the powerful Savannah Movement and the "Bloody Sunday" march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, argues for a Summer Community Organization & Political Education (SCOPE) project focused on voter registration. He calls for recruiting 2,000 volunteers — mostly northerners, mostly white, mostly college students — to register voters in 120 southern counties across six states. He and Bevel are SCLC's main direct action leaders. They are also bitter personal rivals. At the Baltimore meeting, SCOPE and the Alabama campaign are pitted against each other.

In some respects, the SCOPE proposal is similar to SNCC/COFO's Mississippi Summer Project of the previous year, but SCOPE advocates assume there will be one huge difference. Despite the courage and dedication of Freedom Summer's local and outside activists, only a few new voters had been added to the rolls. But now Vice-President Hubert Humphrey (who presides over the Senate) has assured Movement leaders that the filibuster will be broken and the Voting Rights Act passed before the end of June. This means that Afro-Americans in the Deep South will be able to register in large numbers. A massive registration effort under the new law could actually begin to shift the balance of political power in the southern Black Belt.

Hosea Williams is noted for his defiant courage, passionate oratory, direct action creativity, and hair-trigger temper, but not so much for administration. Some SCOPE opponents question his ability to fund and coordinate thousands of volunteers and staff across multiple states. For the 1964 Freedom Summer, SNCC/COFO had five and a half months to plan, recruit, train, and prepare projects for 1,000 volunteers working roughly 40 counties in a single state under guidance of a field staff that had been organizing in Mississippi for almost three years. The initial SCOPE proposal calls for twice as many volunteers spread over six states in 120 counties many of which have had no organizers preparing the way at all. And SCOPE must come together in two and a half months. It's bold, it's ambitious, and the Baltimore meeting adopts it as SCLC's major focus for the coming months.

SCLC/SCOPE and SNCC

Meanwhile, tension between SCLC and SNCC continues to fester. Many SNCC workers oppose the entire concept of bringing white volunteers to work in Black communities, and they want nothing to do with SCLC. "It will be the same shit as Selma, the SCLC executives are gone and have left the flunkies — mainly white northern students left there," says Alabama project director Silas Norman. In the opinion of Annie Pearl Avery, a SNCC field secretary working in rural Hale County, "SCLC will come in after SNCC does the ground work. All SCLC has is King and Reverends."

But others in SNCC are coming around to a different view. In mid-April, the SNCC Executive Committee meets in Holly Springs MS. Says former SNCC Chairman Marion Barry, "What we have to do is to try to radicalize King. Those of us who have been around for awhile can see the great change in King, and there are members of SCLC who are pushing for the same thing." He urges SNCC to work with SCOPE. A week later Harry Belafonte mediates a sit-down in Atlanta between leaders of SNCC and SCLC. Coming out of that meeting, Stokley Carmichael reports: "In terms of overall goals, SCLC is very radical. King said economic problems were the real issue of the country, but didn't know how to get to them. I think the cats are honest." He argues that SNCC should cooperate with SCOPE and use King's mass appeal, pointing out that SCLC has access to churchs in places like Hale County that SNCC does not. "The students coming down with SCOPE will have to come to the SNCC workers. The same holds true for King. ... The people will follow King, but he'll still have to go through the SNCC workers."[19]

At the end of April, a joint statement is issued by Dr. King and SNCC Chairman John Lewis stating that SCLC and SNCC will work together on a program of voter education and political organization across six Southern states. As a practical matter, there are significant numbers of SNCC staff in only two of the states where SCOPE plans projects — Alabama and Southwest Georgia. In some areas over the summer there is tension, distrust, and occasional open hostility between SCLC/SCOPE and SNCC, in others they work separately but without overt rancor, and in some counties there is close cooperation — in a few instances so close that they form what is, in effect, a joint project. (Meanwhile, over the summer of 1965, SNCC projects continue in Mississippi & Arkansas and CORE organizes its own summer project for Louisiana.)

In addition to registering voters, SCOPE plans to strengthen existing (or build new) community organizations in each county. Organizations that can compete for, and wield, political power. Organizations that can begin to develop candidates who run for and eventually win political office. SNCC's view is that these local groups and candidates should be separate from and independent of the Democratic Party at all levels — the Lowndes County Freedom Organization eventually becomes the exemplar of that vision. To the extent that SCLC leaders consider this issue at all, they mostly assume that the county organizations will support the national Democratic Party and compete with, and eventually either supplant or moderate, the local Democratic Party organizations currently dominated by white segregationists — similar in essence to what is beginning to occur in Mississippi with the Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). In the summer of 1965, the differences between these two visions remain latent and largely beneath the surface so they have little actual effect on the work. But they foreshadow future divisions, particularly in Alabama.

CORE has field workers in the Carolinas, and the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) has a significant presence in the Black Belt areas of North Carolina. In those states too there are organizational tensions. As with SNCC, in some areas there is cooperation, in others not so much.

SCOPE Recruitment and Training

Recruitment gets underway in April. Learning from the Freedom Summer experience, emphasis is placed on creating campus-based SCOPE chapters with volunteers who already know each other, will work together in an assigned county, and be supported by their college community. The goal is to create an ongoing connection between that campus and the Freedom Movement in the "adopted" county. Individual SCOPE volunteers who are not part of a campus team will either be assigned to one, or formed into ad-hoc groups sent to counties not adopted by a campus SCOPE chapter.

Drawing on the expanding SCLC staff, recruitment teams are sent North. Prior Freedom Summer in 1964, SNCC and CORE already had a network of campus-based organizations and close contact with northern student activists. While SCLC has some contact with northern churches and a few labor unions, their campus presence is thin and concentrated mostly in divinity schools. The majority of SCLC staff and SCOPE recruiters come out of the Southern Freedom Movement, the Black church, and southern Black colleges. Few of them are familiar with the political and cultural currents affecting predominantly white northern universities. At one briefing for SCOPE recruiters, for example, organizations such as the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE) are described in detail, but campus organizations like National Student Association (NSA), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Northern Student Movement (NSM), and DuBois Clubs are not mentioned.

Many northern colleges have active Friends of SNCC and CORE chapters and often a cadre of Freedom Summer veterans. Within SNCC there had been proposals and discussion of SNCC mounting a major summer project for 1965, but that does not occur. At some colleges, the SNCC chapters cooperate with and support the SCOPE recruiters, at others less so. CORE has its own smaller summer project in Louisiana and some experienced SNCC and CORE veterans are returning to their 1964 projects in Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana or joining new SNCC projects in the Alabama Black Belt. So in some cases there is competition for volunteers. And at some of the most politically-aware campuses, committed activists are begining to turn their attention away from civil rights towards Vietnam. Above all, time is short — too short for SCOPE to recruit the number of northern volunteers originally hoped for. As April turns into May, expectations are scaled back from 2,000 in 120 counties to 500 or so working in roughly 80 counties.

Meetings are held with local Black community leaders from some, though not all, of the counties where there will be SCOPE projects. It is these local leaders who will direct SCOPE activities, arrange meals and housing for the northern volunteers, and provide somewhere for the project to meet and work. They are also responsible for recruiting the team of local volunteers — primarily Black high school and college students — who will partner with the northerners in canvassing and organizing.

[In SCOPE-related documents and articles, the term "volunteer" sometimes refers just to the northerners, and sometimes to both the northern and the local volunteers.]

On Monday, June 14, orientation for SCOPE volunteers gets underway at Morris Brown college in Atlanta with some 300-400 volunteers, SCLC staff, local activists, and others in attendance (some additional volunteers go directly to their counties over the next few weeks). Organized and coordinated by Bayard Rustin, the five day training session is a crash course in Movement history, nonviolence, freedom songs, SCOPE, voting rights, economics, the Civil Rights Act, organizing techniques & strategies, Black culture, political education, War on Poverty, the white power-structure, and safety cautions in a dangerous environment. The days are jam-packed with meetings, workshops, and addresses by Dr. King and other SCLC leaders including Hosea, Bevel, Rustin, James Lawson, Andy Young, Ralph Abernathy, and Junius Griffin, as well as outside experts such as John Doar of the Justice Department and Michael Harrington, author of The Other America, a seminal book about poverty in the United States.

One point emphasized to the northern volunteers is that local Black leaders in each county will guide the SCOPE projects. Volunteers unable to accept the leadership of local Blacks should not participate.

SCOPE-ing

On Saturday, June 19, the volunteers begin dispersing to the 50 or so counties in Alabama, Georgia, North & South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, where they will work for the next ten weeks. In some cases, the locations of SCOPE projects fluctuate over the course of the summer. Most are in rural counties, a few are in towns like Selma Alabama, Albany Georgia, Orangeburg and Charleston South Carolina.

Approximate Number of
SCOPE Projects/Counties
Alabama 17 North Carolina 2
Florida 2 South Carolina 8
Georgia     15 Virginia 5

College SCOPE groups that "adopt" a county include Amherst, Berkeley, Brandeis, Columbia, Dickinson College, Emporia State, Fresno State, Gettysburg College, Immaculate Heart, Johnson C. Smith, Loyola, Maryknoll, NY State, Penn State, San Francisco Divinity School, St. Mary of the Woods, Wayne State, Wittenburg, UCLA, Univ. of Illinois, Univ. of Indiana, Univ. of Minnesota, Univ. of Montana, plus community based SCOPE teams from Monterey Peninsula, Rhode Island, and Santa Barbara.

As SCOPE begins working across the South, Hubert Humphrey's promise has failed to materialize, the Voting Rights Act is still stalled in the Senate by a southern filibuster. This means that county voter Registrars — all white, of course — can still use their power to prevent Blacks from registering just as they have for generations past. SCLC has provided little training and few materials for this contingency

The day to day experiences of SCOPE workers parallel those of other summer volunteers from previous years in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Southwest Georgia. Tired from their journey, the northerners reach their counties late in the day or after dark, usually arriving at a church if one has opened its doors to the Movement or the home of a local leader if not. There they are sorted out to the places they will stay — the home of a Black family if they're lucky, a group "freedom house" or church basement if not.

The volunteers are honored and welcomed by the Black folk who first greet them. Often those put up in homes are offered the parent's own bed. Usually the volunteers manage to decline that privilege and sleep on couches, the floor in sleeping bags, or share a bed with the children. Food, much of it unfamiliar — collard greens, corn bread, grits, okra, gravy-biscuits, pan-fried chicken — is offered and shared as a bond of friendship, trust, and acceptance. It is only later that the northerners begin to realize that this warm embrace comes only from the most courageous members of the community, other local Blacks hesitate to talk with them, and many are afraid to even be seen in their company. Unlike so many of the adults, however, most Black teenagers are eager supporters of "the Movement." Some Black college and high school students sign up as local SCOPE volunteers, more would do so if not prevented by their parents, or forced to work long hours at low-wage jobs to save money for their next semester of college.

Some of the homes where volunteers stay are well-built and have phones, refrigerators, indoor toilets, and even showers — but many do not. Living rural, living poor, requires a sharp adjustment for some northerners — sleeping three or four to a creaking bed with a sagging mattress, outhouses, water from a handle-pump, showers made out of tin cans with holes punched in the bottom, cockroaches so large you can hear them skittering across the floor at night, mice beneath the weathered floorboards, hens scratching in the packed-earth yard.

Canvasing door to door by teams of northern and local volunteers begins in the hot, muggy heat — proselytizing the gospel of freedom one porch and front-room at a time — come to a meeting, the importance of voting, a better life for your children, voter registration procedure. The work is hard, the going slow. Many are still afraid — and justifiably so. Defying generations of white-supremacy can — and often has — led to being fired, or evicted, or suffering various forms of violent retaliation.

Within hours, or at most a day or two, the northerners are accosted by cops and sheriffs who identify, harass, and threaten them. For many middle-class college kids being treated as an enemy by the uniformed guardians of "law and order" is something new — and frightening. So too are their encounters with Southern whites, some of whom berate them, curse them, threaten them, and demand that they leave. Before coming south, few volunteers have ever been subjected to a white hate-stare — an unnerving experience — but one they learn to deal with as have "uppity" Blacks for generations.

Lessons are learned. Northerners discover they have to talk slower and listen harder to unfamiliar southern accents. In towns, it's usually easy to identify where Blacks live because their streets are unpaved and often behind the railroad tracks or in some other undesirable area. In the rural farmland, piny forests, and mosquito swamps it's harder because all the roads are dusty (or muddy) and the shacks of poor whites — who are usually hostile — look little different from those of Blacks.

Volunteer Peter Buck keeps a log while canvasing a North Carolina town to build turnout for a meeting:

Center St.
   208 Alkbry Not home. Gave card to daughter.
   Across from 208. Howell. Gave card to daughter. Only contact.
   122 Not home.
   120 Would be home about 5:00 pm
   119 121 across the street from Mrs. Hawkins. Will be home around 5:00 too.
   118 Mrs. Hawkins will come if her friend comes.
   108 Mrs. Whitehurst sick aunt, will make it if she can
   106 not home
   105 not home
   104 no one staying there permanently.
   Mr. Washington just cant make it. same for wife
Hyman St.
   703 Mrs. Lord probably will come son will give card
   707 Mrs. Clemmons has to work Monday night, will make it another if she can
   708 Mr. Barns will probably be there
   311 Mrs. Brown not home left card
   310 no one home
   207 works nights will make it when possible
   205 not home
   203
   201 Two people will probably come
   ...and so it goes...

Sometimes no one is at home, other times someone is home, but they're afraid to come to the door lest snitches report to employers, landlords and sheriffs that they talked to "race-mixing agitators." Often the bewildering complexities of race and fear complicate encounters between white northerners and Black southerners. Some folk are afraid not to talk to the white volunteers because saying "no" to a white person, any white person, violates engrained codes of social subservience. So white northerners have to find a delicate balance between urging Movement participation and avoiding traditional patterns of white dominance — not an easy task. More lessons are learned — Listen! Listen! Listen! Hear what folk are saying, understand the difference between a "Yes, I'll come to the meeting" of real agreement, and the "Yes, I'll register" said only to appease these white strangers so they'll go away.

Volunteers — both white and Black — learn that conversations are the heart and soul of organizing. Soon they come to understand that real teaching is not lecturing, but sharing — both ways. Many of the Black men and women the volunteers meet have been kept ignorant of even the most basic elements of democracy: what voting is, what registering is, what political offices are and why they're important — but they are well-schooled in the realities of race, exploitation and power, brutal realities that often stun white northerners but are familiar outrages to Black volunteers, northern and southern alike.

And soon northern volunteers are experiencing those brutal realities for themselves. Churches, offices, and schools associated with the SCOPE project are bombed and burned. So too are the homes and businesses of local activists. Some summer volunteers, northern and local, are arrested, some for engaging in constitutionally-protected free speech such as passing out leaflets or picketing, some for behavior made lawful by the Civil Rights Act, some on trumped up charges such as "vagrancy." In a number of places, northern and local activists are beaten by white thugs, or chased, or shot at. Fortunately, over the summer of '65 there is only one Movement-related murder — the Assassination of Jonathan Daniels on a SNCC project in Lowndes County Alabama. But fear — fear of arrest, fear of danger, fear of sudden unexpected violence, is constant, pervasive, and exhausting.

In some of the most dangerous areas, local Blacks armed with rifles and shotguns guard the SCOPE volunteers as they sleep at night. Some volunteers initially question this departure from strict Gandhian nonviolence, but SCLC leaders and staff make it clear that while participants in public Freedom Movement activities must be nonviolent — and everything northern volunteers do is in essence a public activity — nonviolence as a way of life for southern Blacks is a personal choice — and so is self-defense of home and community from attack by night-raiding Klansmen.

Direct Action

SCOPE policy at the beginning of the Summer is to concentrate on voter registration & political organization — and avoid direct action protests. Though many northern volunteers are eager to participate in marches and sit-ins, doing so diverts from SCOPE's primary objectives. Moreover, protests often provoke an increase in retaliatory white violence and cause police to mobilize around town centers both of which could deter people from going to the courthouse to register. And demonstrations will certainly result in arrests and expensive bail bonds that drain money needed for registration and organizing work. But with the Voting Rights Act still stalled by southern filibuster in the Senate, registration efforts show scant result. Frustrated at lack of visible success, some volunteers — local as well as northern — argue that direct action to protest continued denial of voting rights, to demand immediate passage of the Act, or to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will inspire and encourage registration efforts, not detract from them.

In a number of locales, the ban on direct action is either lifted by SCOPE Director Hosea Williams or simply ignored by those on the ground. When SCOPE volunteers are arrested and beaten in Taliaferro County GA, SCLC leaders organize picket lines, marches, and a boycott of white merchants. In Crenshaw County AL, local Black students volunteering with SCOPE convince the project to implement the Civil Rights Act, and a white mob attacks them when they sit-in at a local cafe. After two churches are burned and Blacks are fired and evicted for trying to register in Hale County AL, 500 are arrested on a mass march to protest continued use of the so-called "literacy test."

After four weeks in Americus Georgia where the Washington State University SCOPE team has been assigned and SNCC has been organizing since 1963, only 45 new voters are registered. On July 20, four Black women are arrested for standing in a "white-only" voting line during a local election. Benjamin Van Clark and Willie Bolden, two of Hosea Williams' field leaders from the Savannah Movement, are sent from Atlanta to organize and lead protests. Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC issue a set of demands: release of those arrested, longer registration hours, Afro-American voter Registrars, formation of a biracial committee to discuss race issues in Americus, and that a new election be called because separate voting lines are inherently unconstitutional. The white power-structure remains adamant, and a boycott of white-owned stores commences. Under pressure, the county agrees to hire a few Afro-American clerks to register voters. Within two days 647 Blacks are added to the rolls. Within a week there are 1,500 new Afro voters in Sumter County GA.

Sussex County in Southeast Virginia is rural, poor, and small (total population 12,000). Blacks outnumber whites two to one. The voter registration office is open only two hours per month. The SCOPE project requests that hours be extended — request denied. They circulate and submit a petition signed by those who want to register — petition denied. More than 100 Blacks march in protest to the courthouse and daily picketing commences. On the one day the office is open, more than 140 line up to be registered, but few are processed and fewer added to the rolls. A delegation drives up to Washington and meets with Justice Department officials. Under threat of Federal registrars, additional hours are added.

Voter Registration

The Voting Rights Act does not become law until August 6, 1965. So for seven long weeks SCOPE projects must try to register voters under the old "literacy test" system specifically designed to deny Black voting rights. It's slow going. Before the March to Montgomery, attempting to register at the courthouse was essentially an act of protest. It was a demand for Federal enforcement of the Constitution and a cry to the nation for justice. But now that the Voting Act is on the verge of passage, few Blacks are willing to endure the danger and humiliation of applying to register knowing they will most likely fail, when if they just wait until the new law takes effect they can actually succeed. Nevertheless, dedicated SCOPE activists — local and outside both — manage to ensure that there's a line of applicants waiting at the courthouse on each registration day.

In Selma Alabama, which is still under a Federal injunction, 1470 applicants go to the court house between June 20 and August 6 — but only 56 are actually registered (4%). In Crenshaw County Alabama, on the nine days the registration office is open before the Voting Rights Act is passed, 318 Blacks go to the courthouse to register, 242 are "processed," but only 58 are actually registered (18%). In Hale County Alabama where more than two-thirds of the population are Black, it's the same old story, voter applicants are fired and evicted, churches are burned, and almost no one is actually registered.

After the Voting Rights Act is signed into law on August 6, some county Registrars comply with it, and in those places SCOPE manages to register a good number of Black voters during the project's last three weeks. But elsewhere, particularly in the Deep South, white resistance to both the spirit and letter of the Act is adamant and Registrars continue to use their power to deny Afro-American voting rights.

In most Alabama counties, for example, registration continues to be limited to two days per month. August 16 is the first Alabama registration day after the Act goes into effect (and for most SCOPE volunteers returning to college in the Fall it's the last registration day they will see before leaving Alabama). Some 600 applicants line up to register at the Barbour County courthouse, but only 265 are processed and few are actually registered. In Butler County 568 line up, but only 107 are registered. In other states it's not much different. In North Carolina, the voter registration offices in counties with large Black populations simply close down until October. Georgia and South Carolina also continue to deny voting rights in predominantly Black rural areas.

The new law empowers Washington to send Federal Registrars (called "examiners") to noncomplying counties. Despite a widespread pattern of continued denial of Black voting rights, the Department of Justice assigns Registrars to only six of Alabama's 24 Black Belt counties. None are sent to any of the other SCOPE states. In the few places where Federal Registrars do operate they are effective and Black voters are added to the rolls in large numbers. For example, between August 6 and September 25, in those six Alabama counties:

Increase in Nonwhite Voter Registration
Alabama Counties With Federal Registrars
as of September 25, 1965 [23]
County Number Eligible Registered
End of 1964
Number Registered
Aug 6 - Sept 25
Dallas (Selma)   15,115 320 6,789
Hale (Greensboro) 5,999 236 3,242
Lowndes (Hayneville) 5,112 0 1,496
Marengo (Linden) 7,791 295 4,257
Perry (Marion)   5,202 289 2,446
Wilcox (Camden) 6,085 0 3,201

Dr. King demands that Federal Registrars be sent to every county covered by the new Act. Attorney General Katzenbach refuses. Instead he lauds what he claims is widespread "voluntary compliance" with the law by white officials, and he attributes the slow increase in Black voters to lack of local registration campaigns. SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and NAACP registration workers toiling in the field see little evidence of "voluntary compliance" in the deep South, and most of them are convinced that Washington is dragging its feet in a forlorn effort to somehow appease southern whites and keep them loyal to the Democratic Party. As of August 1966, a full year after the Act goes into force, Federal Registrars have been sent into less than one-fifth of the southern counties that need them.

Administration, record-keeping, and statistical accuracy are not SCLC's forte. There are often discrepencies and omissions between field memos, office compilations, and public statements regarding the number and assignments of SCOPE volunteers & staff, the numbers participating in local political organizing programs, and the number of voters registered or attempting to register. Prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act (and in counties where it is not enforced with Federal registrars), it is sometimes difficult to determine the number of Blacks who actually manage to register because the local white Registrars take weeks to notify applicants if they "passed" or "failed." In some counties a Federal or state judge reports monthly registration figures, but that is not universal.

SCOPE's reported registration statistics are therefore to some degree estimates. By the end of the summer, at the high-end an estimated 70,000 Blacks attempted to register in the six states where there are SCOPE projects. Of that number, a bit under 50,000 succeeded (mostly during the three weeks after the Voting Rights Act goes into effect). Other estimates report somewhat lower numbers, particularly the number of new voters added to the rolls. Regardless of how many actually got registered, there are several hundred thousand Blacks of voting age in the counties where SCOPE has projects, and while 50,000 new voters is a good start, a start is all it is.

Going Forward

Throughout the remainder of 1965, and then 1966, the Johnson administration continues to drag its heels, refusing to supply Federal registrars to places that clearly need them. Registrars are only sent into those counties that practice the most extreme — and overt — methods of denying voting rights to Afro-Americans. The locales that use more subtle and covert forms of resistance are able to avoid direct Federal intervention and therefore delay, retard and minimize Black electoral power. But if Washington hopes that appeasement will keep southern whites loyal to the Democratic Party those dreams are dashed as the majority of white Democrats become white Republicans.

But slowly, as Black voting strength grows to the point where they can begin to swing close elections, and then eventually elect Black candidates in towns and counties with Afro-American majorities, overt white resistance to the Voting Rights Act begins to fade and politicians of all races seek Black votes — even George Wallace the (formerly) arch-segregationist Governor of Alabama, who by the 1980s is not only campaigning for Black votes but actually getting them when he runs as a Democrat against a right-wing Republican.

The results of SCOPE's community organization and political education efforts vary from place to place. SCLC's SCOPE volunteers support existing — or help local leaders organize new — voter leagues and improvement associations across the South. Like similar efforts by CORE, SNCC, and the NAACP, some of these local groups falter and die, others struggle on, and some thrive, providing an organizational form for Black political power for decades to come. One of the most successful is the Improvement Association of Sussex County Virginia:

When I returned in 1988 to visit John and the others, I was told over and over what a difference the SCOPE Project and the Improvement Associations had made. To begin with, after we left, the teenagers who had worked with us all summer decided they no longer wanted to be bussed way out into the forest to attend the one school serving all the county's black students. Under the leadership of Waverly's young Horace Jones, who later found his calling in the ministry, they organized their own march on the first day of school that fall and successfully integrated the schools. Eventually, with the aid of the votes gathered that summer and in the following years, blacks entered the town councils, the county board of supervisors, the police department, and other historically segregated bodies. Mrs. Maggie Turner, wife of Rev. Jacob Turner and one of the more outspoken and articulate members of the local movement, went so far as to become a magistrate on the local court circuit.

When I returned to visit Waverly in 1988, the Improvement Association was still functioning and had been credited with many advances over the years, a testament to Dr. King's strategy and a counter to critics who claim that we came in, caused havoc, and left. As of 2012, the Improvement Association of Sussex County had grown into a successful nonprofit organization with a budget of $3 million and a staff of 35. — Lanny Kaufer. [20]

Journalists and historians commonly measure the effects of the Civil Rights Movement in legislation enacted, numbers of new voters, and new or strengthened organizations. But the Movement's greatest achievement cannot be quantified so simply. At the deepest level, the most profound effect of the Freedom Movement is on the behavior and attitudes of southerners — both Black and white.

In county after county, town after town, the iron grip of state-repression and white-terror that held generations of Blacks (and whites) in thrall is being defied and broken. Unnoticed by the New York Times and CBS News, Blacks begin to carry themselves with a pride instilled by their own raw courage, and most southern whites (however reluctantly) begin to recognize that though they still retain enormous economic power compared to Blacks, the days of feudal lordship and legally-mandated social supremacy are coming to an end. An end that comes about because Blacks simply won't accept it any longer. By protesting, registering to vote, joining organizations, and asserting their human dignity, Blacks force whites to respect them as citizens. As the constraints of enforced social inequality begin to lift, the old order begins to die. As an integral part of the broad Freedom Movement, the SCOPE project and the SCOPE volunteers — white and Black — contribute their share to this process of dismantling the "traditional southern way of life."

As for the northern SCOPE volunteers of 1965 and the local communities they serve, an observation that Fannie Lou Hamer made of the Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteers of 1964 applies as well to them:

It was these kids what broke a lot of this [racism and class distinctions] down. They treated us like we were special and we loved 'em. ... We didn't feel uneasy about our language might not be right or something. We just felt like we could talk to 'em. We trusted 'em, and I can tell the world [that] those kids done their share in Mississippi. — Fannie Lou Hamer. [21]

An opinion shared by John Lewis of SNCC:

The SCOPE volunteers were no different than Freedom Summer workers, we were all together that summer of 1965, and we all took the same risks. The SCOPE volunteers stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our struggle for civil and voting rights. — John Lewis. [22]

And as is true for all the summer projects, most of the northern volunteers are profoundly affected by the people they encounter in the Black community, the work they do, and the hardships and dangers they endure. And for many, their participation in SCOPE results in a lifetime dedication to social justice causes. Over and over they report similar reactions:

The effect of the short time in the movement has been felt my entire life. It spoke to questions of my own self-worth and, as a Quaker, it validated my belief in the power of nonviolent resolution of conflict.

Influenced my life greatly to this day.

The greatest moments in my life were when working for the SCLC and Dr. King. As an American I was proud; as a white man I was embarrassed and proud; and a Jew I was fulfilled.

Although it was a short intense summer, I never forgot the courageous local residents who risked their lives to let us work side by side with them. If I have been able to live up to even half of their example, I will consider my life a success.

So began a lifelong journey working for social justice.

The experience changed — and enriched — my life forever in more ways than I can articulate.

Working with SCLC and Dr. King was a life changing experience.

The SCOPE Project educated me for successful political activism, including future collaborations with African American leadership. And to the best of my ability and understanding, I remain politically involved today.

It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I was 19 years old. The experience taught me to see my own world differently, and to act in that world in an activist, non-passive, nonviolent way.

Since 1965, whenever I feel my idealism waning, I remember how idealistic I felt in the summer of 1965, and I usually manage to push feelings of cynicism and pessimism aside, and get on with the task at hand.

My recollections keep returning to the incredible people I met there.

See Birmingham Voter Registration Campaign for continuation.

For more information:
Books: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Web links: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
Articles: SCOPE Articles by Movement Veterans
Documents: SCLC/SCOPE Project
Personal Remembrances of the SCOPE Project

 

The Southern Courier (July '65-Dec '68)

Background — Media & the Movement

In the 1960s, mass media newsrooms — both print and broadcast — are for the most part entirely white (and so far as general news reporting is concerned, pretty much all-male). Their un-informed, and in some cases racist, assumptions about Blacks and other people of color permeate their stories. In the mid-60s, the national network news broadcasts of CBS, NBC and ABC expand from 15 minutes to half an hour. From Washington, they report on civil rights related legislation and Supreme Court decisions, and when Movement protests in the South are violent or involve a famous figure such as Dr. King they cover those too. The bombings of Black churches and the murders of Black activists are mentioned only occasionally, though there is more extensive national coverage when white activists are jailed, killed or brutalized. But there is almost no TV coverage of the smaller-scale, day-to-day freedom struggles and campaigns that are changing the face of the South.

National news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Life, Look, and Saturday Evening Post feature vivid photos and dramatic stories, occasionally with some depth, more often not. Aside from civil rights, Afro-Americans generally make national print news only if they are entertainment celebrities or sports stars. Civil Rights Movement reporting by most major metropolitan daily newspapers in the North is also limited, with similar biases, though crimes committed by Blacks are frequently added to the mix and occasionally sensationalized. A few reporters working for major "papers of record" such as Claude Sitton of the New York Times and Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times do try to provide thorough and balanced coverage of the Movement in the South, but they are the execption more than the rule. And even those papers largely ignore civil rights activity in their own backyards.

During the wide-spread direct action protests of 1960-62, stories in northern mainstream media about civil rights "agitation" vary in tone, but more often than not lean more towards skeptical and disapproving than positive. Their primary concern seems to be "law & order," "Communist influence," and scolding the Freedom Movement for "provoking" white violence that embarrasses the U.S. on the world stage and provides fodder for "Communist propaganda." While mob violence by white racists against nonviolent protesters is almost always reported negatively — the assaults against the original Freedom Riders and the white riot and attempted lynching of James Meredith at 'Ole Miss, for example — condemning white violence does not equal taking a positive view of the Freedom Movement.

With the 1963 "Childrens' Crusade" in Birmingham, reporting on the Freedom Movement by the northern mass media begins to shift towards a more positive tone with deeper, more extensive coverage. Where previously stories had disapproved of protesters "provoking" violence and police repression, now the courage of young, nonviolent protesters calling on America to live up to its promised creed of freedom, justice, and equality begins to be contrasted favorably to the bigoted ignorance and cruel brutality of white mobs and sheriffs. This trend continues through the events of 1963, '64, and the start of '65 including the March on Washington, the St. Augustine protests, Freedom Summer, Bogalusa, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, and the March to Montgomery.

But with the onset of northern urban rebellions (Harlem '64, Watts '65) and calls for Black self-defense by groups like the Deacons for Justice, the mainstream mass media begins to turn more negative. A trend that accelerates with the "Black Power" cry in 1966, and the movement's shift towards issues of racial discrimination in northern cities and economic injustice nationwide. Stories emphasizing violence, disorder, "Black militance," "White-backlash," "unreasonable demands," and the "Black racism" come to predominate. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, by 1966 the northern media can by no longer be considered friendly or supportive of Afro-American struggles and aspirations.

In the 1960s, however, most southerners, both white and Black, receive most of their news from local radio, TV, & newspapers — not the northern-based mass media. With only a few exceptions, the white-owned media in the South is openly hostile to the Freedom Movement — often rabidly so. They either do not cover Afro-American political activity at all, or do so from an utterly biased pro-segregation, anti-voting rights viewpoint. Nor, as a general rule, do they cover anything at all related to Afro-American individuals, or the Black communities they supposedly serve — except for crimes allegedly committed by Blacks which they often report in lurid and sensational detail.

In some southern cities there are poorly-funded, Black-owned newspapers or radio stations that try as best they can to provide news of interest to Afro-Americans. But they are often deep in debt to white lenders, some rely on advertising from white-owned businesses, and many find themselves financially under the thumb of the white power-structure in other ways. All of which limits their ability to report on the Freedom Movement. In almost every southern Black community, however, there are a few individuals who subscribe to national Black-owned publications such as Jet magazine and northern newspapers like the Baltimore Afro-American and Chicago Defender. These provide consistent and supportive reporting on the Civil Rights Movement and they are often passed from hand-to-hand until they fall apart. But most of their Movement stories come from reporters sent to temporarily cover some dramatic hot-spot because they don't have dedicated reporters and stringers embedded in southern communities.

The Southern Courier

During the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, Harvard student Peter Cummings works in rural Mississippi just south of the Tennessee border. During the school year he is a staff member for the Harvard Crimson, and he uses his journalism skills to help local activists begin publishing a local Movement newsletter, the Benton County Freedom Train.

In the Fall, he and Radcliffe student Ellen Lake who had worked as a summer volunteer in Gulfport return to school. Four and a half months later, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and the The March to Montgomery explode across the front pages and national broadcasts of the northern mass media. But not in the South. In the South the general pattern of hostile, biased stories and information suppression continues. The Atlanta Constitution, for example, the region's largest newspaper, refuses to even cover the Montgomery March.

There really was no coverage of civil rights [in the South] and there was no coverage of blacks except if they did something criminal. — Ellen Lake. [24]

Lake, Cummings, and other Crimson staff members decide to publish a paper based somewhere in the South that will honestly and accurately report on southern race relations and the daily lives of both Blacks and whites. From northern donors they obtain $32,000 (equal to $230,000 in 2012) and some used cars. As soon as classes end for the summer they head South to found the Southern Courier.

Michael Lottman, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and a former Crimson editor signs on as the Southern Courier's managing editor. They first set up in Atlanta GA, but most of the stories they want to cover are occurring in Alabama and Mississippi so they soon relocate to Montgomery. There they are befriended by long-time civil rights supporters Clifford and Virginia Durr, two of the very few white Alabamians to side with Blacks in the freedom struggle. Within a few months the Courier has a reporter or local stringer in every large town in Alabama.

Published weekly with four to six large size pages, the first issue hits the streets on July 16, 1965. The lead news article is about attempts to integrate white churches in Tuskegee Alabama, other stories cover voter registration efforts, protests in Marengo County, the arrest of a Black leader in Selma, civil rights activities in Durham NC and Bogalusa LA, and organizing efforts by SNCC and SCLC. The feature story is titled "Revolution in the Delta: Farm Hands Go on Strike" which describes the efforts of the Black-led Mississippi Freedom Labor Union to win higher wages. There is also a Black-oriented photo-essay page, local community reports, self-help and educational pieces. Subsequent issues continue this mixture of relevant hard news, feature stories, photo-essays, community news, education and self-help.

Soon 30,000 copies per week are being printed and distributed. There are some mail subscriptions, but most papers are sold by distributors in Alabama and parts of Mississippi — adults and enterprising kids. They pay a nickel per copy, receive their bundles by Greyhound and Trailways busses, and sell the papers for a dime each.

From the start, The Southern Courier recruited and maintained a bi-racial staff committed to reporting and disseminating the news in a professional and objective manner. It was never to be merely a journal of opinion. Reporters and editors were expected to become part of their communities, black and white alike, and not to engage in "drive-by" journalism or attempts at social change; to use their skills as journalists and not become community organizers or advocates for a single point of view; and to produce a quality newspaper that reached out beyond those who already agreed with the pro-civil rights perspective of its editorial page. — A Brief History of the Southern Courier. [25]

Covering race-relations and race-related stories is the paper's raison de'etre, but in the American South of the 1960s everything is related to, and affected by, race — business, sports, education, entertainment, even economic policies, government programs, war, and foreign affairs. By 1966, the Courier is providing extensive coverage of how President Johnson's War on Poverty programs are being implemented — and subverted. Stories that are written with far more depth, balance, and accuracy, than those appearing in the establishment press.

The expanding war in Vietnam, and how it affects Blacks and whites in the South, also becomes a major topic of concern. In April of 1967, Dr. King breaks with the Johnson administration by publicly condemning the war, first in a seminal address at Riverside Church in New York and then a few days later at a mass anti-war protest United Nations Plaza. The Southern Courier is one of the few papers — North or South — to editorially support his stand.

Beyond trying to communicate the truth about racial matters, the Courier also saw itself as a training ground for young black men and women who might aspire to careers in journalism. — A Brief History of the Southern Courier.[25]

By the middle of '67, most of the white staff from Harvard and other northern universities have moved on to other endeavors and southerners — mostly Black, some white — carry the paper forward as writers, editors, photographers, typographers, and support staff. High school student Barbara Howard Flowers begins as a typist and three years later she's Associate Editor. Viola Bradford begins working for the Courier as a teenager and becomes one of the paper's star reporters. Henry Clay Moorer, Sandra Colvin, and others become accomplished journalists the old-fashion way — by doing it on the job.

Courier staff earn from $20-$75 a week (equal to $150-$550 in 2012). Printing costs run several hundred dollars per issue, plus there are reporters expenses, phone, and other overhead. Sales and the few paid ads don't even come close to meeting expenses. Contributions from the Ford Foundation, some smaller nonprofits, and individual donors sustain the paper until the end of 1968. But after the assassination of Dr. King, many northern donors turn away from civil rights issues to focus on opposing the Vietnam War; and after Nixon wins the presidency, politically progressive endeavors like the Courier quickly lose favor with mainstream foundations. With funding from the North dwindling away, the paper cannot sustain its operations. In early December of 1968, publication ceases with issue number 177.

For more information:
Articles:
     Writing the Wrong in Alabama, Harvard Crimson, April 4, 2006
     The Southern Courier, Southern Courier Association
     Reporters and Reformers, Robert Norrell, Master's thesis, University of Virginia, 1978.
     "Reporters and Reformers: Story of Southern Courier," South Atlantic Quarterly, (Winter 1980)
Web:
     Southern Courier
     Southern Courier Archives (all issues)
     Southern Courier Example Issues (CRMVets)

 

Americus GA Protests (July)

For preceding events see:
      Integrating Americus High School
     Summer Community Organization Political Education Project (SCOPE)

In the summer of 1965, a team of white SCOPE project volunteers from Washington State University arrive in Americus where SNCC has been working for two and a half years since early 1963. Reflecting growing divisions within SNCC around a wide range of issues, some SNCC members oppose the presence of white civil rights workers in a Black-led movement and some resent SCLC's intrusion in what they see as their turf — but other SNCC organizers welcome the SCOPE workes and cooperate with them.

Voter registration is SCOPE's focus, but the Voting Rights Act is stalled in Congress and applicants must still overcome Georgia voting laws and procedures specifically intended to deny Afro-Americans access to the ballot. After four weeks of hard work, only 45 new voters are registered. Then, on July 20, four Black women are arrested for standing in a "white-only" voting line during a local election.

They were arrested during a special election for justice of the peace. Of the four arrested, one was a candidate, Mary Kate Bell, (24) opposing the white incumbent J.W. Southwell, known for legendary brutality against African Americans. I was attacked and beaten by him inside the courthouse as I was escorting potential voters to the registrars office. The names of the other three women were Gloria Wise, (19), Lena Turner, (18) and Mamie Campbell, (38), wife of local pastor and civil rights leader, Rev, J.R. Campbell. They were all arrested for courageously attempting to cast their vote in the "White Womens" only line. They were jailed under $1000.00 bond each [equal to $7,200 in 2012], but all refused to be bonded out and instead chose to challenge the states' practice of segregated polling booths. — Sam Mahone, SNCC. [26]

From Atlanta, SCOPE Director Hosea Williams dispatches Benjamin Van Clark and Willie Bolden, two of his field leaders from the Savannah Movement, to organize and lead protests in Americus. Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC jointly issue a set of demands: Release of those arrested, longer registration hours, hiring Afro-American voter Registrars, and that a new election be called because separate voting lines are inherently unconstitutional.

The white power-structure remains adamant. The Black citizens of Americus dig in, mounting daily marches and picket lines. Arrests mount. A boycott of white-owned stores commences. "From now on, we're going to live Black, sleep Black, buy Black, and wear Black," declares Bolden. The Americus Movement demands formation of a bi-racial committee to address long-festering problems. They appoint as their representatives local residents Sam Mahone of SNCC and Lena Turner, the SCOPE project director and one of the four women currently in jail for trying to vote in a "white" voting booth. Americus Mayor T. Griffin Walker refuses to meet with them — he claims he will meet with other Blacks, but not them.

On July 27, some 200 protesters march through town to the courthouse where they rally for an around-the-clock vigil in support of the arrested women. On July 28, a crowd of whites heckle and harass the demonstrators standing vigil at the courthouse. They begin throwing rocks at Black motorists driving by. Gunfire erupts from one of the passing cars. A bystander, Andrew Whatley, an off-duty Marine, is hit and killed. Two Black men are later convicted of his murder and sentenced to long prison terms.

On July 30, Federal Judge William Bootle orders that voting lines and booths be desegregated and the four women who have endured ten days in the cells be released. Americus Mayor Walker calls for an end to all protests, saying that racial issues should be handled through the court system. That night, hundreds of demonstrators march through the streets of Americus celebrating their victory against segregated voting and demanding redress of other long standing grievances.

In Americus, most of the shoppers at the Colonial and Kwik Chek grocery stores are Black, but all the managers, shelf-stockers, and checkers are white — no Blacks allowed in "white" jobs. On July 31, some 23 nonviolent pickets are arrested for the crime of demanding that the stores end their white-only hiring practices. Despite the arrests, picketing continues and is expanded to the Piggly Wiggly. Authorities at the county welfare office retaliate by halting services in the Black community until all protests are ended.

National media coverage of the Americus protests and arrests keep pressure on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. With the southern filibuster broken in the Senate and agreement on final legislative language nearing completion, it is clear that the Act will become law within days. Sumter County authorities relent and agree to hire a few Afro-American clerks to register voters — perhaps they hope to forestal the dispatch of Federal registrars, and if so, their ploy succeeds, local official are allowed to retain control over voting registration. Nevertheless, within two days, 647 Blacks are added to the rolls. The Voting Rights Act becomes law on August 6. By year's end there are more than 2,000 new Black voters in Sumter County Georgia. Generations of absolute white control over the ballot box and monopoly on all elective offices is brought to an end. All-white schools are also put to rest, by September, some 90 Blacks have integrated the formerly segregated "white" institutions.

For more information:
Books: Georgia Movement — Atlanta — Albany
Web: Albany, Americus, & SW Georgia Movements.

 

Murder of Jonathan Daniels (Aug)

[From August 11 through August 17, the Black ghettos of Los Angeles, California, explode in a spasm of urban rage. The media calls it the "Watts Riot." There is massive street violence, looting and arson. Heavily armed cops and National Guardsmen are ordered, "shoot to kill." Based on false rumors of weapons caches and guerrilla armies, the police launch an armed assault on the Nation of Islam mosque. For more than a week America's airwaves and news columns are filled with lurid descriptions of "kill whitey" rhetoric, and "Black militants" out to murder "honkies." Over the course of seven days, 34 people die by violence — 31 of them are Afro-American, 3 are white. Though almost all the victims are Black, media sensationalism stokes white fear of Black rage. In the South, white racists see this explosion as an ominous portent of Black retribution that confirms their determination to suppress Afro-American progress and resist social equality at all costs. The events in Lowndes County leading to the murder of Jonathan Daniels occur in this context of media-hyped racial hysteria. See Impact of Northern Urban Rebellions on Southern Freedom Movement for more information.]

Picketing Fort Deposit

On Saturday morning, August 14, a long line of Blacks wait patiently in the sweltering heat at the tiny Fort Deposit Alabama post office where Federal examiners are registering voters in compliance with the recently passed Voting Rights Act. Fort Deposit is a Klan stronghold and angry white thugs mingle with local cops to harass and intimidate. For some of the rural Blacks standing in line, this is the first time in their lives they have dared venture into Fort Deposit because of its long history of racist violence. Now their only protection is a small contingent of FBI agents present to record violations of the Act.

Not far away in the shade of a tree next to a Black church, a small band of 25 or so teenagers are hand-lettering picket signs. Since the Freedom Movement came to Fort Deposit in the form of a first mass meeting the previous week, they have been determined to take a stand for freedom. Despite passage of the Civil Rights Act a year earlier, the town grocery store is still segregated. They and their parents are barred from entering, they have to make their purchases through a back window without examining the goods or seeing the posted prices. What they are told to pay varies according to the whim of the white owner, often more than what white customers are charged.

SNCC field secretary Jimmy Rogers and other SNCC organizers try to talk them out of demonstrating. A protest will be extremely dangerous and if white violence breaks out it might prevent the adults from registering. A pair of FBI agents appear to warn them that white men are gathering in a angry crowd, and they, the agents, can only "observe," they can provide no protection at all. The Black teenagers are not intimidated. "I don't want to scare the older people away from voter registration, but we need this," says one.

The SNCC organizers are torn. Their prestige among Black youth is enormous. If they forbid the demonstration the teenagers will reluctantly obey. But should they block the protest? Or should they support the young militants, some of whom are the same age they were when they themselves first defied adult caution and took their own stands.

The kids — today I call them kids — were making their case. And it was a really wrenching moment for everybody who was affiliated with SNCC. It was a wrenching moment. I was looking directly across the group at [Stokley] Carmichael, and I realized I had no idea how this was gonna come out. Because nobody wants this to happen. But on the other hand you couldn't — these were young people who had watched the direct action movements take place all over the south. They wanted their turn. ... I remember this awful time when you were really torn, and really didn't know which way to go. And I think the fashion that was always SNCC was to — "Okay, they want this, and they need this, so let's help them out." — SNCC member Jean Wiley. [12]

Project Director Stokley Carmichael finally accedes to the young militants insistence on defying white racism with direct action, but only on condition that they pledge commitment to nonviolence. "If that's what you want to do, he tells them, "don't take anything they can call a weapon. Not even a pencil." Purses and pockets are emptied of nail files and knives. Jimmy Rogers and some of the other experienced SNCC veterans are assigned to join them. Assuming all protesters will be arrested, SNCC members Jean Wiley and Martha Prescod make lists of names and family contacts.

A car from Selma arrives with freedom school teacher Gloria Larry House and two white supporters, Father Richard Morrisroe and seminary student Jonathan Daniels. Tuskegee student and volunteer organizer Ruby Sales later recalled:

One of the things that we were very conscious of is that, sometimes in that kind of situation, white presence would incite local white people to violence. So there was some concern about what that meant. ... to jeopardize the local black people. The other question was who should be in the forefront of the movement. People like myself thought it should be the people themselves in Lowndes County, the local black people, who should be in the forefront. I had some serious concerns about what it meant to allow white people to come into the county and what kind of relationship that set up in an area where black people had historically deferred to white people, and whether or not that was in some real ways creating the very situation that we were struggling very hard to change. More fundamentally, I was very afraid of unleashing uncontrolled violence because of Lowndes County's history ... and the fact that since I had been in the county I had encountered more than one violent incident ... but ultimately it was decided that the movement was an open place and should provide an opportunity for anyone who wanted to come and struggle against racism to be part of the struggle." — Ruby Sales. [13]

The protesters walk to Fort Deposit's miniscule "downtown" in three groups of 10 (so as not to be arrested for "parading") and begin to picket McGough's Grocery with their hand-made signs carrying slogans like "No More Back Doors" and "Wake Up! This is Not Primitive Time." Fifty hostile Klansmen armed with clubs and guns quickly close in on them. A deputy sheriff shouts that they're all under arrest (the protesters, of course, not the KKK). "For what?" asks Jimmy Rogers. "For resisting arrest, and picketing to cause blood."

Some of the protesters manage to evade arrest, but 20 are forced into a waiting garbage truck. In addition to local youth, among those arrested are SNCC members Jimmy Rogers, Willie Vaughn, Scott B. Smith, and Stokely Carmichael, freedom school teacher Gloria House, Tuskegee student Ruby Sales, and Father Morrisroe and Jonathan Daniels. The two whites are particularly singled out by the cops for special abuse.

SNCC member Jean Wiley, reporting on the events for the Student Voice asks a cop, "Where are you taking them?"

I'm thinking, "Now I'm a reporter, I have a press pass. I could at least ask," [Let them know that] another eye is on this. And he tells — whatever the hell he tells me it's not very pretty. But he points, he cocks the gun. I saw Carmichael's hand motion me to go, and go quietly. [Staring down the gun barrel, she slowly retreats.] And all I could think of was, "He's not going to shoot me in the back. He will never say I ran." — Jean Wiley. [12]

Meanwhile, the Black adults stubbornly hold their line at the post office, determined to get registered. Forestalled in their attempt to attack the protesters, and unwilling to face Federal charges under the Voting Rights Act for assaulting the voter line, the white thugs turn their rage on Life correspondent Sanford Ungar and reporter David Gordon, smashing the windows of their car and leaving them bloody.

In the Hayneville Jail

The arrestees are taken to the new county jail in Hayneville. Bail bonds are set high, far more than SNCC can scrape up. Stokley and Scott B. are bailed out to continue organizing and to arrange lawyers and bond for the others. The remaining prisoners agree they will all remain together, no one else will bail out until everyone can be freed. Seventeen year old Tuskegee student and SNCC volunteer Ruby Sales lies about her age so they won't incarcerate her as a juvenile delinquent without trial (as Mississippi did to Brenda Travis and Florida did to the "St. Augustine Four"). As usual, women prisoners are separated from the men. There are four women in the filthy, cramped, roach and lice-infested cell: Joyce Bailey and Ms. Logan from Fort Deposit, Gloria House, and Ruby Sales who later recalled:

You know, growing up in the South,  — or growing up in America — only "bad" women went to jail. That was the last thing your mama raised you to do was to find your butt in jail. There I was in this place that my mother had told me only bad women went to. So that was a really important moment, the transformation of that space. It moved from being a space of disgrace to being a space of honor to be there.

Now you have to understand what it means for four Black women — it was terrifying, psychologically terrifying because they engaged in psychological warfare. By telling the women that if we didn't stop singing that they were going to make the Black trustees — the Black prisoners —  come into the cell with us and rape us. And they threatened that they would have the Black prisoners beat the men. So [they used] this whole notion of psychological warfare, turning one Black person against another.

And you know there was a lot of singing going on. People were afraid, and the singing had a lot to do with just maintaining our courage, giving us something to hold on to, and stand in. But, I have to say despite those tortuous conditions, it didn't feel like we were being tortured ... it was because of the spirit of just being there and standing up for something you believed in. And for those young people — and even for myself — I had never been arrested, so that was a powerful moment that even their threats couldn't defeat. And that was really based on the power of the people to really take one space that had been something else and to turn it into something positive and transformative. And that therefore it no longer belonged — even though the white Sheriff and other people thought it still belonged to them —  in a way it didn't anymore
. — Ruby Sales. [12]

Ambush!

The following Saturday, August 21st, after a week in jail, the guards suddenly announce that everybody is being released without having to post bond.

Of course we were suspicious of this. No one from SNCC had been in touch with us. We had not been told that bail had been raised; we had no information from anyone, and we thought, this doesn't sound right. But they forced us out of the jail at gunpoint. Being forced out of jail at gunpoint — you know something worse might be waiting for you outside, so you sort of hang on to that jail. Well, we did. We were standing around outside the jail and they forced us off the property onto the blacktop, one of the county roads, again at gunpoint. — Gloria House. [14]

The suddenly released prisoners are tense. They have no base in Hayneville and for some reason no other Blacks are in sight. Willie Vaughn is sent looking for a Black home with a phone, but few Afro-Americans have telephone service and many are afraid to even answer their door. Nearby is the small white-owned Cash Store where Movement people have bought snacks in the past during voter registration days. After a week in a hot, fetid cell, eating foul jail food and drinking tainted water some want to slake their thirst with a cold soda. SNCC veteran Jimmy Rogers urges caution, something ain't right, the streets are too empty, it's too quiet. Ruby Sales recalls:

It was afternoon. And the street was very eerie. There was a quietness over that downtown area that made us feel really, really eerie. ... What really prevailed that day was that we were thirsty and needed — wanted something to drink. And so we decided that everybody shouldn't go to the store just Morrisroe, Daniels, me, and Joyce Bailey. ... As we approached the store and began to go up the steps, suddenly standing there was Tom Coleman. At that time I didn't know his name; I found that out later. I recognized that he had a shotgun, and I recognized that he was yelling something about black bitches. But my mind kind of blanked, and I wasn't processing all that was happening.

[Daniels yanks Ruby out of the line of fire.] Jonathan was behind me and I felt a tug. The next thing I knew there was this blast, and I had fallen down. I remember thinking, God, this is what it feels like to be dead. I heard another shot go off and I looked down and I was covered with blood. I didn't realize that Jonathan had been shot at that point. I thought I was the one who had been shot.

Morrisroe was running with Joyce Bailey ... he's holding her hand and he's not letting it go for nothing. And he's running with her, and he did not let go of her hands until he was shot in the back, and she kept running and he fell. ... I made a decision that I would just lie there, and maybe if I lie there, then Coleman would think that I was dead and then I could get help for the other people. He walked over me and kicked me and in his blind rage he thought I was dead.

Joyce Bailey had escaped and she ran back around the store to the side near an old abandoned car. ... very close to where I had fallen. And to her credit she did not leave until she could determine who was alive and who was dead. So she started calling my name, "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby." I heard her and I got up. I didn't stand up, I crawled, literally on my knees, to the side of the car where she was, and when I got to her, she picked me up and we began to run and Coleman realized that I wasn't dead. At that point, he started shooting and yelling things, ... because you have to understand that this man's rage was not depleted. [He] is over Morrisroe's body, standing guard over this body, because [Morrisroe] is calling for water and he'll be damned if he's gonna let anybody give him water. Jimmy Rogers comes over and tries to give Father Morrisroe water, and the man threatens to blow his brains out. So he is not finished. He is on a rampage.

It was a setup. They turned us out of jail knowing that somebody was going to go to that store. It was a setup. — Ruby Sales. [12][13]

Jonathan Daniels is dead. Father Morrisroe is gravely wounded, but survives after a long and painful recovery. On foot and then by car the others manage to reach safety. Most are spirited out of Alabama to temporary refuge in the North lest they be murdered or framed on phony charges to keep them from testifying against Coleman. Coleman himself is an avowed racist, son of a former sheriff and an unpaid "special deputy." In 1959, he had murdered Richard Lee Jones at a chain-gang prison camp, a crime for which he claimed "self-defense" and was never charged. He strolls over to the county courthouse where his sister is Superintendent of Schools and calls his friend Al Lingo, head of the State Troopers in Montgomery. "I just shot two preachers. You better get on down here."

The Trial of Tom Coleman

In less than 12 hours Coleman is released on minimal bail. An all-white Lowndes County grand jury charges Coleman with manslaughter rather than murder. Alabama Attorney General Richmond Flowers, a racial "moderate" and a political foe of both George Wallace and the Ku Klux Klan, calls the manslaughter charge "shocking," and assumes charge of the prosecution. But as the trial date approaches, a flood of death threats dissuades Flowers from personally showing up in Lowndes County. He sends a deputy to Hayneville rather than appear in court himself.

The short trial takes place on Wednesday, September 29, little more than a month after the shooting. The Hayneville courthouse is crowded with Coleman's friends and supporters, among them Imperial Klan Wizard Robert Shelton, Grand Dragon Robert Creed, and the three Klansmen who murdered Viola Liuzzo. Circuit Judge Werth Thagard denies the motion from Flower's deputy to raise the charge to murder, denies the motion to change the trial venue out of Lowndes County, and denies the motion to delay the case until Father Morrisroe is recovered enough from his wounds to testify (since the jury trying Coleman will be made up entirely of white men, Flowers considers Morrisroe, the only surviving white witness, crucial to his case). Thagard then removes Flower's deputy and assigns local prosecutor Arthur Gamble — a personal friend of Coleman — to handle the prosecution.

Coleman admits he brought his loaded shotgun to the store that day, but claims he killed Daniels in "self-defense" after the seminary student threatened him with a knife. White friends of Coleman allege that Morrisroe was armed with a pistol, Daniels had a knife, and that "unidentified Negroes" stole the weapons from the crime scene after the shooting. With steadfast courage, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales defy intimidation from the hostile crowd and testify that Coleman murdered Jonathan Daniels and tried to kill Father Morrisroe without any cause or justification.

Most civil rights activists familiar with the events are convinced that the shooting was a planned ambush. They believe that the abrupt eviction of the incarcerated protesters out of the jail into the street was not a coincidence, but rather an action pre-arranged between Coleman and the jailors. When he was ready with his loaded shotgun, they set up his targets. As soon as he saw the mixed group of Black and white, he charged out of the store and opened fire. But the possibility of police collusion and conspiracy is not raised or explored in the trial.

The jury confers in front of the Confederate soldiers monument across from the courthouse. Despite the nonviolent history of Daniels and Morrisroe, the obvious fact that prisoners that just released from jail were not armed, and that no weapons were found at the scene, they accept Coleman's "self-defense" lie and quickly return a verdict of "Not Guilty." All 12 jury men then shake Coleman's hand and congratulate him.

Nationally, the verdict is roundly condemned by political leaders and the major media as a perversion of justice. And in a sign that at least some change is finally coming to the Deep South, the Birmingham News describes it as "an obscene caricature of justice," and the Atlanta Constitution, which had refused to even cover the The March to Montgomery 6 months earlier, writes that the verdict "has broken the heart of Dixie." Attorney General Flowers is blunter, stating that the verdict represents the, "democratic process going down the drain of irrationality, bigotry and improper law enforcement. ... now those who feel they have a license to kill, destroy, and cripple have been issued that license. Die-hard white racists agree with one thing he says, they plaster "License to Kill" bumper stickers next to their Confederate flag plates.

Jon's murder grieved us. His wasn't the first death we'd experienced. But it was in some ways the one closest to me as an organizer. I'd thought they might have been gunning for me that night when they shot Silas McGhee in my car. That brother survived. But this one. ... Now I knew the kind of pressure I'd watched Bob Moses endure. I don't mean I understood or sympathized. Everyone had understood. But, now I felt what Bob must have been feeling, the pressure, the weight of the responsibility, the sorrow. But we couldn't let that stop the work. That's precisely what the killers intended. However, from then on, a little too late, the project staff took the strong position, nonnegotiable, that to allow whites in would be tantamount to inviting their deaths. That became our policy. And we armed ourselves. — Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael). [9]
See Lowndes County Freedom Organization Founded for continuation.
For more information:
Book: Outside Agitator: Jon Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama.
Web links:
     Assasination of Jonathan Daniels for web links.
     Martyrs of the Movement
Personal memory: Ruby Sales

 

Vietnam and the Assembly of Unrepresented People (Aug)

[In his 1964 campaign for the presidency, Lyndon Johnson repeatedly assures voters that he will "Never send American boys to fight in Vietnam." As the secret "Pentagon Papers" later reveal, before the votes are even counted he begins breaking those promises. In early March of 1965, U.S. Marines wade ashore on Da Nang beach and massive bombing of North Vietnam begins. By the end of summer there are tens of thousands of American GIs (many of them draftees) fighting in the rice paddies and mountain jungles of Indochina. By the end of the year the number is approaching 200,000. Eventually, 3,400,000 Americans serve in the war zone. To supply his growing need for soldiers, Johnson greatly increases the number of young men drafted each month — especially Blacks, Latinos, and the poor. LBJ claims he's "defending democracy" in South Vietnam, but as the Pentagon Papers prove, his real goal is to keep in power an anti-communist military dictatorship — an "authoritarian regime" that is despised and hated by a large majority of the Vietnamese people.

LBJ's rush to war brings to a head long-festering splits among politically active liberals. Cold War anti-communist liberals are the architects of the Vietnam War. Most notable among them are the Kennedys, Johnson, administration officials, members of Congress, and a number of intellectuals, labor and religious leaders. Opposing them on many issues are the "Peaceniks," liberals who have long opposed war and nuclear weapons, defended civil liberties, and fought for economic justice. Some of them are office-holders, but most are community leaders, academics, student activists and men and women of faith. These two wings of the liberal camp unite to defeat Goldwater in the '64 election, but Peaceniks soon begin to break with the Johnson administration over both Vietnam and the inadequacy of anti-poverty efforts. Yet even within the Peacenik ranks, issues related to communism and fears of being labeled "red" or "pinko" or "communist sympathizer" remain confusing and divisive.
]

In response to the bombing of North Vietnam and deployment of combat troops, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) calls for a March on Washington over the Easter weekend — the first of what will be many national protests against the Vietnam War. In the Spring of 1965, few Americans are aware of the widening war, and fewer still are willing to question government foreign policy, let alone military actions to thwart the spread of "international communism." SDS leaders hope for a couple thousand demonstrators.

Johnson justifies the war as necessary to stem "Communist aggression" from the Soviet Union, China, and North Vietnam, but SDS characterizes it as an internal civil war against a corrupt autocracy. The April 17 march demands an end to U.S. intervention and supports self-determination for the Vietnamese people. Among those knowledgeable about Southeast Asian affairs it is well known that if the South Vietnamese people were allowed to democratically determine their own future the majority would vote to reunite with the North under Ho Chi Minh — a Communist. Across the political spectrum, everyone from the extreme far-right to the liberal anti-communist establishment harshly attacks SDS for its "civil war" and "self-determination" stand.

At this time, SDS has around 2,500 members in about 40 chapters (though no significant presence in the South). It was originally formed as the youth wing of the liberal (but anti-communist) League for Industrial Democracy (LID). The League adamantly rejects the "self-determination" stand. They also demand that SDS adhere to their long-standing policy of excluding communists. The students refuse. LID leaders order SDS to cede control of the march to them. SDS breaks free of LID and becomes an independent organization. LID and other liberal organizations such as Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, along with individuals like Bayard Rustin and Norman Thomas, then denounce the march as "aiding international communism."

Drawing support from local anti-Vietnam War groups that are beginning to spring up in urban areas and college towns of the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast, the SDS march turns out to be a huge success. Instead of the hoped for 2,000, between 20,000 and 30,000 show up to march the short distance from Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to the Washington Monument. SDS president Paul Potter tells the crowd that the war does not represent either the will or the interests of the American people, but is instead the creation of an interlocking set of elites — political, military, financial, bureaucratic. He goes on to say, "The incredible war in Vietnam has provided the razor, the terrifying sharp cutting edge that has finally severed the last vestige of illusion that morality and democracy are the guiding principles of American foreign policy. ... The President says that we are defending freedom in Vietnam. Whose freedom? Not the freedom of the Vietnamese."

The rally is chaired by Freedom School coordinator Staughton Lynd and one of the speakers is SNCC leader Bob Moses (now referring to himself as Bob Parris). They link the emerging anti-war movement to the Civil Rights Movement and condemn the hypocrisy of military intervention to "defend democracy" in Asia while refusing to actually defend democracy in places like Greenwood Mississippi, Selma Alabama and Bogalusa Louisiana.

Establishment liberals are shocked and angry that some in the Civil Rights Movement — particularly SNCC — are daring to oppose the Vietnam War. In their view, "Negroes should be grateful for all we have done for them." But by 1965, the Freedom Movement is expanding beyond segregation and voting rights to address issues of economic justice, poverty, and political power, and now it is begining to speak out about colonialism, the war, and particularly the draft. (In the South, all-white draft boards are deliberately conscripting civil rights activists into the Army as a way of weakening the Freedom Movement.) And the Vietnam War itself has obvious racial aspects — a white super-power using armed force to coerce a non-white people, and an American military system where young Black and Latino men are more likely to be drafted and sent into battle than young white men.

Though the march itself is successful, SDS leaders are stunned by the ferocious denunciations and harsh condemnations hurled at them by liberal organizations and prominent progressives. The SDS priority is organizing in urban ghettos and on college campuses to build a grassroots movement against the political and economic systems that cause wars like Vietnam and the looming military occupation of the Dominican Republic. They fear that continuing to focus on Vietnam risks turning SDS into a single-issue organization. So they choose not to follow up on the April 17 march with additional Vietnam actions on the national level, though local SDS chapters engage in anti-war activities as they choose.

[Back in September of '63, the democratically elected government of Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic was overthrown by a military coup d'etat engineered by the CIA. In April of 1965, a popular revolt breaks out against the hated junta. The rebels call for restoration of the democratic constitution. The junta wavers on the verge of collapse. Johnson threatens military intervention. On April 28, eleven days after the SDS march, LBJ sends in Marines and the 82nd Airborne to crush the rebels in the streets of Santo Domingo and maintain the junta in power. He tells America, "We don't propose to sit here in a rocking chair with our hands folded and let the Communists set up any government in the western hemisphere." For those in the freedom and anti-war movements this is another Vietnam, another example of Washington using military might against a non-white people who wish to determine their own destiny.]

Like a rolling stone that sets off an avalanche, the hugely successful SDS march imparts increased momentum to local groups opposing the war. One of the largest and most influential of these is the Vietnam Day Committee in the San Francisco Bay Area. Speaking in May to a teach-in at UC Berkeley, Staughton Lynd calls for a national Assembly of Unrepresented People (AUP) to convene in DC for the purpose of improving and coordinating strategies for the anti-war and economic justice movements being born out of, and inspired by, the Freedom Movement. He argues that government has become unresponsive to both democratic principles and the will of the people — that the Vietnam War, Dominican intervention, and Washington's racial and economic policies are those of political elites and entrenched bureaucracies determined to maintain and enhance their own power rather than serve the interests of people at the grassroots level.

Lynd is quickly joined in his call by radical pacifists such as A.J. Muste and David Dellinger and civil rights activists like Bob Moses, Ed Hamlett, Jimmy Garrett, Courtland Cox, Sandra Adickes, Dennis Sweeney, and Eric Wienberger. Their hope is to bring together activists from the various movements for civil rights, economic justice, peace & pacifism, and opposition to the Vietnam War into an assembly that might eventually evolve into a united front of a vibrant, multi-issue Left.

In addition to those from SNCC, many of AUP's organizers are radical pacifists who have been active in Nuclear Disarmament "Ban the Bomb" campaigns. Two of the coordinators are Bob Moses of SNCC/COFO and Eric Weinberger of CORE and the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) which had staged the Quebec- Guantanamo Peace Walk in 1963. A Call is issued which reads in part:

In Mississippi and Washington the few make the decisions for the many. Mississippi Negroes are denied the vote; the voice of the thirty per cent of Americans now opposed to the undeclared war in Vietnam is not heeded and all Americans are denied access to facts concerning the true military and political situation. We must make it plain to the Administration that we will not be accomplices to a war that we did not declare. ... We who will come to Washington ... can let our voices be heard in a symbolic Assembly of Unrepresented People to Declare Peace.

[We will] attempt to draw together the voices of nonviolent protest in America; not only those who have for so long been calling for an end to the Cold War, but also those whose protests focus on racial injustice, inquisition by Congressional committees, inequities in labor legislation, the mishandling of anti-poverty and welfare funds and the absence of democratic process on the local level. We invite not only those now active in organized protests but ministers, members of the academic community, teachers, women, professional people, students, people from the newly formed community groups in slums and rural areas, industrial workers, anyone who wishes to symbolically withdraw his support from the war and who wishes to explore the possibilities of inter-action inherent in this community of concerned people.

The Assembly begins on Friday, August 6, "Hiroshima Day," the date on which an atomic weapon was first used in war. It's a traditional day for peace and Ban the Bomb protests and some 600 people picket the White House with signs calling for an end to the Vietnam War and opposing the draft. Their purpose is to present a "Declaration of Conscience" against the Vietnam War. Penned by Dave Dellinger and circulated by the Catholic Worker, Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), Student Peace Union (SPU), and War Resisters League (WRL), it declares in part:

... our conscientious refusal to cooperate with the United States government in the prosecution of the war in Vietnam. We encourage those who can conscientiously do so to refuse to serve in the armed forces and to ask for discharge if they are already in. Those of us who are subject to the draft ourselves declare our own intention to refuse to serve.

No one is allowed entry to the White House to present the Declaration, so it is handed through the bars of the gate. Signing the Declaration is seen as an act of civil disobedience because charges might theoretically be brought for violating draft and subversion laws. By August 6, some 6,000 people have signed it including well known pacifists such as A.J. Muste and the Berrigan brothers and Freedom Movement activists like James Bevel, John Lewis, Bob Moses, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and Staughton Lynd.

Most of the pickets are white, but there are representatives from SNCC and other Southern Freedom Movement organizations. Among them are 30 Black Mississippians bearing witness to the memory of John Shaw recently killed in action in Vietnam. Back in 1961, he was one of the young McComb protesters, now he has died fighting for "democracy" in Vietnam, a democracy he does not have back home in McComb. They bring with them the "McComb Statement." Adopted by the McComb chapter of MFDP, it lists, "Five reasons why Negroes should not be in any war fighting for America" and asserts that:

Negro boys should not honor the draft. Mothers should encourage their sons not to go. ... No one has a right to ask us to risk our lives and kill other Colored People in Santo Domingo and Vietnam, so that the White American can get richer. ... We will be looked upon as traitors by all the Colored People of the world if the Negro people continue to fight and die without a cause.

The McComb Statement is the first public stand against the Vietnam War by any Black political organization (though by no means the last). The white establishment denounces it as "close to treason." Many Black leaders and organizations hurriedly place themselves on record as fiercely condemning it. One of them is Mississippi NAACP head Charles Evers who uses it to undercut and isolate the MFDP. The McComb Statement is attacked far more harshly than the Declaration of Conscience which by comparison now seems quite moderate. Speaking to the protesters, Bob Moses sees the difference as race. Whites expect racial minorities to submit to establishment dictates or be considered enemies. Yet, "Negroes better than anyone else are in a position to question the war. Not because they understand the war better, but because they understand the United States."

August 6 is also the day that President Johnson signs into law the Voting Rights Act. For the first (and only) time since passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933, the legislative signing ceremony is shifted from the White House to the Capitol building. LBJ claims the move is to, "Dramatize the importance we attached to this bill — and to give full measure to the Congress." But most of the 600 protesters picketing on Pennsylvania Avenue believe the move is to avoid stories about the signing including quotes from long-time civil rights workers who had put their lives on the line to win passage of the Act but who are now protesting Johnson's policies rather than celebrating.

Over Saturday and Sunday, August 7 and 8, the Assembly of Unrepresented People (AUP) continues with some 1500-2000 participants. Some are Quakers and religious pacifists, some civil rights workers and community organizers, some are ideological Marxists and others are apolitical rebels seeking a cause. They all participate in a variety of workshops and discussions, sharing common experiences, discussing tactics, and planning strategies. On Saturday there are workshops and discussion groups on community organizing, poverty, Federal programs, the MFDP Congressional Challenge, Puerto Rico, migrant labor, DC home rule, children, Native Americans, opposition to the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), religion and social action, repeal of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, student unions, and Nonviolent Resistance.

On Sunday, the focus is the Vietnam War with constituency groups of civil rights activists, students, academics, women, labor and so on discussing how to organize their communities to build a mass movement to end the war. One large workshop concerns national coordination. It proposes a National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam (NCC). In some respects, the proposed NCC is structured like the original SNCC organization of 1960-61. It's charter is to facilitate communication between autonomous local anti-war and pacifist groups, develop literature and organizing materials, foster new local groups, and coordinate national programs and actions. Composed of representatives from the different independent protest committees, it chooses Madison Wisconsin for its headquarters. Its first responsibility is building the October 15-16 International Days of Protest that the May teach-in at Berkeley called for.

Monday, August 9, is "Nagasaki Day," commemorating the second use of a nuclear weapon to obliterate a city. In the morning, the AUP assembles in general session to adopt resolutions including the NCC proposal. Some 800 then march to the Capitol to oppose the undeclared (and therefore unconstitutional) war in Vietnam and to "Declare Peace With the People of Vietnam." Leading the march are Staughton Lynd, Dave Dellinger, and Bob Moses. Anti-communist demonstrators splash them with red paint, symbolically smearing them as "Reds" for daring to dissent. The protest garners extensive coverage in the northern press, much of it featuring a photo of the three leaders splattered with red paint.

When ordered to halt and disperse, 300 of the marchers who are willing to commit civil disobedience sit down and sing freedom songs. They are arrested for unlawful assembly. Most are fined $50 (equal to $180 in 2012). Some, including David Dellinger, refuse to pay the fine and serve 30 days in jail.

Most Americans were unaware of that our country was getting into a war. So August 9, 1965, we held the Assembly of Unrepresented People in Washington DC. About 400 people came to demonstrate and get arrested. ... At our meeting place, the FBI was there to take each of our pictures. Bob Moses asked us line up to make their job easier, so we did that. ... We started marching toward the Capital buildings. The police told us if we marched a street closer to the Capital they would have to arrest us. But we marched closer and they didn't. This was repeated for several streets. The police were clearly reluctant to arrest us. Finally as we approached the grounds of Congress and the Senate buildings, the police prevented us from getting closer. We sat down. We were arrested. — Miriam Cohen Glickman. [33]

After the Assembly of Unrepresented People comes to a close, AUP organizers are upbeat, saying it had achieved, "a new radical alignment for peace," that was "anti-imperialist as well as anti-war."

[Terminology: At this time and in this context, "anti-war" might refer to a wide range of positions from pacifist opposition to all wars at all times everywhere to specific opposition to just the Vietnam War. "Anti-imperialist" indicates opposition to wars whose purpose is believed to be advancing American geo-political or corporate economic interests against the wishes of the local — non-white — population. Unlike the pacifists, most anti-imperialists support anti-colonial "wars of national liberation." As a general rule, those who are anti-war want to end U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, but they do not necessarily favor or support a victory by the rebel National Liberation Front (NLF). Anti-imperialists, on the other hand, generally do hope for an NLF victory. In later years, this division becomes visually apparent in protests, those who are anti-war often wear and carry the traditional circular peace symbol, while those who are anti-imperialist favor NLF flags and red star pins. Within the Civil Rights Movement as time goes forward, SCLC people tend towards the anti-war position while SNCC and CORE activists are mostly anti-imperialists.]

Not all AUP participants share the organizers' positive assessment. For many it's not clear how much has been accomplished beyond protesting the war. Some cite unaddressed tension between Blacks and whites, others point to significant unresolved differences in goals, strategies and tactics among those who participate in the discussions. Religious pacifists, for example, want to bear nonviolent witness against all wars, while community organizers oppose the Vietnam War yet seek to encompass veterans of World War II and Korea who take pride in their service to country. Some political radicals dispute the effectiveness of nonviolence, and some are primarily interested in using Vietnam as a means of radicalizing the populace towards overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with some form of socialism (the path to, and form of which, they cannot agree on).

Clearly though, the Assembly of Unrepresented People accelerates the cross-fertilization and intertwining of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. Anti-war activsts raise international and domestic racial issues in their organizing efforts and an increasing number of Freedom Movement activists are being drawn into efforts to end the Vietnam War, some as part of their work in the South with SNCC, CORE, or SCLC, others traveling to northern cities and campuses where they join Black Student Unions, SDS, or local anti-war organizations. And for many white Freedom Summer, SCOPE, and CORE volunteers the transition from civil rights work in the South to anti-war work in the North is a natural one.

On August 12, three days after the AUP ends, Dr. King makes his first public speech questioning the Vietnam War in the context of opposing war in general:

Neither the American people nor the people of North Vietnam is the enemy. The true enemy is war itself, and people on both sides are trapped in its inexorable destruction. ... It is this belief that compels me to speak on this issue, that the conscience of our nation may be aroused to see that war as a means of solving problems is obsolete. ... Every effort should be made toward some courageous and creative solution to this potentially catastrophic situation. The American people and our government can find this solution if reason can triumph over pride, and statesmanship conquer condition. I further urge that the United Nations be empowered with the authority to mediate this conflict in negotiations involving all parties, including the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. — Martin Luther King.[34]

Compared to the Declaration of Conscience and the McComb Statement, Dr. King's words are mild, reasoned, and well within the scope of traditional Christian pro-peace, anti-war theology. Though white religious leaders have previously expressed the same sentiments without significant rebuke, King is harshly criticized by political leaders and the liberal media (and, of course, the conservative press as well). A number of "mainstream Negro leaders" also condemn him for questioning the Vietnam War and they warn that speaking out on foreign affairs endangers the civil rights cause. By and large, these are the same "leaders" who also condemned sit-ins, civil disobedience, mass protest marches, nonviolent confrontation and armed self-defense as harmful to Black social progress in America. (See A Time to Break Silence Dr. King Opposes the Vietnam War for continuation.)

Five months later, in January of 1966, SNCC as an organization issues a Statement on Vietnam that takes a strong, unequivocal stand against the war, against the draft, and against U.S. imperialism. See SNCC Opposes Vietnam War for continuation.

For more information:

Documents & Articles: Freedom Movement Opposition to Vietnam War (CRMVets)

 

Natchez MS — Freedom Movement vs Ku Klux Klan

Set up on a bluff to be safe from periodic flooding, Natchez is the oldest white settlement on the Mississippi river. Founded in 1716, it predates New Orleans by two years. Prior to the "War of Northern Aggression" (known to most Americans as the "Civil War"), Natchez was a major port for shipping cotton and trading slaves. It was also the cultural-political-economic center of plantation-style slavery for the river lowlands of Mississippi and Louisiana. In the 1960s (and still to this day), the lavishly restored mansions of the "Cotton King" aristocrats are the town's main claim to fame and tourist dollars. And as a 1960s-era brochure so accurately proclaims, "The Old South Still Lives in Natchez."

Natchez is the county seat of Adams County. In 1960 both county (population 38,000) and city (population 24,000) are half Black, half white, and totally segregated from birth to grave. White-supremacy rules the region and economic exploitation is the order of the day. Median income for whites is $5,600 (equal to $43,000 in 2012) while for Blacks it is $2,000 (equal to $15,500). County and town are centers of KKK strength and home to E.L. McDaniel, the "Grand Dragon" of the United Klans of America (UKA), the largest Klan group in the country. The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are also present in force and the two rival factions compete for members, money, and the prestige of being the most effective in using white terror to keep Blacks in their subservient place.

Southwest Mississippi is Natchez, famous to some for its beautiful ante-bellum homes, famous to others because it serves as a weapons distribution center for the Ku Klux Klan, receiving automatic rifles, submachine guns, and hand grenades from Louisiana for use in Mississippi. Southwest Mississippi is where the poorest of whites live almost on the same level as the Negroes. Southwest Mississippi is the center of Klan activity. — Stephen Bingham. [27]

So strong is the Klan in Southwest Mississippi and adjacent areas of Louisiana that civil rights supporters sometimes refer to it as "Klan Nation." Across the river are Vidalia and Ferriday Louisiana, Klan strongholds that resemble armed camps. To the east is McComb Mississippi where murder and state repression temporarily suppress SNCC's first voter registration campaign in 1961. Down the road a piece is Bogalusa Louisiana — "Klantown USA" — where in 1965 CORE and the Deacons for Defense and Justice engage in bloody battle with the KKK.

In Natchez, the Klan, the White Citizens Council, the police-state of Mississippi, and the heavy hand of entrenched social custom — the four horsemen of white-supremacy — savagely defend the "southern way of life." Both the Natchez police force and the large Armstrong tire factory are, in the words of an NAACP activist, "infested with Ku Klux Klansmen." Most whites are determined to prevent Blacks from upsetting the established order and there is broad white support for Klan terrorism. But try as they might, they cannot entirely suppress the freedom fire that the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Student Sit-ins and Freedom Rides ignited across the South. Against all odds, the semi-clandestine local NAACP branch holds on with raw courage and steadfast determination.

Despite its tourist image, in the 1960s Natchez is actually an industrial town, one of the very few in Mississippi. During World War II and later, Armstrong Tire, International Paper, Johns Manville, and other firms built factories in Natchez. Under Roosevelt's "New Deal" protections many of these plants are unionized, and because they fill Federal and military contracts government regulations prohibit them from employing all-white workforces. The result is that Afro-American blue-collar workers form a noticeable portion of the city's Black population. Though the unions are dominated by whites, they still provide Blacks some degree of protection from arbitrary dismissal for outside political activities such as membership in the NAACP or registering to vote. As a result, there are roughly a thousand Black voters in Adams County — 11% of those eligible — a percentage far higher than most Mississippi counties.

In June of 1962, SCLC leader and COFO Treasurer Rev. R.L.T. Smith of Jackson, a Black man, runs in the "white" Democratic primary. Some 257 courageous Afro-Americans in Adams County defy both the Klan and the state by attempting to vote for him. In the Fall of 1963, George Greene of the Greenwood Movement and now a SNCC field secretary arrives in town to organize the Freedom Ballot and begin a small COFO voter registration project with the help of local NAACP activist George Metcalf.

Out of these efforts emerge two strong local leaders, George Metcalf and Wharlest Jackson. Both of them are active members of the Adams County NAACP and both work in the Armstrong tire plant. In the 1960s, Armstrong employs some 400 Blacks and about 800 whites. Like the rest of Natchez, the factory is thoroughly segregated. Metcalf, Jackson, and the other Afro-American workers are restricted to the lowest-paid, least-desirable and most dangerous jobs. But bad as they are, they're union jobs — United Rubber Workers — and they pay far more than other work available to Blacks.

In February of 1964 the Klan mounts widespread attacks, kidnapping and torturing 16 Black men. Voting rights advocate Archie Curtis is brutally beaten. The home of Leonard Russell, an active member of the Negro Pulp and Sulfite Workers union is bombed, and Clinton Walker a worker at the International Paper plant is shot to death. No arrests are made. Police chief J.T. Robinson is an outspoken segregationist who directs his officers to uphold white-supremacy rather than defend Black citizens.

On June 2, 1964, two weeks before the start of Freedom Summer, 158 registered Black voters try to cast ballots for MFDP leader Victoria Gray of Hattiesburg in the "white" senatorial primary. The ballots of all of these Black voters are rejected, but their defiance is carefully noted by Klan, Council, and cops.

The original plans for the 1964 Freedom Summer include projects in two "Klan Nation" towns — McComb and Natchez. But white hysteria is running rampant over the so-called "invasion" of "Black militants," "Communists," and "beatniks," the police state of Mississippi is girding for battle, and with increasingly violent Klan threats, Southwestern Mississippi is judged too dangerous for the highly visible northern white students. Those two projects are put on temporary hold.

After the disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman, Navy divers drag the Mississippi looking for their bodies. Not far from Natchez, they discover the drowned remains of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. Back on May 2nd they had been kidnapped by James Ford Seale — a police officer and a KKK member in neighboring Franklin County. They were taken to a hidden spot deep in the Homochitto National Forest, tortured by a gang of Klansmen, then chained to metal weights and thrown into the river.

The FBI investigates. No arrests are made.

[Decades later, in 2006, an investigation by Canadian journalist David Ridgen results in the case being reopened. At the trial of James Seal, a former Klansmen testifies under oath that Moore, an Alcorn A&M student, was killed because he was thought to have participated in a student civil rights protest and that Dee had been targeted because, "He fit the profile of a Black Panther. He wore a black bandana on his head all the time. It seemed to me that would be the profile of a Black Panther."[28]

Since no Black Panther organization existed in 1964, we assume that in his 2007 testimony the Klansman was using "Black Panther" as a generic term for Black activist.
]

Federal lawmen and news media are now swarming into the state and COFO risks opening the McComb and Natchez projects (see also McComb — Breaking the Klan Siege).

In Natchez, the project is led by SNCC veteran Dorie Ladner. Former SNCC Chairman Chuck McDew and SNCC field secretary Charles Neblett are key organizers. The SNCC members and Freedom Summer volunteers arrive on July 21st and within 45 minutes one has been jailed for "failure to fully stop at a stop sign." Police cars continually follow them every minute of every day. Shots are fired into the funeral home of voter registration activist Archie Curtis. On August 5, the Mt. Pilgrim Baptist church is burned. A misplaced bomb destroys the tavern next to the Freedom House where some of the SNCC staff and northern volunteers live. "[The] bomb was meant for you. I'm surprised you haven't been killed already," Police Chief Robinson tells Ladner.

The insurance company cancels the policy on the Freedom House and the owner asks the civil rights workers to leave. Some of them temporarily stay with NAACP activist George Metcalf until a new headquarters can be found. At night, armed guards protect the homes housing freedom workers. A new Freedom House is obtained. As a not-so-subtle warning to the Klan, rifles and shotguns are left in plain sight when white telephone workers arrive to install the phones. These departures from strict, Gandhian "philosophic" nonviolence disturbs some of the white summer volunteers and at times internal debates grow sharp. Threats against Metcalf intensify. Police harassment and Klan violence continue. But the freedom workers hold on and dig in. Most of the volunteers leave Mississippi at the end of the summer, but not all of them. Despite arrests, shootings, and bombings, the Natchez project members continue to work in Adams County on voter registration and the MFDP Congressional Challenge.

In January of 1965, night riders pepper Metcalf's home with bullets. In March, new, more militant leaders are chosen by the Natchez NAACP branch to replace the more cautious old-guard. Metcalf is elected president and Wharlest Jackson, his co-worker at the Armstrong plant, becomes Treasurer. Over the following months they continue working with the MFDP project on the Congressional Challenge and voter registration. They also begin organizing against Armstrong's refusal to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — jobs, restrooms, drinking fountains and break areas are all still segregated by race. The Klan strikes back with threats, assaults, and violence.

By the summer of 1965, the old COFO coalition has dissolved. Under the leadership of Charles Evers and Aaron Henry, the state-level NAACP has left COFO over political differences with the MFDP. CORE's attention is on Bogalusa and Louisiana in general. SNCC's focus is shifting to the Black Belt of Alabama. But Dorie Ladner and the other members of the Natchez project maintain a good working relationship with Adams County NAACP leaders George Metcalf and Wharlest Jackson. Over the Summer their project expands with more volunteers and veteran SNCC organizers George Greene, Burt Watkins, and Bill Ware. But the going is tough, local people are afraid of the Klan and the cops. SNCC resources are spread thin, there is barely enough money for food and essential supplies, and there are internal conflicts, one of which is that some of the white male volunteers chafe at taking orders from a Black woman.

In mid-August, NAACP leader Metcalf files a desegregation petition with the school board on behalf of himself and 11 other Blacks. He also obtains a promotion to shipping clerk, previously a "white-only" job. The night of August 26-27 is his first shift in the new position. When the morning crew arrives, he's told to work a half shift of overtime. He gets off at noon, goes to his '55 Chevy in the Armstrong parking lot, and turns on the ignition. A bomb explodes, demolishing the car and severely injuring him. Miraculously he somehow survives, though his recovery is long and hard. Inside the plant, some white workers cheer when they hear the bomb go off, just as they cheered on November 22, 1963, when a radio announced the assassination of President Kennedy.

The FBI investigates. No one is ever arrested.

Metcalf is widely respected in the Black community and the attempted assassination arouses and enrages folk as never before.

I think one of the greatest mistakes [whites] made was when they bombed George Metcalfe's car. Well, that made everybody in this area feel like, whether I'm a part of it, they're just subject to do the same thing to me, so I'm coming out front. — James Young, Deacons for Defense.[32]

In Black neighborhoods people pour into the streets demanding action and calling for revenge. Many are armed with rifles, shotguns, and pistols. State NAACP director Charles Evers — brother of slain Movement leader Medgar Evers — rushes down from Jackson to take command. Since assuming his brother's position as head of the NAACP in Mississippi, he has frequently clashed with the MFDP and opposed their efforts — most recently with his denunciation of the "McComb Statement" against the Vietnam War. Now he disregards the SNCC/MFDP activists who have been working in Natchez for more than two years and asserts his authority over the local NAACP branch, the primary freedom organization in Adams County. Evers addresses the crowd, telling them not to start violence, "[But] if they do it any more, we're going to get those responsible. We're armed, every last one of us, and we are not going to take it." [30]

Many of the armed Black men remain on the community streets. Young militants chant, "We're going to kill for freedom!" Evers steers a TV reporter to an old man carrying a rifle. He's a jackleg (self-ordained) preacher who states:

Right now, from the way that practically all the Negroes feel, they feel that the thing that's about to happen is what happened in California [referring to the recent uprising in Watts], a war, or a race riot, or whatever it is, that's about to happen here. [32]

A thrown rock shatters a patrol car window. Police armed with shotguns threaten the crowd, but Movement activists and community leaders manage to prevent provocations that the police could use as a pretext for opening fire. They also make it clear to the cops that if they shoot into the angry crowd bullets will fly in both directions. A New York Times journalist writes, "With the exception of military posts and hunting resorts, this city probably has been more heavily armed, man for man, than almost any other city." [29]

Charles Evers tells the Washington Post:

Negroes have taken all they can take. We've armed ourselves and we are going to fight back, I informed the Justice Department many times this was going to happen. We have asked many times for protection. Every time we do the Justice Department says, "We'll look into it." ... Nothing happens except that we keep on being shot at and murdered. — Charles Evers, NAACP. [30]

The following day, Friday, August 28, Evers and local Black leaders deliver a "Declaration of the Negro Citizens of Natchez" to Mayor John Nosser and the Board of Aldermen. The Declaration lists 12 demands approved that morning in a mass meeting. Among them:

The Black delegation declares that if the demands are not addressed by early September direct action protests will commence.

On the same day, 25-year old James Jackson, a barber, convenes a meeting to form a Natchez chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a Black self-defense organization dedicated to protecting the Black community and nonviolent protesters from KKK terrorism. Since the police fail to protect the Black community from racist attack, cooperate with the Klan, and welcome Klansmen into their own ranks, it's up to the Deacons to protect their own.

I believe just like Martin Luther King and everybody else, I believe in nonviolence. I really do, man. I think that nonviolence is the only way to solve the problem. On the other hand, I believe that our people should stop getting killed. I'm not prejudiced. I like white people; I like green people; I like any color people. I'm not doing this because I dislike white people. ... but when people is killing me off, killing my mother and my sister off ... the Ku Klux Klan-that's who I'm against completely. — James Jackson. [32]

For security reasons, they keep the number and the names of their rank and file members secret, only the leaders make themselves known to the public. James Jackson is elected president, Isaac Terrell vice president, Sandy Nealy treasurer, James Young secretary, and James Stokes is appointed spokesman. Except for Jackson, they are all blue-collar workers and most of them are military veterans. Like the Deacons in Bogalusa Louisiana, armed Deacons do not participate in nonviolent protests but station themselves on guard nearby to defend the demonstrators — Black and white — from deadly Klan violence.

"We don't participate in any demonstrations, any marches, anything like that. We be around, we watch, and we observe, and protect them if they need protecting." — Otis Firmin, Deacons for Defense. [32]

Each night, large mass meetings are held to build support for the demands and mobilize for demonstrations if the demands are rejected. On Thursday morning, September 3, Natchez officials reject the Black demands. They impose a night-time curfew on Afro neighborhoods and ban the sale of alcohol.

[Adams is officially a "dry" county. But as is common in the state, bootleggers, jook joints, social clubs, and a variety of other establishments are allowed to sell liquor freely so long as they pay off the appropriate officials and lawmen.]

Declaring Natchez in "imminent danger of a riot," Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson dispatches more than a hundred State Troopers to Natchez to enforce the curfew. He also mobilizes 650 soldiers of the National Guard and orders them to occupy the town. Both organization are all white, and include in their ranks members of the KKK. Within hours, soldiers armed with rifles are patrolling the city streets and sandbag machine gun emplacements are set up at key intersections.

In the Black community, some 500 people assemble, ready to march as promised. Without consulting anyone, Evers unilaterally cancels the protest, citing the danger of violence from Klan, cops, troopers, and National Guard. Instead he calls for intensifying a boycott of the downtown white businesses. The MFDP activists are both surprised and angry at his high-handed decision. SNCC organizer Bill Ware urges the crowd to defy Evers and march. The crowd cheers. But Evers counters: "Don't listen to these people. These outside agitators are gonna get you killed."

The Natchez branch of the NAACP is Evers' political base. It is larger than most of the other Mississippi branches (except for Jackson) and includes blue-collar industrial workers whose jobs are — to a degree — protected by unions. Those unions also provide opportunities for political and organizing experience not generally available to the teachers, ministers, small business owners, farmers, and sharecroppers who comprise the typical membership of the other dozen or so branches active in Mississippi. In Natchez, NAACP members and sympathizers outnumber those who align with the smaller MFDP so Evers prevails. There is no march.

Relations between Evers and national NAACP leaders in New York are badly frayed, he knows they are on the verge of firing him. And after his call for self-defense — a violation of long-standing NAACP policy — he can expect no assistance from up North. But mounting an effective boycott requires full-time field organizers which neither Evers nor the local NAACP have — the teachers, business owners and blue-collar workers who are the core of the branch have to work their day jobs and care for their families. Since he's trying to isolate and discredit the SNCC/MFDP organizers, he turns instead to the Delta Ministry for help and they respond by sending a team to Natchez.

He also wires Dr. King for assistance. King is considering a campaign to make violence against voter registration and civil rights workers a Federal crime. After the attempted assassination of Metcalf, Natchez might be a place to do that. He dispatches an initial team of five SCLC field organizers. Led by Rev. Al Sampson and Stoney Cooks, they try to follow the Saul Alinsky model of organizing on a sector basis — youth, ministers, business people, street toughs, and so on.

The 12 demands and the boycott of white merchants enjoy wide support within the Black community. Rudy Shields, an NAACP activist with experience in organizing boycotts is brought in by Evers to coordinate. Word of the boycott is spread through churches and fraternal organizations, flyers, mass meetings, and word of mouth. An enforcement team is set up. Names of Blacks who break the boycott by shopping in white stores are named in the mass meetings to shame them. Those who repeatedly betray their community are harassed. As Movement activist Ed Cole explained, "Folks go shop, break the boycott, they didn't get home with they damn groceries ... cause somebody was waiting for them when they got there," and Charles Evers later commented, "We didn't go around bragging about it, but we were ready to enforce those boycotts, to die if necessary."[30]

The boycott is highly effective, almost no Blacks shop downtown and the white merchants of Natchez see a significant drop in their sales. A week after arriving in town, the National Guard is withdrawn. Led by Evers or his deputies, regular mass marches to City Hall in support of the 12 demands begin. But internally the Movement remains divided against itself, NAACP vs MFDP/SNCC vs SCLC. Delta Ministry clergy try to mediate, but Evers plays one group against the other and by doing so strengthens his control. The protest marches grow larger and larger. On Sunday, September 26, demonstrators number almost 1,000. SCLC organizers call for a night march to defy the curfew and on Monday evening Black men, women, and youth show up ready to commit civil disobedience.

People were packed into the church, cars were lined up for three blocks. ...There was a complete turnout, in excess of 1,500 people at the mass meeting. Old ladies in tennis shoes and old men in basketball shorts were ready to march. — Stoney Cooks, SCLC. [31]

Charles Evers is out of town, but a local minister representing him tells the throng that "the leader" opposes the march and that "the people should do as the leader says do." The mass meeting accepts Evers' decision. There is no night march, and won't be until he says so. Momentum has been lost, and the SCLC staff are bitterly disappointed. They know from long experience how crucial momentum can be in building for mass civil disobedience. A few days later a local judge issues a sweeping injunction that prohibits all forms of protest including picketing and marching. With demonstrations now barred around the clock, the city fathers rescind the night-time curfew. Meanwhile, the boycott continues strong, the enforcement teams maintain community discipline, and the white merchants are feeling the pain.

On Saturday, October 2nd, Evers calls for a march to defy the injunction. More than 300 are arrested for parading without a permit. On Sunday, another 150 go to jail. All the adults (those over 12 years old) are sent to the infamous Parchman Prison up in the Mississippi Delta, two hours distant. The authorities are confidant that Parchman's notorious brutality will break the protesters resolve. Their strategy fails. The prisoners endure all the humiliation and cruelty that Parchman is known for, and back in Natchez, the community gets most of them out on property bonds.

Meanwhile, the boycott remains almost 100% effective, largely due to the commitment and discipline of the enforcement teams organized by Rudy Shields. On Monday the 4th, another 100 are arrested. KKK leader McDaniel mobilizes some 150 of his Klansmen as a show of force, but the Deacons are present to defend the nonviolent marchers and racist violence is held in check. Deacons openly carry their weapons as they guard the nonviolent protesters. James Young accompanies them with a holstered pistol at his side, "Just the presence of the Deacons kept a lot of things from happening that would have happened," he tells a reporter.

[Under Mississippi law it is legal to openly carry loaded firearms in public and in vehicles.]

After a week of protests, almost 550 protesters have been arrested for violating the injunction. A Federal judge overturns the injunction and on October 6th, some 1,200 march without arrests or violence.

Adams County and the city of Natchez are running out of money. Police overtime, court and prisoner costs are breaking the budget. The boycott is driving many white merchants to the wall and Mayor Nosser admits that business is down by half. By now, most of the merchants are willing to desegregate and many are willing to hire Blacks into "white" positions, but they're intimidated by the economic threats of the White Citizens Council and terrified of violent Klan retaliation against "backsliders" and "race traitors."

Nosser is in a bind. A Lebanese immigrant to the U.S. who now owns several businesses, he ran for Mayor on a segregationist platform (as did his opponent), but his thin margin of victory was supplied by the small bloc of Black voters who saw him as the lesser of two evils. Though he's refused to hire Black clerks and his stores are being boycotted, the Klan considers him too sympathetic to Black aspirations — and some question whether an "arab" should be considered white at all — so back in 1964 they bombed his home despite the fact that two of his sons are KKK members.

On October 7th, the day after their injunction is overturned and 1,200 Blacks march in the streets, officials announce they'll consider a reduced list of demands that Evers has submitted. He halts the protest marches, though the boycott continues. On October 12, Mayor Nosser and the aldermen negotiate with an NAACP-led delegation. Forcing white politicians to sit down with representatives of the Black community (as opposed to so-called "Negro leaders" chosen by the white power-structure) is a victory in itself. And the delegates proudly report back to the mass meeting that the city has agreed to most of the reduced demands. There is a sense of victory and jubilation.

The sense of victory is short-lived. Two days later, under pressure from the Klan and Citizens Council, city officials repudiate their agreement, denying that they had accepted any of the NAACP demands. Nosser states that he could never require city employees to address people as "Mr," Mrs," or Miss."

The boycott, pickets and the marches resume. Evers has strengthened his political support, both in Natchez and with the NAACP state-wide. The national NAACP leaders in New York now have no choice but to provide him with increased support. So he no longer needs assistance from SCLC organizers, nor does he welcome their criticism of his authoritarian control or unilateral decisions. In late October, he asks them to leave. SCLC leader Rev. Sampson denounces Evers as, "unreliable, untrustworthy, and incapable." But SCLC officials in Atlanta don't want to rupture relations with the NAACP so the SCLC team departs.

By late November, Nosser has had to lay off close to half of his 150 store employees and at least six white businesses have gone under. If the boycott goes into the Christmas shopping season others will surely follow. The merchants pressure Nosser to return to the bargaining table. A new settlement is announced on November 29. In return for ending the boycott, 23 white-owned businesses (about a fifth of the total) agree to hire a Black clerk and the city promises to hire six Black cops, desegregate municiple facilities including schools (as required by the Civil Rights Act), appoint a "qualified Negro" to the school board, form a biracial committee to discuss race-related issues, and use courtesy titles. Charles Evers hails the agreement as a momentous victory and national NAACP spokesman Henry Moon declares it, "Far more meaningful than any settlement ever achieved as the result of a direct action program by the Negro community in any other southern city." [31]

By now, a number of SNCC activists have left Natchez to join the growing SNCC campaign in Lowndes County and the Alabama Black Belt. The remaining SNCC/MFDP activists criticize the agreement for creating only a handful of jobs and achieving just a fraction of the original 12 demands. And Delta Ministry workers conclude that the settlement is, "mostly fine-sounding phrases and promises of limited action at some future time."

Without advance notice, Evers presents the agreement to the December 1st mass meeting for ratification and calls on the community to stop boycotting the 23 businesses that promised to hire a Black clerk. Since those 23 stores are the most vulnerable, and it's far harder to sustain a boycott of some white merchants than a boycott of all white businesses, the practical effect is to end the boycott overall. SNCC/MFDP workers try to speak in opposition, but Evers' supporters smother all dissent. The settlement is passed on a voice vote.

Evers now steps up his campaign against the SNCC/MFDP workers. For weeks he has been barring them from Movement leadership committees, refusing to allow them to address mass meetings, and urging local families not to house of feed them. Now he castigates them as "outsiders working against us." He also labels them "Communists." SNCC project director Dorie Ladner later recalled:

He was an older man who looked good and dressed well. I can see now how people would readily identify with him, as opposed to some 17- or 18-year-old kids. [He called us "Communists"] I told him that if he said another God-damned word I was going to hit him with my God-damn fists. That's how angry I was." — [31]

Though the settlement provides less than many Blacks had hoped for, it is still a significant defeat for both the KKK and the White Citizens Council who prove unable to prevent city leaders from negotiating with Blacks and agreeing to meet at least some of their demands. Though most notorious for their actions against Blacks, both Klan and Council also rely on their power to intimidate southern whites. In the past, threats of terrorism and economic retaliation forced white officials, business owners, and community leaders to toe the racist line, now both organizations are weakened. Some KKK members become discouraged and drift away, but those who remain become ever more committed to a violent defense of a "southern way of life" that they sense slipping away forever.

See Wharlest Jackson Murdered for continuation.

For more information:
Books:
      Mississippi Movement
      Self-Defense & Armed Resistance
Web:
      Mississippi Movement
      Deacons for Defense

 

ASCS Election Campaigns (Fall)

See ASCS Elections — A Struggle for Economic Survival for preceding events.

By the mid-1960s, the cumulative effect of mass protest and national response is beginning to significantly alter the social and political context within which the white power-structure maneuvers to maintain white-supremacy and economic exploitation. In the place of the traditional "southern way of life," open, brutal, in-your-face, racism they now begin to slowly shift towards northern-style covert strategies of disguise, deception, and tokenism.

The Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agency that determines which farmers get Federal crop allotments, low-interest loans, cash subsidies, and other benefits. In 1965, the local ASCS county committees in the South that make the actual decisions are still all-white, and their division of benefits between white and Black, and rich and poor, remains profoundly unfair. So in many southern states, Movement activists organize campaigns to elect Afro-American to those committees.

From Washington, the USDA orders that all ASCS elections now be conducted by mail — ostensibly to prevent polling-place intimidation. But a mail-in vote means that no one can see who is casting ballots, which makes it easier for local ASCS staff to allow ineligible whites to vote. Nor is there any way in a mail election to ensure that the ballot box isn't stuffed with phony votes before the public count, nor that all the ballots cast by Blacks reach the box. The USDA also announces that as a supposed civil rights measure the number of Afro-American candidates on each ballot must be equal to the percentage of Black farmers in that county. This sounds good, but what it actually does is allow the all-white county committees to nominate their own set of Afro-American candidates — often without even bothering to inform or ask the Black "candidate." These phony candidates split and dilute the Afro-American vote. There is no corresponding requirement on the number of white candidates, so with a single white candidate for each position, the white vote remains concentrated as a bloc.

Of course, old habits do die hard. Implementation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires government agencies such as the USDA to establish and carry out desegregation plans. NAACP attorney J. Francis Pohlhaus challenges the Alabama state ASCS over their exclusion of Blacks from the meetings to formulate and adopt the state desegregation plan. He demands to know how they, "could approve plans to implement Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, when the plans are drafted in violation of Title VI." Assistant Secretary Joseph M. Robertson replies from Washington, "In all candidness, the answer to your question, as to whether in fact the Alabama State Plan to achieve compliance under Title VI was drawn up at a racially exclusive meeting, is yes."

Meanwhile, the White Citizens Council campaign to force Black land-owners off the land continues unabated. And white planters are rapidly dispossessing their Black tenant farmers. Freedom Movement activists know they are in a race — a race to elect Afro-Americans to ASCS county committee and obtain a fair share of Federal farm benefits before the white power-structure's economic warfare so reduces the number of Black farmers that they can never win an ASCS election.

In Sumter County Alabama, for example, Black tenants on several large plantations join the SCLC-affiliated Sumter County Movement for Human Rights and then sue the plantation owners for their fair share of the cotton subsidies that the ASCS county committee had granted exclusively to the owners. When they win the lawsuit they are summarily evicted — almost 100 families — and the planters switch from cotton to timber farming. Few of the dispossessed tenants receive any of the settlement money because the planters claim it's all owed to the company-store, and since they keep all the books and never provide any receipts or accounting to the tenants, no one can say them nay. Most of the evicted sharecroppers leave Sumter County in desperate search of a livelihood elsewhere, but 40 families stay. They form a CoOp, the Panola Land Buying Association, to collectively acquire land of their own. After many years of struggle and hardship, they eventually succeed.

In Louisiana, CORE organizes Black farmers in nine Black-majority parishes to vote in and run candidates for ASCS county committees. So too does the MFDP in many of the counties of the Delta. SNCC does the same in Arkansas and a number of Alabama Black Belt counties, as do Freedom Movement activists in Southwest Georgia.

But everywhere the pattern set in Mississippi the previous year is repeated, Black farmers who run for ASCS office or vote in an ASCS election face harsh retaliation. Ineligible whites are allowed to cast phony ballots, and the ASCS staff in charge of the election stack the deck against Blacks however they can. So the 1965 results are no different from those in 1964. While some Afro-Americans manage to win places on a community committee their numbers are too small and too scattered to elect anyone to a county committee where the real decisions that affect farmers lives are made.

The experience in Alabama is typical. SNCC focuses its efforts on Black Belt counties such as Barbour, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, and Wilcox. In July, more than 25 SNCC field organizers and volunteers begin educating and organizing Black farmers (both land-owners and tenants) around the ASCS elections scheduled for fall. They canvas for eligible voters, recruit candidates, and obtain nominating signatures.

Working out of the Selma office, Elmo Holder coordinates research and development of education materials. Because the official ASCS literature is so confusing and vague, he asks Alabama ASCS Director B.L. Collins to clarify exactly who is eligible to vote, how that is determined, how "tenant farmer" and "sharecropper" are defined, and if farm wives can vote. Clarity is not forthcoming. With the vote being conducted by mail, Holder asks Collins how the ballots will be secured and he reports back that: "[Collins] was at a loss to know how to prevent tampering with the ballots."

In September, Black farmers and SNCC organizers from Black Belt counties meet at St. Paul's Methodist church in Selma to discuss the ASCS elections. Civil rights lawyers along with Jac Wasserman and James Mays of the National Sharecroppers Fund explain ASCS programs and election procedures. One SNCC worker concludes: "Whether win, lose, or draw, the important thing is that folks are really interested in the elections and see ways of attempting to get their own people elected."

But it's tough going. SNCC worker Janet Jemott in Lowndes County meets people who have never even heard of the ASCS committee: "All they see is Mr. Charlie who comes around and takes their cotton away." According to the USDA rules, it takes six signatures to nominate a candidate. Organizers submit petitions with 10 or 12 signatures just to be safe. But in Greene County, ASCS officers disqualify 11 candidates for "insufficient number of signatures." The same thing happens in adjacent Hale County. The rejected candidates have until October 28 to file an appeal, but the ASCS staff don't tell them they've been disqualified until October 27, and then they close the office at noon the next day to prevent anyone from appealing. Meanwhile, tenant families who signed nominating petitions are thrown off their land, and the same thing happens in adjacent Hale County.

In Lowndes County — the center of SNCC organizing in Alabama — they manage to get Black candidates on the ballot for 24 of the 30 community committee positions. The all-white county committee then nominates Afro-American candidates of their own to flood the ballot — in some cases without bothering to inform designated "candidates." In one community, 68 Blacks and 3 whites end up running for the 3 open positions. The ASCS offices also sends out a number of ballots for the wrong community to Afro-American farmers who are then chased out of the office when they try to obtain the correct ones. Their votes end up not counted, enough to have made a difference in some close races.

In Wilcox, where 36 Black candidates are nominated for 40 open positions, the ASCS staff comes up with a different strategy — they invent some new rules. As everywhere else, voters must mark their ballot for the candidates of their choice, and then in Wilcox only they have to draw a line through the names of all the candidates they don't want to vote for. Father John Golden, a civil rights worker in Wilcox, reports that after a lifetime of terror and intimidation, "Many Blacks said they could not draw a line through a white man's name." The instructions are confusing, and the ASCS officials throw out Afro-American ballots that (in their sole opinion) don't do everything precisely right.

When SNCC workers protest, Ray Fitzgerald, a USDA Deputy Director from Washington, assures them that a (white) state official will monitor the vote counting in each county. That assurance provides scant comfort. In one Wilcox community, for example, there are five white and two Black candidates for three positions. When the 120 ballots are counted the tally results claim that every single vote goes to three of the five white candidates — the other two whites and the two Afro-American candidates don't get even one vote, even though Blacks testify that they voted for the Black candidates.

The Alabama ASCS election votes are counted on November 15. As in other states, a few Blacks manage to get elected to a community committee, but not enough to put a Black on the all-powerful county committee.

See Alabama ASCS Elections, 1966 — The Struggle Continues for continuation.

For more information on ASCS election struggles:
CRMVets: ASCS Election Documents
Web: Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) Elections (Links)

 

Crawfordville GA School Bus Struggle (Jun-Oct)

Taliaferro County Georgia (pronounced "Tolliver") is a small rural county two hours east of Atlanta and not far from the South Carolina border. It is utterly rural and desperately poor — the median income for all residents in 1959 is only $2,676 (equal to $21,400 in 2013). Roughly 60% of its 3370 residents in 1960 are Black and they are the poorest. The county seat is the town (village, really) of Crawfordville, population 786 in 1960.

The Taliaferro County School System (sometimes referred to as the Crawfordville school system) is completely segregated — separate and unequal in every respect. Of the almost 800 children in public school, a bit under 600 are Black and around 180 or so are white. The Murden School is for Blacks and the better equipped Alexander Stephens Institute is for whites only. In the Fall of 1963, Black educator Evans Harris is hired as principal of the Murden School from which he graduated in 1943. He is dedicated to providing a quality education for his students, raising their academic achievement, and fighting for equal treatment.

Passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 spells the end of the "Massive Resistance" and "All Deliberate Speed" tactics that southern school boards have used for a decade to resist the Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education ruling. Under pressure from Black parents, the county school board (all of whom are white, of course) know they can no longer keep Stephens pure white (or "lily-white" as the saying goes). So they adopt a "freedom of choice" plan to be implemented in the Fall of 1965.

[In the mid-'60s, so-called "freedom of choice" plans were used across the Deep South to feign compliance with court rulings and civil rights laws while actually resisting full integration. Under these plans, separate (and unequal) white and "Colored" schools were still maintained, but parents were "free" to choose which school — white or Colored — their child would attend. In reality, Blacks who chose a white school faced economic retaliation from the White Citizens Council (firings, evictions, foreclosures, boycotts) and violent terrorism from the Ku Klux Klan. Since few Black families could risk losing their job, home, or business, segregationists knew that only a tiny number of Black children would enroll in a white school. Those few then faced harassment and humiliation by white administrators and teachers, and implacable hostility and abuse from the white students who greatly outnumbered them. The unrelenting pressure on Black pupils and their families forced many (in some cases all) to "freely choose" to withdraw from the white school and go back to the Colored school. White school boards then piously claimed, "See, they really don't really want integration."]

But in Taliaferro County the "freedom of choice" plan backfires. Inspired by principal Evans and a core of dedicated teachers, in the Spring of 1965 almost 90 Black students sign up to attend the Stephens Institute for the Fall term. With less than 180 white students, this means that the "white" school will suddenly become one-third Black. For whites who are reluctant to accept even a few Blacks in "their" school, one-third Black is intolerable.

When the school term ends for the summer, Harris and seven teachers (his wife Ann Harris, Calvin and Florence Turner, Myra Wright, Fannie Blackwell, Geletha McRae, and Henry Eaton) are accused of "causing trouble in the community" and "registering Blacks to vote instead of teaching them to read and write." Their contracts are not renewed for the Fall term. In effect, they're summarily fired.

Led by high school student Frank Bates and fired teacher Calvin Turner who is head of the local Voters League, mass meetings and protests erupt over the dismissals. These actions quickly expand to other issues such as job discrimination and a segregated state park that Blacks are not allowed to enter. Three hours drive to the southeast, the Chatham County Crusade for Voters (CCCV) is one of the most active and militant Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) affiliates Georgia. Willie Bolden and J.T. Johnson from CCCV, and Tony Scruton a white civil rights worker from Oregon, arrive in Crawfordville to bolster the effort.

All we wanted to do was bring about change. We wanted those five teachers to have their contracts renewed because they hadn't done anything wrong. ... We lived right there in Taliaferro County and could never go to that park. That wasn't right. We should have been allowed to go there just like anybody else. ... We were trying to get our message across the best way we could. At that time, we thought boycotting the local businesses was simply a way that our voices could be heard. — Frank Bates. [35]

A "swim-in" at the state park succeeds in momentarily desegregating the facility. But the only diner in Crawfordville closes down and transforms itself into a whites-only "private club" to avoid integration and a dozen or more Black students are arrested for trying to use the white-only coin laundry.

On Friday May 28, SCLC worker Scruton is abducted by white racists and brutally beaten with iron pipes. The Klansmen then turn him over to the local sheriff who takes him into "protective custody" (the kidnappers are not arrested). After a 48-hour hunger strike, Scruton is finally released from jail on Sunday in time to attend a mass meeting at Springfield Baptist Church. More than 200 people, mostly adults, then march to the courthouse. During the day, young pickets enforce a boycott of the half dozen or so white-owned stores in Crawfordville. Meanwhile, many of the transfer students' parents are being fired by their employers, some families are being evicted from their rented homes and others are suffering abrupt foreclosures. But the Black students hang tough, few withdraw their choice of attending the white school.

Mass meetings and protests continue through the summer. In June volunteers with the SCOPE project are assigned to Taliaferro County to register voters and reinforce the SCLC-CCCV field organizers. A deputy sheriff and the County Attorney threaten them with beatings and possibly death if they don't leave. They stay. Volunteer Richard Copeland is later beaten outside the courthouse while helping voters register.

At the end of July, local leader Calvin Turner is indicted on a raft of felony charges the most serious of which is "forging" some of the transfer applications that Black students filed the previous Spring to attend the white school. Bail bond is set at an astronomical $15,000 (equal to $111,000 in 2013).

On Sunday, August 22, more than 100 Taliaferro Blacks march two-by-two from rural Friendship Baptist Church to the courthouse square in Crawfordville where they hold a brief rally, sing "God Bless America," and pray for justice before returning to the church. At the same time elsewhere on the square, a white self-ordained ("jackleg") preacher is playing religious music on a wind-up Victrola and haranguing a handful of onlookers. In Georgia at this time, "disturbing divine worship" is a crime. The District Attorney indicts and arrests nine Black leaders for disturbing the "divine worship" of the itinerant Bible thumper. Evans Harris, Calvin and Joseph Turner, Frank and James Bates, the brothers Moses, Albert, and Collins King, Robert Billingsley, and J.W. Combs face the threat of jail.

Meanwhile, the school board is secretly concocting a new plan. Every white student is surreptitiously transferred to segregated schools in neighboring Greene, Wilkes, and Warren counties and white teachers are transferred to handle the load. Taliaferro school buses will take the white children to their distant classes. Georgia taxpayers — both Black and white — foot the bill.

When the Fall term begins, the board abruptly announces that Stephens Institute is closed and that Murden is the only school available to Blacks, the only one they can "choose" under "freedom of choice." The neighboring county school districts refuse to take any Black students from Taliaferro because they claim their schools are "over-crowded." Frances Pauley, Director of the Georgia Council on Human Relations and long-time social-justice activist, later remarked, "If Taliaferro County used as much ingenuity in educating children as in evading the civil rights law, it would hove the greatest school system in the state."

The majority of Black students go on strike, refusing to attend Murden which no longer has its beloved principal and most dedicated teachers.

With their children boycotting school, their leaders facing crminal charges, and the white power-structure in utter defiance of the Civil Rights Act, the Black community of Taliaferro County calls for help. SCLC responds. Led by Hosea Williams, SCLC sends in additional field staff and notable leaders able to draw media attention. Williams declares that "Crawfordville [can] become the symbol of token school integration for the nation, just as Selma became the symbol for voting registration difficulties." Taught by volunteer teachers recruited by SCLC, a Freedom School is soon serving more than 300 striking students from 1st through 12th grades.

The students ... went on an extended strike after they were not accepted at the predominately White school in the county. ... As a result, the SCLC assisted the citizenry in starting what was called a Freedom School ... they brought teachers in to teach the students. The school was in the Springfield community. The students were taken there and they were taught by people who came in from all over the country as well as teachers who were from the state of Georgia. [The Freedom School] enabled the community to see the value of working together. It enabled them to see that by working together they could have a say in who would be in charge of various leadership aspects of the county.  — Evans Harris. [36]

More arrests rain down, five students who urge others to boycott Murden are busted for "interfering with schools." Young demonstrators are arrested for protesting segregation and discrimination. Georgia State Troopers are dispatched to reinforce the local lawmen.

After careful training in nonviolent tactics and discipline by SCLC field organizers, a new form of protest begins. On September 27, twenty of the boldest Black students attempt to nonviolently board the Taliaferro school buses ferrying the white students to their segregated classes in adjacent counties. The cops block them. They lay down in the road to prevent the buses from leaving. They are dragged away and some are arrested. Others pile into cars that follow the buses. At their destination the Black students attempt to enter the schools. They are blocked by police.

Day after day in the dawn light, from late September into mid-October, Black teenagers singing freedom songs and chanting "Freedom Now," gather on one side of the road. On the other side are troopers and cops. When the yellow school buses arrive to pick up the white children, the Black students try to board. The cops tackle them and push them back. Hostile white parents and KKK members cheer the forces of law and order who are maintaining segregation. Boycott actions and desegregation protests continue through the day with mass meetings and marches to the Courthouse in the evening. News media drawn in by SCLC record the action and tiny Crawfordville Georgia becomes a center of world attention.

Calvin Craig, the Georgia Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, mobilizes his KKK members to support the white parents resisting integration. "Kill him!" they shout on October 4th when 17 year old Frank Bates tries to dash past the troopers blocking access to the buses. Klan leader Craig attacks the young student leader. To the surprise of many, the Klan leader is arrested for his assault on Bates. Unlike troopers in Alabama and Mississippi, the Georgia troopers refrain from egregious racist violence against protesting Blacks and to a degree protect them from the Klan. Perhaps it is the presence of the TV cameras, perhaps they are under orders from "moderate" segregationist Governor Carl Sanders to avoid the kind of negative publicity that Alabama and Selma incurred just a few months earlier.

By October 6th, as marches, protests, and arrests continue, the number of Black students attempting to board the buses in the morning has grown to 35. They are confronted by 60 state troopers and 40 whites (parents and KKK). Other Black students are trying to enter the white schools in the surrounding counties. No more than 200 children are still attending classes at Murden, the rest are on strike. SCLC field secretaries J.T. Johnson and Willie Bolden have been arrested multiple times as have local leaders Frank Bates and Calvin Turner. On October 7th the number of Black students trying to board the buses reaches 50, on the 8th it's over 70.

With the protests growing, on October 11 Dr. King and his wife Coretta come to Crawfordville to support the escalating struggle. At that night's mass meeting he addresses an overflow crowd of 700 in Friendship Baptist Church. He speaks of the hardships of the rural South and praises the people of Taliaferro for their courage and perseverance in the freedom struggle. "We still have an overdose of tokenism," he tells them. "[And] you were left with no choice but to demonstrate. And we were left with no choice but to support you." The throng then marches two-by-two a mile and a half down the dark, unlit road to the Courthouse where they sing freedom songs and offer prayers before returning to the church.

The following day, as SCLC organizer Willie Bolden leads 200 students and some adults on the long march from Friendship Baptist to the courthouse and back, a gang of Klansmen attack them. Two of them, Howard Sims and Cecil Myers, are photographed assaulting SCLC worker Brig Cabe and the picture runs in northern media. Sims and Myers are notorious for killing Lemuel Penn, a Black U.S. Army Colonel, a year earlier in 1964. (At this time they are free on bail while appealing a conviction on Federal charges of violating Penn's civil rights. An all-white jury had previously acquitted them of murder charges in a state court.)

The Crawfordville protests, the media coverage, and possibly the pressures of Governor Sanford's re-election campaign prod the Federal court to take swift (for them) action. On October 14, roughly six weeks after Taliaferro County began bussing white children to segregated schools in adjoining counties, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court rules in Turner v. Goolsby that the practice is illegal. The court also summarily prevents any further prosecution of the "disturbing divine worship" and "forgery" charges against Black leaders.

The judges place the Taliaferro school system into receivership with a court appointed trustee in charge. The white schools in adjacent counties who had accepted Taliaferro County's white children are ordered to enroll the 87 Black students who had originally applied to attend the white Alexander Stephens Institute. The buses are required to transport students regardless of race. Thus, the schools of three neighboring counties who had connived with Taliaferro to maintain segregation abruptly find themselves desegregated by court order.

The next school year (1966-67) the Alexander Stephens Institute is reopened as a completely integrated elementary school and Murden becomes a completely integrated high school. In this context, however, "completely integrated" simply means there is no longer two separate school systems, one white and one Colored. Since most white students transfer out of public school to all-white "private academies," the public schools are left overwhelmingly Black.

Years later, Evans Harris the crusading Principal of Murden school tells an interviewer:

As a result of [our] dismissals, many people felt that we had been treated wrong. As a result, we had a civil rights movement. So, the Civil Rights Movement occurred in 1965. The demonstrations were intense. As a matter of fact, Dr. King came down to Taliaferro County and helped organize some of the civil rights protests. ... All of the SCLC leadership was involved in the movement in Taliaferro County. ... [SCLC] wanted to do what was necessary to help correct the situation in Taliaferro County. ... they sent manpower in to help the community and put forth a bona fide protest to the situation in the county. ... They had demonstrations, marches, and so forth that took place for most of the year.

That movement served to give Blacks some political agency in the community here in Taliaferro County. Before that, Blacks were simply second-class citizens, no questions asked. There was no push for civil rights in the Black community in Taliaferro County before 1965. After 1965, though, Blacks in Taliaferro County began to receive more equal treatment. Also, as a result of challenging segregationist practices the Black community received backing from the federal government. This allowed Blacks to start participating in the mainstream activities in Taliaferro County and to be treated fairly, which is what the Black community was seeking at that time.
 — Evans Harris.[36]

For more information:
Schools and School Desegregation
School Desegregation

 

Poor Peoples Corporations, Cooperatives, & Quilting Bees

See Issues of Poverty, Exploitation, and Economic Justice for context and general background.

Throughout 1965 the relentless dispossession of poor Blacks from the land for economic and political reasons intensifies throughout the South. In the Mississippi Delta, rural Louisiana, the Alabama Black Belt, and Southwest Georgia many of those who had stood with the Freedom Movement by standing in the voter registration lines, sending the children to "white" schools or Movement Freedom Schools, joining organizations, participating in protests, or housing civil rights workers, are targeted by the White Citizens Councils. Deprived of their livelihood, or evicted from their homes, many migrate to urban areas North and South.

Local community leaders and activists with Movement organizations such as SNCC, SCLC, CORE, MFDP, NAACP, and Delta Ministry seek ways to provide economic sustenance for evicted freedom fighters and poor Blacks in general. Cooperatives (CoOps), where poor people pool their meagre resources, mutually assist each other, and seek outside funding seem to offer at least some hope. By the summer of 1965, CoOps are beginning to spring up across the South.

In Mississippi, for example, Black farmers in Panola County (Batesville) create a marketing CoOp led by MFDP stalwart Robert Miles. Somehow they manage to obtain a $113,000 FHA grant (equal to $820,000 in 2012) for land and equipment which they use to put evicted plantation tenants to work. Delta Ministry activist Owen Brooks organizes the North Bolivar County Farm Cooperative which in three years becomes the largest farm CoOp in the state with more than 900 families. And in Sunflower County, Fannie Lou Hamer leads the Freedom Farm Cooperative that obtains land for dispossessed plantation workers and eventually grows to 680 acres.

Farm CoOps are not the only kind. By August of '65, the Madison County (Canton) Sewing Coop is up and running. With donations from New York they obtain sewing machines and repair an old building for their use. The Child Development Group of Mississippi contracts with them to make smocks for pre-schoolers. Says CoOp Vice President Mrs. Levy, "We got a long waiting list of people who want to work in here now. But the girls we got in first are those from out of the kitchens: maids and such. Then there are those who lost their jobs because they were active with the Madison County Movement. Some were fired for trying to vote. Some for attending meetings."

Over the summer, SNCC activist Jesse Morris and other SNCC and Delta Ministry members form the Poor Peoples Corporation (PPC) based in Jackson. Intended "to assist low-income groups to initiate and sustain self-help projects of a cooperative nature, it is open to all poor people regardless of race. Dues are 25 cents per year. From the common fund, the PPC makes what would today be called "microloans" as seed money for new CoOps and small businesses. The PPC also provides training and assists in marketing goods. All decisions are made by democratic vote of the dues-paying PPC members. From an initial pool of $5,000 (equal to $36,000 in 2012) mostly supplied by northern donors, the PPC helps create new CoOps and partnerships that manufacture craft items, quilts, and clothing. By 1968, there are 16 PPC "self-employment enterprises" in 10 Mississippi counties. Liberty House stores in Jackson and New York, and similar outlets in Boston and elsewhere sell some of the goods.

In 1966, Father Francis X Walter of the Selma Inter-religious Project (SIP) and Ella Saulsbury of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference help rural Blacks in the isolated Gee's Bend community of Wilcox County Alabama form the Freedom Quilting Bee. Gee's Bend (also known as Boykin), is a mainstay of the Freedom Movement in Wilcox which is one of the Black Belt counties where Afro-Americans are the majority of the population and repression against those who try to vote is severe.

The bold, distinctive style of the Gees Bend quilts proves popular in the North and eventually become semi-famous. Led by Black women such as Minder Coleman, Estelle Witherspoon, Nettie Young, and Ora McDaniels, the Quilting Bee CoOp grows to include more than 60 quilters across the Black Belt. In 1968, the Bee buys 28 acres to house families evicted for Movement activities and erect a building that becomes a combination child day-care and communal quilting center. Over the years and decades, the Freedom Quilting Bee evolves and changes and is eventually supplanted, but quilters are still making and selling quilts to this day — though not without controversy.

But the success of the Freedom Quilting Bee is a rare exception. Creating and sustaining CoOps is hard going, and for every success there are failures. To provide economic sustenance, a CoOp has to operate as a profit-making business, and to start any kind of business — be it cooperative or otherwise — you need capital which poor people do not have. What financial support the CoOps receive from government agencies is minimal at best, local southern banks won't give them loans, and commercial suppliers refuse to extend the credit that they routinely grant white-owned businesses. What little capital the PPC and CoOps scrape together comes mainly from Freedom Movement supporters in the North.

The skills, discipline, and techniques that work for registering voters and mounting protests are different from those required by a commercial endeavor and business training is hard to come by. So is mutual trust and confidence among CoOp members who have often been competitors for scarce jobs and resources.

Nevertheless, some CoOps manage to survive for a time, but those successes only illustrate the depth of the problem because the few members they are able to help are but a tiny fraction of those being dispossesed from their homes and livlihoods. Over the long-haul, some of the farm-based CoOps manage to find corporate customers for their crops and continue into the '70s, '80s or longer. But most of the CoOps dependent on Federal assistance or northern liberals for capital and marketing ultimately fail as funding is diverted to the Vietnam War and shifting political winds redirect social consciences towards other causes.

Birmingham Voter Registration Campaign (Dec-Mar)

As the tumultuous year 1965 begins to draw to a close, two different realities are in stark conflict.

On the positive side, passage of the Voting Rights Act is one of the Freedom Movement's crowning achievements. The Act outlaws many (though not all) of the methods used to deny Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans the vote. More importantly, it marks a fundamental sea-shift in public attitudes about race and voting — a change that has been won by years of hard, bloody struggle throughout the South. Where once race-based denial of voting rights as an explicit matter of public policy was widely accepted by the majority of white Americans, now there is an overwhelming national consensus that such practices are politically and socially intolerable. Of course, this does not mean that racists have ceased trying to limit nonwhite electoral power, but it does mean that henceforth those efforts must be covert and disguised rather than overt and explicit — a state of affairs that remains true to this day.

On the negative side, despite the Voting Rights Act, fewer Blacks than hoped for are being added to the voting rolls in the Deep South. While the new law forbids literacy tests and other legal stratagems used to deny Afros the vote, old habits and practices die hard. Blacks who dare defy the "southern way of life" by attempting to vote still face procedural barriers, economic retaliation, and threats of violence. There are still evictions, firings, foreclosures, arrests on phony charges, death threats, night-rider shootings, fire-bombings, and murders. In 1965, for example, there are at least 20 race and civil rights related killings in the South, compared with 14 in 1964 and 13 in 1963. In the first six months after the Act is passed, the Southern Regional Council compiles a partial list of 122 incidents reprisal and violence against Blacks who try to register.

Overall, Federal enforcement of the Act's criminal provisions in the South are weak and half-hearted. On the plus side, in counties where Washington assigns Federal registrars (called "examiners" in the Act) the number of Black voters increase sharply. But as of the end of October, Federal registrars have been sent to just 22 of the hundreds of Deep South counties that are covered by that section of the new law. For example, only six of Alabama's twenty or so Black Belt counties get Federal registrars, and none are sent to Georgia at all. By the end of 1966, more than a year after the Act is signed into law, less than 20% of the covered counties in the South have had the benefit of Federal registrars.

The result of continued white resistance and insufficient Federal action is that Black voter registration in the Deep South lags well behind what had been hoped for. In some counties, particularly the twenty or so counties with Federal registrars, or those with strong and effective local organizations — or both — large numbers are registered. But in many others there is little progress. Dr. King protests the Act's lax implementation and demands that enforcement be intensified. Attorney General Katzenbach responds by claiming there is "widespread voluntary compliance" with the new law by white officials and that blame for the slow increase in Black voters lies with inadequate registration efforts by civil rights groups. SNCC, SCLC, CORE, and the NAACP adamantly disagree. They're spending every dime they can scrape up on registration campaigns and their local activists and field organizers still face economic retaliation, savage brutality, jail, and the threat of death.

These clashing views are symptomatic of a deep ideologic divide. For Freedom Movement activists voting is a fundamental right. All citizens have the right to participate in the democratic political process regardless of their economic status, education level, or any other factor. This stand is summed up by SNCC's "One Man One Vote" slogan. Since there is a long history of southern states (and some others) systematically denying the vote to nonwhites, simple justice requires that all citizens be granted the right to vote wholesale and if the states won't do that then the Federal government should step in and register the unregistered. Period. End of story. Washington, however, accepts the traditional premise that states have the right to set qualifications which restrict who is allowed to vote — though under the new Act those qualifications can no longer be explicitly race-based, nor can they be applied in a race-biased way. So their focus is only on ensuring that Blacks and other nonwhites have a chance to register through state systems that are (hopefully) cleansed of obvious racial discrimination.

1966 will be an election year in Alabama for many state and county offices. Under Alabama law at this time Governor Wallace cannot succeed himself, so his ailing wife Lurleen intends to stand in for him. As everyone understands, she will hold the office but he will continue to run things. And across the state, county sheriffs like Jim Clark must go to the polls. SCLC's two main direct action leaders are Hosea Williams and James Bevel. Bevel is developing plans focused on the urban ghettos of the North that eventually evolve into the Chicago Open Housing campaign. As Director of Voter Registration, Hosea leads SCLC's southern field staff, and in the Fall he concentrates on Alabama in the hope of registering enough Blacks to deny the Wallaces a third term and influence at least some of the local races.

Hosea's strategy is to combine direct action marches with voter registration. Field organizers are assigned to Black Belt counties where Afro-Americans are the majority and also the cities like Montgomery, Birmingham-Bessemer, and Mobile where there are large concentrations of potential Black voters. But the same difficulties that sapped Bevel's effort to revive mass marches back in May also affect similar efforts in November so in most places the direct action component of the strategy fails to catch fire.

Late in September, Federal registrars are sent to Montgomery. With Montgomery Improvement Association volunteers and some 20 SCLC field secretaries canvassing and organizing, within a month some 8,000 Blacks are added to the voting rolls. Jefferson County, with Birmingham as its county seat, has 80-90,000 unregistered Black adults, the largest number in the state. As November ends and December begins, Hosea concentrates SCLC staff there to supplement the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) — SCLC's strongest local affiliate — and he calls for a Christmas voter registration project in the Birmingham-Bessemer area. Student volunteers who had participated in SCLC's summer project (SCOPE) are asked to spend their winter break reinforcing the SCLC staff organizers and some respond, joining local volunteers like Marie Nix and Eddie Sanders in canvassing door-to-door, participating in mass meetings, and marching for justice.

ACMHR and SCLC demand that the Jefferson County Board of Registrars increase the number of days it is open for people to register, send registrars into Black neighborhoods to reach those who have difficulty getting downtown to the courthouse or who are intimidated by the racist cops who congregate there, and extend their hours into the evening so that people don't have to risk their jobs by taking time off from work to register.

The Jefferson Board of Registrars grudgingly agrees to increase the number of days to include Saturdays, but they refuse to go into the neighborhoods or stay open after normal business hours. Black leaders argue that since the board already runs neighborhood locations for collecting poll taxes, and people vote in local precincts, the board's rejection of neighborhood registration is political rather than logistical — they have the facilities to register Black voters in locations other than the downtown courthouse, but they don't want to use them. The board remains adamant, Blacks must come to the courthouse during standard working hours.

Despite intimidation, lines of Black applicants waiting at the courthouse to register grow longer and longer on the days the office is open. Many wait for hours in the cold and damp, some are still waiting when the board closes promptly a 4:00 in the afternoon. In response, Freedom Movement leaders demand that the Department of Justice dispatch Federal registrars — who do work evening hours — to Jefferson county. With neither the county board nor Washington providing any relief, direct action marches begin in late December. Protesters are arrested and there are incidents of police violence.

The marches and protests continue into January 1966 and some of the SCOPE volunteers choose to stay with the struggle in Birmingham rather than return to their college campuses at the end of winter break. Protests escalate in the second week of January when SCLC/SCOPE organizers call local students out of public school and into the streets. They march through the downtown civic and shopping district snarling traffic and disrupting business. The cops respond with violence and arrests. A local court hands down an injunction prohibiting SCLC from interfering with the public schools or disrupting traffic. Protests continue, skirting but not violating the terms of the injunction.

Finally, on January 20 the Department of Justice agrees to send Federal registrars to Jefferson County. They set up shop in the post office and work to 7:00pm. In the first three weeks of operation they register some 15,000 new Black voters. Whites react with a voter registration campaign of their own, they are determined to maintain white-supremacy at the ballot box. With Blacks registering at the post office, the county board is free to register all the whites they can at the courthouse.

Intensive registration campaigns in Alabama cities and Black Belt counties continue up to the March deadline for qualifying to vote in the May primaries. In the eight months from August when the VRA is signed into law and the March deadline, the number of Afro voters in Alabama almost doubles to over 235,000. This represents 49% of eligible Blacks which is a significant increase over the 19% of those eligible who were registered just a few years earlier. But in that same period, whites also mount intensive registration campaigns, signing up over 110,000 new white voters to bring their total to over a 1,000,000 which represents 79% of the white voting age population. So when voters go to the polls in May, Blacks who make up roughly 30% of the Alabama population comprise just 16% of the electorate.

Yet, slowly, as the '60s end and the '70s begin, the number of Black voters continues to rise and white politicians and bureaucrats begin to realize that if they want to stay in office they must adjust to a new racial reality, one that no longer allows blatant, overt tactics to prevent nonwhites from exercising ballot-box power. And in many Black Belt counties and a few urban areas like Birmingham, Afro voting majorities eventually manage to elect some of their own to important political offices.

For more information:
Web: Birmingham Movement 1956-1966
Documents: Birmingham Voter Registration Campaign
1965-66

 


1965 Quotation Sources:

1. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972, Adam Fairclough
2. "By Any Means Necessary," Mike Marqusee, Nation magazine, July 5, 2004
3. Pure Fire: Self-Defense as Activism in the Civil Rights Era, Christopher B. Strain
4. Bogalusa: Negro Community vs. Crown Colony (Calisphere ~ U.C. Berkeley)
5. The Movement newspaper, July, 1965.
6. Martin Nicolaus — Mississippi Newsletter February 18, 1965
7. Student Voice, March 26, 1965.
8. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, & Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David Garrow.
9. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael ..., Carmichael & Thelwell.
10. John Jackson: Oral History, 1988
11. Local Folks and Civil Rights Workers — A Discussion
12. Ruby Nell Sales: Oral History/Interview
13. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement 1950-1980, by Henry Hampton & Steven Fayer.
14. A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC, by Cheryl Lynn Greenberg
15. U.S. Congressional Record — House, June 15, 1965.
16. Everyone Was a Leader, Hardy Frye, 2010.
17. Statement to Congressional Briefing, Rev. Ian McCrae, Rev. W. Raymond Berry, John M. Prat, National Council of Churches of Christ. June 22, 1965.
18. The Importance of SNCC, a discussion.
19. To Redeem the Soul of America: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King
20. UCSB SCOPE Project, Summer 1965-66, Sussex County Virginia
21. My Soul is Rested: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South
22. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 4, 2005
23. The Voting Rights Act: The First Months, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1965
24. Writing the Wrong in Alabama, Harvard Crimson, April 4, 2006
25. A Brief History of the Southern Courier, Southern Courier Foundation
26. Private correspondence.
27. Mississippi Letter, Stephen Bingham
28. Henry Dee and Charles Moore Case. Cold Case Project.
29. New York Times, August 29, 1965.
30. We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, by Akinyele Omowale Umoja.
31. Local People: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, by John Dittmer.
32. Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, by Lance Hill.
33. Vietnam War Protest, 1965, Miriam (Cohen) Glickman
34. Statement on Viet Nam, Dr. Martin Luther King. Birmingham, August 12, 1965
35. "Frank Bates Went from Level Hill to Capitol Hill" By Billy W. Hobbs. McDuffieMirror.com
36. Oral Histories of Three Retired African American Superintendents From Georgia, by Garrick Askey. Dissertation University of Georgia, 2004


1965: Selma & March to Montgomery

1966

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