1966 (Jan-June)

1967

1966 (July-December)

Chicago Freedom Movement & the War Against Slums
Grenada MS Movement (June-Dec)
Clarence Triggs Murdered (July)
Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Fillibuster (Sept)
ASCS Elections in Alabama — The Struggle Continues (Sept)
1966 Alabama Elections
     The Election in Lowndes County
     The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
     The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)
Keeping On — From Cooperatives to Pigford

 

Chicago Freedom Movement & the War Against Slums

Contents:

After WattsMarching on City Hall
North to ChicagoSprinkler Revolt
Segregation – Chicago Style   Freedom Now! White Power!
Chicago Freedom MovementSummit Meeting
Ghetto Youth GangsSummit Agreement
Steps & MisstepsAssessment
Freedom FestivalSome Thoughts
A Focus on Housing 

See Ghettos, Segregation, & Poverty in the 1960s for general background information.

After Watts

In a sense, we are using the word "slum" interchangeably with what the sociologists refer to as a "ghetto." ... I remember a baby attacked by rats ... a young Negro murdered by a [white] gang in Cicero, where he was looking for a job. My neighbors paid more rent in the substandard slums of Lawndale than the whites paid for modern apartments in the suburbs.  — Martin Luther King. [14][15]

For the Freedom Movement, SCLC, and Dr. King, the year 1965 begins in triumph. For many, the Selma Voting Rights Campaign, March to Montgomery, and passage of the historic Voting Rights Act are the Movement's crowning achievements.

But just days after the Act is signed into law on August 6th, the Watts ghetto in California explodes in a massive uprising that dwarfs the Harlem revolt of the previous year. For six days, Watts is a tornado of arson, violence, and looting that leave in its wake 34 dead, 4,000 arrested, and $40,000,000 in property damage (equal to $300 million in 2014).

Harlem in '64 was a harbinger of the future to come. And after Watts in '65, for those with the will to see it is self-evident that urban ghettos across the land are seething cauldrons of exploitation, injustice, frustration, rage, and despair; impoverished slums where lives are crippled and circumscribed by segregated slum housing, failing schools, racist employment practices, exploitative commerce, and police repression. In the words of Langston Hughes, the ghettos are, "The land of rats and roaches where a nickel costs a dime."

But the slums and ghettos of the mid-1960s are not accidents of fate. They are the inevitable consequences of local (and not so local) power structures practicing covert segregation and overt hypocrisy to benefit their own wealth, power and privilege. For the real estate and banking industries, residential segregation is highly profitable. State and local governments use zoning decisions, annexation & incorporation policies, urban renewal & redevelopment programs, and in some cases racial ordinances to create, maintain, and move around separate and distinct white, Black, Latino, and Asian districts. The Federal Housing Authority requires segregation in new suburban developments and public housing projects, patterns reinforced by the administration of GI Bill housing benefits.

CORE, NAACP, Urban League, and scores of local civil rights, reform, and economic justice groups have long struggled — with little success — in northern ghettos against racist civic policies and entrenched economic interests. Freedom Movement victories in the South have had little impact in the North, and by mid-1966, impatience and fury in the nation's inner-cities are rising fast.

In Washington, Congress is in no mood for new civil rights or economic justice legislation — its focus is "law and order" and "White Backlash" politics. President Johnson's priority is the Vietnam War, not the War on Poverty. Instead of increasing funds to ameliorate urban misery, money once earmarked for social programs is being diverted to the military budget.

And even if Vietnam were not draining national wealth, by now it is clear that federal poverty programs are mainly benefiting private businesses in the form of grants, subsidies and tax breaks. And it is middle-class professionals who are being employed by the research firms, bureaus, agencies, and training centers that are paid for by the federal poverty programs. Few poor people are being hired for anything, and even fewer are being helped to actually lift themselves out of poverty. LBJ's grand and ballyhooed "War on Poverty" is proving to be an underfunded fraud.

Ever since Birmingham, Movement supporters in the North have been pressing Dr. King to apply his nonviolent direct action strategies to the festering problems of northern ghettos, pleas that become even more insistent after the Selma success. Watts forces the issue.

 

North to Chicago

The world sees Dr. King as a political leader of social/political movements, but in his own heart he is a pastor. The misery and suffering of those imprisoned in the urban ghettos cry out to him. Since his student days he has been powerfully drawn to the social ministry, to the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed and disempowered. He passionately believes that nonviolent resistance is the answer to oppression, exploitation, injustice, and despair — not just in the American South, but everywhere.

Yet for "everywhere" to actually be everywhere, it has to include northern slums. He tells his SCLC colleagues, "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."

But except for James Bevel and Andrew Young, SCLC leaders and key advisors all oppose expanding out of the South. They 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 urban poverty. Many question how — and whether — nonviolent strategies and tactics can be effectively applied in the ghettos, and what support they will find among the bitterly alienated urban poor.

SCLC's southern affiliates all face urgent local problems with scant resources, and the ministers & community groups who make up the organization's Board of Directors desperately need help and support from Atlanta. They know the organization can barely fund its southern programs, it can't possibly finance a struggle on two broad fronts. Moreover, most of SCLC's income now comes from northern white liberals, some of whom have already turned against the Freedom Movement because of Harlem and Watts. How many more will fall away if the Movement begins to confront racism in their own backyard?

Bayard Rustin observes, "Even if tomorrow Negroes were to become white, they would still be entrapped in their joblessness." That means addressing economic and employment issues. And that, in turn, means challenging government policies and spending priorities, corporate investment strategies, overt and covert racial discrimination, lending patterns by banks, and a wide range of other commercial practices — local and national.

It also means confronting white-only trade unions and long-standing hiring and promotion standards that are deeply embedded in labor contracts. These issues are all far more complex, and enormously more controversial, than segregated lunch counters or denial of voting rights. And when economic injustice becomes the focus, old allies may turn out to be fierce new adversaries.

Dr. King is well aware of the difficulties and risks inherent in a northern campaign focused on poverty and economic justice. But the Movement has to establish that racism and poverty are national issues — not southern exceptions. Referring to Watts, he says, "[The] ghetto Negro has been invisible so long and has become visible through violence." Nonviolence has to effectively meet that challenge. "We must find the real issues and examine our structure to determine what we can do. ... The present mood dictates that we cannot wait. ... The moral force of SCLC's nonviolent movement philosophy [is] needed to help eradicate a vicious system which seeks to further colonize thousands of Negroes within a slum environment."

For several years, the Freedom Movement in Chicago has been fighting against rigidly segregated, deeply unequal schools, and an adamant school administration committed to the old order and the old ways. They urgently need substantial aid from King and SCLC. Over the course of many months and many meetings, Dr. King eventually convinces a very reluctant SCLC to answer Chicago's call.

No longer could we afford to isolate a major segment of our society in a ghetto prison and expect its spiritually crippled wards to accept the advanced social responsibilities of the world's leading nation. Birmingham, Alabama, once the most segregated city in the South, had been our target city for public accommodations, and our nonviolent movement there gave birth to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Selma, Alabama, had been our pilot city for the Voting Rights Bill of 1965, and I had faith that Chicago, considered one of the most segregated cities in the nation, could well become the metropolis where a meaningful nonviolent movement could arouse the conscience of this nation to deal realistically with the Northern ghetto. — Martin Luther King. [15]

 

Segregation — Chicago Style

But Chicago is neither Birmingham nor Selma. In 1965, it is the second largest urban area in America and its two ghettos hold almost a third of its population.

[Map of Chicago ghettos]

Chicago today is a divided city — segregated in all areas of social and economic activity, in employment, in education, in housing and in community organization. The Negro community is sectioned off from the larger metropolis into areas of the city that have been set aside for black ghettos. Within these confines the Negro community is regulated from the outside like a colony — its potential economic resources underdeveloped, its more than one million inhabitants, the daily victims of personal rebuffs, insults and acts of prejudice, and its poorer citizens at the mercy of police, welfare workers, and minor government officials. — Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement [19]

It is the policy of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) to build public housing only in Black and Latino communities, usually in the form of high-rise "projects" that in reality are vertical ghettos for the very poorest. On a plot of land in the heart of the South Side ghetto, for example, are the Robert Taylor Homes — the largest public housing complex in the nation, consisting of 28 towers, each 16-stories high, containing 3,340 apartments.

Such intense concentrations of extreme poverty foster despair, vandalism, and crime. They overwhelm neighborhood elementary schools, and quickly prove catastrophic for residents, the surrounding area, and society at large. Nevertheless, CHA insists on building more of them. In the view of many housing activists, the real reasons for large-scale, tower-based projects are racist attitudes on the part of white neighborhoods who refuse to accept nonwhites into their communities and schools, and the lucrative construction and maintenance contracts that go to politically well-connected businesses — and the graft they kickback to the controlling politicians.

Chicago is the home and political base of Mayor Richard J. Daley, a major power within the national Democratic Party who ruthlessly controls one of the strongest urban "machines" in the nation. His Cook County election apparatus is a sophisticated organization of ward bosses, district and precinct captains, business interests (both white and nonwhite), union officials, favored clergy, ethnic leaders, and organized crime. All of whom reliably deliver overwhelming Black, Latino, and white working-class majorities for Daley's candidates and policies. So long as the machine can reliably mobilize Afro-Americans at the ballot box, he can curry favor with white "ethnic" voters by opposing civil rights initiatives such as school desegregation and open housing.

But a direct political attack on Daley would split the Afro-American community into antagonistic machine and anti-machine factions. And if the Democratic vote in Cook County is split, conservative downstate Republicans riding a "white-backlash" surge might well defeat Senator Paul Douglas, a liberal Democrat and a reliable civil rights ally in Washington. Until (and unless) the Black community turns against Daley — which is unlikely — SCLC strategists believe that confronting Daley is self-defeating. "I don't consider Mayor Daley as an enemy," publicly avows Dr. King who hopes that nonviolent direct action can persuade (or pressure) the Mayor to support civil rights related reforms.

 

Chicago Freedom Movement

In August of 1965, Dr. King sends Rev. James Bevel and a dozen or so members of SCLC's small field staff to begin working in Chicago. There they join Bernard LaFayette, Bevel's Nashville & Freedom Ride "roll buddy," and a former SNCC organizer, who is working for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the city's West Side ghetto.

Their assignment is to assist the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) build a powerful, nonviolent, urban mass movement. The CCCO is a loose coalition of 40 or so community and civil rights groups who have been opposing Chicago's rigidly segregated school system. It is a broad and disparate coalition ranging from groups like Chicago CORE and Friends of SNCC, to The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) and other community groups, Chicago Catholic Interracial Council and other religious associations, labor organizations and the Chicago NAACP and Urban League (see CCCO Member Organizations).

Led by Al Raby, the CCCO has fought for years against School Superintendent Benjamin Willis and his policies of defacto segregation. In 1963 and '64, they organized two huge school walkouts with some 200,000 students boycotting classes. Yet despite its efforts, CCCO has had little success. Willis is backed by Daley. And the Johnson administration in Washington is unwilling to offend or upset Daley by enforcing the school desegregation provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which Willis is violating.

The SCLC organizers set up shop in the Garfield Park neighborhood of the West Side ghetto, with the Warren Avenue Congregational Church as their base of operation. They meet people, talk about the Movement, help local groups canvas their communities, recruit for nonviolent training sessions, and encourage people to attend community mass meetings. Big James Orange, singer Jimmy Collier, and organizer Jimmy Wilson work with West Side gang members. Birmingham Movement leader Rev. Charles Billups and Rev. Jesse Jackson begin building support among Black ministers.

A key Daley supporter in the Black community is the Rev. J.H. Jackson, president of the National Baptist Convention, a large and influential organization of Afro-American ministers. He and King have long been adversaries. Jackson staunchly opposes protests and civil disobedience, favoring instead the NAACP program of litigation and legislative lobbying. In 1961, his "civil rights through law and order" stand, and his enmity to the direct action and civil disobedience strategy of SCLC, drove King and many others to form a new, rival organization, the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Now King and Jackson confront each other again in Chicago. Afro-American ministers are a mainstay of Daley's political machine, and as SCLC tries to mobilize Black clergy in support of direct action for social justice, Jackson and his conservative allies maneuver against them.

At an SCLC-CCCO strategy meeting in October of 1965, SCLC Project Director James Bevel defines the ultimate, long-range goal as, "Getting rid of slums. [Our task] is not to patch up the ghetto, but to abolish it."

Dr. King later recalls:

When we first joined forces with the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, we outlined a drive to end slums. We viewed slums and slumism as more than a problem of dilapidated, inadequate housing. We understood them as the end product of domestic colonialism: slum housing and slum schools, unemployment and underemployment, segregated and inadequate education, welfare dependency and political servitude. Because no single attack could hope to deal with this overwhelming problem, we established a series of concurrent projects aimed at each facet.  — Martin Luther King. [15]

In Bevel's analysis, to end slums the Freedom Movement has to address four major forces which keep the ghetto in place:

  1. Lack of economic power
  2. Political disenfranchisement
  3. Lack of knowledge and information
  4. Lack of self-respect and self-dignity among the people of the ghetto

The last of these should be the first target, he argues, for it is, "Something that would be reachable, given the resources we have available. [We have] to create enough self-dignity and self-respect in the people of the ghetto so that they will not tolerate the inhumane system under which they are now forced to live."[16]

The partnership formed between SCLC and CCCO adopts "Chicago Freedom Movement" (CFM) as its name. Both SCLC and CCCO bring strengths and weaknesses to their joint endeavor. CCCO is a broad and divergent interracial coalition that has been active for several years, but its component organizations and leaders are mostly middle-class and they don't have deep roots or extensive contacts in the poverty-stricken ghettos. The SCLC staff are well-trained, battle-hardened veterans of nonviolent direct action campaigns in the South, but they have little experience with the issues, problems, and realities of northern cities.

Within the CCCO, there are hidden fault-lines of distrust between its own disparate components. The organizational relationship between SCLC and CCCO is not clearly defined, and inevitably, there are tensions between the SCLC newcomers, brash with confidence from hard won victories in the South, and CCCO leaders and activists who have been fighting for years with little to show except a wealth of bitter experience.

Within the CFM, decision-making is divided between the "Agenda Committee," headed by King and Raby which consists of the leaders of the most important component organizations, and the "Action Committee," which is headed by Bevel and LaFayette and composed of grassroots organizers and militant, nonviolent warriors.

In theory, the Agenda Committee is responsible for the CFM's political direction, and the Action Committee for organizing, training, mobilizing, and protesting. But in real life the imperatives that dominate the thoughts of organizational leaders are frequently out of synch with street realities — and the lines of demarcation between political direction and action strategy are blurry at best.

Over three days of meetings in early January of 1966, SCLC and CCCO leaders hammer out their strategy. At the urging of Bevel, and after long and contentions debate, the CFM decides to shift focus from school segregation to a much broader, more general, "War on Slums."

In a 13-page strategy document, they outline a three-phase plan: Phase One (already underway) is organizing tenant unions and forming other community groups, educating supporters and opinion makers, recruiting and training nonviolent demonstrators. Phase Two, expected to begin in March, is to consist of creative nonviolent protests exposing the agents of discrimination and exploitation and educating the public about poverty and suffering in the ghettos. Phase Three, scheduled for May, is large-scale direct action and mass civil disobedience to achieve a "direct confrontation [between] the power of the existing social order and the newly acquired power of the combined forces of good-will and the under-privileged."

The SCLC planning that preceded Birmingham in 1963 and Selma in '65 focused on single points of attack — department store lunch counters and voter registration requirements. But the CFM strategy addresses multiple broad issues — jobs, housing, schools, police, government, and so on. And compared to the earlier efforts, the 1966 CFM plan is vague rather than specific, general rather than detailed.

The plan's generality and vagueness reflect a hard political reality; to achieve success they have to build a large mass movement which can only be done through a wide coalition of forces like the CCCO, but within CCCO there is no agreement over which pressing issue should have priority — school segregation, jobs and employment discrimination, segregated housing, and so on. The very broadness of the coalition, which includes both supporters and opponents of the Daley machine, makes it hard to reach consensus on fundamental strategy, specific political goals, individual demonstration targets, and protest tactics.

King tells reporters, "Our work will be aimed at Washington," for an expanded War on Poverty and open-housing legislation. But so long as "Law & Order" ideology and the Vietnam War dominate politics and budgets, the chances of prodding the nation to, "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed," are poor.

That leaves trying to force a local victory with local forces against an array of powerful economic interests all of which have supporters and allies within the Black community. Elements of the CCCO coalition itself are closely aligned with the Democratic Party which in turn is thoroughly entwined with the corporations, institutions, and associations that are deeply involved in ghetto segregation and exploitation.

Moreover, radical solutions for economic injustice favored by CORE, SNCC, and SCLC activists are anathema to some (though not necessarily all) of the ministers, some of the business-oriented NAACP & Urban League leaders, and some of the labor unions. All of which make it difficult for SCLC and CCCO to reach agreement on who to attack — and for what. The result is a vague and general plan rather than a sharp and specific one.

On a freezing cold day in late January, Dr. King and his family move into a tenement apartment in the Lawndale district of Chicago's West Side slum:

"... an island of poverty in the midst of an ocean of plenty ... The Civil Rights Movement had too often been middle-class oriented and had not moved to the grassroots levels of our communities ... I would live in the very heart of the ghetto. I would not only experience what my brothers and sisters experience, in living conditions, but I would be able to live with them ... The problems of poverty and despair were graphically illustrated. I remember a baby attacked by rats ... a young Negro murdered by a [white] gang in Cicero, where he was looking for a job. My neighbors paid more rent in the substandard slums of Lawndale than the whites paid for modern apartments in the suburbs. The situation was much the same for consumer goods, purchase prices of homes, and a variety of other services." — Martin Luther King. [15]

To eliminate slums, Bevel envisions mobilizing a huge "freedom army" to engage in disruptive nonviolent direct action, and a ghetto-wide network of block and building tenant unions waging rent-strikes against slum lords while demanding that the city enforce health and safety regulations.

Movement activists familiar with the urban North stress to SCLC that "freedom armies" and effective community organizations such as tenant unions can only be built by deep, long-term, community organizing. Dr. King agrees, "Here, we've got to do more in terms of organizing people into permanent units, rather than on a temporary basis just for demonstrations."

But door-to-door canvassing and long, laborious organization-building have never been SCLC's strengths and both King and SCLC are driven by the "fierce urgency of now." They know that unless they prove nonviolence can quickly win meaningful and substantive victories in the North, seething urban ghettos across the nation are going to explode like Watts — or worse.

Nor can CCCO supply the necessary community-organizing component. Few of the groups that make up CCCO have deep roots in the ghetto, and with the exception of the AFSC most are comprised of part-time volunteers with no full time, or even part time, field organizers — that's why they asked SCLC for help. SCLC's Chicago field staff is increased to 50, straining SCLC finances and sending the organization deep into debt. In the rural South, 50 organizers are a formidable force, but in Chicago's teeming ghettos they are far too few.

In the South, SCLC could quickly mobilize significant community support through the Black church. But ministers and churches in northern ghettos do not have the same high prestige and unique, unchallenged community influence they enjoy in places like Birmingham and Selma. And in the South of the 1960s, Afro-American preachers are largely excluded from the local political power- structure, but in Chicago many of the most influential Black clergy are deeply embedded in — and beholden to — the Daley machine.

 

Ghetto Youth Gangs

In the South, young protesters are the backbone of Freedom Movement campaigns. In the communities where they live, significant and influential segments of the Afro-American population support nonviolent strategies; both for religious reasons and because they understand that Black violence against white interests would result in ferocious and devastating repression. So SCLC can mobilize young people through the church, from Black college campuses, and by recruiting high school student-body officers, prom queens, athletes, cheerleaders, and other natural youth leaders. In the South, marching for freedom has become a respected badge of honor and those who defy Jim Crow by going to jail are by now respected by their peers and praised as heroes by many adults and community leaders.

In the North, not so much. Religion has less influence, the practical political rationale for nonviolence is not so clear, community solidarity is weaker, frustration is greater, and rage less focused. While CORE activists in the North who picket and go to jail are honored by some in the ghetto, they are also derided by others as "chumps," "suckers," "fools," and un-manly, nonviolent wimps. And in Chicago, as elsewhere in the North, it is the swaggering, macho gangs who have glamour and prestige among restless angry teenagers who in places like St. Augustine FL, and Grenada MS, might have turned to the Freedom Movement for pride, rebellion and identity.

[In 1966, GIs returning from Vietnam have not yet vastly increased the number of heroin addicts. And the "War on Drugs" that Nixon declares in 1972 — a war that continues to this day — has not yet transformed back-alley dealers into wealthy criminal kingpins. In the Chicago of '66, Black youth gangs are still primarily social and mutual-protection organizations. They are involved in petty (and occasionally serious) crime, turf wars with rival gangs that sometimes result in injuries or even fatalities, and recreational consumption of alcohol and marijuana. By the standards of the time they are considered quite violent. But they are nowhere near the scale of ruthless, money-fueled, systematic murder and casual mayhem that becomes commonplace after Nixon's "War on Drugs" does for narcotics traffickers what Prohibition did for bootleggers in the 1920s.]

Most of Chicago's Black gang members are antagonistic to authority — any authority, regardless of race. They disdain religion and clergy, are hostile to whites in general, and are openly contemptuous of nonviolence. Rival gangs hate each other and have little interest in mutual cooperation. Nevertheless, SCLC leaders and organizers like Bevel, Andy Young, Big James Orange, and Jimmy Collier begin working with the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, Cobras, and Roman Saints, urging them to stop fighting each other, support the CFM, and participate in nonviolent direct action.

At first they make scant progress. But they persist. Orange is beaten by gang members, not once but several times. He maintains nonviolence and he doesn't quit. Gradually he begins winning respect. Eventually, Bevel reports great success, and Dr. King addresses a "gang convention" at the Palmer House hotel. "From that period on," Orange later recalled, "we worked with these guys." Later on, some of the gang members guard Dr. King from racist attack, while others act as marshals on the mass marches into white neighborhoods that begin at the end of July.

We saw some of the most violent individuals accepting nonviolent discipline. I remember walking with the Blackstone Rangers while bottles were flying from the sidelines, and I saw their noses being broken and blood flowing from the wounds, and I saw them continue and not retaliate, not one of them, with violence. — Martin Luther King. [17]

But while some gang members do commit to tactical nonviolence as a requirement for participating in SCLC-led protests, the large number that Bevel hopes to recruit for his "freedom army" does not materialize. Most remain unwilling to forego their enmity with rival gangs, participate with whites in interracial actions, or accept nonviolent discipline — even temporarily.

 

Steps & Missteps

Meanwhile, despite a myriad of problems, SCLC field staff dig in and do what they can. Some new local neighborhood groups like the East Garfield Park Union to End Slums and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) begin to take form, and some existing groups see an increase in membership and participation.

Working with Rev. Clay Evans of the Chicago Baptist Ministers Conference and Al Pitcher a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, SCLC staff member and divinity student Jesse Jackson begins organizing a chapter of SCLC's Operation Breadbasket. This is a program that uses church-led consumer boycotts to combat job discrimination and open up employment opportunities for nonwhites — an effort that finds favor among Afro-American clergymen who are reluctant to participate in militant protests or directly confront the Daley machine around a hot-button issue like segregated housing.

King addresses a meeting of more than 200 Black ministers who form committees to investigate, and if necessary target, racist hiring practices in the food industry, particularly soda-pop, milk, bread, and soup companies all of which sell well in the ghetto. By late spring they are having some success — 75 Afro-Americans hired by two milk companies and 44 at a third, for one example. But the Daley machine strikes back. Evans is erecting a new church. Suddenly, without explanation, his city building permits are withdrawn — halting construction for seven years.

Late in February, five desperate residents of a tenement on South Homan in the West Side ghetto ask Dr. King for help. They have no heat or electricity. Trash and garbage are not being collected. The landlord is doing nothing, and neither are city officials. There are 20 children living in the four occupied flats (the other two are empty). On a frigid winter day, Dr. King leads some 200 marchers to their dilapidated apartment house. King declares they are "seizing" the building and placing it in "supralegal trusteeship" so they can repair it. The Movement will collect the roughly $400/month rent on behalf of the tenants and use the money to make the place habitable. "The moral question is far more important than the legal one," he tells reporters who challenge him on the legality of bypassing the building owner.

Three of the unemployed tenants are to be hired for janitorial and general labor. They will be paid $2/hour (equal to $14.50 in 2014), which Dr. King considers a "fair minimum wage" (the actual federal minimum wage in 1966 is $1.25/hour, equal to $9.13 in 2014). Dressed in work clothes, King, his wife Coretta, Al Raby, and other activists begin cleaning out the furnace and shoveling up mounds of uncollected, frozen trash and garbage while efforts are made to get the electricity and heating back in service.

Media, politicians, and pillars of the community roundly condemn the seizure as "anarchy," "theft," and "revolutionary." Andy Young counters that after seeing a shivering infant wrapped only in newspapers they could not wait months for lawsuits to meander through the courts. "We wanted to do it illegally. We want to be put in jail for furnishing heat and health requirements to people with children in the winter."

But the SCLC staff has failed to do its homework and the seizure blows up into an embarrassment. The principles of nonviolent resistance require assessing and investigating the facts and then attempting to negotiate before moving into direct action. Seizing a building to make repairs is a bold, dramatic tactic that at other times and places housing activists have occasionally used successfully. But in this case the owner is not a greedy real estate corporation, but rather an ailing 81 year old invalid almost as poor as his tenants. "I think King is right," he tells reporters, and he offers to give the building to anyone willing to assume the mortgage and make the necessary repairs.

In Birmingham, defenders of the racist status quo struck back at challenges to their authority with police dogs and fire hoses, in Selma they used billy clubs and tear gas. In Chicago, Mayor Daley and his machine are more sophisticated, they use promises and bureaucracy rather than police violence. Instead of arresting King for seizing the tenement, Daley loudly announces a "crash program" to inspect 15,000 West Side buildings for health and safety problems. The ailing Homan St. owner is charged with 23 code violations.

Behind the scenes, the county welfare department withholds the tenants' rent subsidies so there's no money going into Movement hands. After three months, a court orders that control of the property be returned to the owner. SCLC ends up spending $2000 (equal to $14,500 in 2014) to repair the building, but only collects $200 in rent.

 

Freedom Festival

The Chicago campaign is draining SCLC's financial resources. As Dr. King steps up his fundraising efforts in America and Europe. Harry Belafonte recruits Mahalia Jackson, Dick Gregory, Sidney Poitier, and George Kirby to star in a "Freedom Festival" on Saturday evening, March 12, at Chicago's International Amphitheater on the South Side (site of the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention two years later). A sellout crowd of more than 12,000 attend the festival and thousands more are turned away for lack of space. After expenses, more than $80,000 is raised for the CFM (equal to $580,000 in 2014).

The festival is also an organizing tool. SCLC staff and CCCO activists work the ghetto, selling tickets and using the opportunity to meet, educate and learn from people in the community. Gathering 12,000 enthusiastic supporters in one place imparts a sense of strength and hope inspired by Dr. King's address, in which he says:

The purpose of the slum is to confine those who have no power and perpetuate their powerlessness. In the slum, the Negro is forced to pay more for less, and the general economy of the slum is constantly drained without being replenished. In short, the slum is an invisible wall which restricts the mobility of persons because of the color of their skin. The slum is little more than a domestic colony which leaves its inhabitants dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated at every turn. ...

It is clear to me that we must organize this total community into unities of political and social power. ... As long as injustice is around, demonstrations will be necessary. So when it is appropriate, we will encourage sit-ins, stand-ins, rent-strikes, boycotts, picket lines, marches, civil disobedience, and any form of protest that are nonviolently conceived and executed. — Martin Luther King. [14]

The day after the Freedom Festival, Mayor Daley again undercuts the CFM. Without mentioning King or the movement, he boasts that his inspection teams have visited more than 96,000 poor families, and he claims that his administration has exterminated more than 1,600,000 rats and rodents in the ghetto. He goes on to promise eradication of all slum conditions in Chicago by the end of the following year, 1967.

Meanwhile, his allies in the Afro-American community continue working against the Freedom Movement. Rev. J.H. Jackson asserts that civil disobedience as practiced by King and SCLC is, "not far removed from open crime," and that Daley and school chief Willis are true-hearted friends of Chicago Blacks. Dr. King responds by observing that, "I don't think Dr. Jackson speaks for [even] 1% of the Negroes in this country."

While ghetto organizing continues, King travels to Europe with Harry Belafonte for desperately needed fundraising-events. But back in Chicago, there is growing friction between CCCO leaders who complain about arrogance and disrespect from SCLC staff. SCLC organizers and CCCO activists are frustrated by the coalition's inability to set specific targets and goals. The discussions and debates continue — jobs, schools, housing, politics.

"Ending slums" is a slogan, not a program, complains one CCCO delegate. SCLC's Andy Young agrees, "We haven't gotten things under control. The strategy hasn't emerged yet, but now we know what we're dealing with and eventually we'll come up with the answers."

In an article written for The Nation, Dr. King puts the tactical/strategic problem in a broader context:

Slums with hundreds of thousands of living units are not eradicated as easily as lunch counters or buses are integrated. Jobs are harder to create than voting rolls. Harmonizing of peoples of vastly different cultural levels is complicated and frequently abrasive. ...

It is easy to conceive of a plan to raise the minimum wage and thus in a single stroke extract millions of people from poverty. But between the conception and the realization there lies a formidable wall. Someone has been profiting from the low wages of Negroes. Depressed living standards for Negroes are a structural part of the economy. Certain industries are based upon the supply of low-wage, underskilled and immobile nonwhite labor. Hand assembly factories, hospitals, service industries, housework, agriculture operations using itinerant labor, would all suffer shock, if not disaster, if the minimum wage were significantly raised.

A hardening of opposition to the satisfaction of Negro needs must be anticipated as the movement presses against financial privilege. — [18]

 

A Focus on Housing

As freezing winter winds finally give way to the welcome warmth of spring, Bevel continues to argue for an extended community organizing campaign leading up to a massive rent strike against the slum-lords. But SCLC doesn't have the resources for that kind of protracted effort, and the urgency of winning some nonviolent victories in the North is becoming more pressing each day as a "long hot summer" of urban unrest looms ever closer.

In the greater Chicago-area, almost all homes and apartment buildings occupied by whites are covered by restrictive covenants written into the property deeds. These covenants prohibit nonwhites (and in some cases Jews) from buying or renting. For example:

"Said Property shall not be sold, conveyed, granted or leased, in whole or in part, to any Hebrew person or family, or any person or family not of the white race, nor shall any Hebrew person, or other person not of the white race, be permitted to occupy any portion of said property or any building thereon, except a domestic servant actually employed by the owner of said property."

Courts have ruled restrictive covenants illegal and unenforceable, but owners and brokers do as they wish. From time to time, a few Blacks manage to evade real estate industry discrimination and defy the covenants to actually move into a white neighborhood. They are met with harassment and mob violence.

Back in 1963, a local Chicago ordinance was passed outlawing racial discrimination in real estate. But it was never enforced, owners, brokers, landlords, rental agencies, and mortgage lenders simply ignored it. In '65, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) tried to promote "open occupancy" through moral suasion — without success.

Bernard Lafayette and Bill Moyer of the AFSC urge the coalition to focus less on forcing slum-lords to improve and maintain their properties and more on housing segregation as the key demand (see End Slums and Discrimination). With a local anti-discrimination law already on the books and restrictive covenants unenforceble, achieving an open housing market in the city is a matter of public opinion and political will rather than forcing through new legislation or litigating in court. Perhaps through nonviolent direct action they can generate enough social pressure to make the city actually enforce its own law.

Other Movement activists disagree. For slum dwellers open housing is not the most urgent issue. What people really want is decent housing at fair prices. And few ghetto residents are interested in moving to an all-white neighborhood even if they didn't face harassment and mob violence. But Moyer argues that so long as Blacks have no alternatives because segregation walls them into the ghetto, there is no economic incentive for slum-lords to maintain their properties or charge market-rate prices because they have a captive customer base with no other choices.

And in Bevel's view, addressing the psychology of ghetto oppression is as important as the economic and political aspects. Challenging and defying hate- filled white racists over residential segregation provides a way for those at the bottom of society to, "stand up and be a man, to declare that he was a human being and would henceforth expect to be treated as one."

By May of 1966, SCLC and the Friends are talking about vigils, picket lines and sit-ins at real estate offices — and marches through adamantly resistant all-white neighborhoods. Some in the CCCO coalition fear that such tactics will provoke a ferocious "white-backlash" — and mob violence. Others are impatient to confront residential racism head on. "We'll march in the suburbs until Caesar lets our people go wherever there are houses and apartments available," declares Jesse Jackson.

 

Marching on City Hall

In late May, King kicks off the action phase of the War on Slums by calling for a mass rally at Soldier Field followed by a march to City Hall. Originally scheduled for June 26, the rally is pushed back to Sunday, July 10, in part because organizing such a large event goes slower than expected and in part because the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear intervenes, drawing away SCLC staff and resources — not the least of which is Dr. King's time and attention.

Though they try to present a united face to the media, the SCLC-CCCO coalition is still struggling over what specific demands to make and who, exactly, to confront. Some coalition members want to target and challenge the Daley machine, others want to do nothing of the sort. There is general consensus that the movement has to narrow its focus and concentrate on one key issue, but member organizations and individuals have different agendas and programs and few are willing to leave their primary interests by the wayside.

Shortly before the Soldier Field rally, CFM finally agrees on a Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement which they issue to the press. It's a 12-page document that broadly analyzes the problems faced by Blacks in the urban ghetto, calls for a wide range of systematic reforms and development programs, and lists an extensive (and diffuse) set of "Immediate Action Demands" that cover a variety of issues including housing segregation, slums, jobs, the need for low-income housing, raising the minimum wage, welfare, and police. The broad diversity of these "immediate demands" is clear evidence that in the end it's impossible for such a broad coalition to unite around a small set of narrowly-focused short-term objectives.

The Program does, however, include the statement:

For our primary target we have chosen housing. As of July 10 we shall cease to be accomplices to a housing system of discrimination, segregation, and degradation. We shall begin to act as if Chicago were an open city. We shall act on the basis that every [family] is entitled to full access of buying or renting housing that is sound, attractive, and reasonably priced. [19]

On the day before the Soldier Field rally, Daley boasts to the press that his administration has "moved to repair" 102,847 apartments in 9,226 dilapidated tenements and that housing fines have doubled over those levied the previous year.

Movement activists try to point out that "moved to repair" is not the same as actually made habitable, and that the level of housing code enforcement was so abysmally low that doubling the fines was little more than changing one drop in an empty bucket to two drops in the same empty bucket. But local media is well trained to accept at face value whatever pronouncements emanate from City Hall, so the Mayor's claims convince many people that the slum problem is being effectively addressed — and that therefore there is no need for disruptive protests.

Sunday, July 10, dawns oppressively hot and muggy, with temperatures in the high 90s. Soldier Field is the only available large venue, but it has no shade and the crowd swelters through songs and speeches. Organizers had hoped for 100,000 participants but the turnout falls clearly short of that goal. As is typical of large protests in the 1960s, number estimates by the police, media, and activists vary widely — the cops say 23,000, media estimates 30-35,000, and SCLC claims 60,000.

After the rally, King leads marchers out of Soldier Field for an almost three-mile trek to City Hall. Long hikes are not a normal part of urban life, and for many the distance and oppressive heat is too much and they fall out of line well short of the goal. But 5,000 or so manage to make the distance and reach Daley's seat of power. It's Sunday, and the building is closed. In a gesture of contempt that speaks louder than words, neither the Mayor nor any of his functionaries or bureaucrats deign to meet the thousands of constituents who have come to petition for redress of grievances. In an act reminiscent of his namesake Martin Luther, Dr. King tapes Demands of the Chicago Freedom Movement to the locked doors.

By previous arrangement, on the following day CFM leaders meet with Mayor Daley and his top aides. The meeting does not go well. King calls for real action and change, not just empty promises. Daley argues that all cities have slums and he lauds his own "massive" anti-slum efforts which he asks King to join. King restates the necessity of ending housing segregation by making Chicago an "open city," a point the Mayor does not respond to. Al Raby of CCCO goes through the demands, detailing them point by point until he gets to, "Creation of a citizens review board for grievances against police brutality and false arrests or stops and seizures," which evokes angry resistance from officials and umbrage on the part of Daley at the lack of trust in local government shown by Afro-American leaders.

The Mayor refuses to specifically address any of the Movement's itemized demands. King asks him to endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1966 then being debated in Congress — a bill supported by Democratic Party leader President Lyndon Johnson which includes open-housing provisions — Daley evades the question and refuses to do so.

The meeting ends in acrimony and Raby tells Daley, "I want you to know we're going to begin direct action immediately!" Each side speaks separately to the press. The New York Times reports: "Mr. Daley was scarlet faced, as his words tumbled over each other in indignation as he declared that Chicago already had 'massive' antislum and civil rights programs." And in the same article: "Dr. King said, 'We're demanding these things, not requesting them,' in the face of 'seething desperation' among Chicago Negroes that was inviting social disaster."

"We cannot wait," Dr. King tells the press. "Young people are not going to wait."

 

Sprinkler Revolt

The sweltering heat wave continues into Tuesday, July 12, with the afternoon high hitting close to 100° in the inner-city canyons where heat radiates up from the pavement and out from stone-faced tenements. Nearby Lake Michigan provides an inexhaustible supply of water, so by long summer tradition residents in poor neighborhoods open fire hydrants, deflecting the flow with boards and trash-can lids so that children can cool off in the spray.

For some reason, on this day the cops shut off two hydrants near Roosevelt Ave. & Throop St. in the Near West Side ghetto area. It's not clear why. Some claim it's punishment for some Black children who grabbed treats from an ice cream truck and ran off with them, others say a city official ordered the shut-off to maintain water pressure.

A crowd gathers, protesting that Afro-Americans are barred from three of the four closest swimming pools and that white children in an Italian neighborhood a few blocks north are still being allowed to play in water from hydrants. Someone uses a wrench to reopen the hydrants. The cops shut them off again. There is shouting and arguing. Tempers flare. A bottle is thrown, then more rocks and bottles. Police commanders back at HQ put the "emergency plan" into effect. Additional cops are rushed to the scene, soon more than 100 are trying to quell a small-scale revolt. Fighting breaks out. Clubs are used. Shots are fired. Arrests are made. Store windows are broken. A patrol car is set on fire.

As evening falls, the disturbance spreads out into the darkness. Dr. King, his wife Coretta, and singer Mahalia Jackson witness some of the turmoil on their way to a mass meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church. Tempers at the church are running high. Young men, some in gangs, others not, threaten to "tear up the city."

King, Raby, Andy Young, and Bernard Lee go to the police station and manage to win the release of six teenagers who they bring back to the church. The mass meeting is tumultous. Outside are sounds of shouting, sirens, and distant gun shots. The six battered teenagers tell of being beaten by the cops in the station. Other youth decry the lack of playgrounds and swimming pools. Older residents berate the young for vandalism and violence. Dr. King tries to unite the crowd around his program of nonviolent struggle but he is heckled down. Hundreds of young militants stream out of the church to join the swelling rebellion.

King, Raby, SCLC and AFSC staff, CCCO volunteers, and Bill Clark and Chester Robinson of the West Side Organization, go out into the dark and dangerous streets, trying to reduce the violence and channel people's anger into constructive political action. By Wednesday morning, calm is restored.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, city workers begin refitting ghetto fire hydrants with tamper-proof locks to prevent anyone from opening a hydrant so kids can cool off in the spray. Fury explodes across the West Side. At one corner, 1,000 people battle 150 cops with rocks, bottles, and molotov cocktails. The police respond with clubs, tear gas, and pistol shots. Stores are looted and some are burned. At a couple of locations snipers shoot at firemen. Cops fire a fusillade of bullets at the windows of a housing project.

While Daley is busy locking up ghetto fire hydrants, Illinois Governor Kerner issues an executive order denying state licenses to real estate brokers found guilty of discrimination. The Illinois Association of Real Estate Boards rushes to a friendly judge who immediately imposes an injunction blocking the Governor's order. In a rare outburst of honesty, an association spokesman explains, "All we are asking is that the brokers and salesmen have the same right to discriminate as the owners who engage their service."

In Chicago, the local real estate board continues its opposition to the 1963 open housing ordinance, and on the national level the real estate and banking industries are furiously lobbying against the Fair Housing provisions of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1966. One wry civil rights activist later observed, "In Mississippi, SNCC was chanting 'Black Power,' and in America brokers, banks, and cops in the street were exercising actual white power."

By Thursday the 14th, more than 600 city blocks are affected by smashed windows, looting, arson, and sporadic gunfire between police and concealed assailants. Some of the cops are now armed with machine guns, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition are stockpiled at police stations for use on the West Side.

On Friday, Governor Kerner orders 4,000 National Guard soldiers called up for duty in Chicago. Daley publicly blames SCLC, "People that came in here have been talking for the last year of violence, and showing pictures and instructing people in how to conduct violence." His ally Rev. J.H. Jackson piles on with, "Some other forces are using these young people."

King, Raby, and other CFM leaders go to City Hall on Friday afternoon and demand to speak with Mayor Daley. They are joined by the politically influential Catholic Archbishop John Cody. Confronted head-on, Daley is conciliatory. "We know you did nothing to cause the disorders and that you are a man of peace," he tells King. He agrees to remove the hydrant locks, replace them with spray nozzles, and deliver 10 portable swimming pools to ghetto neighborhoods. But in regard to the main CFM demands, he concedes nothing.

Later that night, as heavily-armed National Guardsmen begin patrolling West Side streets, gang leaders meet with King in his sweltering tenement apartment. While John Doar and Roger Wilkins of the Justice Department observe in silence, King and his SCLC aides talk through the night with Cobras, Vice Lords, and Roman Saints who are sprawled on chairs and the floor. Hour after hour the young firebrands talk about jobs, race, education, and the cops. King, Abernathy and Young engage them one by one, arguing the merits of nonviolence and constructive political program rather than destructive rage.

I remember when the riot broke out that summer, some of the gang leaders and fellows were out there encouraging the riot. I'd been trying to talk to them, and I couldn't get to them. Then they sent the National Guard in, and that night I said, "Well, why aren't you all out there tonight? Now what you've got to do is join with us and let us get a movement that the National Guard can't stop. This is what we've got to do. I'm going on with nonviolence because I've tried it so long. I've come to see how far it has brought us. And I'm not going to turn my back on it now." — Martin Luther King. [15]

Deep in the night, there is a breakthrough. "Peanut" Tidwell of the Roman Saints rejects philosophical, "love your enemy" nonviolence, but he's willing to give tactical nonviolence a try. By 4:00am the other gang leaders have agreed to instruct their members to stand down and avoid further violence — for now.

With the gangs holding to their self-imposed truce and 800 cops plus 1500 soldiers patrolling the littered West Side streets, there is only limited, small-scale violence on Saturday morning. By afternoon all is quite. The revolt's four-day toll is two dead — a pregnant Afro-American girl shot while walking with friends, and a Black man shot in the back, both presumably killed by police — some 80 or so seriously injured including 6 cops wounded by bullets, $2,000,000 damage (equal to $14,600,000 in 2014), and some 500 arrested.

 

Freedom Now! White Power!

Though King is heartened by the success of the late-night "gang summit," he regrets the delays in launching large-scale nonviolent direct action in Chicago. Had the Movement provided constructive, nonviolent ways to fight for justice and a better life it might have prevented the spontaneous eruption of destructive violence that left the community devastated and hundreds facing prison time in its wake. He knows, too, that time is running short.

"Somewhere there has to be a synthesis. I have to be militant enough to satisfy the militants yet I have to keep enough discipline in the movement to satisfy white supporters and moderate Negroes." — Martin Luther King. [16]

Testing and evidence-gathering about the practices of white real estate brokers and rental agents is stepped up, as is training for nonviolent protesters. Two weeks later, on July 27, the CFM issues an "Open City Action Report" calling for protests in 10 all-white communities, including daily picket lines and vigils at real estate offices known to discriminate against nonwhites — and also large-scale mass marches.

Dr. King addresses a big mass meeting in New Friendship Baptist Church on the South Side to announce an all-night vigil at the Halvorsen Realty offices in the Gage Park neighborhood. Gage Park is fiercely "whites-only." According to the 1960 census, only 7 of its 100,000 residents are nonwhite — and no one has seen them for some time. Predominantly Irish, Polish and Lithuanian, the Gage Park district contains a mixture of apartment buildings and single and duplex family homes. King cites his own experience, comparing the slum dwelling he and his family rent in the ghetto with Gage Park:

We were paying $94/month for four run-down, shabby rooms, ... and we discovered that whites [in Gage Park] with five sanitary, nice, new rooms, apartments with five rooms, were paying only $78/month. We were paying 20% tax. — Martin Luther King. [15]

Rent of $94/month in 1966 is equal to about $686 in 2014, while $78/month is equal to around $570. It's not poverty that's keeping Blacks locked in the ghetto, it's deliberate racial segregation, for which, in essence, they pay a "Color Tax." To make that point plain, the CFM targets white working-class neighborhoods where rents and home-ownership costs are lower than those in the slums. And so far as Halvorsen is concerned, testing teams have confirmed that they refuse to show property to nonwhites or integrated couples, or serve Afro-American clients in any way.

On Friday evening, July 29, some 50 or so protesters, all well-trained in nonviolent tactics, assemble at the corner of Kedzie and 63rd where Halvorsen is located. Soon they are surrounded by 200 or so hostile whites who are working themselves up to violence. Police are present, but as the white mob grows larger and begins hurling objects at the demonstrators, the police commander tells protest leader James Bevel that he has too few cops to prevent bloody mayhem. Around 9:00pm, Bevel accepts the commander's offer to evacuate them back to New Friendship.

CFM leaders and activists passionately argue over whether or not they should have retreated in the face of violence. The principled position is to nonviolently stand your ground — and if necessary suffer the consequences. The practical problem is whether or not the War on Slums would be able to continue if Black pickets or white supporters were maimed or killed by racists. And there's another danger. Few ghetto residents are willing to participate in nonviolent protest, but that doesn't mean they're indifferent to white-racist violence. Many are from the South, with raw memories of lynchings and savage brutality. If a demonstrator is murdered or seriously wounded, Black leaders fear the West and South Side ghettos might erupt in massive violence on a scale dwarfing the sprinkler revolt of two weeks earlier.

There is no consensus about Bevel's decision to retreat, but there is general agreement that violence cannot be allowed to deter them. They must return on the morrow.

The next morning, Bevel, Raby, and Jackson lead several hundred marchers out of New Friendship on their way back to the Halvorsen office in Gage Park. Their route takes them west on 71st Street across the ghetto border at Ashland Avenue, through the all-white Chicago Lawn district, then on to Kedzie Avenue where they turn right through Marquette Park.

The vigil the night before had been at the end of a work day and racist whites had had little time to mobilize against the protesters by word-of-mouth. Now it is Saturday, and as the marchers emerge from Marquette Park at 67th & Kedzie they are met by a mob chanting, "Niggers go home!"

Police line the street, but the racists are well-supplied with eggs, rocks and bottles that they hurl at the protesters who march up Kedzi to 63rd Street where they hold a brief rally under constant aerial attack. Then they return to Friendship Baptist. Law enforcement does little to protect the Black and white demonstrators. They do arrest half a dozen of the attackers — for directing their rage or missiles at cops rather than the nonviolent freedom marchers.

The Halvorsen office is closed on Sundays, so the plan is to hold a prayer vigil at a Methodist church in the Gage Park district. Rather than marching all the way from Friendship Baptist, the demonstrators — 500 strong, half white, half Black — travel by car caravan through Chicago Lawn to Marquette Park where they form up their march column. The police have 200 officers at the scene and they assure Movement drivers that their cars will be safe if left in the park, so the drivers join the march rather than return their vehicles to the safety of the ghetto. (At this point, Movement leaders are still more concerned with the danger of ghetto youth exploding into riot than large-scale white violence directed at nonviolent protesters — but that's about to change.)

As the column of protesters march up Kedzie Street they are attacked by a huge throng numbering in the thousands, now including many white-supremacists coming in from all over the greater Chicago area. Chanting, "White power!" and screaming, "Burn them like the Jews!" they hurl rocks, bottles, bricks, and cherry bombs at the marchers. Black gang members acting as march marshals hold steadfast to their nonviolent commitment, doing what they can to protect the other protesters by trying to knock away the thrown missiles.

Gage Park is a "white ethnic" neighborhood and heavily Catholic. Chicago clergy, particularly Roman Catholics, are strong and visible civil rights supporters. To the mob, white priests, nuns, rabbis, and ministers — all identified by their religious garb — are "race traitors." With unflinching courage, it is marchers from the community of faith who bear the brunt of racist fury.

Sister Mary Angelica is a teacher at Sacred Heart grade school. She's struck down, bleeding and unconscious. The white mob cheers. Growing larger and more vicious, they now outnumber the marchers five or six to one. Jesse Jackson and many others are hit, blood flowing down their faces. Some are taken to hospital by cops. Others grimly march on, tenaciously holding their place in column because anyone who falls out of line will be surrounded and savagely beaten.

The march turns off Kedzie into a tree-lined residential street and the attackers dart through alleys and gaps between the houses to assault them from the flank. To block the column, they push empty cars onto the sidewalk and across the street. Barred from going forward, the marchers fall back under constant assault to Marquette Park where the cops have failed to protect their vehicles. Tires have been slashed and windows smashed. Some cars are overturned, two are pushed into a pond, and more than a dozen are on fire. Without vehicles, the protesters must retreat on foot back to Friendship Baptist in the ghetto. More than 40 marchers (and two cops) are treated for injuries at Holy Cross hospital, others are cared for at a makeshift aid station at the church.

As we started marching, angry whites started spitting on me and the other marchers. Not being mentally prepared to accept this kind of degrading abuse, I told someone in the mob, "I wouldn't do that if I were you," as if I were ready to take on the whole mob. (I think I may have been a little naive at the time.) Then an older African-American man in front of me turned around and said, "Remember why you're here, brother," and from that point on, I remained silent and walked in solemn procession while rocks, bottles and cherry bombs were being thrown at us over the heads of the police who were "escorting" the marchers through the park.

With the escort of reluctant police officers, it turned out to be the most brutal march I had ever been involved in. In fact, when we returned to our cars, we saw several pushed into the lagoon and others that were set on fire, turned over or damaged in some way. ... So, the marchers headed east on 71st Street where at least for while, police protection broke down completely. ... without the police presence, the mob threw the rocks much harder and windows broke above and around us.

Even though the rocks hit my legs and the marchers around me, we had to just keep walking. Even if the police escort had been there, little would have been done to protect the marchers. However, the police did take swift action when one of the mob hit a police officer. Then the police clubbed him down to the ground. It wasn't until we approached Ashland Avenue that the mob retreated because Ashland, at that time, was the "dividing line" between Black and White. — Bernard Kleina. [20]

SCLC leaders and organizers, veterans of Birmingham, St. Augustine, and Selma, are shocked — stunned — by the ferocity of racist hate and rage — and the huge size of the mob — worse and larger than anything they'd seen in the South.

Bottles and bricks were thrown at us; we were often beaten. Some of the people who had been brutalized in Selma and who were present at the Capitol ceremonies in Montgomery led marchers in the suburbs of Chicago amid a rain of rocks and bottles, among burning automobiles, to the thunder of jeering thousands, many of them waving Nazi flags. Swastikas bloomed in Chicago parks like misbegotten weeds. Our marchers were met by a hailstorm of bricks, bottles, and firecrackers. "White power" became the racist catcall, punctuated by the vilest of obscenities — most frequently directly at Catholic priests and nuns among the marchers. I've been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I had never seen, even in Mississippi, mobs as hostile and as hate-fi1led as in Chicago. — Martin Luther King. [15]

In glaring contrast to the arrests and beatings inflicted on Afro-Americans for the crime of opening fire hydrants for children to play in, few of the violent whites guilty of assault, battery, and arson are arrested at all, and fewer still are charged with serious offenses. An AFSC leader notes the friendly relations between whites in the mob and white cops. A federal official with the Community Relations Service concludes that the marchers were given, "very little protection." Al Raby states,

"It is clear that the police were either unwilling or unable to disperse the riotous mob that so brutally attacked Negroes and whites who had come to the community to seek open housing in compliance with the law. The failure ... is especially appalling [since] huge masses of police and National Guardsmen were mobilized to put down the violence of a few hundred Negroes on the West Side." — New York Times, August 2, 1966.

But the nationwide publicity generated by the violent attacks, and the civic disruption caused by the marches, vigils, and picketing, pose serious political problems for Mayor Daley. Working class whites opposed to open housing are a vital part of his machine — but so are Afro-American voters. If the police crack down on violent whites to protect Black demonstrators he risks losing white votes; if his cops fail to protect nonviolent protesters from racists he'll lose Afro-Americans. And on the national stage, his prestige, power and influence in Democratic Party politics may be threatened by continued, unchecked racist violence. Daley meets with leaders of the angry white communities, "Ignore the marchers and they'll go away," he tells them. "[But] law and order is necessary," he also warns.

On Monday, the neighborhood vigils and picketing continue while CFM leaders plan new marches. Though shocked at the scale and fury of white rage and violence, they are heartened to see that the number of protesters — both Black and white — is growing rather than dwindling out of fear. During the week, demonstrators are mostly youth and the unemployed, but on weekends they are being joined by an increasing number of people with jobs.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, August 2nd and 3rd, several hundred march against the Parker-Finney real estate agency in the Belmont-Cragin district of the Northwest Side. Some 150 cops manage to hold back a thousand hostile, jeering, whites who sing an impromptu ditty that becomes popular among White Power advocates:

"Oh I wish I were an Alabama trooper.
Oh, how happy I would be.
If I were an Alabama trooper,
I could kill niggers legally.
"

When racists in the crowd hurl objects at the marchers, the cops take a more active stance than they had in Gage Park, though, again, only a few of the violent whites are actually arrested. The stark contrast in police reaction to white violence as opposed to Black civil unrest is glaringly self-evident to anyone willing to look. But by and large, the mass media chooses not to notice it.

On Thursday evening, the 4th of August, there is another big mass meeting at New Friendship church on the South Side. Late on Friday afternoon, a large car caravan ferries 700 or so demonstrators to Marquette Park where close to 1,000 cops wait to guard them on another march to Kedzie and 63rd where courageous bands of protesters are already picketing several real estate firms.

A huge mob of 4,000-5,000 whites wait to confront the marchers with eggs, stones, cherry bombs, and bricks. At first, it's mostly teenagers and dedicated white-supremacists, but as the evening advances, adults coming off work join them. The furious throng gathers at the edge of the park, waving Confederate battle flags and holding hand-lettered signs with slogans like, "The Only Way to End Niggers is Exterminate." They chant, "We want Martin Luther Coon" and, as usual, "Kill the niggers!"

Dr. King steps out of his car and a thrown rock hits him in the head, dropping him to his knees. Aides help him to his feet and ask if he's okay. "I think so," he replies. The tight-packed marchers press up Kedzie behind a wedge of club-swinging police clearing a path through the mob. Stalwarts from the Black gangs try to nonviolently protect the protesters from rocks and bricks. Cherry-bomb explosions sound like gunfire. People flinch, but they keep marching.

Again, white demonstrators and clergy in vestments are particular targets of hate. Rabbi Marx is struck by a thrown brick but marches on. One furious white woman shrieks at Afro-American cleric George Clements, "You dirty nigger priest!" Blood flows down the faces of those trying to protect King as the column finally reaches 63rd where the picket groups have been surrounded by racists chanting, "White Power!"

The march column absorbs the pickets, and after a brief rally returns to Marquette Park with the cops holding off the pursuing mob. This time, no one left cars behind. Instead, a fleet of transit busses and city vehicles wait to evacuate them back to Friendship church. Whites attack the busses, smashing windows, pouring sugar into gas tanks, and setting vehicles on fire. Father Clements is dragged from a city car and beaten. Once the protesters are gone, the mob turns its fury on the cops. Screams one middle-aged white man in a business suit, "You nigger-loving sons of bitches. I'll never vote for Mayor Daley again!" The police defend themselves with clubs and shots fired in the air.

Dr. King tells the press, "I had expected some hostility, but not of this enormity. I have never in my life seen such hate. Not in Mississippi or Alabama. This is a terrible thing."

But more disheartening than the racist violence is the reaction by news media, political leaders, and the general public. "Bloody Sunday" in Selma a year earlier had sparked a national outcry against both violent police repression of peaceful protest and the South's systematic denial of Black voting rights. Similarly, back in '63, dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham had helped form a national consensus that Jim Crow segregation had to go. But while there is wide-spread revulsion at the crude, hysteric, vicious, racism exposed by the open housing marches, there is little evidence of any surge in support for addressing northern economic injustices, or enacting open-housing legislation. Most press pundits and editorials condemn both the violent white- supremacists and the protests. A few, like the right-wing Chicago Tribune, clearly side with the white-supremacists. It accuses the protesters of wanting whites to, "give up your homes and get out so that we can take over.."

 

Summit Meeting

Pressure on Daley continues to mount. Afro-Americans — elected officials, precinct captains, clergy, and ghetto voters — are demanding that the Mayor do something about white-racist violence, slums, and segregated housing. White working class voters and their ward bosses are furious at the police for using clubs and arrests to protect the civil rights marchers. Though Daley is not up for reelection in 1966, Democratic Senator Paul Douglas is. Douglas supports the open-housing provisions in the draft Civil Rights Act of 1966, and polls show him steadily losing white support — an ill omen for the future. (In November, Douglas is defeated by Republican Charles Percy.)

The five Afro-American aldermen from the South Side ghetto wards meet with King, Raby, and other CFM leaders. They complain about being "excluded" from the movement, and they vow support for most of the CFM's demands — though not for halting the construction of high-rise public housing projects in the ghetto which are important sources of the patronage they dispense to loyal supporters.

But while Daley is feeling the heat, so too is the CFM. The massive white violence has thrown CCCO into disarray. Shocked, dismayed, and fearing worse to come, some coalition leaders urge caution and a shift to less provocative tactics. Others are enraged, demanding even more forceful challenges to white racism. Tensions and arguments flare. On the South Side, New Friendship Baptist Church decides not to continue as a march staging area. At this critical juncture, King, some of the SCLC staff, and the main CCCO leaders temporarily depart for Jackson MS to attend the SCLC convention.

On Sunday, August 7, Bevel and Jackson lead 1000 protesters back into the Belmont-Cragin district where a strong police presence manages to hold back furious whites.

In a communication to Dr. King, Daley offers to hire 300 Afro-Americans as housing project security guards and window repairmen. He also promises an additional $50 million for ghetto urban renewal projects (equal to about $365 million in 2014). He fails to grasp that Blacks view urban renewal as "Negro removal" — using public funds to evict Blacks and then rebuild slum areas for use by middle and upper-class whites. From the SCLC convention in Jackson, King quickly rejects the Mayor's offer.

By now, many city officials want the marches and resulting mob violence halted as quickly as possible. While real estate testing, pickets, and vigils continue in white neighborhoods, members of the Commission on Human Relations begin working behind the scenes to arrange a meeting between the Mayor, CFM, Chicago Real Estate Board (CREB), and business and civic notables.

With King, Raby, and others out of town at the SCLC convention, disagreements and tensions over goals, strategies and tactics roil the CFM. Then on Monday evening, August 8, Jesse Jackson declares to a mass meeting at Warren Avenue Congregational Church that he's going to lead marches into Bogun Park (Ashburn) and Cicero:

I have counted up the cost. My life. Bevel's life. Even Dr. King's life. Over and against the generation and the continuation of a kind of sin that's going to internally disrupt this county and possible the world. I counted the cost! I'm going to Cicero! — Jesse Jackson. [11]

Jackson's call creates consternation. For years, parents in the Bogun Park neighborhood on the Southwest Side have been waging a furious battle to keep their schools "white-only," and it's expected that a civil rights march there will trigger violence as great — or greater — than Gage Park.

Cicero is worse. An all-white suburban city, it's infamous for its racist violence. During the day, some 15,000 blue-collar and service industry Blacks work in Cicero — but none are allowed to live there. Cicero is an explicit "sundown town," a city that requires nonwhites to be gone by sunset. Blacks spotted on the streets after dark face arrest, or violence from white vigilantes.

Back in 1951, a Black college graduate and World War II veteran rented an apartment in Cicero. The local cops beat him and forced him to leave. The NAACP filed suit. Backed by a court order, he and his family moved in. A mob of more than 4,000 whites attacked, setting the building on fire. Governor Adlai Stevenson had to call out the National Guard to quell three days of riot. In May of 1966 — just a couple of months before the open-housing marches began — a 17-year old Afro-American youth went for an evening job interview with the Burlington Railroad. Four white men spotted him on a Cicero street and beat him to death with a baseball bat.

On Tuesday, Cook County Sheriff Richard Ogilvie whose deputies will be responsible for protecting marchers in Cicero, tells reporters that a Black march through Cicero, "Would make Gage Park look like a tea party." Ogilvie threatens to obtain an injunction against the march unless the CFM gives adequate notice allowing law enforcement to prepare. Raby promises to give him seven days advance warning.

Many in CFM are furious at Jackson's impromptu call for a Cicero march which had been discussed but never approved by either the Action or Agenda Committees. On Tuesday evening, CFM leaders meet at Chicago Theological Seminary where they are bitterly divided. An announcement is made that instead of marching in Bogun, the CREB offices in the downtown Loop will be picketed. Al Raby contradicts that with a counter announcement that a Bogun march will take place on Wednesday. Bevel grimly tells reporters, "They can buy tanks and they can arm every child, but we are going to Cicero."

Tension, violence, and the looming menace of a Cicero march prompt Archbishop Cody to call for a "moratorium" on further protests to prevent people from being killed. Raby rejects Cody's appeal. Bevel's answer is to lead 500 protesters in a disruptive march through the congested Chicago Loop business district to CREB headquarters. Meanwhile, out of the public eye, religious leaders and city officials continue working on a possible "summit meeting" of the main actors to resolve the growing crises.

On Thursday the 11th, support for mass marches into white areas continues to erode within the CFM as some of the coalition's main labor supporters join the archbishop's plea for the marches to end. SCLC and the more militant CFM leaders reject these calls for protest moratoriums and announce the Bogun march is on for the next day. The only way to halt vigils, pickets, and marches is to force the real estate industry to obey the city's fair housing law and stop discriminating against nonwhites.

When we had our open housing marches many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: "You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching. You are only developing a white backlash." They failed to realize that the hatred and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface. — Martin Luther King. [15]

On Friday the 12th, 700 protesters surrounded by 800 police march into Bogun. Rocks and bottles rain down on protesters, but the massive police presence succeeds in holding back the huge crowd of hostile whites and preventing mayhem.

The Chicago Conference on Religion and Race, which has close ties to the business community, announces that a summit meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 17th. King and Raby know that now is not the time to back off of direct action. On Sunday, August 14, the Movement mounts its most ambitious action so far — three simultaneous mass marches that stretch police resources to the breaking point. Raby leads some 500 marchers back to Gage Park, Jesse Jackson takes 300 into Bogun, and Bevel leads 400 through the Northwest neighborhood of Jefferson Park. As has now become the norm, the marchers — half Black, half white — endure rocks, bottles, cherry bombs, racist chants, and shrieking epithets of, "Nigger, nigger, nigger!"

Among the angry white crowds heckling and harassing the three freedom marches are American Nazi Party provocateurs. They distribute hate-literature and flyers calling for a "White Power" rally in Marquette Park. When the various marches end around 5pm, many in the hostile white crowds flock to the Nazi rally. Soon they are hurling rocks and bottles at Afro-American motorists driving by on Kedzie Avenue and Marquette Road.

When the police intervene, the mob turns on them. The cops respond with billy clubs and occasional shots in the air. Skirmishing between police and white teenagers, and attacks on Black drivers, continue into the night. A couple of dozen whites are arrested and some are bloodied by night sticks. But unlike the West Side sprinkler outbreaks, none of the white rioters are shot, nor is tear gas used against them.

On the Tuesday before the summit, CFM protesters continue the action by picketing City Hall, CREB, and a number of real estate offices.

At mid-morning on Wednesday, August 17, the summit meeting convenes around a long horseshoe table in St. James Episcopal Church. The CFM delegation of 14 is headed by Dr. King and Al Raby. Mayor Daley, city officials, prominent clergy, and representatives of industry, real estate, and banking are present. Railroad president and Daley supporter Ben Heineman presides. All of the 56 participants are men, a pattern so commonplace that no one questions it — or even takes notice.

The city Commission on Human Relations begins by proposing an 11-point plan. In return for CFM halting its protests, the real estate board and mortgage lending associations will urge their members to obey the open-housing ordinance and avoid discriminating against Blacks. King refuses to halt direct action for such vague promises.

Al Raby presents nine demands distilled from those fixed to the doors of City Hall on July 10th. They call for:

Daley wants the marches stopped. He agrees to the demands specific to the city departments under his authority. The head of the Chicago Mortgage Bankers Association promises to end discrimination in lending. Business and labor leaders raise no objections. The CHA equivocates, expressing support for the general idea of dispersing public housing across the city, but citing various difficulties — long time-lines, contract commitments, financial costs — that make quick implementation impossible.

The main opposition comes from the CREB. They argue that they are legally required to represent their clients' wishes. If a home-owner or landlord doesn't want to sell or rent to nonwhites there is nothing the broker can do about it. They're not responsible for racial discrimination, and it's not their role to fight it. "We are not the creators [of discrimination], but the mirror." (Absent from their claim of innocent neutrality is any mention of how profitable residential-segregation is for the real estate industry.)

Dr. King rejects their position, countering that the same arguments were used by restaurants, hotels, and bus companies in the South about Jim Crow segregation. But after the Civil Rights Act went into effect, they complied without loss of business. "Now don't tell me you're neutral," King tells them, pointing out their efforts to overturn the ordinance, their lobbying against state and national open-housing legislation, and the $5 million (equal to $37 million in 2014) they spent to repeal a fair housing law in California.

A long lunch recess is called to give the CREB representatives time to consult their full board. Daley presses them, "In the interests of the City of Chicago, you cannot come back here this afternoon with a negative answer."

When the summit meeting reconvenes at 4pm, the CREB presents a vague statement in which they, "withdraw all opposition to the philosophy of open occupancy legislation at the state level — provided it is applicable to owners as well as buyers." They also condemn as, "unwarranted harassment," the CFM testing teams that have been visiting real estate offices to see if they will fairly serve nonwhites as required by the ordinance. Their answers to follow-up questions are so evasive that no one can discern what, if anything, they are actually agreeing to. "This is nothing," says Dr. King. And Bevel adds, "The core problem is that realtors refuse to serve Negroes in their offices, and that must change."

Daley and Heineman, however, argue that the CREB statement represents an important concession and they demand the CFM cease marching. Dr. King rejects their demand:

Now gentlemen, you know we don't have much. We don't have much money. We don't really have much education, and we don't have political power. We have only our bodies and you are asking us to give up the one thing we have when you say, "Don't march." — Martin Luther King.

The discussion bogs down into statements, counter-positions, arguments, and minutia adding up to no progress at all. By evening everyone is exhausted.

Let me say that if you are tired of demonstrations, I am tired of demonstrating. I am tired of the threat of death. I want to live. I don't want to be a martyr. And there are moments when I doubt if I am going to make it through. I am tired of getting hit, tired of being beaten, tired of going to jail. But the important thing is not how tired I am; the important thing is to get rid of the conditions that lead us to march.

I hope we are here to discuss how to make Chicago a great open city, and not how to end marches. We've got to have massive changes. ... Now the basic thing is justice. We want peace, but peace is the presence of justice. ... Our humble marches have revealed a cancer. We have not used rocks. We have not used bottles. And no one today, no one who has spoken has condemned those that have used violence. ... Our marching feet have brought us a long way, and if we hadn't marched I don't think we'd be here today. — Martin Luther King.[16]

Andy Young proposes that a smaller working-committee be empowered to develop concrete proposals "designed to provide an open city." A group of 12 is appointed and instructed to report back in nine days on August 26th.

Daley tells reporters, "There does not seem to be a cessation of the marches," and the media reports that the summit is a failure — confirming King's analysis that the power-structure sees the protests as the problem, not violent racism, discrimination, or the inherent injustice of the ghetto economics.

 

Summit Agreement

On Friday, CFM testing teams show up at more than 100 real estate offices in white areas. Daley has one of his subservient municipal judges issue injunctions barring more than one demonstration in Chicago per day, limiting the number of marchers to no more than 500, and then only during the period between the morning and evening commute times (the injunction does not apply to Cicero or other independent municipalities).

For many in the Movement, an injunction against nonviolent protesters rather than the violent white-supremacists is an outrageous breach of faith on Daley's part. They urge defying it with mass civil disobedience. King, Raby, and other CFM leaders argue for temporarily obeying the ruling until the summit working-committee reports back in a week. King declares that if they don't present acceptable proposals, on the following day 3,000 protesters will march through Cicero. And then, if necessary, violate the injunction and fill Chicago jails.

It's raining steadily on Sunday the 21st. King leads exactly 500 protesters in a march through the South Deering neighborhood by Lake Calumet — an all-white neighborhood with a long history of anti-Black racism. Some 400 policemen guard them from the 2,000 or so white residents who line the route jeering, cursing, and hurling rocks and bottles at the demonstrators. Additional marches are simultaneously held in the Chicago Heights and Evergreen Park suburbs south of the city. As independent incorporated cities, they are not covered by the Chicago injunction.

While neighborhood protests continue, attention is increasingly focused on the Cicero march. Sheriff Ogilvie says it's, "awfully close to a suicidal act." Governor Kerner orders units of the National Guard to begin preparations for a Cicero deployment. The Chicago Daily News calls it, "blackmail by threat of martyrdom." And the New York Times urges a complete protest moratorium.

Meanwhile, the summit subcommittee struggles towards a settlement acceptable to both the CREB and the CFM. They finally produce a draft 10-point agreement on Thursday, August 25th. The proposal affirms the points reached at the summit a week earlier with some minor improvements, plus an unwritten goal of at least 1% black occupancy in each of Chicago's 75 neighborhoods. Boiled down, the key elements are:

Movement activists criticize the proposal as falling far short of what they originally demanded on July 10 and much less than what they asked for ten days earlier on August 17:

On Friday morning, CFM leaders caucus at the AFSC offices to go over the proposal. They are deeply divided. Those who fear that continued marches will lead to mob killings and greater racial polarization favor accepting the deal as the best that can be achieved in the face of massive white resistance. As they see it, the threat of the Cicero march now appears to be their strongest leverage, but the Cicero action is scheduled for the following day and once it's over, more neighborhood protests are not likely to win further concessions.

Bevel, Jackson, and others from the Action Committee argue that the agreement is too vague and too short on specifics. It doesn't go far enough towards guaranteeing the replacement of the dual segregated housing market with a single open housing system equally available to all, regardless of race. They believe that more protests will force the power-structure to offer a better deal. Dr. King listens to both sides but makes no commitment.

The summit negotiators then reconvene at the Palmer House hotel. City, business, labor, and religious representatives express their commitment to the proposed 10 points. The CREB waffles and equivocates. They claim that real estate brokers would be forced out of business if required to sell or rent to Blacks. Dr. King directly confronts them, but they refuse to budge. Bevel and Raby want to know if the agreement means that brokers and rental agents in white neighborhoods would serve nonwhite clients. There is no clear affirmative answer from the CREB.

There are also challenges and arguments over the injunction. Daley refuses to lift it, but indicates he might be willing to modify it. In essence then, neither the city nor the CREB are willing to go any further than what is already in the 10-point draft. Their position boils down to, "take it or leave it."

The meeting is suspended while the Movement delegates caucus. Again they debate whether or not to accept the proposal and again they are in disagreement. But with the CFM splitting over continued direct action, there's little chance they will be able to mount larger, more powerful marches. Instead they risk numbers and political support dwindling away to impotence in the face of increased opposition and continued racist violence.

Reluctantly, Dr. King decides that it's better to take what they've won so far rather than gamble it all on the uncertain premise that more marches will result in a stronger agreement. Rejecting it now, with the CFM weakened and divided, might well result in a worse offer down the line — or no settlement at all.

The document is signed and it's announced that Cicero and all other open-housing marches are suspended, though the CFM does express its intent to mount future protests around issues such as employment discrimination and school segregation.

The summit agreement is not popular. Whites picket the City Hall with signs declaring, "Daley Sold Out Chicago" and "Summit Another Munich." When Dr. King tries to present the settlement to a mass meeting at Liberty Baptist Church he is drowned out by hostile chants of "Black Power."

With his usual grace, he invites one of the critics to address the crowd from the podium. SNCC activist Monroe Sharp argues that Black folk should solve their own problems without begging white mayors or pleading with white neighbors. And he sharply criticizes King and Raby for canceling the Cicero march, as does Chicago CORE leader Robert Lucas. West Side Organization (WSO) leader Chester Robinson states, "We feel the poor Negro has been sold out by this agreement." And a federal Community Relations Service official reports, "A general feeling [that the movement had] sold out."

CORE, SNCC, and other militants from the Action Committee declare their determination to defy white racism at its most virulent by refusing to accept cancellation of the Cicero march. They point out that Cicero, an independent municipality, is not part of the summit agreement and its civic leaders and officials publicly oppose any form of open housing. Since the CFM coalition won't do it, CORE steps in to organize the protest. They explicitly reject nonviolence as both strategy and tactic declaring they will defend themselves if attacked. "We do not come hat in hand, scratching our heads, shuffling our feet to beg for a few concessions," declares WSO leader Robinson.

On Sunday, September 4, some 250 marchers — 80% Black, 20% white — cross under the Beltway Railroad on West 16th Street to enter Cicero from Chicago. Closely guarded by 500 Cook County sheriffs and local police and 2,000 Illinois National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets, they are confronted by more than 3,000 jeering whites throwing rocks, bottles, eggs, and cherry bombs which some protesters equipped with baseball mitts try to intercept.

The white supremacists chant "White Power!" The marchers chant "Black Power!" Insults and epithets are hurled by both sides. The march halts at Laramie Avenue and 25th Street, the site where 17-year old Jerome Huey had been beaten to death four months earlier by whites. A prayer vigil is held and then the marchers retrace their route back to Chicago. As they are about to exit Cicero, a large gang of whites suddenly charges them. They are driven back by club-swinging cops and soldiers thrusting with bayonets.

After the summit agreement is signed in August, many SCLC staff members are reassigned to SCLC projects in the South or move on with their lives by returning to school or their pulpits. But some stay behind to continue working with tenant organizing, testing compliance with the agreement, other end-slums programs, and voter registration. Dr. King continues to live in his Chicago tenement until January of 1967 when he relocates to write his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Jesse Jackson continues organizing the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket and makes Chicago his permanent home.

Also in August of 1966, Dorothy Gautreaux, a community organizer working with CCCO, files Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, the first major lawsuit against segregated public housing in the country. Alexander Polikoff her ACLU attorney, charges that of the 10,300 housing units built by CHA since 1954, all but 63 were located in Black and Latino ghettos, that CHA "deliberately chose sites for such projects which would avoid the placement of Negro families in white neighborhoods," and that CHA policies and practices intentionally prevent nonwhites from moving into white areas. All of which violate the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations.

The case is fiercely fought by both sides, eventually going to the Supreme Court which unanimously rules against the CHA in 1969. The CHA is ordered to stop segregating public housing, to build new public housing in white neighborhoods, and cease building high-rise "vertical ghettos" altogether.

By late fall, it's clear that the city of Chicago and the real estate industry are not living up to their promises. Testing of real estate offices reports continued discrimination against Blacks, yet not a single broker faces any threat of license revocation. At only one of CHA's 23 ghetto housing projects is there even a gesture at token integration, and two new segregated projects are being built. In March of 1967, Dr. King tells reporters, "It appears that for all intents and purposes, the public agencies have [reneged] on the agreement and have, in fact given credence to [those] who proclaim the housing agreement a sham and a batch of false promises."

Absent legislation or legal contracts, the only real methods for enforcing the settlement are the threat of resumed marches and the sanction of electoral retaliation against Daley. But by the spring of '67, CCCO is rivened by disputes and recriminations. It's incapable of mounting effective new open housing protests. Faced with insufficient support for renewed marches, SCLC responds with a voter-registration campaign built around the idea that, "slum dwellers can begin to break the grip of machine politics." The drive fails. In April of 1967, Daley's machine triumphs at the polls. He is reelected Mayor with 75% of the total vote — and 80% of the Black vote. As a practical matter, the summit agreement is dead.

 

Assessment

To this day, activists and scholars differ in their assessments of the Chicago Freedom Movement.

The main effects of nonviolent, direct action campaigns are social, cultural, political, and psychological — all of which are long-term and hard to quantify. In the short-run, therefore, the "success" or "failure" of such campaigns tend to judged by external markers such legislation passed, court cases won, binding contracts signed, settlement pacts agreed to, and visible short-term social-political changes to peoples' lives.

By those measures, SCLC's 1966 Open Housing campaign comes up short. Many within and without the movement conclude that the open housing campaign and broader war on slums is an abject failure, and that a wiley Mayor Daley out-maneuvered and defeated a politically-naive Dr. King. In the words of Chicago CORE leader Robert Lucas, "King went up against Richard J. Daley, and he lost."

But others see that assessment as overly simplistic. Bernard LaFayette later notes that the CFM ended forever the liberal myths that Blacks in the North were free of segregation and could live wherever they wished (and could afford). The campaign proved that, "large numbers of people in a northern city can be mobilized for nonviolent direct action in the face of mass violence." And in his view, it also refuted the notion that northern issues and politics are far too subtle and complex for protests to effectively frame and dramatize.

Many observers negatively contrast the self-evident success of SCLC's southern campaigns with its inability to dent residential segregation in Chicago. But the settlements that ended marches in Birmingham and St. Augustine were no stronger, or more enforceable, than the Chicago summit agreement, and there was never any local agreement in Selma at all. In the South, however, the nonviolent campaigns against segregation and denial of voting rights generate waves of Black and white public opinion in the North that force Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Those national laws render weaknesses in local settlements moot.

Though the marches against residential segregation in Chicago are powerful and the courage of the protesters enormous, they do not build mass (white) public support for legislation. If anything, they mobilize white opposition. The majority of northern whites view even token integration with alarm. They do not want to live near Blacks, they don't want their chilcren playing or socializing with nonwhites, and they fear integration will lower the monetary value of thier property. As a result, fair housing bills die in both Congress and the Illinois statehouse — killed by northern racism, fear, power politics, and the real estate lobby.

Yet for many observers, the realities of northern racism and residential segregation exposed on the streets of Chicago in 1966 become an important part of the equation that eventually leads to passage of the national Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968. After Dr. King is assassinated in Memphis, urban ghettos across the nation explode in massive, destructive violence. With stores burning just blocks from the White House, Army troops patrolling the streets of DC, and Marines armed with machineguns guarding the steps of the Capitol Building, Congress quickly resurrects the open housing legislation they had rejected in 1966. Desperate to do something to quell the violence, they pass the FHA just one week after King's murder.

The CFM's 1966 campaign also led directly to forming the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities (LCMOC), a pioneer in the fight for fair housing. For 40 years thereafter, LCMOC opposes residential segregation through lawsuits, one-on-one services, education, and other programs. It helps thousands of families find decent housing and plays a key role in the founding of several other fair housing organizations.

And about one aspect of the Chicago Freedom Movement there can be no question. Dr. King's experience confronting poverty and racism in that city helped forge his determination — and directly shaped his strategy — for the Poor Peoples Campaign that he began the following year.

Looking back on the open housing marches shortly before he is killed, Dr. King focused on the positive:

After the riot in Chicago that summer, I was greatly discouraged. But we had trained a group of about two thousand disciplined devotees of nonviolence who were willing to take blows without retaliating. We started out engaging in constitutional privileges, marching before real estate offices in all-white communities. And that nonviolent, disciplined, determined force created such a crisis in the city of Chicago that the city had to do something to change conditions. We didn't have any Molotov cocktails, we didn't have any bricks, we didn't have any guns, we just had the power of our bodies and our souls. — Martin Luther King. [15]

Still, Dr. King accepts as valid many of the complaints and criticisms. He later tells supporters, "We should have done just what a labor union does, we should have gone back to the members and voted on whether to accept the [summit agreement]." And he expresses regret for not having gone into Cicero. He too questions whether or not they should have started with a smaller, less centrally controlled city than Chicago, and whether in retrospect it would have been wiser to focus on narrower, more practical immediate goals than ending slums. "Promising to solve all their problems in one summer," was a tactical mistake he later concludes. But he also understands that the decisions of the day were forced by the imperatives of the times — pressures that hindsight often fails to take into account.

Though he acknowledges his errors and mistakes, Dr. King later tells his Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation:

I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. I choose to live for and with those who find themselves seeing life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. This is the way I'm going. If it means suffering a little bit, I'm going that way. If it means sacrificing, I'm going that way. If it means dying for them, I'm going that way, because I heard a voice saying, "Do something for others." — Martin Luther King [16]

 

Some Thoughts

See Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Filibuster and Fair Housing Act of 1968 for continuation.

For more information on the Chicago Freedom Movement:
CRMVets: Ghettos, Segregation, & Poverty in the 1960s for general background information.
Books: Chicago Freedom Movement, 1966
Web: Chicago Freedom Movement (CFM)

 

The Grenada Freedom Movement (June-December)
Photos

Contents:

Grenada MS: A Century From Freedom
The Meredith March
SCLC Returns to Grenada
On the Square
Battle for the Ballot
The School Crisis
Mob Terror and the Courage of Children
Grappling With Poverty
Grit & Determination, Courage & Pride
Grenada Today (2018)

 

Grenada MS: A Century From Freedom

[This long, detailed article about the Grenada Freedom Movement of 1966 is intended as a case-study of a local civil rights struggle that is little known or remembered today.]

In 1966, US Highway-51 is still the main road between Memphis and Jackson. Halfway between those two cities sits the town of Grenada Mississippi, seat of Grenada County. Local lore has it that they were both named after the province and city in Spain, but folk pronounce the names more like the hand-thrown military weapon than any location in Spanish geography.

The county's western portion dips down into the rich, flat, cotton country of the Mississippi Delta while the hilly eastern half is partially flooded by Grenada Lake. Almost everyone living in Grenada County was born and raised in the area. People seeking economic opportunity migrate out and almost no one moves in. Poverty is deep and widespread. Only half the population hold steady year-round jobs — mostly related to agriculture.

Though its population is barely 18,000, like all Mississippi counties Grenada is large enough to contain two separate and distinct worlds — one white, one Black. In 1966, the federal "poverty line" for a family of four is an annual income of $3300 or less (equal to a bit over $25,000 in 2018). The median income for the county's Black families is $1400, less than half the official poverty rate (equal to about $11,600 in 2018). For whites the median income is around $4300 (equal about $38,000 in 2018), putting the great majority of them above poverty.

About 8,000 people live in town with most of the land area occupied by whites. Their white world is one of paved, tree-shaded streets with sidewalks, lush green lawns, and red-brick homes. Grenada's Afro-American population lives on the periphery, mostly on the north and west edges with a smaller isolated district on the east side. Their Black world is one of dirt lanes — dusty in the summer, muddy in the winter — with small, weather-beaten "shotgun" shacks jam-crammed side by side on every square foot. No lawns, no sidewalks, no streetlights, no sewers. [22]

Both county and city have slim white majorities. But the Black population is skewed towards children too young to vote and the elderly too old to get to the polls or too poor to pay the poll tax. So even if Afro-Americans were allowed to register without difficulty, whites would still hold a 57-43% voting edge. In actuality, few Blacks have been allowed to register and fewer still dare show up at a polling place to cast a ballot. Of 4323 Afro-Americans eligible to vote in 1961, only 135 (1.4%) were registered while 95% of the 5792 whites were on the voting roles. [23] [24]

Grenada has always been a segregation stronghold. In May of 1966, both town and county still live as if it were 1866. Five years after the Freedom Rides, Blacks still sit at the rear of the Greyhound busses that briefly pause each day at the depot. Two years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, every aspect of life, from lunch counters to the public swimming pool to the school system still remain segregated. Blacks are not permitted to enter or use the library, nor can they obtain jobs at the federal Post Office. White women work behind the desks and cash registers of downtown Grenada, Afro-American women push mops and scrub toilets in the homes of their white employers.

Over the previous century there had been a number of racial lynchings — four in one day in 1885. Fear still rules the Afro-American community in 1966 and Blacks don't get "uppity" in Grenada, not if they want to survive, not if they want to stay. There has never been any significant Civil Rights Movement activity in the county, not even during the Freedom Summer of 1964 because Movement organizers considered it too tough to crack.

 

The Meredith March (June 15-16)

At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of June 15, 1966, the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear (and with it, the 20th Century) comes striding down Highway-51 into Grenada. The white power-structure knows it's on the way and they have a plan — make soothing promises and see to it that those "outside" marchers have no issues to demonstrate about. They assume that as in the past their local "Negroes" would "stay in their place." As City Manager John McEachin explains to a reporter, "All we want is to get these people through town and out of here. Good niggers don't want anything to do with this march. And there are more good niggers [in Grenada] than sorry niggers."

[Unlike most Mississippi towns, Grenada has a "city-manager" form of government. The City Council hires a professional to run the town and the position of mayor is largely symbolic.]

McEachin's confidence notwithstanding, Grenada whites are bitterly divided over how to contain and kill this Black challenge to white-supremacy. One faction — the "hardliners" — remains committed to the traditional methods of jail, police violence, white terrorism, and economic retaliation that has sustained segregation in the Deep South for generations. The other group, the "racial moderates" like McEachin, want to avoid actions that might provoke federal intervention, or attract negative attention from outsiders, or risk fanning the flames of resistance. They favor more sophisticated strategies and tactics of divide and conquer, chicanery, misdirection, and wearing the Freedom Movement down through attrition.

McEachin's plan fails — utterly and spectacularly. Grenada's Black community responds to the Meredith March with enormous enthusiasm, greater than any town on the entire route except for Canton a week later. A tidal wave of local Blacks — women, men, young, old — step off their porches and pour out of their shanty shacks to join the march as it turns off Highway-51 and heads up Pearl Street towards the center of town. So many that an amazed State Trooper estimates to a reporter that, "About a mile of niggers" are marching up towards the town square. [25]

Like so many other southern towns, Grenada is built around an open, park-like central green. The streets surrounding the green make up the "downtown" business district — known as the "square" — with stores, offices and public buildings fronting on wide sidewalks. In Grenada's case, the courthouse isn't located on the green itself but rather across the aptly named Green Street. The park does, however, hold the obligatory Confederate war memorial, a soldier statue on a tall pedestal.

Accompanied by many hundreds of Black Grenadans, the Meredith marchers hold a voting rights rally on the central green. To a roar of Afro-American approval, Dr. Robert Green of SCLC places a small American flag on the Confederate War Memorial Statue, saying, "We're tired of seeing rebel flags. Give me the flag of the United States, the flag of freedom!"

Local whites are aghast and outraged at his "defilement" of their sacred memorial to those who had died to maintain slavery. And from the floor of the U.S. Senate the next day, Mississippi Senator James Eastland declares, "I would not be surprised if Martin Luther King and these agitators next desecrate the graves of Confederate soldiers and drag their remains through the streets."

After the rally, Afro-American men and women line up at the courthouse to be registered by four Black registrars who have been temporarily hired by the county under McEachin's "give-them-no-excuse" plan. When the Civil Rights Act had become law in 1964, the courthouse toilet signs had been quickly changed from "White" and "Colored" to "#1" and "#2," though, of course, any Afro- American who dared use #1 would quickly suffer the consequences. Now, while white onlookers and courthouse officials seethe in fury, grinning Black citizens make use of #1 for the first time in their lives.

Later that evening, Fannie Lou Hamer leads the mass meeting in freedom songs and Dr. King tells them, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy." He asks them if they want him to return with SCLC when the Meredith March was over. They do.

When the march and its attendant reporters and TV cameras continue on it's way the following day, Grenada reverts to its traditional "southern way of life." The Afro-American registrars are quickly fired and the little American flag placed on the Confederate memorial is torn down by furious whites. The power structure immediately revokes the promises they had made in response to the march, including desegregation of public facilities as required by the Civil Rights Act — a law that clearly has not yet come to Grenada, Mississippi.

Several members of SCLC's field staff, however, remain behind to continue the voter registration drive and help local leaders build an ongoing movement. Within a few days some 1300 Afro-Americans are registered, many times the number of Black voters in the county before the march arrived. It's then discovered that more than 700 of those just registered at the courthouse have been tricked. By some mysterious quirk of local law, all residents of Grenada town have to be given a slip of paper by the registrars at the courthouse which they must then take to City Hall so that they can vote in city elections. No one had been given those slips, or informed that they had to register twice, so they still have no vote in municipal elections. With the numeric margin of whites much narrower in town than in the county, the power-structure wants to be certain there's no chance of any Blacks being elected to city government. When the trick is finally discovered all the city voters have to be re-registered.

By June 23rd, the Meredith March is deep in the Delta marching towards a violent confrontation in Canton 90 miles to the south. They're too distant to return and are now no longer seen as a threat by the local power structure. So the cops resume their traditional tactics of intimidation and retaliation and some of the newly registered Afro-American voters are fired or evicted.

When a group of Black students and SCLC staff attempt to purchase tickets for the downstairs "white" section of Grenada's movie theater they're refused admission. In protest, they sit down on the sidewalk and fifteen are quickly arrested. One of them is Jim Bulloch a white SCLC staff member who is quickly tried and convicted, first by one local judge and then by a second who fines him $400 (equal to about $3,000 in 2018) and also sentences him to 90 days in county jail. This is the first of many trials to come, all of them decided by all-white, all-male juries. (By law women are not permitted to serve on Mississippi juries and Afro-American men are barred by long custom.)

But now Grenada's Black community has tasted freedom, and inspired by the courage of the young students they're determined not to back down. In a well-attended mass meeting they vote to form the Grenada County Freedom Movement (GCFM) and affiliate with SCLC. Their immediate goal is continued voter registration and enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by desegregating white-only businesses and public facilities.

 

SCLC Returns to Grenada (June 26-July 10)

When the Meredith March ends in Jackson on June 26th, SCLC sends additional staff bak to Grenada as King had promised — including national-level SCLC leaders like Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Dr. King himself who splits his time between Grenada and the Chicago Freedom Movement's ferocious battle for open housing.

A cramped and busy Freedom Movement office is set up in Bellflower Baptist Church on Pearl Street close by Highway-51. Bellflower (sometimes referred to as Bell Flower or Belle Flowers) is said to be the 3rd oldest Black church in Mississippi. As the newly-formed GCFM battles against adamant opposition from whites who are determined to return the Jim Crow racial order of the past, Bellflower becomes the site of nightly, sometimes twice-daily, mass meetings.

And with City Manager McEachin's scheme to ease the Meredith March through town without any local challenges to white authority now proven to be an utter failure, the hardliners who favor Mississippi's traditional "knock 'em in the head and toss 'em in jail" methods of social control regain ascendance. Violence, arrests, and billy clubs are the new order of the day.

On July 4th, SCLC workers and local activists are invited to a barbecue in the rural Sweethome area by an Afro-American woman posing as a Movement supporter. Once they arrive, she calls Sheriff Suggs Ingram and 27 are arrested for "trespass" in what is obviously a set-up. Three days later, on Thursday July 7, a march protesting those arrests is broken up by the cops and more than 40 are arrested for violating a local "parade ordinance."

[Throughout the South, such unconstitutional "parade ordinances" were frequently used to suppress nonviolent protests. The local authorities, of course, refused to issue parade permits to civil rights groups, and the cops could unilaterally declare that almost any kind of protest was an illegal "parade" — even if everyone was walking by the side of the road or on a sidewalk without blocking any traffic. White officials knew the ordinances would eventually be overturned in the courts, but that would take time during which they hoped to choke off protests, and suppress Afro- American freedom aspirations.]

With most of its staff now languishing in jail, SCLC calls in reinforcements. By early July, the number of SCLC staff in Grenada is fluctuating between 10 and 15, almost all of whom are Afro-American. At a mass meeting on Saturday the 9th, the GCFM votes overwhelmingly for a campaign to make Grenada an "open city" — the terminology of the day that means a complete end to all forms of segregation. The GCFM presents 51 demands to the white power structure including desegregation of public facilities, Afro-American voter registrars with evening and neighborhood registration, and equal employment by government and private business.

Testing teams of Black high school students are sent to lunch counters & restaurants, the public library, the city swimming pool, and other previously segregated facilities. Most comply with the Civil Rights Act and serve these new Afro-American customers, but the swimming pool permanently closes rather then integrate. Sporadic heckling and threats of violence from white bystanders breaks out at a couple of locations.

The open city campaign continues for weeks with integration testing and lawsuits filed under the Civil Rights Act against non-complying establishments. The swimming pool remains closed because the thought of white girls and Black boys in close proximity to each other while wearing nothing but swimsuits is simply unacceptable to white adults. Other than that, the campaign is largely successful — at least in the technical sense that Afro-Americans willing to defy white hostility and the threat of later retaliation can demand, and receive, service at most establishments without being arrested. As a practical matter, however, most Blacks choose not to run such risks, so the custom of race segregation in Grenada remains largely — though not entirely — intact.

Later that Saturday afternoon, after the mass July 9th meeting, a white man in a pickup truck opens fire with a machinegun on a pair of civil rights workers who are talking to a Justice Department official next to Bellflower church. They drop to the ground and the assassin misses, though the official's car is shot full of holes. The shooter is arrested a few blocks away and eventually tried on an unrelated minor charge. He is later acquitted by yet another all-white jury.

On Sunday the 10th, small integrated groups try to attend Sunday services at various white churches. Not a single Christian church allows an Afro-American inside to pray. None of the white SCLC staff accompanying them are allowed to enter either. Similar integration attempts are made on following Sundays for several weeks — all to no avail. No Blacks (or white Freedom Movement supporters) are allowed to worship with white Grenadans.

Meanwhile, most of the activists arrested on the July 7th march are still incarcerated and awaiting bail, so after church services a support rally is held outside the county lockup. Since the parade ordinance still bars organized protests, 50 or so demonstrators "drift" toward the jail in small groups from Bellflower church. When the signal is given they quickly gather around the flagpole flying the "stars and bars" of the Mississippi state flag and begin singing freedom songs as loud as then can so the prisoners inside can hear them. The jail is adjacent to the Northside Black community, and a couple hundred Afro-American onlookers cheer the protesters from the sidelines.

Black kids too young to risk arrest as demonstrators act as freedom scouts. They report that a big force of Mississippi State Troopers in full riot gear are forming up behind the building. The rally quickly disperses, some participants returning back to Bellflower, others joining the bystanders observing from across the street. When the platoon of shotgun-armed Troopers charge around the corner they find no protesters to attack. So they turn their fury on the crowd of bystanders peacefully observing from across the way, brutally assaulting them with rifle-butts and billy clubs — many are injured.

 

On the Square (July 11-August 6)

At the Monday evening mass meeting on July 11, the GCFM votes to declare a "Blackout" (boycott) of Grenada's white merchants to protest the beatings, the arrests, and to enforce the 51 demands.

[Throughout the South in the 1960s, Afro-American boycotts of white-owned stores proved to be one of the most effective Freedom Movement strategies. In rural counties like Grenada where few Blacks owned cars, Afro-Americans were more likely to shop locally than affluent whites who could drive to larger urban centers. By the same token though, the lack of market alternatives made boycotts hard to sustain so they were not undertaken lightly.]

On Tuesday the 12th, civil rights lawyers persuade Judge Clayton of the federal district court in Oxford MS to declare the parade ordinance unconstitutional. Both Afro-Americans and whites see this as a Freedom Movement victory. Blacks respond with joy, whites with fury at federal "meddling" in their affairs. With the ordinance struck down, small teams begin picketing and leafletting the downtown stores to enforce the Blackout.

White political leaders publish the Movement's 51 demands in the local paper with a statement claiming that no one in Grenada racially discriminates and asserting that: "Demands, threats and intimidation are not proper, appropriate, or acceptable means of accomplishing anything, and any and all such tactics will be ignored. There will be no concessions of any type whatsoever, likewise there will be no acceding to any such demands."

On Wednesday the 13th, a large boycott picket line is mounted in the downtown area. All 45 of the protesters are quickly arrested on charges which are not explained. One activist comments, "It's like the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, arrest first, figure out charges later." Though the protesters are eventually bailed out, SCLC is short of funds so large picket lines are discontinued in favor of small picket teams. Small groups might be harassed or attacked by whites but they're not always arrested. And even if they are jailed, the amount needed to bail them out is less.

In response to the escalating repression, an afternoon mass meeting is held on Thursday the 14th — followed by a mass march.

[Large marches were an important Movement tactic. While enraged whites might spontaneously assault a small picket line, the social psychology was such that big marches were — for the most part — only vulnerable to attack by even bigger mobs incited to violence by Klan or Council leaders with the cooperation, or at least acquiescence, of the cops and courts. And Blacks who had good reason to fear that public support for the Freedom Movement put them at risk of economic retaliation by whites were often more willing to participate in a mass action where they were just one more face among many than in smaller more individually visible actions.]

Led by Hosea Williams of SCLC, some 220 Black Grenadans march from Bellflower church up to the square to protest the Trooper attack and the increasing number of arrests. By some measures 220 people may seem small, but for a small town with only few thousand Afro-Americans of high school age or older, that so many defy a century of social conditioning and the very real threats of economic retaliation, police repression, and Klan violence is significant.

This is the first big march since the parade ordinance was struck down. Previous actions with 40 or 50 participants resulted in arrests and the demonstrators are tense, expecting at any moment to be confronted by the cops. But it turns out to be the first large action since the Meredith March that is not broken up by police violence or arrests.

When the marchers reach the town square and move on to the central green they discover that a dozen or so Black inmates from the notorious Parchman Prison have been brought in to "protect" the Confederate Memorial statue from "defilement" and "desecration."

Carefully watched by heavily-armed white prison guards, the inmates are under orders to physically assault any civil rights protester who approaches the monument. The prison guards, local cops, and white bystanders smile, and grin, and joke in anticipation of seeing Black prisoners compelled to attack Afro-American freedom marchers in defense of a memorial to Confederate soldiers who had died fighting to maintain slavery.

Understanding the terrible punishment that would be inflicted on the inmates if they refused to do as ordered, march leader Hosea Williams instructs the protesters to leave them and the statue alone. The rally is held at a distance from the memorial and its coerced defenders.

The white power-structure's use of Parchman prisoners to guard the statue is reported in the northern media with condemnation and scorn, so much so that they are only used a few more times before the practice is discontinued. Subsequent march rallies are held near the monument, but knowing that inmates would again be placed in a such a cruel position Movement leaders instruct protesters not to touch the monument or "defile" it with American flags.

When the rally on the green ends, Afro-Americans try to register at the courthouse across the street. Sheriff Suggs Ingram refuses to let more than three at a time enter the building. Whites are not subject to any such rules and small groups are vulnerable to arrest, attack, and intimidation. Movement leaders reject his demands so no one enters the courthouse and no one is registered.

After another large afternoon march on Friday, a meeting of Grenada's tiny Black business & professional strata pledges to endorse the GCFM. As in other rural areas of the Deep South, the Afro-American middle class is made up mostly of teachers, ministers, and small business men & women (store owners, morticians, insurance agents, barbers & beauticians, and so on). While most local freedom movements in the south have backing from some members of the Black elite, such broad support among those who have the most to lose from economic retaliation by whites is unusual, attributable perhaps to both the breadth and power of the Grenada Movement and the influence of SCLC leaders — all of whom are themselves from that class.

As is the case elsewhere in the South, formal leadership positions in the Grenada Freedom Movement are held by men, but most of the actual leadership work is done by women outside the spotlight. Day after day, local leader Rev. Sharper Cunningham and senior SCLC staff like J.T. Johnson lead the marches, but women and children form the bulk of the protesters. As is also the case elsewhere in the South, the majority of those marching are high school students with girls outnumbering the boys.

Later that evening, after dark, some 250 protesters again march from Bellflower up to the square.

[Night marches were dangerous because racists could attack from cover of darkness. Most TV news cameras of that time couldn't effectively film in the dark, and flash-equipped still-cameras had limited range so the cops were less constrained from violence by potential media exposure. Yet a night march allowed more people — particularly working adults — to participate.]

After passing the courthouse and circling the square, the march heads for the tiny Afro-American business district on Union Street a couple of blocks from Bellflower church. As the march passes through the Black neighborhood it grows in length until more than 600 gather on Union St. for a voter-registration rally.

This sets a general pattern of daily activities for the Grenada County Freedom Movement — various activities during the day including boycott picketing by Black students and door-to-door organizing by SCLC field staff, an evening mass meeting at Bellflower followed by a night march to the square and sometimes voter registration rallies in the Black community.

Day after day the marches and organizing continue. The cops are no longer blocking the big marches but they're continuing to harass and arrest boycott pickets. On Wednesday the 20th, Freedom Movement lawyers appear before Judge Clayton in Federal District court asking that police interference with lawful picketing and protests be halted. Two days later on Friday the 22nd, the judge issues a sweeping injunction commanding the white power-structure to accept that Afro-Americans have First Amendment rights, ordering the cops to stop interfering with legal protests, and instructing them to protect demonstrators from terrorist attack.

At the same time, the judge also issues a set of conduct rules that Movement protesters must obey. Under his order, singing is not allowed in residential areas, marchers have to walk two-by-two on the sidewalks or by the side the road, and obey all traffic rules. Large marches have to be broken into groups of 20 people with 20 feet separating each section. Since the marches were already obeying traffic rules GCFM leaders and lawyers accept his order without demurral — except when a march comes under mob attack at which point everyone closes up tight for protection and the judge be damned.

The white community reacts in fury to Judge Clayton's injunction. It's hard to tell who they hate more, the "Damn Yankee" federal government daring to tell them how to treat their "nigrahs," or the racial troublemakers challenging the tranquility of the Jim Crow "southern way of life." The judge and other federals, however, are distant targets protected by armed law enforcement. Protesters from the GCFM are not only nonviolent, but near at hand.

On Saturday evening, July 23rd, a large mob of 700 or more angry whites gather on the square to attack the nightly freedom march. Young Movement scouts spot cars with license plates from known KKK strongholds like Neshoba County and the Pearl River & Natchez areas of Mississippi and Louisiana. Such large mobs don't form spontaneously, someone with political clout has to organize and mobilize them, though no one takes public responsibility for doing so. The mob is made up almost entirely of white men who are visibly armed with clubs, baseball bats, steel pipes, chains, and knives.

Though the mob members are not brandishing firearms, the freedom scouts reporting back to Movement leaders in Bellflower Church assume they have hidden guns. Everyone gathered for the evening mass meeting understands that Grenada County Sheriff Suggs Ingram has no intention of protecting them from white racists who are his voting constituents. Not on that night. Not ever.

The normal Mississippi practice is to station one or two State Troopers in each rural county, but since the beginning of July the Grenada contingent has been reinforced to a couple of dozen troopers who had been ordered to suppress protests and enforce the recently overturned parade ordinance. Now under court order to guard rather than attack Black marchers, the Trooper commander tells Movement leaders he has been "caught by surprise" at this "unexpected" hostile mob. He claims he doesn't have enough men to protect a march, but he promises that if this night's protest is canceled he will bring in reinforcements to protect demonstrations on the following nights.

Movement leaders don't trust him, but they agree to cancel the march for this night only. When the mob realizes no one is going to walk into their ambush they began advancing down Pearl and Cherry Streets toward Bellflower Church where the mass meeting is being held. To their credit, the Troopers hold them a block away so they can't attack the church.

On Sunday the 24th, another huge mob of whites is mobilized by persons unknown to throng the square. Estimated by newsmen at over 1,000, again they are armed with clubs, bats, and chains. Again the Troopers claim they don't have enough men on hand and ask that this march too be canceled. Knowing that continued surrender to intimidation will simply encourage more mob threats, Movement leaders refuse.

Some 200 frightened but determined protesters march two-by-two out of Bellflower church into the darkness. Demonstrators in Grenada normally sing exuberantly, but on this night they are uncharacteristically silent as they proceed up the dark, unlit Pearl Street towards the downtown square and the violent mob that awaits them.

As the lead marchers turn down Green Street and enter the square they are greeted with furious shouts of "Niggers! Coons! Commies!" and "White Power!" Only a handful of Troopers plus a few cops and deputies are visible. Many of the local lawmen are socializing with members of the white mob whose screams of hate intensify as more and more of the protesters come into view. The lack of strong police presence — and the attitude of those few who are present — is itself an eloquent invitation to mob violence.

But instead of crossing the street onto the central green for the usual rally, the marchers take the whites by surprise, quickly striding past the courthouse and then turning right on 1st Street to exit the square before the mob realizes what's happening. The racist throng gives chase, but again — and again to their credit — a thin line of Troopers block them from following and attacking Bellflower church. Furious, the mob turns its hate on the newsmedia, attacking reporters, photographers, and TV crews with clubs and chains and smashing cameras. Which results in a new wave of negative publicity for Grenada and Mississippi in the Monday morning press and news broadcasts.

In reaction to Monday's bad press, state and local "racial moderates" demand that the state enforce law and order against violent white mobs. An entire company of Troopers is sent to Grenada. They announce that mob rule won't be tolerated. "Moderate" local white leaders chime in, urging whites to avoid the square and ignore Freedom Movement protests. They tell their constituents that if they deprive the press of dramatic newsworthy events — such as mob violence against reporters and cameramen — the media will leave. And they promise that without national publicity in the northern media, Afro-American protests in Grenada will dwindle away to nothing — leaving the old order of tranquil white-supremacy restored.

By that evening, the new "no audience" strategy has begun to take hold — the white mob in the square waiting to attack the freedom marchers is no bigger than 500 — less than half the number of the previous evening. With the Troopers out in force and clearly on guard, some 220 or so protesters are able to march around the green under aerial bombardment of rocks and bottles but without being physically assaulted by bat-wielding thugs.

On Tuesday the 26th, no more than 100 whites show up and the Grenada Freedom Movement resumes nightly rallies on the green. By Wednesday the general pattern of daytime boycott picketing, nightly marches to a square now empty of hostile whites, followed by a rally on the green or a voter registration rally in a Black neighborhood reasserts itself. It's a clear Movement victory — organized mob violence has failed to halt Afro-American protests in Grenada.

Though it's not clear at the time, this series of events also sets a broader pattern for white violence. When the Movement or the courts do something that particularly infuriate whites, the segregationists and hardliners temporarily wrest political control from the moderates and mobilize a violent mob to attack both protesters and the press. After two or three days of brutal violence and subsequent media condemnation, the moderates retake the reins, the governor sends in State Troopers to control the mob, and the hardliners instruct their violent supporters to stand down for the time being. When the violence stops the TV cameras leave and the marchers are back to marching around an empty square — until something happens that provokes a new wave of violence.

Yet the power structure's "no audience" scheme doesn't mean an end to repression. SCLC staff and local activists continue to be harassed by the police and arrested on trumped up charges such as "disturbing the peace" and phony traffic violations. SCLC staff member R.B. Cottenreader, for example, is arrested for "touching" a white lady while picketing. The driver and three passengers riding in a car are arrested for being in the intersection when the light changes to yellow, and so on.

On Friday, August 5th, bogus "Boycott Over" leaflets mysteriously appear in the main Afro-American neighborhoods but no one is fooled and the Blackout continues. That night there's a Movement fund-raising party in the Tie Plant neighborhood with SCLC's Freedom Singers providing a concert. Around midnight, troopers and police surround the Collins Cafe were the party is being held and block all the roads leading into the area. They shoot tear gas into the cafe and arrest as many people as they can on various charges such as "possession of liquor" and "drunk & disorderly." Close to 50 people are arrested.

[Grenada was a "dry" county which meant that in the time-honored southern tradition local lawmen were able to enrich themselves by collecting bribes from bootleggers of both races. Thus they always knew when and where parties were planned.]

The next day the GCFM responds by updating the demands of July 9 by adding nine new demands related to police brutality and state repression against protesters exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech. Apparently this convinces the hardliners in the white power-structure that the "no-audience" strategy has failed to weaken the Movement. So once again their strategic pendulum swings back towards violence.

 

Battle for the Ballot (Mid July-August 14)

Back in mid-July, federal voter registrars had been sent to Grenada under the Voting Rights Act.

[In the technical language of the Voting Rights Act, federal officers assigned to enforce the Act were officially known as "examiners" rather than "registrars." But in common usage, everyone referred to them as "registrars."]

The federal registrars set up shop in the U.S. Post Office on the square but had little success. In two weeks only 22 Afro-Americans were added to the rolls, an average of less than two per day. To the Grenada County Freedom Movement the reason was obvious — Afro-Americans were reluctant to go into the downtown area. Blacks who were willing to defy white-supremacy by registering to vote were already boycotting the white-owned stores so they weren't shopping on the square. Police and State Troopers were harassing, and sometimes arresting, anyone they thought might be intending to hand out boycott flyers or picket a store. And angry white racists were on the prowl ready to attack "troublemakers." So as far as most Afro-Americans were concerned, the federal registrars had established themselves in a danger zone hostile to Blacks.

GCFM leaders tried to explain those realities to the registrars and suggest that they set up shop in a Black neighborhood where they would be warmly welcomed. Their pleas were ignored. Publicly, the registrars claimed they had to work out of a United States government office and the post office on the square was the only federal presence available.

Movement leaders dispute the "government office" rationale, pointing to examples in other Mississippi counties where federal registrars are operating out of Afro-American churches, stores, community centers, and so on. Off the record, Movement leaders are privately told that the registrars are under orders from their supervisors in Jackson to have nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement. The local white power-structure understands the social dynamics of violent racism and police repression and they are using all their political power and influence to ensure that the registrars remain downtown where they will have minimal success.

SCLC lawyers file complaints, the SCLC office in Washington begins contacting supporters in Congress and rattling some administration cages. On Monday, August 8, the registrars suddenly change their minds and move their operation to the Chat & Chew Cafe on Union Street in the heart of the largest Black community. Afro-Americans are enthusiastic and elated. On the registrars first day on Union St. more than 300 people show up to get registered including many who were finishing up the registration process started at the courthouse back in June but not completed because of the double-registration trick.

White power-brokers are furious. To them, shifting the registrars into the Afro-American community is evidence of sinister collusion between defiant Blacks and a hostile federal government. They clearly understand that large numbers of Afro-American voters will inevitably doom the continued domination of traditional Jim-Crow-style white-supremacy. Since whites hold narrow population majorities in both county and city they are confident that Afro-Americans won't ever be able to elect a Black sheriff or judge, but Afro-American voters might be able to elect one or two county supervisors or city council members from Black-majority beats and wards.

And in city and county-wide elections Blacks might end up holding the balance of power between competing white candidates. If that came to pass, sooner or later whites challenging incumbent office-holders would begin advocating policies and offering concessions aimed at winning the support of Black voters — thus ending the complete exclusion of Afro-Americans from all aspects of political power. While that would not usher in any dawn of full-on Black Power it would definitely mean an end to White-Only power. So within the local power-structure the hardliners once again take control. If they can't block Black registration though tricks and ploys they'd return to their traditional methods of violence and intimidation.

Rather than a march to the square, on the night the registrars set up shop on Union Street the GCFM stages a voter registration rally in front of the Chat & Chew. The crowd soon swells to over 500 with Movement leaders speaking from the roof of a parked car. Since there are no street lights in the Black community, the only illumination comes from the flickering light of Chat's garish red and yellow neon sign.

Union Street is just one lane in each direction and the main block is hemmed in by buildings and rental shacks. There's no way so many folk can gather without blocking traffic — which isn't really an issue because whites rarely drive into the Black community at night and Blacks have no problem using another street to go around. Nevertheless, cops order the roadway cleared. SCLC staff do the best they can, squeezing open a single narrow car-lane through the middle of the throng even though there are no drivers attempting to use the street.

A cop issues an unintelligible command through a blurry bullhorn — followed immediately by a volley of exploding teargas canisters thrown into the crowd. Screaming and choking, people try to flee from club-swinging lawmen in gasmasks lunging through the searing chemical-fog to beat them down. Troopers charge out of the dark, smashing heads with the butts of their rifles and shotguns. More than 20 Blacks are injured severely enough to require medical attention.

MISSISSIPPI VOTER RALLY, 1966
Hot, drippy evening,
       red & yellow bars of neon light.
A crowd of dark shadows
       defiantly stand in the Mississippi night.
Car roof buckles under the weight
       of silhouetted shadows against the neon.
Courage and song rise up from
       the surrounding sea of unseen folk
       engulfing us like a warm friendly ocean.

Helmets advance out of the dark
       fearsome, their long false faces
       hideous masks of death.
A shouted command, choking fumes,
       explosions,
              screams,
                     terror.

Can't breath, can't see.

The warm ocean scatters like
       spilled quicksilver.
Blindly running, blindly escaping.
Clubs thud against fragile flesh
       as helmets leap out of the night,
out of the agonizing blinding fog
       to fall on helpless innocence.

Quite, echoing quiet,
       the damp Mississippi night closes in
on homes strangely dark.
Black shadows peer from dark windows
       as the Mars-men patrol their temporarily conquered territory,
       boots echoing off stony-faced homes.

Inside, in the dark, human blast furnaces
       forge inner resolve.
Hammers of anger pounding out determination,
       tomorrow... tomorrow.. tomorrow...

Bruce Hartford, SCLC

The next evening, Tuesday August 9th, another voting rally is held outside of the Chat & Chew. People are afraid of another tear gas attack so the crowd is noticeably smaller — a bit less than 300.

Movement lawyers, however, have filed complaints with Judge Clayton in Oxford about the Troopers and cops violating his injunction by interfering with a lawful protest. So on this night the police refrained from attacking the rally. Instead, a crowd of angry whites — young men mostly — suddenly appear at the corner of Union St. and Highway-51 which at that time is called Commerce Street (today, it's Martin Luther King Blvd). This is the heart of the Black community and no group of hostile whites has ever shown up there before to harass a civil rights gathering. Clearly they've been mobilized and organized by someone — Citizens Council, Klan, or others unknown. They gather less than 50 feet from the rally and begin pelting the crowd with rocks and bottles thrown over the heads of the few cops standing between the two groups.

As required by Clayton's injunction, authorities have been informed in advance of the GCFM's intention to march up to the square from the Chat & Chew. About 280 protesters, mostly high school age girls and boys and adult women led by a small number of adult men march from Union to Pearl and then up Pearl past Bellflower church for the normal route downtown. In reluctant obedience to the court order, the Troopers clear a path through the gang of hostile whites — who then race up Cherry Street to reach the square first.

When the freedom marchers arrive the square is already occupied by 750 or so whites including those who had attacked the rally on Union Street. Half of them are actually on the green where GCFM usually holds its rallies with the remainder across the street on the sidewalks. Two formations of riot-equipped troopers are standing nearby but they don't seem interested in taking any action and the local lawmen seem quite friendly with those in the angry mob. In an article the next day, Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times quotes Grenada County Sheriff Suggs Ingram saying, "Now you're going to see a show."

As usual, the marchers are walking two-by-two. Quickly they close up their line, eliminating the section gaps required by Judge Clayton's rules. Holding a tight, disciplined formation is their best protection against violent assault with each marcher's body partially protected by those pressing in close from front, behind, and one side. If the racists attack with clubs and fists they have to assault the column as a whole rather than ganging up on individuals, as they prefer. And by singing freedom songs as loud as they can, the protesters not only bolster their courage but manifest their presence against the mob as a unified battalion rather than a collection of individuals.

As the marchers approach the central green they come under a bombardment of hurled bricks, rocks, bottles, and exploding cherry bombs. March marshals do what they can to knock the flying missiles aside and dodge incoming. "Hold tight, hold tight," they shout over the massed singing. "Keep moving! Keep moving!"

Suddenly a band of the whites on the green charge against the marchers, trying to break their line and scatter the protesters so that individuals can be surrounded and beat down. Shrieking rage, they attack with steel pipes, baseball bats, and flailing clubs. "Niggers! Kill the niggers! Kill 'em! Kill 'em!"

"Hold tight, hold tight," the march marshals shout. "Keep moving! Keep moving! Don't hit back! Sing! Sing!" The marchers don't really need such instructions, by now they're all experienced protesters. But tight packed against each other with their heads down and faces pressed for protection against the person in front of them they can't see what's happening around them and the shouted commands let them know the line is still intact and discipline holding.

More whites charge in with bats and clubs. The marchers cannot reach the green. Nor can they hold their ground in the street. Under vicious attack they are forced to retreat. The 50 or so State Troopers watch with interest but do nothing to deter the white violence. From bitter experience the marchers know the cops are waiting for some tiny sign of defensive-violence by a protester that the lawmen can then use as a pretext for arresting these defiant Blacks who are daring to challenge white supremacy.

Under heavy attack, the march falls back to the intersection of Green and Doak streets at the northwest corner of the square and then begins retreating up Green towards Pearl Street in good order, taking their injured and wounded with them. The column remains solid, and their spirited singing continues to psychologically repel the hate. One of the lawmen throws a tear gas bomb into the line. With the mob still hounding them, it's too dangerous for the protesters to scatter so they have to hold their breath as they stride through the poisonous fumes.

As the racists begin to follow the marchers out of the square and up Green Street, the Troopers finally bestir themselves. They form a line across the road between the tail end of the march and the howling mob. With their rifles and shotguns resting upright on their hips they face not the violent whites behind them but rather the retreating protesters in front of them — a posture that clearly declares to all that they see themselves as protecting the square and white-supremacy from defiant but nonviolent Afro-Americans demanding justice. Which, of course, is exactly the case. From behind the Troopers, the whites continue to hurl their missiles at the protesters over the heads of the lawmen for as long as the marchers remain in range.

Some of the marchers are bruised and bleeding, but just one person needs hospital care— testimony to the effectiveness of nonviolent discipline and training that has carried 280 protesters, mostly women and children, through attack by a violent mob of more than 750 racists.

The next evening, Wednesday, August 10, the Movement rallies yet again outside Chat's on Union St. Again a white mob forms at Union & Commerce, this time armed with large slingshots that they use to shoot exploding cherry bombs, lead fishing sinkers, and sharp links of steel chain over the heads of the troopers and into the rally — missiles that draw blood and might put out an eye. Half a dozen people are injured, though none seriously.

The march to the square that follows, however, is strikingly unusual. After the bloody assault of the night before it is noticeably smaller, less than 250, but it is almost entirely made up of adult Black men who have turned out to face mob violence in place of their mothers, wives, sisters, and children. This is extraordinary. Throughout the South, Afro-American men are the most vulnerable to white violence, police vengeance, and economic retaliation — far more so than women and kids. It is Black men who are most often lynched or assassinated by the Klan, it is they who are arrested on phony charges and sentenced to years in prison. And it is Afro-American men — family breadwinners — who are most likely to be fired from their jobs if they participate in a protest.

But on this night, in this small Mississippi town, these Black men are determined they will not be driven off the square by white violence. They will not retreat from the green. They have told the women and kids to stand aside so they can step up. They understand and accept the necessity of nonviolence, some reluctantly so, others with more commitment. They are ready to endure whatever they have to in order to resist — nonviolently. To enforce this, Afro-American SCLC staff members move through the crowd before the march begins, collecting knives and a few pistols that some of the men have brought with them.

Project director J.T. Johnson, however, and the other senior SCLC staff members assigned to Grenada are in Jackson for the 10th Annual SCLC convention. The fact that Dr. King can hold a convention in Mississippi and be welcomed by the new mayor is incontrovertible proof that the Freedom Movement is defeating old-style Jim Crow white-supremacy across the South — even if Grenada has not yet received the memo.

But rather than let the local Grenada leadership and remaining SCLC staff handle the mob-violence crises on their own, some SCLC functionary decides to send in a temporary project director who has a great deal of direct action experience in other states but has never been to Grenada before. Led by the temporary director some 250 marchers, almost all adult Black men, head up towards the square.

Again, a furious white mob outnumbering the protesters three-to-one is waiting on the square. But state officials in Jackson, reeling from yet another round of atrocious publicity from the previous attacks, are desperate to prevent a third outbreak of racist violence. They send in more Troopers and a posse of state game wardens with new orders from the governor. When the whites begin bombarding the march with their rocks, bottles, cherry bombs, and slingshots the Troopers begin maneuvering in formation to force them out of the square.

The new, temporary march leader, however, is unfamiliar with the situation and previous events. He sees the police maneuvering in force and concludes they're setting a trap, that they're clearing out the mob so they themselves can smash the protest with gas, clubs, and mass arrests without worrying about hurting local white folk. So as the mob is being pushed out of the square to the south and east he leads the line north and then west back to Bellflower. The square is left empty of everyone except law enforcement.

Afterwards, there's enormous disappointment and frustration over retreating from the square, particularly among the Black men who had worked their courage up to a defiant peak, came out to march — nonviolently — into a racist mob and then been undercut by a mistaken decision. Most of them never march again. On the next march, and all the marches that follow, the pattern of a few dozen men leading hundreds of women and students reasserts itself.

Some of SCLC's Grenada staff are angry about the decision to retreat and that someone unfamiliar with the situation had been placed over them in charge. Yet when the convention is over and the project leaders return from Jackson the temporary director stays, continuing to work in Grenada where he proves himself to be a brave and effective freedom fighter — and a good leader. People come to understand that he had led the march off the square not out of personal fear but out of responsibility for the safety of the people he was charged with caring for and that while his error had unhappy consequences, the self-discipline of the protesters who obeyed his "retreat" order was the very thing that in the long-run kept them safe and united.

Meanwhile, the white power-structure continues their efforts to prevent Afro-Americans from registering to vote. They had previously resurrected an old ordinance forbidding gatherings at the courthouse, but since voter registration is now being done at the Chat & Chew the courthouse is no longer a focus of Freedom Movement action. So on Thursday the 11th, the Grenada City Council passed a new law forbidding any public gatherings on the green — an action clearly aimed at halting GCFM rallies.

They also decide to give their "give them no audience" strategy another try. No whites show up to harass the voter rally at Chat's and only a small handful of hecklers are on the square — too few to even be called a gang, much less a mob. When the police prevent anyone from stepping on to the square the demonstrators march around it a few times singing freedom songs, then return to the church. When the marchers reach the square on Friday evening there are no white hecklers at all. To create a legal test-case over the new ordinance, 18 volunteers try to get on the green in defiance of the police while the rest of the marchers circle around the green. The cops shove the volunteers off and eventually seven are arrested.

As the remainder of the marchers begin to leave the square, the Troopers suddenly charge against the rear of the column, hitting people with their rifle butts. Half a dozen marchers are injured, including Emerald Cunningham (14), a polio survivor who is unable to run or dodge. The troopers beat her with the butts of their rifles.

The normal routine then temporarily settles back in, boycott picketing and leafleting, door-to-door canvassing, and evening mass meetings followed by marches to a deserted square. Whites continue to heckle and sometimes assault the boycott pickets and leafletters during the day and the cops continue their harassment and arrests for violating the customs of segregation and white-supremacy.

On Sunday, August 14, twenty people are arrested for trying to attend services at the white-only First Baptist Church. They are charged with "disturbing divine worship." On the next Sunday, August 21, picket lines at put up at white Baptist and Presbyterian churches after they deny entrance to integrated groups of worshipers. That marks the last attempt to integrate church services in Grenada.

 

The School Crisis (August 29-September 11)

On Monday, August 29, Afro-American parents begin filling out "Freedom of Choice" forms for the court-ordered school desegregation of Grenada County's two "white" schools — John Rundle High and Lizzie Horn Elementary which are adjacent to each other on South Line Street, a white neighborhood just a few blocks from Bellflower church and in easy walking distance from the main Afro-American community.

Following the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision, segregationists in the Deep South had been allowed to retain their separate and unequal White and Colored school systems. For 10 years, the court's "all deliberate speed" policy had allowed the South to almost entirely circumvent Brown by admitting just a token handful of Blacks to selected white schools in a few locales. But the Civil Rights Act in 1964 requires cutting off federal funds from segregated school systems. Without those federal dollars, southern politicians would have to either close schools or significantly raise taxes — neither of which would sit well with white voters. So most of them reluctantly realize they have to begin accepting at least a few Afro-Americans into all of the formerly white schools.

Yet they remain committed to retaining their separate and unequal duel systems — one white, one "Colored." For the ruling elite, it's not just that they want to limit social mingling between the races, it's also a matter of restricting as many Afro-Americans as possible to the kind of "sharecropper education" that limits them to menial, low-paid and highly-exploited occupations like field hand and domestic servant. To ensure that the federal dollars continue to flow from Washington while simultaneously keeping the great majority of Black students in segregated schools, they devise Freedom of Choice plans. Under such plans, parents are "free" to choose which school — white or Colored — their children are to attend. Everyone knows, though, that Afro-American parents who choose a white school face firings, evictions, foreclosures, boycotts organized by the White Citizens Council, and violent terrorism from the Ku Klux Klan.

Since few Black families can risk losing their job, home, or business (to say nothing of their lives), white political leaders across the Deep South are confident that just a few Black children will enroll in formerly all-white schools. Those few will then face harassment and humiliation by administrators and teachers — and implacable hostility and abuse from the white students who outnumber them hundreds-to-one. Unrelenting pressure on Afro-American students and their families can then be counted on to force many (in some cases all) to "freely choose" to withdraw from the white school and go back to the Colored school.

Such Freedom of Choice plans allow southern whites to piously claim they no longer practice racial discrimination and that Afro-Americans simply don't want integration because they are "freely choosing" to send their children to the segregated Colored schools. Since Afro-Americans are no longer legally required to attend Colored schools, officials argue they are in compliance with the Civil Rights Act and therefore should continue to receive federal funds. From 1964 until 1968 when Freedom of Choice plans are finally ruled illegal they effectively perpetuate segregation in public school systems across most of the South.

But not in Grenada Mississippi in 1966.

Grenada is one of the die-hard segregationist strongholds that has adamantly refused to allow any school integration at all despite Brown and the Civil Rights Act. Which is where matters stand when the Meredith March and the 20th Century arrive in June of 1966.

The newly-formed Grenada County Freedom Movement asks the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to file a lawsuit demanding that Grenada cease operating its still completely segregated white and Colored school systems. Presented with an open and shut case of flagrant violation of both Brown and the Civil Rights Act, federal judge Clayton quickly rules that Grenada schools have to be desegregated forthwith — by September!

The Grenada school board responds with a Freedom of Choice plan — no doubt expecting to end up with just a handful of Black children attending the two white schools. But Grenada now has a powerful and well-organized movement to support Afro-American parents, assist them in resisting intimidation, and provide timely legal aid. And SCLC's Washington office stands ready to make sure that both the Justice and Education Departments diligently enforce federal law.

On the morning of Monday, 29 August, some 300 Black students and parents led by the GCFM march together en masse to pick up the "choice" forms. By Thursday, September 1st, some 450 Black kids have turned in forms choosing to attend the white schools. That's an enormous number — not just for Mississippi but for the entire Deep South where most white schools still have less than a dozen Afro-American students (if they have any at all).

Whites in Grenada are aghast — and enraged. Hecklers begin returning to the square to harass the nightly marches for the first time since the voter-registration violence two weeks earlier. Day by day, the number of hostile whites shouting hate and fury rapidly increase. Though tension is clearly rising, few police or troopers are present.

Friday, September 2nd, is supposed to be the first day of school but at the last minute the school board postpones it for ten days, citing the burdens of "paper work." Nevertheless, that evening the white high school plays its first football game of the season. Football is an essential element of the Mississippi high school experience, so some of the Afro-American kids who have registered to attend Rundle High show up to support the Rundle Bulldogs.

[Field Report: Friday 9/2
Friday night the formerly white high school (John Rundle) had it's opening football game at the stadium. Two car loads of Negroes went out to the stadium to go to the game. They were assaulted by gangs of white teenagers who were waiting outside the stadium in case any Negroes tried to get in. Pat Lock, Constable of Beat-5 drew his pistol and smashed in the windows of one of the cars. Local youth leader Robert Johnson was beaten by the mob. Later a Negro man was driving by the stadium and the teenagers began to throw rocks at his car he sped up to get away and was arrested by state troopers on a traffic charge. — Bruce Hartford, SCLC.] [30]

It's a brutal attack, but local and SCLC leaders are focused on the rising tension and hostility confronting the marches to the square and they fail to consider what the attack on the high school kids might portend.

Segregationists use the ten day delay to wage a fierce campaign against Black parents to coerce them into withdrawing their children from the two white schools. Some parents are fired from their jobs, others evicted from their homes. Black families and Movement activists are plagued with racist phone calls filled with curses, obscenities, and explicit death threats. Most Afro-Americans respond by quickly hanging-up, but men who listen to the call are treated to graphic descriptions of how they will be castrated with rusty razor blades and Black women are regaled with detailed descriptions of the brutal, savage rape soon to be inflicted on them. This campaign of racist intimidation and retaliation is clearly being organized and orchestrated — by someone but it's not clear who. Klan? White Citizens Council? Elected officials?

To counter it, and to support students and parents, marches to the square are doubled to twice a day, afternoon and evening. Day after day and night after night 200-300 courageous activists march and march again. Day after day, night after night the mobs grow larger and angrier, hurling objects and attacking with fists, bats, chains, and steel pipes. Though cops and Troopers are under court orders to restrain violence and protect demonstrators from mob attack, their reluctant, half-hearted, and pro-forma gestures in that direction are clearly no more than a pretense. Neither the mob nor the demonstrators take them seriously — Afro-Americans are on their own.

On Monday, September 5th, SCLC staff members J.T. Johnson and R.B. Cottenreader are attacked while they picket a white merchant's store. They swear out an arrest warrant against their assailant. But it is they who are arrested when he swears out a counter-warrant against them. On the 6th, SCLC staff member Bruce Hartford is attacked and beaten on the street near Bellflower church. SCLC staff member Willie Bolden is arrested when he tries to talk to the police about the escalating violence. These attacks and threats are a component of the coercion campaign, forcing Black parents to ponder what might happen to their child in a school surrounded by white teachers and students?

The Grenada County Freedom Movement refuses to back down. On Thursday, September 8, the GCFM defiantly issues a new, more comprehensive set of demands. The original July 9 demands had focused on various kinds of segregation. A month later, the August demands concentrated on ending specific police abuses. The GCFM's new September demands reflect a growing conviction among local leaders and activists that the root-issue is power — political and economic. They reformulate their goals into a broad, category-by-category demand for economic justice and a fair share of political power in Grenada. They don't use the phrase "Black Power" but it's a step in that direction.

Yet despite the Movement's efforts, the steadily escalating violence, economic retaliation, and verbal intimidation are having an effect. On the Saturday afternoon before school is to open only 160 people are willing to march, noticeably fewer than normal. As usual, most of them are women and high school kids. The marchers are greatly outnumbered by hostile whites who now have a new tactic. Instead of gathering on the sidewalk around the perimeter of the square to shout abuse and hurl objects, they are now parading around the green themselves in the street normally used by the freedom marchers. The Black protesters fall in behind the segregationists with a narrow gap between the two groups and both circle the green several times, one behind the other.

The evening march is also smaller than normal, no more than 200. When they reach the square after dark the racists are again parading, but now they've thinned their line to completely surround the green in a continuous circle. So the freedom marchers walk parallel to them — side by side as it were (though not, of course, in solidarity with each other). The side by side proximity of the two groups makes it easy for whites to dart over and strike at the nonviolent Movement supporters. A number of freedom marchers are attacked including SCLC staff members Alphonzo Harris and Mike Bibler.

The segregationists clearly have the edge in violence, but the freedom marchers are superior in song and spirit, easily drowning out racist chants and pitiful attempts to sing Dixie with Oh Freedom and We Shall Overcome..

Only one march is held on Sunday, the last day before school opens on the morrow. Some 200 protesters grimly summon their courage and head for the square. Again they are far outnumbered by a large crowd of hostile racists who have abandoned their counter-parade strategy and resumed heckling and throwing rocks and bottles from the sidewalk around the square. Since there's no communication between whites and Blacks in Grenada, Movement activists can only speculate on why they do or don't do this or that. Perhaps marching in even loose formation is too disciplined for them and they prefer to mill around as a mob and share whiskey from bottles concealed by brown paper bags.

Most of the hostile whites content themselves by shouting and chanting their racist hate and hurling rocks, bottles, and cherry bombs at the marchers. But half a dozen of the most violent suddenly charge into the freedom line, beating R.B. Cottonreader and others before pulling back. Among those injured is SCLC staff member Lula Williams who is attacked by a white woman who repeatedly clubs her with a furled umbrella.

Despite Movement efforts, the coercion campaign has been effective. Threatened by loss of jobs and evictions and fearing for their safety of their children, the parents of some 200 of the 450 Afro-American students who had registered for the white schools "freely choose" to withdraw their kids and re-register them at the Colored schools. But to segregationist fury, some 250 Black elementary and high school students remain committed to integrating the previously all-white Grenada schools.

 

Mob Terror and the Courage of Children (September 12-19)

Monday, September 12, is the first day of integrated school. A furious mob of more than 500 segregationists, mostly men, surround Grenada's white schools, determined to block Afro-American children from entering. This is not a spontaneous outburst of rage, it is a well-organized attack with visible leaders — one of whom is Judge Ayers, the Grenada Justice of the Peace. Rather than protecting children from violent attack, almost every elected official and lawman from Grenada City and County is present to defend segregation. And judging by their license plates, it's clear that racists from all over the state have converged on Grenada, many of them no doubt Klansmen. Scouts in pickup trucks with two-way radios patrol the nearby streets, targeting special "action teams" against Black children ranging in age from 6 to 17 who are walking to school.

Some of the cars carrying Black children manage to drop their kids off, others are blocked and attacked by the mob who smash windows with baseball bats and steel pipes and then batter those inside. There are few police in evidence and they do nothing at all to halt the violence. A contingent of riot-equipped State Troopers loiter around the corner. FBI agents stand by taking notes. They make no effort whatsoever to enforce the federal desegregation order, or the Civil Rights Act, or the U.S. Constitution, or to protect innocent children from brutal attacks. When asked by a reporter what they are doing one replies that they are "investigating" to, "determine whether any federal laws or court orders had been violated."

The majority of the 250 or so students who are still determined to integrate the white schools come from the Northside Afro-American neighborhood around Bellflower Church where the Freedom Movement is strongest. Most of them are walking to school in ones and twos. They are set upon by roving bands of segregationists who beat them with clubs, chains, bullwhips, and pipes. A white woman trips Richard Sigh (12) with her umbrella, men kick him and beat him with pipes, breaking his leg at the hip. Another young boy is forced to run a gauntlet of cursing men, blood sheeting down his face. "That'll teach you, nigger," yelled one of the whites attacking him. "Don't come back tomorrow!" A white woman watches a gang of men whip a pig-tailed elementary school girl. A reporter overhears her murmur to herself, "How can they laugh when they are doing it?"

Braving the danger and violence, almost a third of the 250 Black kids manage to make it into the temporary safety of the school buildings. For some reason, the mob doesn't follow them inside — possibly out of concern that in narrow building corridors white kids might accidentally be injured in their violence.

The remaining Afro-American children, bruised, bleeding, and terrified, retreat back to Bellflower church which now resembles a battle zone first-aid station more than a place of worship. In a total failure of foresight, SCLC has made no preparations for anything like this at all. Other than nonviolence advocates Ira and Susan Sandperl who along with singer Joan Baez are volunteering in Grenada to support the Movement, there are no outside observers. Nor are there any MCHR volunteer doctors or nurses on hand to care for wounded. SCLC staff and parents have to pitch in with emergency first-aid ferrying the badly injured to a hospital in the all-Black town of Mound Bayou more than an hour distant.

Back on South Line Street, reporters and photographers were still trying to cover the first large-scale integration of a Mississippi school system. Most of them were southerners themselves but that didn't prevent them from being viciously set upon by the enraged white mob. Bloody and battered, they too fall back to the precarious safety of Bellflower church.

Mississippi counties are divided into districts called "beats" each of which elects a constable who is sort of a junior sheriff. Beat-1 included the town of Grenada and its constable was Grady Carrol. Of all the county's lawmen, he was the most hostile to Afro-Americans and the Freedom Movement — and the news media. "Some of the newsmen needed a cleaning," he later explained to a New York Times reporter. "If they tell a lie, they need a whupping from anybody who wants to give it to them."

Later that day, Mississippi Governor Paul Johnson "deplored" the assault on local southern reporters and photographers, "It is bad enough for hoodlums to attack with the intent to do violence upon any news personnel. For the ignoramuses to attack our own people is unforgivable." He makes no mention of adult men savagely clubbing and whipping elementary school kids.

A little after 9:00am, Black SCLC staff members lead the children who had retreated to Bellflower on a march back to the two schools. Many of the student integrators are veterans of mass marches to the square, familiar with the group tactics of nonviolently enduring and prevailing over white violence. The hope is that those techniques can get the kids through the mob. Since the purpose of the march is to protect the students and see them safely to school, the few white SCLC staff members are asked to not participate — as are singer Joan Baez and nonviolence activists Ira and Susan Sandperl — because it is thought that the presence of white allies would incite the mob to even greater fury.

Alerted by the cops, the mob is ready and waiting for the march, brutally attacking en masse. The SCLC staff members leading the line are targeted and beaten, some so bad they have to be hospitalized. Emerald Cunningham, the girl lamed by polio who walks with a pronounced limp and who had previously been attacked by Troopers up on the square, can't run fast enough to escape. She is beaten down in the street, kicked, and clubbed with a lead pipe. A Klansman holds a pistol to her head, "Nigger," he screams at her, "I'll shoot your brains out!" She has to be hospitalized for her injuries, as do other children with broken bones and bloody wounds.

A lawman watches the whole incident and laughs. FBI agents take notes, no doubt to aid their "investigation" into the remote possibility that someone might be in violation a federal court order.

Finally, though, the local cops move into action. They arrest SCLC staff member Lula Williams for "felonious assault" based on a complaint by the white woman who had beaten her with an umbrella the previous evening during the march to the square. Grown men who brutally assault Black children with baseball bats and steel pipes are allowed free reign, but Lula is held on $1,000 bail (equal to $7,600 in 2018).

Meanwhile, the 80 or so Afro-American kids who managed to elude the mob earlier that morning are now trapped inside the two schools, surrounded by violent white men on the outside and threatened by hostile white students and teachers on the inside. This first-day session is scheduled to end at noon, by which time the mob has grown even larger. Chanting, cursing, and drinking, they wait for the Black children to exit into their midst.

Desperate to protect the kids from the white mob, SCLC staff, local movement leaders, and Afro-American parents try to reach the schools before the noon closing but they're halted by rifle-armed Mississippi State Troopers who have blocked all the surrounding streets. The Troopers bar Blacks, but give free access to whites. Meanwhile, a truckload of club-wielding white men turn their attention downtown, attacking R.B. Cottonreader and a group of boycott pickets, injuring several.

At noon, one of the principals summons all the white girls and the younger white boys to a location in the school where they'll be protected and safe. The older white boys are allowed to leave, either going home or joining the mob. Then he orders the Black boys and girls of all ages out of building, forcing them into the mob which viciously assaults them. Dedicated freedom marcher Dorothy Allen (16) has to race through a gauntlet of violent attackers, as does Pointdexter Harbie beaten bloody in the face. A Black child's skull is fractured, sending him and others to hospital with broken bones and internal injuries. [26] [27][29]

As Nina Simone sang it so well, "Mississippi Goddamn!"

[As an historical side note, Dianna Freelon, then 16, was one of the children attacked and beaten by the white mob. In 2004 she was elected Mayor of Grenada in an election where two white candidates split the white vote. She served one term in office before whites coalesced around a single challenger to oust her.]

Later that evening hundreds of furious whites jammed the City Council meeting to rage against school integration and even the minimal, passive protection that police presence had granted Black children. "You get the highway patrol out of here and in 24 hours there won't be a nigger left!" shouted one man. With the hardliners once more back in control, the Council fires the "moderate" City Manager McEachin is purged, apparantly for exhibiting insufficient enthusiasm for mob attacks on children.

Later, a huge white mob numbering more than a thousand fills the square in anticipation of the regular evening march. But by that time the national news media is breaking the story of school children and reporters being savagely attacked by white racists while law enforcement does nothing.

Once again, that puts pressure on state officials in Jackson. The officer in charge of the State Trooper contingent promises that if there's no march that night his men will protect the children going to school the next day. Movement leaders put no faith in his assurances, they've heard his, we'll protect you tomorrow song and dance before. But more than 100 of the 250 kids who had tried to attend the white schools are still determined to persevere despite the danger and everything possible has to be done to protect them — even if it means grasping at straws. So based on a promise no one trusts the march is canceled.

Movement leaders put out the word that no Afro-American students are to walk to school on their own. The next morning, Tuesday the 13th, more than 100 courageous Afro-American elementary and high school students gather at Bellflower Church to be driven by Black adults willing to risk mob assault and damage to their cars. Again the white mob has the schools surrounded and again they attack any Blacks who approach, smashing car windows with baseball bats and steel pipes. State Troopers, local lawmen, and FBI agents again watch the violence and again do nothing to stop it. At least 10 kids are seriously injured and many vehicles are damaged. Yet despite the violence, a good portion of the students manage to defiantly enter the two school buildings.

A swarm of journalists and TV crews from around the world are now recording the mob's actions, and law-enforcement's inaction. Again reporters and photographers are attacked. And again the cops do finally bestir themselves to arrest someone — SCLC staff member Major Wright who is on the sidelines, observing and reporting back to Movement leaders. He's busted for "trespass." A civil rights lawyer, also there to observe, begins speaking to Constable Grady Carroll who calls down an "action team" to beat him with fists and clubs.

Meanwhile, out in the world, reports and TV footage of Monday's mob attack on school kids are being printed and broadcast across the globe. Intense political pressure from business interests both inside and outside the state is coming down on Mississippi and its Governor. Around noon, word begins to circulate that he has finally ordered the Troopers to actually protect the children. That word is passed to the mob leaders. More often than not throughout the South, violent white mobs are mobilized, influenced, and directed by the white power-structure rather than occurring as spontaneous outbursts of emotion. Such is the case in Grenada. Obedient to command from on high, the violent throng around the schools quickly begins to dwindle down to a few disgruntled diehards.

Classes end around 3pm. Led by Dr. King who had flown down from Chicago, a hundred or so Black adults and civil rights workers march out of Bellflower church to escort the students through the mob they assume is still lurking in ambush. Rifle-armed Troopers stop them at the barricade a couple of blocks from the two schools. They say their orders are that no one but students and parents are allowed through and promise that from now on they will prevent attacks on children. The marchers have no reason to believe them (and every reason not to), but there is no way they can force their way through the heavily-armed blockade.

The adults wait until the kids safely come out through the barricade and report that the mob has dispersed. Everyone marches back to Bellflower together singing freedom songs and feeling victorious at having survived a second day of integrated school with pride and dignity.

That night the evening march is small, only 170 or so. Wounds and injuries prevent some of the regular protesters from participating and others have been frightened away by the mob. Those who do march conceal their fear behind a shield of spirited singing. When they reach the square a mob of 500 or more whites are waiting with rocks, bottles, bats, and pipes. No cops or troopers are visible. None at all — a silent but eloquent invitation to mob violence. As the demonstrators circle the green they're bombarded by a hail of thrown missiles and links of steel chain shot from slingshots.

Singing their hearts out, the marchers circle the green two or three times. Soon many are bleeding from stones and chain links. A gang of enraged whites charge into the front of the line, swinging clubs and fists. The tightly packed protesters take the blows on their shoulders and the arms they raise to protect their heads as they keep on marching. A squad of Troopers finally comes around the corner to push the attackers away and hold them back.

Reporters and cameramen, however, are not attacked by the mob. At the request of TV networks, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had "volunteered" a dozen of his biggest, beefiest cops to "take leave of absence" so they could protect the mass media from mob violence. They'd arrived in two chartered jets earlier that afternoon and they move with the newsmen like a football team's defensive line. Not even Grady Carroll's gang messes with them. The freedom marchers, of course, have no such protection.

On Wednesday morning, September 14, there are still 86 children of all ages willing to brave the mob and the implacable hostility of white students and teachers. They are determined to win at all cost, to defeat their white racist enemies and not give an inch. This is not, of course, because they have some great burning desire to sit next to white children in class. Rather they are simply fed up with being treated as inferior, being told they aren't "good enough." They understand, respect, and deeply appreciate the academic fundamentals and self-pride that some courageous Black teachers surreptitiously impart to their students in defiance of Mississippi's white education authorities. But they're sick and tired of having to endure the kind of "sharecropper education" that the state forces upon the segregated Colored schools.

On Tuesday, while the mob was attacking cars carrying Afro-American kids the police were carefully noting down the license plates of those driving children to school. For the rest of the day the cops harassed them with bogus citations for imaginary traffic infractions. So GCFM adopts a new strategy of marching the kids to school from Bellflower. The march is stopped at the Trooper barricade two blocks from the schools. There are some white hecklers nearby, but no mob. None of the children are attacked as they approach the school doors. The small march to the square that night is well protected by Troopers and the waiting mob is subdued, limiting themselves for the most part to verbal abuse.

Movement lawyers had, of course, immediately complained to Judge Clayton in Oxford about mob violence thwarting his desegregation order. Classes are canceled on Thursday so that school officials can appear in federal court. The next day the judge issues a sweeping injunction ordering the county and city of Grenada and the state of Mississippi to protect children on their way to and from school. For this "intrusive federal interference with states rights" he is roundly condemned and vilified by local white politicians.

Now that Troopers are finally protecting students from mob attack, some 160 kids show up at Bellflower for the Friday morning march to school. But 25 are sent home by school officials because of minor technicalities in their paperwork. That evening there is no mob in the square waiting for the night march. It's unclear to Movement activists whether the white power-structure has gone back to its "no audience strategy" or they're having trouble keeping their mobs mobilized.

A powerful sense of achievement buoys the Movement and the Afro-American community at large. Black Grenadans have defied and endured daily assaults from raging Klan-led mobs. Now the racist mobs are gone while the Movement is still marching and Afro-American kids are still attending the white schools. On Sunday, Dr. King addresses a mass meeting jam-packed with more than 650 people. Three times the normal 200 or so participate in the night march to the square including many adults who have never marched before. Afro-Americans see it as a victory march — and so do many whites.

Over the following week some of those sent back from the white school because of paper technicalities are able to get enrolled, others aren't. As it finally settles down, out of the 450 Afro-Americans who had first asked for Freedom of Choice transfers in September about 150 end up attending the two white schools. While 150 is only a third of the original number, it is far greater than the number of Blacks attending any other integrated school in Mississippi.

On Saturday, September 18, the FBI finally arrests 13 whites on conspiracy charges for organizing and leading the mob attack on the first day of school. One of them is Judge Ayers who has jurisdiction over many of the civil rights arrest cases in Grenada.

A year later, in 1967, they are tried in federal court for mobbing school children. The evidence is overwhelming. The kids identify their attackers from the witness stand. Under oath, two white policemen give reluctant testimony against the defendants, as does the principal of the white high school. The defense arguments offered to refute the charges are pathetic, some claim they weren't there that day despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. One man who is accused of kicking a Black child in the face tells the court "The boy fell down at my feet and grabbed at my breeches — when the boy grabbed my leg I fell backward and my leg went up."

It takes only 30 minutes for an all-white, all-male jury to acquit each and every defendant on every single charge. [28]

 

Grappling With Poverty (1966-1969)

From its commencement back in early July, the "Blackout" boycott of Grenada's white merchants is highly effective, cutting deep into sales and profits. But access to groceries is the boycott's weak link. The few Black-owned stores are small "mom & pop" operations whose product selection is far smaller than that of Pak'N Sak, Grenada's main grocery store (white owned, of course). And because the Afro-American stores are overcharged by white wholesalers their prices are higher. The nearest town with a large market is Greenwood a 45 minute drive each way and many Afro-Americans in Grenada have no car or spare coin for gas. The result is that many Black families have no choice but to sometimes shop at white-owned markets.

SCLC leader Hosea Williams proposes that members of Grenada's minuscule Black business and professional strata build a Black-owned "supermarket" to compete with Pak'N Sak. With seed money from the United Auto Workers union plus stock purchased by local folk, B&P Enterprises Inc. (for "Business & Professional") comes into existence. The board of directors consists of Rev. Sharper Cunningham the pastor of Bellflower Church and the main GCFM leader, a principal at one of the two Colored schools, a Black teacher, and the coach of the Colored high-school's football team.

An empty lot at the north end of Main Street near the Yalabousha River bridge is purchased from an Afro-American landowner. Supervised by SCLC staff member Jim Bulloch (a former engineer), construction work on a 6600 square-foot concrete block building begins. (For comparison, today's modern urban "supermarkets" average around 40,000 square feet, but typical Black-owned "mom & pop" stores of the 1960s are usually between 200 and 500 square feet, so the "supermarket" label is not an exaggeration for that time and place.)

[Field report, Friday 9/9-
Today construction was began on a Negro supermarket. This supermarket is being rushed to completion to support the "Grenada Blackout" campaign which is in it's 3rd month. This "Blackout" has been (by admission of the White power structure) "Extremely effective." It is estimated that it is 85-90% effective among Negroes and many whites are not shopping in Grenada because of the pickets and marches. — Bruce Hartford, SCLC.] [30]

Building a Black supermarket also fits into a broader context of poverty, economic development, and political organizing that the Freedom Movement as a whole is beginning to address. By the mid-60s, it is clear to Movement activists that overt, legally-sanctioned segregation will soon be ended (or at least greatly diminished) and Afro-Americans will be registered to vote in large numbers. But most Blacks will still be poor and economically dependent on whites. As Hosea and other SCLC leaders see it, one way to address that problem is to build up an Afro-American middle-class of business owners who will serve their community and provide jobs to other Blacks.

Elsewhere, SCLC is experimenting with other economic-oriented programs. Led by Jesse Jackson, "Operation Breadbasket" in Atlanta and Chicago focuses on using the threat of consumer boycotts to force white employers to start hiring Afro-American workers. And back in the Alabama Black Belt, Albert Turner is organizing the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association (SWAFCA) to empower and sustain Black land owners.

In Louisiana, Alabama, and other areas of Mississippi, similar economic empowerment and agricultural justice efforts by SNCC and CORE are being undertaken within the ideological framework of "Black Power." SCLC doesn't use that terminology, but the actual programmatic content of there efforts are not all that different from those of CORE and SNCC.

At the same time that white mobs are attacking school children in September, Pak'N Sak grocery files a lawsuit demanding $960,000 damages for "lost business" due to the Blackout. (That's equal to around $7,500,000 in 2018.) The named defendants are SCLC staff and GCFM leaders, three Afro-American churches, and all of the Black taxi drivers.

Under Mississippi law at that time, consumer boycotts are illegal. Economic boycotts by the White Citizens Council against establishments that try to operate on an integrated basis are never prosecuted, but "blackouts" and selective buying campaigns by Blacks protesting segregation and discrimination face legal suppression. To the Freedom Movement, the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech — and clearly enforced in a racially-biased manner. So Blacks defiantly violate it as an act of civil disobedience.

The lawsuit hearing begins in early November. The Movement defendants are accused of organizing a consumer boycott of Pak'N Sak because of their segregation policies, their discriminatory hiring practices, and their general support of white supremacy in Grenada — all of which is absolutely accurate. Had the suit been heard in a federal court, the Movement's constitutional and selective-prosecution arguments might have carried some weight, but the case is brought to the racially-biased Grenada County court.

A.G. Allen, the owner of Pak'N Sak, testifies as the plaintiff (in other words, the prosecution). Under oath, he admits that he knows only three or four of the 70 or so people he is suing, has never actually read the suit, does not know who had written it, and knows nothing about the specific incidents alleged in it. Obviously, he and the lawsuit are being used by the white power-structure to crush the boycott and financially cripple SCLC and the churches that are supporting the Movement.

Despite Allen's shaky testimony, the judge immediately rules in his favor and issues an injunction prohibiting all boycott activities.

Movement lawyers appeal, but civil rights cases move very, very slowly through Mississippi's judicial system and meanwhile the injunction remains in force, prohibiting leafletting and picketing. And as a practical matter, it's not possible to mount a sustained civil-disobedience campaign to resist it. Activists who had previously been arrested for violating the anti-boycott law could be bailed out while their cases were successfully appealed on constitutional grounds. But when people are jailed for violating an injunction bail and appeals are not allowed — they remain in the slammer indefinitely until the judge (in his infinite mercy) decides to let them go.

Without a Movement presence downtown, the boycott wanes and fades away — which is, of course, what the white power-structure intends.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day grind of Movement work continues. Canvassing door-to-door, house meetings and mass meetings, recruiting and organizing. A Poor Peoples Committee (PPC) is formed to defend the rights of welfare recipients. As is customary for the time, its titular head is a male minister (there's little or no female clergy in 1966) but all the active members and real leaders are women — Mamie Wilmington, Senora Springfield, Essie Mullin, and Bulah Washington. Soon an average of 15 women are meeting regularly to discuss the economic issues that affect their lives and that of their neighbors. A few are school teachers, most of the others are maids or low-wage workers, but all of them are able to read and write well and their main concern is helping those lower down on the economic ladder than themselves.

Without question, Mississippi's welfare system is one of the very worst in the nation — deliberately so. It's designed to keep large numbers of poor Afro-Americans in such desperate economic straits that they will work for starvation wages on the cotton plantations during the short planting, chopping, and picking seasons — either as sharecroppers or day-laborers. Since it's purpose is labor-force management rather than helping people improve their lives or climb out of poverty, the state welfare system and federal surplus "commodity" food program barely keep recipients alive on a few cents a day while forcing them to live in shacks hardly different from slave-era hovels.

Every election cycle, the state's white power-structure fulminates against "those lazy welfare bums." But for decades they themselves have been the chief beneficiaries of the tax-funded welfare system that maintains in place their seasonal labor force — at no direct cost to them. Had there been no welfare system they'd have had to pay their seasonal workers enough to survive year-round.

But by the mid-1960s a fundamental economic shift is underway. The fields are being mechanized and the planters no longer need large numbers of seasonal workers. The White Citizens Council is providing low-interest loans for them to invest in machines and agro-chemicals that can do the work more efficiently and at lower cost than the abysmally low wages they pay their "field hands." And in response to the Freedom Movement, those same Black "hands" are beginning to register to vote which threatens the land-baron's political domination.

So the old welfare system is no longer politically or economically beneficial to the wealthy planters — those who Dr. King referred to as "Bourbons." Now, instead of maintaining sharecroppers and laborers on the land, the Bourbons seek to drive them out of the state. Ever sensitive to political winds, welfare officials are intensifying their efforts to deny or cut peoples' benefits and they don't hesitate to violate their own rules and procedures to do so.

Grenada, both city and county, is part of that pattern. As soon as Afro-Americans begin demanding their human rights, local authorities step up their efforts to economically force them out of the county. SCLC staff member Bruce Hartford obtains from Marian Wright (today Marian Wright Edelman) at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Jackson a copy of Your Welfare Rights, a 70-page handbook explaining in plain English what Mississippi's welfare laws and rules are and how to oppose and appeal illegal or capricious denial of benefits.

During the day the PPC meets with Black welfare recipients about their experiences with the welfare department. Night after night the ladies of the committee study the handbook and discuss how to use the information.

They form three working teams. The first focuses on reaching out to welfare recipients, noting down their stories and problems, and preparing factual information for a U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearing scheduled for Jackson in 1967. The second team handles written correspondence and appeals with the welfare agency on behalf of unfairly treated recipients. The third team, composed of the most bold and courageous women, accompanies applicants and recipients down to the welfare office to help them fill out the forms and to ensure that they receive fair treatment and the benefits they are entitled to.

Their first victory is forcing the officials to obey their own rules allowing advocates to accompany both applicants and people appealing decisions all the way through the process. With defiant courage, the ladies of the PPC insist that they be allowed to attend interviews and hearings and to help people with their forms — and they win.

 

Grit & Determination, Courage & Pride (October 6-November 7)

As summer turns to fall, the Grenada County Freedom Movement (GCFM) continues to doggedly hold nightly marches to the square but the number of participants dwindles down to 100 or less. People are tired, worn out with protests, tension, danger, arrests, and economic retaliation by whites. And they're becoming discouraged by the slow pace of change since "The Movement" came to town. Despite the steadily rising number of Black voters, all aspects of government power still remain exclusively in white hands. Every public official, cop, bureaucrat, and clerk is still white. Nothing has improved economically for Afro-American while many have been fired or evicted as punishment for their Movement activity.

But beneath the surface something has changed — profoundly so — in the Afro-American community itself. Where once fear, subservience, and a brutally enforced sense of inferiority had been dominant characteristics, now courage, pride, and self- respect are on the rise. Even Blacks who personally take no active part in the Freedom Movement feel the change. As do whites who fight it, and resent it, but have no choice but to accept it because despite their ruthless efforts the old days of Jim Crow style white-supremacy are dying — killed by Black men and women, girls and boys, who simply refuse to endure it any longer.

Thursday, October 6th, marks the 100th mass march of the Grenada Movement. A special turnout effort temporarily boosts the number of marchers to 170 and there's a rally at the courthouse in defiance of the local ordinance forbidding such activity. But SCLC is struggling financially and bail money is scarce, so when the cops appear about ready to make arrests the protesters quickly leave. Spirits are temporarily lifted, but the persistent problems of dwindling participation and lack of bail money for any kind of sustained civil disobedience remain.

On Saturday the 8th, for the first time ever not enough people show up at the nightly mass meeting to hold a march. GCFM and SCLC leaders sense that 75 is the rock-bottom minimum number that a night march has to have for safety. Anything smaller would appear so weak as to invite attack from spontaneous groups of hostile whites. Over the next ten days marches of between 75 and 100 are held, but two times the minimum number is not reached and the protests are canceled due to lack of marchers.

The steady decline in participation is painful, frustrating, and disheartening to the remaining activists, but the limits of sustained direct action have been reached and no amount of organizing, explanation, or exhortation is able to counter exhaustion and discouragement. Movement leaders know that if some crises or atrocity momentarily reenergize people it might be possible to resume protests for a while around that particular issue, but daily mass meetings and marches as a way of involving people in the Freedom Movement has run its course. Whites, too, take notice. The waning number of protesters and the canceled marches have once again put the white "moderates" in ascendancy over the hardliners and McEachin is rehired as City Manager.

Meanwhile, the Afro-American children holding out in the white schools are enduring intense, unremitting harassment aimed at pressuring them to drop out and resume their Colored education. While they are no longer facing attack by white mobs outside the buildings, inside they are waging a daily struggle for dignity and survival. White kids freely kick and push Black kids in the halls, throw objects at them, curse them, and call them "nigger," "jigaboo," "coon," and other insults. School authorities do nothing to curtail student behavior or protect Afro-American children. White boys are allowed to carry knives, saps, and other weapons but nonwhites are suspended for doing the same. Whenever an Afro-American student has any kind of conflict with a white, the Black is punished — by mid-October 40 have already been suspended or expelled as "troublemakers" — while the white kids get a wink and a nod from administrators and teachers.

Knowing what they face, the young Afro-American school integrators dread going to school each day. By mid-October, 60 of the 150 or so who had managed to enroll at the beginning of the term have been expelled or driven out by indignities, physical attacks, harassment by teachers and administrators, or economic retaliation against their parents. But with raw courage and determined grit some 90 or so Black children still hold out. They pick up their books each morning and walk into what has for them become the halls of hell.

Two new incidents occur on Tuesday, October 18. At Horn Elementary an Afro-American boy is sitting in the cafeteria with some white students. The principal orders him to move and sit with the other Black kids. When he refuses, the principal yanks him from his seat, ripping his jacket. At Rundle High the same day, Dorothy Allen — one of the most courageous and dedicated of the young freedom marchers — is punched by a white boy. She hits him back and is taken to the principal who orders her to bring her mother to school the following day — an indication that she is about to be expelled.

That evening, an emergency meeting of more than 100 parents discusses what to do about the violence and harassment at the white schools. They decide to send a delegation to accompany Dorothy's mother to see the principal and to ask for formal meetings between parents and teachers. Twenty of those present courageously agree to be part of the delegation.

On Wednesday, the high school principal refuses to meet with the parents delegation or set up any future meetings. While adamantly denying any pattern of discrimination or abuse, he claims he was willing talk to any individual parent about any specific problem. But he refuses to take any action that might acknowledge or imply the existence of issues affecting Afro-American students as a group. Nor is he willing to meet with more than one set of parents at a time. In other words, mothers and fathers of one child with a complaint can come before him as lone supplicants to his power in traditional Jim Crow fashion, but not if they bring along anyone else to support them, or anyone who might later become a witness in a court of law.

That night the mass meeting is well attended for the first time in weeks. They decide to try to meet with the principal again on Thursday and if he still refuses the Black students will walk out in protest on Friday. That night more than 200 join the march to the square, the largest number in some time.

On Thursday, the principal again refuses to meet with any group of Black parents. On Friday at 10am the remaining 90 or so Afro-American students in the two white schools defiantly walk out to protest continuing abuse and harassment. Some 180 students at the two Colored schools also walk out in sympathy. Later that afternoon, another delegation of parents tries to talk to both the principal and Grenada School Superintendent Wilborn but Troopers prevent them from reaching the campus — the first time that parents have ever been blocked.

Over the weekend, parents of the Afro-American kids who walked out of both the white and Colored schools are notified that their children are suspended for 10 days until November 1st. On Monday the 24th, there's a morning march of more than 200 parents and students to the white schools to protest the suspensions. Nationwide, the urban uprisings, Black Power controversies and shift of focus to northern and economic issues are all reducing civil rights contributions from white liberals so SCLC is struggling financially. By now the number of SCLC staff assigned to Grenada is less than half the number who had been there during the summer peak and the few who are left are spread thin, so thin that only three SCLC staff members are assigned to accompany the marchers.

When the march column is stopped by State Troopers they kneel down to pray. All 200 of them are arrested on some vague charge. Grenada doesn't have cells for large numbers of arrestees so those older than 15 are forced into open cattle trucks and taken to the notorious Parchman Prison, an hour's drive into the Delta. Some of the younger kids are shipped to Greenville jail, an hour and a half away, while others are locked up in Grenada City and County jails. The very young kids are released to their parents.

That afternoon another parents delegation tries to meet with the principal of Lizzie Horn Elementary. He tells them he doesn't, "want to talk to no niggers." On Tuesday the 25th, yet another delegation is turned away and when they sit down on the sidewalk in protest some 30 or so are arrested.

In the prison cells, SCLC staff members Major Wright, Herman Dozier, and Bill Harris are all brutally beaten by cops and guards. Lester Hankerson never fully recovers from a savage assault. Tom Scarbrough, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission agent in Grenada working with the white power-structure to stymie and destroy the Freedom Movement reports on the brutal attacks to his superiors in Jackson saying that:

"It is said they can't let [SCLC Director J.T. Johnson] out of Parchman because he's so beaten up he couldn't get up to get out." — Tom Scarbrough, MSC. [32]

The beatings and arrests spark an expanded boycott of the Colored schools as more and more Black students walk out in protest. More people are arrested on Wednesday and that night the march to the square just barely meets the 75 threshold because so many activists are now locked up in Parchman Prison and the jails of Grenada, Greenville, Batesville, Water Valley, and Oxford.

By now Movement attorneys are back in court before federal Judge Clayton in Oxford informing him of the adamant white resistance to his school desegregation decree. He refuses to order the arrestees released from jail (as he legally can do) but says that a deal is being worked out behind the scenes regarding those arrested. The next day all the students are released without bail, and bail on the local adults is reduced to $54 each (equal to a bit over $400 in 2018). Charges however are not dropped. And all the incarcerated SCLC staff — more than half of those assigned to Grenada — remain in the slammer because SCLC doesn't have the cash to meet their much higher bail.

By this time, 2200 of the 2600 Afro-American students enrolled in the Colored schools are boycotting classes. White school officials are, of course, pleased that the 90 remaining school integrators are both refusing to attend and under suspension. But having over two thousand Black kids out of school is a serious problem because funding from the state is based on average daily attendance so the student strike is costing them money. And having such a large number of angry youth roaming free on the streets and potentially joining the ongoing protests and marches worries local authorities.

On Saturday, October 29, all those remaining in jail are finally bailed out but white terrorism is again on the rise. SCLC project director J.T. Johnson and SCLC staff member Robert Johnson are shot at by a hidden sniper — fortunately his aim is poor and no one is hit. Some 160 people participate in the march to the square that night. Unable to sleep because of nervous tension, SCLC staff member Bruce Hartford pecks out another amateur poem on the old typewriter in SCLC's office at the rear of Bellflower Church:

GRENADA MARCH #107

Echoing songs on the square
White breath in cold night air
Black shadows, two by two
Marching strong, me and you.

       "Oh freedom, Oh freedom
       Oh freedom over me...."

Beneath a lonely street light
Children singing out at night.
The mobs are gone, for this time
And tension eases down the line.

       "...and before I'll be a slave
       I'll be buried in my grave
       and go home to my Lord
       and be free-oh and be free..."

Standing silent round the square
Troopers watch with hard, cold stare.
"Niggers on the march again.
Will they never end?"

       "...No more gassings, no more beatings
       no more jailings, over me..."

Around, around, the square we stride
Cold air filled with freedom's pride.
We'll keep marching side by side
'till freedom gates are opened wide.

       "...and before I'll be a slave
       I'll be buried in my grave
       and go home to my Lord
       and be free-oh and be free."

It's quiet on the square again
As one-oh-seven comes to end.
Proud, we march down Pearl Street
Back to church where we meet.

On Monday, October 31st, Judge Clayton begins hearing the GCFM complaint about the school situation. Superintendent Wilborn admits under oath that almost the entire Afro-American student body is now boycotting the Colored schools and all the Black kids registered at the white schools can't return to class even if they want to because of his blanket suspension order.

At Clayton's request, the GCFM agrees to call off the boycott based on his assurance of a fair resolution of the issues and Black kids return to the Colored schools (Afro-American students remain barred from the white schools). With emotions cooling over the judge's promises, the number of those willing to march again drops below 75, and in reluctant recognition of painful realities, Movement leaders discontinue nightly marches in favor of marches "as needed."

The hearing continues for the rest of the week and on Monday, November 7, Clayton issues his order. Parents and students are prohibited from demonstrating at the schools or organizing boycotts. Under threat of contempt, the school system is ordered to treat everyone equal regardless of race and to protect children from "violence, intimidation, or abuse." The superintendent is ordered to set up meetings between parents and teachers. A complaint system is put in place to handle disputes. While this is not a total triumph, it is seen by both Blacks and whites as a victory for the Freedom Movement.

On paper, Clayton's ruling appears fair and reasonable but as with so many federal court orders in the South it fails to take into account the grim realities of racism, violence and intimidation that Afro-Americans in Grenada face. Under the details of his order, before Black parents can bring a complaint to him they have to first meet with the teacher to ask for resolution, then if that fails meet with the principal, and after that the superintendent. In real life, however, it requires an act of defiance and courage (and time off from work) for an Afro-American parent to confront any white person in authority over any complaint or grievance. And complainers are marked by whites as "troublemakers" and "shit-disturbers" who become targets for retaliation.

So as a practical matter, Clayton's fine words have only limited effect on reducing abuse in the white schools. The harassment continues. On December 20, Freedom Movement lawyers Iris & Paul Brest and Marian Wright send a report to the parents of the school integrators:

Lawyers from our office spent Friday and Saturday speaking to many of the children still attending the formerly white schools in Grenada. And this is what we found. The Court's order requires the schools to protect your children "from violence, intimidation, or abuse." Your children tell us that in the last month-and-a-half, they have been subjected to all sorts of violence, intimidation, and abuse:

Excerpted from report of 12/20/66 [31]

On election day, Tuesday, November 8, some 1300 votes are cast in Grenada County for Clifton Whitley an Afro-American candidate running for Senator on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party ticket. James Eastland, the white candidate gets 3000. While the Black vote is only 30% of the total, for a county that had no more than a handful of Black voters before the Meredith March just four months earlier it is a huge step forward.

At the end of November, all of the Afro-American school integrators who had walked out of the white schools and been suspended in October are given "Failing" grades for that period. But criminal charges against those under age 13 who had been arrested for marching or picketing are dropped. Those over 13 plead "Not Guilty," with no date set for trial.

By the end of the school year in June of 1967, additional Black students have been forced out but Grenada still has more Afro-Americans attending formerly white schools than any other rural county in Mississippi.

At the same time, over the winter, arrests, sporadic violence, and intimidation continue in Grenada but at a much lower level than during the summer and fall. Occasional marches to the square are held with 75-200 people, but daily, sustained direct action protests are no longer feasible. The SCLC staff and the hard core of local activists are physically and emotionally exhausted from long hours, constant tension, little sleep, and no small amount of fear. They try to keep going on raw rage, grit, determination, and an utter refusal to let each other down, but by the end of 1966 they are debilitated and "running on fumes" as the saying goes. A description that equally applies across the Deep South to most of the other long-term freedom riders from SCLC, SNCC, and CORE who are still doing Movement work and just barely hanging on.

 

Grenada Today (2018)

Today when you drive the back roads of Grenada County today, almost all the old sharecropper shacks are gone, burned or bulldozed down. Grenada's Black neighborhoods are now filled with empty lots where once impoverished rental dwellings were jam-packed side by side on muddy lots. The narrow Union Street block where Chat & Chew used to do business and voter rallies were squeezed into the narrow street by slum shacks is now open and empty. And with commercial trade now drawn away to outlying strip malls and a giant Walmart center, "downtown" Grenada around the square has fallen on hard economic times.

In the years after 1966, Afro-American voter registration and turnout rose steadily. But with many Blacks economically driven out of the city, county, and state, white voters managed to maintain and increase their numeric superiority. Nevertheless, in 2018 two of the five county supervisors in Grenada were Black as were four of the seven city council members. Now that they have a voice in civic government, their streets are paved and many have sidewalks. There are Black men and women working in government offices and wearing badges in patrol cars. The schools are fully integrated, though the children of the white middle and upper class attend well-financed private academies rather than desperately under-funded public schools.

Yet though legally-enforced, mandatory segregation is now a thing of the past, whites and Blacks in Grenada still live largely separate lives. The economic disparities between the races still remain as does a culture that in some ways is still seems rooted in the history of white-supremacy. But the brutally segregated Jim Crow "southern way of life" was permanently ended in Grenada Mississippi — killed by the nonviolent Afro-American Freedom Movement.

For more information:
Web: Grenada Mississippi — Chronology of a Movement
Documents:
    Demands of the Grenada Movement
    Example Flyers From the Grenada Movement
    Example staff reports from the Grenada MS Movement.
    Grenada County Political Handbook (Freedom Information Service)
Personal story from the Grenada Movement: Bruce Hartford

 

Clarence Triggs Murdered (July)

See Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense for preceding events.

In July of 1965, the federal government finally — at long last — intervenes against Ku Klux Klan violence in Bogalusa, Louisiana. The federal injunction handed down in Hicks v Knight substantially reduces KKK terrorism against Blacks and civil rights workers. But though the Klan is driven into hiding, it still exists in the "Klan Nation" area of Southwest Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana. Operating under new aliases such as the Anti-Communist Christian Association and Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan it continues to engage in sporadic white terrorism. In December of 1965, for example, shots are fired into the home of a Bogalusa Civic and Voters League leader. In March of '66, a Black GI is shot and badly wounded while making a call from a public telephone booth.

In 1966, Clarence Triggs, a Black bricklayer originally from Jackson Mississippi and recently moved to Bogalusa, begins attending Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) meetings and participating in the still ongoing protests. On July 30, he is found dead in his car on the side of a road outside of town — shot in the head.

The fingerprints of two white men believed to be Klansmen are found inside Trigg's car. They are arrested and charged with the crime. A jury acquits the first one. The second one is never tried at all. So far as is known, the FBI does not investigate — apparently they are more interested in imaginary threats from "Black militants" than actual terrorism by white racists.

See Bogalusa to Baton Rouge march for continuation.

 

Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Fillibuster (Sept)

A Gallup Poll in 1966 reveals that nationwide more than half of all whites think that the Freedom Movement and President Johnson are forcing racial integration too fast — particularly regarding housing and schools. This is the highest anti-Movement percentage since early 1962. A Louis Harris Poll is even more negative, claiming that 75% of whites believe Blacks are going too far and going too fast, compared with 50% in 1964. "Where housing is concerned," observes social psychologist Thomas Pettigre, "much of the subtlety which clothes racial prejudice in the North is lost."

But Movement leaders are pushing for critical new legislation in 1966, and LBJ is determined to pass a new bill. Late in 1965, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issues a report on biased law enforcement in the South. Blacks still face police repression and incarcerations, terrorist murders, beatings, bombings, and rapes for asserting their basic human rights. As the law now stands, racists accused of criminal violence against Black voters are tried under state laws in biased state courts. The commission recommends new federal laws protecting voters and civil rights workers — something long sought in previous acts, but not won. This is the most urgent necessity.

All-white, all-male juries are another problem. Most southern states use various schemes and tactics to ensure all-white juries — either across the board or in cases where race is a factor. Many states, including Alabama, Mississippi & South Carolina forbid women from serving on juries while others such as Florida, Louisiana & New Hampshire require that women volunteer for jury service rather than being summoned as is the case with men. Other states have other jury selection inequalities; New York for example, requires all jurors to be property-owners, if you don't own real estate you can't serve on a jury. President Johnson announces that provisions barring discrimination in jury selection will also be included in the new bill.

A section authorizing the Attorney General to initiate desegregation suits is then added to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Under the 1964 law, the Justice Department could not intervene until someone filed a formal complaint and asked for assistance. But anyone who did that faced retaliation from the local sheriff, Ku Klux Klan, and White Citizen Council.)

Civil rights leaders also want action against discrimination in housing. But they know that including open-housing legislation in the bill will be hugely controversial and could well doom the entire package. Rather than risk defeat of the crucial voter-protection and jury-reform provisions, they urge Johnson to expand coverage of Kennedy's Executive Order 11063 which prohibited discrimination in federally-assisted housing. Kennedy's order covered about 3% of total housing units, but LBJ can use his executive power to significantly expand it without going through Congress — or risking the new bill.

Johnson disregards their advice. He believes he has the political power to enact whatever legislation he desires, and he is certain he knows best. In his State of the Union Message on January 12, 1966, he adds Fair Housing legislation to the new bill. Republican Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) — whose support was crucial to passage of both the Civil Rights Act in '64 and the Voting Rights Act in '65 — immediately declares adamant opposition to open housing legislation as an unconstitutional limitation on the sacred rights of private property.

Identical bills are introduced in the Senate and House. Led by Emanuel Celler (D-NY), the House acts first, holding hearings in May of 1966. The bill as a whole is named "Civil Rights Act of 1966," but its housing provisions are separately named the "Fair Housing Act" (FHA). Opposition to the FHA is fierce both North and South. And Southern Democrats oppose all the other provisions as well. Complex political battles are waged in public and behind the scenes the various sides maneuver against each other.

Over LBJ's objections, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) manages to win inclusion of a new provision supported by civil rights leaders establishing a Federal Fair Housing Board with anti-discrimination enforcement powers similar to those of the National Labor Relations Board.

But to appease opponents, the House Judiciary Committee weakens the FHA by adding a "Mrs. Murphy" exception which excludes from coverage owner-occupied homes containing up to four rooms for rent. It's called the "Mrs. Murphy" exception because — horror of horrors — the mythical Mrs. Murphy might be forced to rent a room in her boarding house to a Negro who might (gasp) even expect to share meals around the dining room table with Mrs. Murphy and the other (white) boarders.

They also restrict the provision allowing the Attorney General to initiate anti-segregation lawsuits by excluding desegregation suits aimed at northern-style (de facto) segregation. In other words, while the Justice Department will be allowed combat overt, southern-style, de jure, segregation that is enforced by cops and local courts, it will be barred from opposing covert northern-style segregation enforced by economic forces, social customs, and private collusion among politicians and businesses.

Lobbying for and against the bill is intense. The NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and progressives within the AFL-CIO, lobby hard for the bill. The National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) and banking lobbyists fight furiously against the housing provisions, while law enforcement organizations and southern segregationists oppose ending jury discrimination or creating new laws to protect civil rights "troublemakers."

House floor debate begins on July 25. Conservative Republicans reject restrictions or limitations of any kind on property rights. GOP moderates disagree. Southern Democrats continue their traditional opposition to any legislation that favors Blacks. Northern Democrats, particularly those whose reelection chances rely on coalitions of labor, Blacks, and "ethnic-whites," are split. Some fear that open-housing legislation will transform working-class whites into Republicans and they therefore waffle, trying to please everyone while offending no one. Others hold fast in support of the bill.

Some 77 different amendments are fought out on the House floor. Of the accepted amendments, some weaken the bill, a few strengthen it.

Republicans and Southern Democrats join together to win a close 214-201 vote gutting the Justice Department's ability to file lawsuits against segregated schools and public accommodations by requiring a written complaint of discrimination by victims. Southern Blacks will still have to expose themselves to economic and physical retaliation from sheriffs, Klan, and Citizens Councils before the federal government is allowed to bestir itself to enforce the Constitution and the law.

By a vote of 237-176, an amendment is added to the Fair Housing Act allowing real estate brokers to discriminate against nonwhites if that's what the property-owner wants. Another amendment is added allowing brokers and developers to racially discriminate in two transactions per year.

Progressive members of Congress propose an amendment to prohibit gender-discrimination in housing. It's defeated.

Believing that the Black urban uprisings now spreading across the nation are caused by "outside agitators" and fiery speeches by militants like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, a huge majority in the House add an "anti-riot" amendment making it a federal felony to cross state lines to engage in violence, looting, or arson, or inciting or encouraging others to do so.

On the positive side, an amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of the number or age of children is added, as is an anti-blockbusting amendment. ("Blockbusting" is the practice of deliberately inciting racist fear among whites immediately after a nonwhite moves into a neighborhood so that white owners will sell their homes at panic prices to industry speculators who then resell the properties to Blacks and Latinos at a tidy profit.)

In the end, the House bill as amended, bars segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and the number or age of children in the sale or rental of roughly 38% of existing housing. (Johnson's original proposal barred discrimination in all housing.) However, for new housing (most of which is built by developers), the great bulk of initial sales or rentals are covered by the bill — yet most subsequent sales or rentals by individual owners are not covered.

On August 9, the House passes the amended bill by a roll-call vote of 259-157. (See Civil Rights Act of 1966 for a summary of the Act as passed by the House.)

     Aye       Nay   
Northern Democrats     169 17
Southern Democrats 14 78
Republicans 76 62
TOTAL 259 157

Despite limitations in scope, the House bill is a major step forward in prohibiting residential segregation nationwide. The real estate and banking industries hate it.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is also considering LBJ's proposed bill. Subcommittee Chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC), a determined southern segregationist, opposes just about everything in it. He's in no hurry to report it out of his committee — ever.

Senator Philip Hart (D-MI) is the bill's floor leader. In an effort to circumvent Ervin's obstruction, he and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) attempt a parliamentary maneuver to place the House bill as passed directly on the Senate floor for debate and vote. Opponents filibuster their motion. For 12 days, from September 7 to 19, the Senate debates what is technically a procedural motion — but is in fact the pros and cons of the House bill itself. If the motion passes, the bill will inevitably pass, if it fails, the bill dies.

By now, however, the fervor President Johnson expressed back in January for new civil rights legislation has dramatically waned. He and Democratic Party leaders have been shocked by the ferocious opposition of northern whites to residential integration, most visibly by white-ethnics in Chicago attacking Dr. King's open housing marches. The mid-term elections are now just two months away and Republicans are making gains by whipping-up the "white backlash" vote. LBJ's first priority is maintaining political support for his war in Vietnam, and as he would later write in his memoirs, "Open housing had become a Democratic liability." Administration efforts to round up votes for breaking the filibuster are feeble, half-hearted, and ineffective.

Johnson's abdication leaves Senator Dirksen (R-IL) in the driver's seat. If he were to support the bill, he'd bring along enough Republicans to end the filibuster. But he opposes it. First, because of the fair housing provisions which, in his view, are an unconstitutional assault on private property rights. And second, upholding "law and order" at all costs is the bedrock foundation of his political creed; ending racial and gender discrimination in jury selection might make it harder to convict and jail those accused of crimes. "For all practical purposes, the civil rights bill is dead," he tells reporters.

On September 14, and then again on the 19th, supporters in the Senate try to break the filibuster. They need 66 votes. They don't get them. The closest they come is 54 "Aye" vs 42 "Nay" — a majority, but not a two-thirds majority.

     Aye       Nay   
Democrats     42 21
Republicans 12 21
TOTAL 54 42

Senator James Eastland (D-MS), an ardent segregationist, crows, "The civil rights advocates who hope to force an interracial society have been completely routed. The old-time coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans were united and effective. ... [Soon] we can start the fight to repeal those vicious measures," (meaning the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts).

Representative Emanuel Celler (D-NY) tells reporters that it failed because Republicans were searching for votes in the South. "It is a tragic thing that the majority of the [Republican] party which claims the heritage of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, should join in the familiar 'Southern strategy.'"

Failure to enact the new civil rights bill is not the only legislative defeat for the Freedom Movement in 1966. Congress also sharply curtails the power of the Office of Education to withhold or defer federal funds from school districts that fail to desegregate when required by law or court order to do so. This all but eliminates the most effective sanction against school districts that defy court orders and the Civil Rights Act. Congress also removes from the federal Demonstration Cities program provisions designed to encourage housing and school desegregation.

See Civil Rights Act of 1966 for a summary of the Act as passed by the House before being defeated in the Senate.

 

ASCS Elections in Alabama — The Struggle Continues (Sept)

See ASCS Election — 1965 for preceding events.

Again in 1966, Freedom Movement activists in the South organize Black farmers to contest elections for the Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) county committees that dispense crop allotments and subsidies. The struggle is particularly intense in Alabama.

The Alabama ASCS elections are scheduled for the Fall which means that organizing efforts have to commence early in the summer. But both SNCC and SCLC are struggling financially, the majority of SCLC's field staff are working on the Chicago Open Housing Campaign, and both organizations, and CORE as well, suddenly find themselves forced to commit resources to the Meredith Mississippi March Against Fear. Nevertheless, by July those SCLC and SNCC field secretaries still working Alabama's Black-Belt, along with dedicated local activists and a small number of summer volunteers are canvassing and educating farmers, recruiting candidates, confronting ASCS officials over inaccurate voter lists, filing appeals, and preparing to get out the vote.

Then on July 10, state ASCS officials abruptly advance the vote to August 16, drastically cutting the time available for putting together a campaign to elect Blacks. On behalf of 36 farmer-plaintiffs from 11 Alabama counties, SNCC organizer and civil rights attorney Don Jelinek files suit against U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman to restore the original election date.

An anonymous U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official leaks a USDA civil-rights report to Jac Wassermann of the National Sharecroppers Fund. The report is by William Seaborn, the head of the USDA's new civil rights division which has been established in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He is the first Afro-American ever appointed to a senior position in the USDA. The report is so explosive that USDA bureaucrats have not only kept it secret from the public for six months, but they also concealed portions of it from President Lyndon Johnson. In fact, the report's cover page actually reads:

January 21, 1966
To: The Secretary [of Agriculture]
From: William M. Seaborn, Assistant to the Secretary

Attached is the year-end report on civil rights activities in the Department in 1965. If you wish to transmit this report to the White House, you may wish to omit the sections entitled "evaluation."

Wm. M. Seaborn [1]

As later described by Don Jelinek, "The report contained massive confessions of USDA discrimination — not to be seen by President Lyndon Johnson. The evaluations had, in fact, been omitted from the Presidential copy. The report was filled with statements of success, interwoven with "evaluations" which contradicted the [claimed] success. It admitted how racially unfairly the programs were administered, and acknowledged many of the charges in our lawsuit." [1]

The judge hearing the election-date lawsuit in Washington encourages the parties to come to a mutual agreement. At a settlement conference, Jelinek presents a detailed account of specific events, names, dates, documents, and reports, all detailing the state ASCS's systematic pattern of racism and discrimination. USDA officials then respond, a response that Jelinek later summed up as:

"There is a very delicate balance between the relationship of the federal government and the Southern states. If we are ever going to bring about a change down there, we have to go very slowly and very cautiously... We know all of what you've said ... and more. We've had our office of the Inspector General investigating all of these incidents you've described. Great changes have been accomplished, but you people can never have enough. Look how far we've gone. We must learn to live with the Alabama whites or else we can never deal with them. What does a year mean to wait for the 1967 ASCS election when it can be done right? Under no circumstances will the USDA overrule a decision of a state ASCS, ..." [1]

With no settlement, the lawsuit comes to court on August 9. Jelinek presents all the evidence and concludes by citing the USDA's own secret report. The first Black witness, Peter Agee of Magnolia, Alabama (Marengo County), testifies to the threats of physical and economic retaliation he faces for participating in an ASCS election and filing the lawsuit. There are 28 more witnesses ready to follow him to the stand. The USDA surrenders and agrees to extend the election for a month.

But the extra month and the enthusiasm for their courtroom victory over the USDA fail to produce any victories at the ballot box. Black voters are threatened and intimidated, in some cases the wives of white farmers are allowed to vote but not the wives of Black farmers, other ineligible whites once again cast fraudulent ballots, and plantation owners collect the ballots of their Black tenants to save them the "trouble" of mailing them in. No Blacks are elected to any county committee. When challenged to explain why county committees remain all white, Sumter County ASCS manager Woodson Ennis articulates the racist attitudes that permeate the USDA, "Colored people would prefer that the white man carry out their business activities than they would their colored friends"

Three-fourths of the delegation that went to Washington in support of the lawsuit are thrown off their land. Peter Agee's life is threatened and shots are fired. Civil rights worker Dick Reavis calls the police to make a report. When the cops come they arrest Reavis and three Blacks. Agee is forced to flee the state.

See Keeping on — From Cooperatives to Pigford below for continuation.

For more information on ASCS election struggles:
CRMVets: ASCS Election Documents
Web: Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (ASCS) Elections (Links)
Books: Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

 

1966 Alabama Elections

Voting Rights Act Becomes Law
Conflicting Strategies
The Outcome
     The Election in Lowndes County
     The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
     The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

Voting Rights Act Becomes Law

Back in August of 1965, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) became law. The Act overturned the so-called "literacy tests" and many of the other the tricks, legal restrictions, and procedures that had been used for generations to deny voting rights to Afro-Americans. Liberal political leaders in Washington were triumphant — they had solved the voting rights issue! The northern media echoed their claims.

But on the ground in the Deep South in the fall of 1965, reality is more complex. In some areas where whites well outnumber Blacks, local officials do modify their procedures somewhat to more or less conform to the new law. But in counties where Blacks are a majority of the population, white opposition to Afro-American voting rights remains fierce and Black voters continue to face official intimidation, economic terrorism, and violence.

In the Alabama Black Belt, many county registrars simply ignore the Act and continue as they always have, using the some old schemes and procedures to deny Afro-Americans the right to vote. The VRA specifies that federal registrars (called "examiners") can be sent to counties that persist in denying the vote to nonwhites. But the Justice Department sends examiners to only a fraction of the counties that need them and the Act's criminal provisions are rarely enforced. Nevertheless, as the Act gradually goes into effect, a growing number of Black voters manage to become registered across the South.

The Alabama elections of 1966 — the primaries in May, the general election in November — are to be the Act's first big test. In 1960, an estimated 53,000 Alabama Blacks could vote (roughly 10% of those over 21). By early 1965, after years of organizing, struggle, protests, and litigation, that number had risen to an estimated 93,000. A year after the VRA goes into effect, an estimated 242,000 Afro-Americans can vote in the November 1966 election.

  Alabama Voter Registration (State-Wide)  
  Blacks (estimated) Whites (estimated)
1960 53,000 10% N/A N/A
Feb. 1965 93,000 19% 935,000 69%
May 1966 235,000 49% 1,065,000 79%
Nov. 1966 242,000 50% 1,187,000 88%
Reliable figures are hard to come by, so these numbers are estimates.     
Registration percentages are an estimated percent of those eligible.

Movement activists distrust the estimated registration numbers that vary depending on the source. Prior to passage of the VRA, you had to state your race on the voting application, and in counties where voting-rights cases are in a federal court, racial numbers might be accurately reported (more or less), but elsewhere local officials (all white, of course) are not always forthcoming. In many rural counties it's not clear how many white voters who died or moved away are still on the rolls, or if they are included in the registration estimates. For years, some rural counties have reported small numbers of Afro-American voters, but no one in the local Black community knows who they are and they've never been seen casting a vote at any polling place. Do they really exist? Did they have to flee the county after daring to register?

More importantly, many of the Black Belt counties consistently report more registered white voters than the 1960 Census count of eligible adults. White registration in Wilcox County, for example, is 112% of those over 21 years old, in Lowndes it's 118%. There's no mystery about this, it's common knowledge that whites who die or move away are retained on the voting rolls for years thereafter. For Dixiecrat office-holders, the fact that these dead and gone "tombstone" voters manage to cast votes for the incumbents in each and every election is considered a charming quirk of the "southern way of life"

Conflicting Strategies

Questions of accuracy aside, the state-wide figures conceal a harsh political reality. Whites in Alabama outnumber Blacks by about two to one. Most Blacks who are registered to vote live in white-majority towns like Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery, or in rural counties where white voters will outnumber them even if every Afro-American is able to register.

[In the 1960s, Washington DC is the only American city with a majority-Black population. In all other cities — including Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham — whites are the majority. It is only in later decades, after "white-flight" to the suburbs, that many cities become Black majority. Today (2015), with urban-renewal and gentrification, that process is being reversed, central cities are becoming whiter while the inner-ring of suburbs are evolving into the new Black and Latino ghettos.]

Few (if any) whites at this time will vote for an Black candidate. But in theory, even though they don't have the numbers to elect Afro-American candidates, Black voters in white-majority areas could still achieve some measure of political power by influencing which white candidate wins the election. But given Alabama's racial polarization, any white candidate who campaigns for Afro-American votes, or merely seems sympathetic to Black aspirations, is considered a race-traitor and loses more white votes than he might gain from Black support. (Northern liberals familiar with the give-and-take horse-trading of urban ethnic politics sometimes fail to grasp that politics in Alabama do not work the way they do in Chicago, New York, and Boston.)

Therefore, the main hope of using the ballot box to quickly and immediately improve Black lives is to elect Afro-American candidates in the Black Belt counties where Blacks greatly outnumber whites. For example, counties like Dallas (Selma), Lowndes, and Macon (Tuskegee). So for the Freedom Movement, the real test of the 1966 elections are the races for sheriff and other local offices in the Black Belt counties rather than races in white-majority counties or the high profile congressional and state-wide races.

By the fall of 1965, both SCLC and SNCC are concentrating their organizing and voter registration efforts in Alabama. But they have different strategies. Strategies that are mutually-antagonistic.

For SNCC, it is local, county-level political power that most directly oppresses Afro-Americans in their daily lives and for that reason provide the best opportunity to quickly improve Black conditions. SCLC also sees the value of electing Blacks to county offices, but at the same time they attach more importance than SNCC does to influencing Montgomery and Washington. But that implies having some influence over state-wide, congressional, and presidential politics.

To win an election, you must be on the ballot in general election, but there are two ways that can be achieved. The traditional method is to win a party primary in May and then run against candidates from other parties in November. But you can also form a new party, be nominated for office at that party's convention, and then run in November. SCLC urges the traditional strategy of running for office in the Democratic primary, SNCC advocates forming new, independent parties at the county level. The result is two separate but closely related political battles, one between Blacks and whites, and the other between those who align with SNCC and those who align with SCLC.

[1966 marked a major turning point in Alabama election history. Prior to '66, winning the Democratic Primary in May was tantamount to winning the office because Democratic candidates faced only token opposition (or none at all) in the November general elections. So the "real" election — the important one — was the primary. From '66 onwards, the general elections became serious contests, first because of independent party candidates and then the rise of Republicans who challenged and eventually overwhelmed white Democrats.]

SNCC argues that the Alabama Democrats are the party of George Wallace, white supremacy, and segregation, and that they will never accept Blacks in office or provide services to Afro-American communities. After the betrayal in Atlantic City, SNCC sees no chance of the national Democratic Party supporting Blacks against local white power structures. SCLC argues that the only path towards tangible political power in Alabama (and the rest of the South) is through the traditional Democratic Party apparatus. They do not believe that small independent parties can long survive. And in their view, even if independent Black candidates do win county-level offices, their rural counties are too poor to provide the resources that Black communities need, and as independents they will not have the political connections needed to access state and federal resources.

As the SCLC-SNCC debate heats up in December and January, some local activists working with SNCC argue that given the ferocity of white resistance to Black registration, only a few counties will have narrow Afro-American voting majorities in May, so Black candidates won't have much chance of winning in Democratic primaries. But by November, registration numbers should be significantly higher, and the chances of independent-party candidates winning therefore greater. SCLC trusts that the Johnson administration will vigorously enforce the VRA and that enough Blacks will be registered by May to win primaries in the Black Belt counties where Afro-American citizens greatly out- number whites. (The fact that whites are engaged in a massive state-wide voter-registration campaign does not affect either organization's county strategy because almost all whites are already registered in the Black- majority counties.)

In response to SNCC's strategy of independent parties, SCLC forms the Confederation of Alabama Political Organizations (COAPO). Because of term limits, Governor Wallace cannot run for reelection so his wife Lurleen stands in for him. She is challenged in the May primary by Attorney General Richmond Flowers who positions himself as a racial "moderate." COAPO seeks to deliver a "united Negro vote" for Flowers in expectation of benefits flowing to the Black community if a hoped-for coalition of moderate whites and united Blacks give him the victory. COAPO also encourages and supports Black candidates running in Democratic Party primaries for local office in majority-black counties where SCLC has an organizing presence (Dallas, Wilcox, Perry, Hale, Greene, Bullock, Sumter, Choctaw, Crenshaw, and possibly some others. They have no presence in Lowndes).

SCLC argues against SNCC's independent parties because those who participate in their nominating conventions are prohibited from voting in the Democratic primary and thus they'll be unable to sway the outcome in the primary races — which have always been the most important elections in the state. And they won't be able to cast ballots for Flowers, thereby undermining SCLC's strategy of influencing races between white candidates.

SNCC attaches little importance to influencing races between competing white candidates, and scoffs at the belief that any significant number of "white moderate" voters will materialize at the polls. "What you have in this country is that Negroes are always told to vote for someone who is less of a racist instead of more for Negroes," says Stokely Carmichael. SNCC argues that there are not enough Black voters to effect the outcome of state and congressional primaries, and that no amount of political influence will ever move state (or national) Democrats to support Black interests against those of local whites.

Underlying these strategic arguments are the practical realities of American politics in which votes are a form of currency used to obtain sewers & paved streets, government subsidies, War on Poverty grants, and other benefits for communities. And, of course, leaders able to deliver blocs of votes on election day are rewarded with personal opportunities such as nomination for elected office, obtaining government or War on Poverty jobs, business contacts and contracts, prestigious appointments, and access to the backrooms of power. Heretofore, these benefits had been the exclusive province of whites, now some of them might accrue to Blacks.

SNCC's response is to build strong, grass-roots organizations that can hold elected officials accountable and ensure that benefits flow to the community as a whole rather than to powerful individuals. For SCLC, the Black church is, and always has been, the foundation rock of Black communities and for Dr. King and many others in SCLC the goal is to move ministers and churches into social and political activity for the benefit of everyone. To ministers, whether influenced by SCLC or not, SNCC's new organizations are seen as efforts to supplant and undermine their traditional leadership role — and they resent it. An attitude they communicate to their congregations.

The liberal northern media weighs in, charging SNCC with "rule-or-ruin" politics and condemning it for "misleading Negroes." According to a New York Times editorial titled, "Sabotage in Alabama," "SNCC's call for Negro voters to boycott the primary is destructive mischief-making ... [that] can only produce frustration and defeat for the state's Negroes." SNCC fights back with interviews, press conferences, and statements.

By the beginning of 1966, the conflict between SCLC and SNCC has become deep, bitter, and personal. Charges and accusations are hurled, wounding and dividing former friends and allies, sowing confusion and dissension at the grass-roots.

In a few places like Birmingham and Tuskegee there are significant numbers of Afro-American businessmen and professionals, but in most of Alabama's rural areas, public school teachers, ministers, and a few small-business proprietors & landowners comprise the minuscule Black middle-class (there is no Black upper-class). In some areas, political tensions begin to emerge between members of the Black middle-class who have personal, political, and economic connections to the white power-structure that they wish to preserve, and the broad majority of Afro-American sharecroppers, laborers, and maids, who do not.

Among whites in Black-majority counties, there is great concern that if Blacks are elected to political office they will use their new power to do unto whites as whites have done unto them for generations. Given the enormous disparities of economic power between whites and Blacks, and white domination of state-level judicial, legislative, and executive power, those concerns are far-fetched — but irrational fear knows no logic. To soothe nervous whites with whom they wish to keep on good terms, some members of the Black middle-class argue that Afro-Americans should not seek to capture all the political offices that are on the county-level ballots in 1966. "If it is evil to have all-white government, it is also evil to have all-Negro government," says a Tuskegee sociology professor and political candidate. Mississippi NAACP field director Charles Evers crosses into the state to echo that sentiment: "We want Negroes in all departments of government, but we don't want to go from white supremacy to black supremacy."

The Outcome

The results of the 1966 Alabama elections are disappointing.

State-wide, an estimated 180,000 Black voters cast ballots in the May primary, a huge increase over the number of Afro-Americans who were able to vote in previous elections. Almost all of them vote for Richmond Flowers, the candidate running against Lurleen Wallace for governor, but they are swamped by a record turnout of around 750,000 whites, 97% of whom vote for Wallace. This means that Blacks make up just 19% of a racially-polarized electorate, eliminating any chance of coalitions between moderate-whites and Blacks winning office and dashing SCLC's hope that Black voters will be able to swing, or even significantly influence, state-wide or congressional elections.

By some accounts, at least seven Black Belt counties have Afro-American voting majorities at the time of the May primary elections (Macon, Lowndes, Wilcox, Greene, Perry, Hale, and Bullock) and it is hoped that others such as Sumter and Barbour might have Black majorities by the November general election. But according to other sources, registered Black voters out-number whites in only a few counties.

Some 75 Afro-American candidates stand for election in the Democratic Party primary. As the election unfolds, whites vote only for white candidates, but the Black vote is not so united. Some Blacks freely choose to support white candidates, many others face intimidation and coercion to do so. In some cases this coercion is explicit and overt, but more often it is implicit. As a Black bricklayer put it, if you want to survive: "You just know what you are supposed to do and what you are not supposed to do." According to a report by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission:

... there is no need for the white landowner or the white employer to direct the Negro sharecropper or worker not to run for office, not to vote, or to vote only for the white candidates favored by the landowner. In many cases, the Negro worker knows what his white landlord or boss wants him to do and naturally conforms. — USCRC. [12]

In Black belt counties, white voting officials engage in tricks and schemes to limit the number of Blacks casting ballots and in some cases there is evidence of outright fraud. Movement poll-watchers are harassed and prevented from doing their jobs, and in Greene, Sumter, and Marengo counties even the federal election observers are blocked.

In four counties, a total of 24 Afro-Americans are elected to Democratic Party county executive committees, but those are party positions with no direct authority over county taxes, budgets, ordinances, personnel, or policies. A few Black candidates for public office garner enough votes in the primary to be in runoff elections at the end of May. But whites win almost all of those runoff races, leaving only three Black candidates in Macon County to run in November as Democrats, plus one in Greene County, and one in Sumter County. After the general election in November, these five are the only Blacks elected to public office in Alabama in 1966.

In four Black Belt counties, Freedom Movement activists establish independent parties. In Lowndes, Wilcox, and Greene counties they are called "Freedom Organizations," in Dallas County it's the "Independent Free Voters Organization." They hold successful nominating conventions and place their candidates on the November ballot. Depending on how you define it, there are between 14 and 21 counties in the Alabama Black Belt. But only six — Lowndes, Wilcox, Greene, Dallas, Macon, and Sumter — have Afro-American candidates running in the general election.

As November nears, the total number of Afro-American voters has increased only slightly over those who were eligible to vote in May. Prior to the May primaries, full-time SNCC and SCLC field staff and volunteers did the bulk of day-to-day voter registration and campaign work. But their numbers decline sharply after the run-off at the end of May. A chunk of SCLC's southern field staff is transferred north to reinforce the Chicago Open Housing campaign. By mid-1966, SNCC is in dire financial straits and it no longer has the funds to pay staff their minuscule $10/week salaries. In June, the Meredith Mississippi March sucks remaining field organizers from both organizations out of Alabama and into Mississippi. A good portion of the SCLC staff remains in that state to support the Grenada Freedom Movement, and instead of returning to Alabama, many SNCC organizers move on to Black Power campaigns and projects elsewhere in both South and North. The result is that the pace of Alabama voter registration drastically slows over the summer, and SNCC and SCLC staff are thin on the ground during the fall general election campaign.

When the votes are counted on November 8, the only Blacks elected to public office in Alabama are the five running as Democrats in Macon, Greene, and Sumter counties. All of the Black independent party candidates are defeated by whites.

Freedom Movement activists attribute their poor results to four main factors:

Though the overall number of Blacks who vote for white candidates is small, perhaps 10-15% in Lowndes, Greene, and Wilcox counties, it is large enough to swing tight races. Some Afro-Americans are coerced into voting white, some do so because of deeply-ingrained survival habits of accommodation and subservience, and some out of belief that Black candidates are not as "qualified" as whites. Some vote for particular white candidates out of a sense of obligation or loyalty for some past favor or assistance that he has given them. Some Black professionals and business owners vote for whites in order to preserve long-standing political and economic relations with the local white power-structure.

"It was too early for us to have a colored sheriff," says a Black voter in Wilcox County who drives a school-bus part time for the county. "The white folks wouldn't have liked that a bit and it would have caused some trouble." A Black farmer explains that he voted for a white candidate because they had known each other their entire lives. "I lived across the road a ways from him when he was little. He's loaned me his car before to go to Birmingham, and when I need to borrow a little money, I can get it from him and his family. He helped me so I helped him."

At the end of the day, as expected, Lurleen Wallace assumes the title of Governor with her husband George performing all but the ceremonial functions of the office. There are some local bright spots. In the Dallas County sheriff's race, for example, the extreme-racist Jim Clark is defeated by Wilson Baker, but overall the first test of the Voting Rights Act does not result in any significant increase in Black political power.

In later years, however, Afro-Americans increasingly win political office in Black-majority counties and begin to have at least some influence in races between white candidates.

However, many of those acquiring seats at the political table are educated professional and business Blacks who heretofore had carefully avoided dangerous associations with Freedom Movement activities. They correctly read the '66 elections as indicating that the white power-structure is beginning to accept, and even accommodate, some political participation on the part of middle class, educated Blacks. Now they begin pushing themselves forward as community leaders and spokesmen, talking militant in public — cutting deals with the powers-that-be in private. Once the potentially dangerous '66 elections are safely past, they begin shoving aside many of the courageous, long-time local activists who risked their lives and sacrificed their livelihoods to challenge white-supremacy and win the vote. As the years unfold, all too often it is those who had carefully stood on the sidelines who crowd in to reap the spoils.

For specific county details see:

The Election in Lowndes County
The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

For more information:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web: Alabama Movement

The Election in Lowndes County

See Lowndes County: Roar of the Panther for preceding events.

On May 3rd, 1966, roughly 900 Afro-Americans cast ballots for Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) candidates at the Black Panther nominating convention, and about 700 vote in the Democratic Party primary at the regular polling places. No significant white violence materializes. Since Blacks participating in the primary are voting for white candidates (who are the only ones running) the local white power-structure sees no reason to discourage them. As for the Panther convention, it is at a single, well-defended location and white terrorists prefer surprise attacks on unarmed victims.

Between the May convention and the fall campaign for the November general election, most of the SNCC staff leave Lowndes County. Stokely replaces John Lewis as SNCC Chairman, and that requires him to relocate to Atlanta. Some SNCC staff members resume long interrupted educations, others drift off as SNCC's dwindling income makes it impossible to continue regular payment of $10/week subsistence salaries. In June, the Meredith March pulls organizers out of Alabama into Mississippi, and then into new projects North and South oriented around the cry for Black Power. By late summer, only one or two SNCC staff are still working in Lowndes. John Hulett and other LCFO activists carry on as best they can, but they have jobs and families that preclude the kind of full-time field organizing that SNCC provided.

As the general election campaign begins in the fall, a full slate of Black LCFO candidates challenge the all-white Democratic slate. LCFO activists and Tuskegee student volunteers urge Blacks to vote (and register if they haven't already done so). Signs saying, "Pull the lever for the Panther" are posted on rural dirt roads, leaflets are passed out in churches, juke joints, and wherever else Afro-Americans gather. They proclaim, "Now is the time! If ever we had a chance to do something about the years of low pay, beatings, burnings of homes, denial of the right to vote, bad education and washed-out roads — Now is the time!"

Whites threaten and harass the Panther campaigners. When they attempt to speak with sharecroppers and tenants on white-owned land they're chased off at gunpoint. LCFO candidates face violence, eviction, and losing their jobs. Whites tell black voters that they had better, "elect 52 sheriffs," because one will be, "killed every week."

Our people were determined, brave, but they certainly weren't soldiers. Many were old, and the majority in most meetings were, as always, women. The county demographics were just like the [Mississippi] Delta. Most young adults had been driven out in search of work or less oppressive conditions. We were left with a lot of older folks — valiant old folks to be sure — but old folks nonetheless, young teenagers, kids, and some adult men like Bros Hulett and Strickland. So it would be unconscionable to leave them exposed to Klan violence or to expect them to go to war. Who knew what the Klan and the police would bring up against them? So if the government wouldn't enforce the laws, to protect them, we figured we had to. And find people who'd help us do that. That was clear. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). [7]

SNCC reaches out and asks for help from the Deacons for Defense & Justice of Louisiana and Black freedom groups in urban areas of the North. From the San Francisco Bay Area, Detroit, Chicago, and other northern cities come some 30-50 armed volunteers ready to defend Afro-American voters in Lowndes County from terrorist attack.

Those who came, came to fight, not just as security. I'd say most had military training. Some had served in Vietnam and had brought back their weapons. We didn't parade them, of course. But we introduced them at the mass meetings, had them greet the community and say a few words of solidarity. You know black Southern communities are very formal, with a certain etiquette just like in African villages. "Brothers and sisters, you ain't alone in this. We bring greetings from the brothers and sisters in Detroit. We came prepared to do whatever is necessary." The people loved that. They just went wild at the meetings. And it was known to the whites that we'd brought in reinforcements. But they had no idea how many. — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).[7]

Whites are completely united in their opposition to electing Blacks to public office. The Afro-American community is not so solid. Some Blacks will vote for white candidates out of fear and coercion, others will do so from conviction. One Black land-owner says he and his family are, "with the Black Panthers," but he doubts he will vote for, "all-Negro office-holders," because he does not believe African Americans should, "take over," adding:

I've made up my mind to vote for Negro candidates I feel are able to do the job, and I may not vote for some who don't meet the qualifications. I feel like treating white people like I'd like to be treated myself. And I believe that if some few colored people win in the November election, the intelligent white people will fall in line.[9]

As voting day draws near, SNCC reinforcements come in for the final push, but over the summer months the lack of full-time organizers slowed momentum that cannot be recovered. The New York Times reports that Black voters in Lowndes now outnumber whites by 2,320 to 1,643 — only a small increase over the number eligible to vote in May rather than the significant jump that had been expected at the time of the LCFO convention.

On election eve, a huge mass meeting of more than 600 people is held at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. The previous Saturday, Stokely Carmichael had been arrested in Selma while campaigning for Black candidates with a sound truck outside the SNCC office. Held in jail for three days on bogus charges of "inciting to riot," he manages to make bail and get to the election-eve meeting before it ends.

We have worked so hard for this moment... It is the will, the courage, and the love in our hearts... We will pull that lever to stop the beating of Negroes by whites! We will pull that lever for all the black people who have been killed! We are going to resurrect them tomorrow! We will pull that lever so that our children will never go through what we have gone through. ...We are pulling the lever so people can live in some fine brick homes! We are going to say good-bye to shacks! Dirt roads! Poor schools!" — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) [11]

Voter turn out will decide the election. Almost all white voters have access to cars which gives them a big advantage over poor Blacks. The county is large, with only eight polling places that for many people are too distant to walk. There is no public transportation. Drawing on experience still fresh in living memory from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Hulett and LCFO activists do what they can to establish a car pool system with pickup stations and voters told to stand by the side of the road waving a white paper or cloth to flag down a ride. They do what they can with the resources they have, but they can't compete with the get-out-the-vote resources available to the more affluent white community.

Without notice, white polling officials reassign close to half of all Black voters to distant polling-places rather than the precincts nearest their homes. When they show up on November 8th to vote at the expected location, they are told they must go elsewhere. In some cases husband and wife have to vote at opposite ends of the county, others have to traipse from one polling place to another to find where they're supposed to vote. The LCFO car pools don't have enough vehicles to shift people back and forth across the county on the fly, so for many, their chance to vote is lost.

Despite fear and intimidation, trickery and deceit, an estimated 80-85% of registered Blacks make it to the polls on election day, most of them determined to vote for the Black Panther candidates. White voters also turn out in record numbers, close to 100% — and by some accounts, so do whites long since dead or gone.

One thing I'll never forget. On election day, Bob Mants and I were cruising the polls. Now there was some law about bringing firearms within — I forget — 100, 200 yards of a polling place? We had stressed that in the meetings. Up comes this old lady. I mean she had to be 80 years old, Jack, all proud and determined-looking, dressed for church and going to vote for the first time in her life. And she was going to vote for the Panther, then go home. I mean, that ol' lady came up to us, went into her bag, and produced this enormous, rusty, Civil War-looking old pistol. "Best you hol' this for me, son. I'm a go cast my vote now. I'm a vote for the Panther an' go home." — Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).[7]

Over prior months, some white plantation owners have quietly registered Black sharecroppers and tenants living and working on their land. Now the plantation overseers truck them to the Braggs, Fort Deposit and Sandy Ridge polling stations. They are herded inside, given completed sample ballots, and ordered to vote as instructed. White election officials circumvent LCFO poll watchers to ensure that the captive voters pull the lever for white candidates as commanded. When a truck-load pulls up to the Benton polling station, the sharecroppers refuse to look poll-watcher Eddie Mae Hulett in the eye when she asks if they need help voting. Instead they go into the voting booth accompanied by a white election official picked by their boss. The Justice Department observer says he has no legal basis for intervention.

At many polling places, white election officials insist on "helping" Black voters by going into the booth with them and watching who they vote for. At Fort Deposit and elsewhere, white toughs threaten Black voters. Reports come in to LCFO campaign headquarters: "Get over to Precinct 7, trouble there. Not letting our poll-watchers observe everything. Whites going in booths with Negroes." "Get up to Hayneville right away. Intimidating our people outside." Some of the LCFO poll watchers are forced away, others hold on at great risk. The Burkeville precinct is in a white-owned store, white officials force a Movement lawyer to retreat, but three Black Panther women clutch their clipboards and stand their ground. At the precinct near the home of incumbent Sheriff Ryals, however, it's simply too dangerous, there are no Panther poll watchers to prevent election malfeasance.

On election day, November 8, the Black Panther Party organized car pools and set up pick-up points to get people to the polls. There were only 10 hours to be sure everyone got their long awaited chance to vote for their own candidates. The Freedom Organization assigned poll watchers to each polling place, to challenge any voter who was not who he claimed to be. At some polls, the Black Panther poll watchers were ordered to leave by officials, and at a few polls there were no poll watchers. Black Panther Party workers were fired upon by shotguns and one of the strongest workers [Andrew Jones] was beaten on the head with a rifle butt and tire chains by members of a mob near one polling place, just as it was closing. — Jack Minnis, SNCC.[8]

Held in check by Black preparations for self-defense, deadly violence by white Klan terrorists does not occur, but intimidating threats are widespread.

In one area we had a large number of [white] people who walked around with guns on their sides, who wasn't deputies, who wasn't [officially authorized] to carry these guns. Some even had shotguns who stood there by the polls. When the people turned out to the polls and seeing these people standing by, they returned to their homes, did not vote at all." — John Hulett.[9]

Economic intimidation is also widespread. "Most people who live on the white people's land were afraid to vote for the freedom organization's candidates because they'd get thrown off their land," explained Alice Moore. A valid fear. By the end of 1966 hundreds of sharecroppers and tenants have been evicted for the crimes of registering or voting. Others know they will be fired from their jobs if they are seen at the polls.

My brother Willie registered to vote, and the man told him that he had to leave. So he moved to Montgomery, and after that my mother, she moved to Montgomery too. I moved to Tent City, with my husband. And after I moved to Tent City I become a registered voter. It was a great experiment for me in Tent City. The blacks had been hidden behind the white for so long. Now we could make a start for ourself, and get out and register to vote and help others become registered voters. And to find the world for themselves. I put it like that because so much was going on. We got involved with lots of activities to help black peoples to get jobs and learn how to do things for themselves. Like we bought land, and then after we got the land we built a house, something that we had never had before of our own. The white peoples would come round. They would pull up to the side of the road and they would call us hoodlums and niggers and things like that. They would shoot at us and try to scare us, but we wouldn't let them bother us. We hung in there anyways. — Josephine Mayes.[10]

It's well after dark by the time vote-counting is finished. LCFO member Andrew Jones (52) is attacked when he arrives to pick up Fort Deposit precinct poll watchers Clara McMeans and Bobbie Jean Goldsmith. As the first Afro-American ever to register in Fort Deposit he's a marked man, already fired from his two jobs by white employers and evicted from his home. White men club him to the ground, and beat him with rifle butts and chains. His 16 year old daughter cries for help. Members of SNCC's volunteer defense force are nearby. They grab their pistols and run to the scene, but they're outnumbered and outgunned. A recently-hired Black deputy arrives. He doesn't arrest anyone, but his presence causes the white mob to pause long enough for the SNCC volunteers to carry away the semi-conscious Jones and get him to Mt. Gillard Baptist Church, and from there to hospital in Selma.

Hulett and Stokely mobilize the defense volunteers who fan out across the county to protect Black activists and voters from additional attacks. Scott B. Smith protects Jones' children in Fort Deposit with a shotgun and SNCC member Jennifer Lawson guards the Freedom House near White Hall with a rifle lent to her by the Jackson family.

When the count is finished, the Panther candidates are defeated. An estimated 15-20% of registered Blacks do not vote at all, either out of fear or because they are unable to reach the switched polling places. Among those who do vote, a New York Times reporter estimates that perhaps as many as 300 cast ballots for some or all of the white candidates (either by choice or coercion).

  Black Panther White Democrat
Sheriff Sidney Logan 1426 Frank Ryals 1943
Coroner Emory Ross 1391 Jack Golson 1901
Tax Assessor Alice Moore 1557 Charlie Sullivan 2234
Tax Collector Frank Miles 1556 Iva Sullivan 2227
Board of Ed. Robert Logan 1620 David Lyons 1894
  John Hinson 1620 Tommie Colman 1933
  Willie Strickland 1552 C.B. Haigler 2139

Four years later, in 1970, with the LCFO now merged into a changed Democratic Party that accepts Black participation, John Hulett is elected sheriff and other Black candidates win other offices — as Democrats.

The Election in Dallas County (Selma)

See Selma Voting Rights Campaign for preceding events.

Back at the beginning of 1963, SNCC organizers Bernard and Colia Lafayette pioneer a voter registration project in Selma Alabama, the seat of Dallas County. The county is 57% Black, but only 130 of the 15,000 eligible Afro-Americans are registered to vote. After two years of bitter struggle and raw courage, by the January of 1965 the Selma Freedom Movement led by SNCC and the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) have managed to inch that number up to a mere 335 (just 2% of those eligible).

At the end of 1964, SCLC was looking for a strategic spot to mount a major direct action campaign aimed at forcing Washington to enact a national voting rights law. The DCVL offers Selma as that battleground. On January 2nd 1965, Dr. King speaks to a mass meeting in Brown Chapel to commence the Selma Voting Rights Campaign. In three months there are more than 4,000 arrests, "Bloody Sunday," the The March to Montgomery, and the murders of Jimmy Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, and Mrs. Viola Liuzzo. In August, the Voting Rights Act is finally passed into law.

By the time of the 1966 primary in May, there are 10,300 Blacks registered to vote in Dallas County (70% of those eligible), a huge increase over the 335 who were registered at the start 1965. But whites have also been registering voters, and they now have 12,500 on the voting rolls (86% of those eligible).

For most Dallas County Blacks, the key race in the May primary is the contest for sheriff between the incumbent Jim Clark — an extreme and violent segregationist — and Selma Police Chief Wilson Baker, who positions himself as a racial "moderate." Both candidates are white. Determined to rid themselves of the hated Clark, Black voters overwhelmingly support Baker. Rural whites solidly back Clark, and in the city white voters are split.

Selma activists who support SNCC's strategy of independent Black-led parties organize the Dallas County Free Voters Organization. But most of the long-time leaders in the Black community favor participating in the Democratic Primary to vote against Clark. Since those who participate in the Free Voters nominating convention are barred from casting ballots in the primary, it's an either/or situation. There is bitter debate between the two factions. The mainline leaders argue that so long as white voters are in the majority, Black candidates cannot win regardless of what party they belong to, so the Free Voters are "wasting" their votes. The Free Voters argue that "lesser-of-two-evils" electoral strategies simply guarantee the triumph of racism in one form or another, and they accuse the older leaders of seeking to preserve their power and influence against poorer and more radical upstarts.

The May primary race between Baker and Clark is tight and bitter. With solid backing from Blacks and partial support from town whites, Wilson Baker takes a small lead. But Clark challenges 1,600 votes from three predominantly Black precincts. The election is thrown to the courts and fiercely contested. The judge rules against Clark. Baker wins nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for sheriff.

Compared to the LCFO convention in Lowndes County, the Free Voters nominating convention in Selma is relatively small, but large enough to get on the ballot with a full slate of candidates, though their candidate for sheriff later has to withdraw.

Clark mounts an intense campaign for whites to write-in his name on the general election ballot for sheriff against Baker. Given how close the primary was, he could win if the Black vote does not go overwhelmingly for Baker.

Alabama ballots are designed so that it's easy for illiterate voters to mark one spot associated with a party symbol and thereby vote for all of that party's candidates. But to vote for candidates from different parties you have to go line by line down the offices. The fight between the oldline leaders and the Free Voters erupts again when Amelia Boynton argues that many poorly-educated, first-time Afro-American voters will find it difficult to split their vote between Baker the Democrat and Free Voter candidates on other lines for the remaining offices. She urges Blacks to vote the straight Democratic party-line slate so as to defeat Clark, but that means no votes for any of the Black candidates. Those supporting the Free Voters are furious at what they see as a betrayal of Afro-American candidates and a snobbish insult to Black voters.

On the Saturday before the election, SNCC drives a sound truck through Black neighborhoods campaigning for Free Voter candidates and opposing those urging Afro-Americans to vote the straight Democratic Party line. Driving the truck is Thomas Taylor, a Black SNCC volunteer who has come down from the North to help with the elections. He double-parks on Franklin Street to check in with the SNCC office for instructions. Across the street is the police and sheriff's department. A policeman approaches the driver-side of the truck.

Taylor is tall and dark, wearing a Muslim cap and beads — his very appearance is an act of racial defiance. The cop tells him he's "blocking traffic" on the almost empty four-lane avenue. Before Taylor can move, the cop hits him through the open window. Taylor rolls up the window. The cop grabs a shotgun from his car, smashes the truck window, and orders Taylor out at gunpoint. Taylor complies. He is hit with the gun barrel and then assaulted by other police as he's dragged off to jail across the street. SNCC photographers in town for the election record it all on film.

Saturday is shopping day, and the sidewalks are crowded with Afro-Americans in from the rural area to buy supplies. SNCC Selma project director Stu House urges them to vote for the Black candidates come Tuesday's election. Police Lieutenant "Cotton" Nichols, an ally of Police Chief Wilson Baker who desperately needs Black votes in his race against Jim Clark for sheriff, arrests House for "Inciting to Riot." Stu responds that the crowd is orderly, "as always," and it's, "the City Police which are rioting." No matter, off to jail he's taken.

The cops decide to seize SNCC's sound truck. Feigning meekness, Stokely Carmichael tells them, "I'll drive the truck away, sir, so it won't block traffic." He calmly gets in the truck and drives slowly down the street. Suddenly the loudspeaker comes to life, "Black Power! shouts Stokely, "Black Power! Now you know, why you must vote for your black brothers and sisters." He parks the truck in a legal spot around the corner and walks back to the grinning crowd. He calls on them to picket the police station to protest the arrest of Taylor and House. The pickets, mostly SNCC supporters from out of town, are ordered to cease or be arrested themselves. SNCC has no money for bail, so Stokely tells the others to let him picket alone. He is arrested. It takes three days to get him out, and he just barely manages to get to Lowndes County in time to address the election eve rally.

On election day, November 8, Baker defeats Clark 7,249 to 6,742. The majority of whites vote for Clark, but Black voters make the difference. With white voters still outnumbering Black and the majority of Afro-American voters honoring the instructions of their mainline leaders, none of the Black candidates running on the Free Voter ticket win.

The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)

See The Murder of Sammy Younge for preceding events.

Macon County is 84% Afro-American, the highest percentage in Alabama. It is also the location of Tuskegee Institute and the large Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital. Both college and hospital employ a significant number of Black professionals, and also provide steady, decently-paid, blue-collar and service jobs for local Blacks. Together, they in turn provide the customers for Black-owned businesses. So Tuskegee is blessed with an Afro-American economic base that no other Black Belt county can match.

Unlike Blacks who work for whites, those employed by the two institutions know they won't be fired for trying to register to vote or engaging in electoral activities. Back in 1941, Black professionals founded the Tuskegee Civic Association (TCA) and ever since it has been the main civil rights organization in Macon County. Led by (and mostly for) the Afro-American middle-class of professionals, business and land owners, it has long fought for voting rights.

By 1960, the TCA has managed to create a base of Black voters in the town of Tuskegee that outnumbers white voters — a unique situation that outrages segregationist politicians throughout the state. Fearing a backlash from the whites who govern in Montgomery, the TCA and its political arm the Macon County Democratic Club (MCDC), adopt a strategy of "gradualism," choosing to elect only a few Blacks to serve on the city council and various municipal commissions and boards, but never so many that whites would no longer have a controlling majority in any governing body. Says Charles Gomillion, a Tuskegee dean and chairman of both the TCA and MCDC, "We will try to support white candidates who seem to be in a position to render the best service for the total community."

To hard-line white segregationists, the Tuskegee Civic Association is an outlaw band of dangerous radicals who threaten the southern way of life, but to Tuskegee students working with SNCC organizers, the TCA leaders are hopelessly conservative. So much so, that back in early 1965 they formed their own, independent student-led organization, the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL).

With passage of the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965, the number of Black voters in Macon County begins to steadily rise, and soon Afro-Americans have a voting-majority in the entire county, not just the town of Tuskegee. Over opposition from the TIAL students, the TCA applies its gradualism strategy to the 1966 elections. They reject any thought of an independent Black-led party, and instead of fielding candidates for all open offices in the Democratic Primary, they contest only for sheriff, tax assessor, one county commissioner, and one of the two state legislature seats in the district comprised of Macon, Barbour and Bullock counties.

SCLC sends in a team of field organizers to help campaign, but the TCA candidates don't run as SCLC, or even as "Movement" candidates. They accept support and assistance from whomever offers it, but they position themselves as independent of Freedom Movement organizations such as SCLC and SNCC. The three running for county office win their primary races and go on the November ballot as the Democratic candidates for sheriff, tax assessor, and commissioner. They win the November election, and Lucius Amerson becomes the first Black sheriff in Alabama since the end of the Reconstruction Era. Civil rights attorney Fred Grey, running in the three-county district for state legislature is defeated in the primary by 600 votes (not all of them necessarily among the living), but he wins the seat two years later.

 

Keeping On — From Cooperatives to Pigford

See Alabama ASCS Elections, 1966 — The Struggle Continues above for preceding events.

Black tenant farmers whose land is repossessed by white owners are no longer eligible to vote in ASCS elections. The same is true for Black land-owners who are forced out. As their numbers dwindle, the chances of Blacks winning future ASCS elections disappear. For example, in Lowndes County Alabama, 59% of the farmers eligible to vote in the 1964 ASCS election are Black, but by 1966, just two years later, Blacks comprise less than 40% of the eligible voters.

Unable to halt the rapid elimination of Black tenant farmers, Freedom Movement activists shift their efforts towards finding ways to defend Black land-owners from the economic terrorism of the White Citizens Councils and some sort of economic sustenance for dispossessed sharecroppers. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and elsewhere in the South, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC organizers work with local farmers, VISTA volunteers, and northern supporters to create agriculture and other kinds of CoOps that can pool scarce resources and provide mutual support.

It's always tough for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid to survive, let alone thrive, and the CoOps face problems of insufficient financing, fields that are too small, low commodity prices & fickle markets, under-mechanization, inadequate training, and the inherent difficulties of building cooperation among those who up to now have been economic competitors. One legacy of the South's segregated school system is that many rural Blacks are only semi- literate, and many don't have telephones, which means that communication and education has to be done face to face in person over unpaved roads that often turn to impassable rivers of mud in the winter.

Black-led groups also have to contend with the vicious opposition of the local white power-structure and the entrenched racism of the USDA — the federal organization that is supposed to be helping them. Some cooperatives are able to obtain assistance from the War on Poverty through cash grants, loans, and training programs. But they quickly discover that local and state politicians furiously oppose any government support for organizations that challenge established economic interests, and their voices of "No!" have clout in Washington and state capitols.

Some of the CoOps manage to survive, others do not. One of the strongest is the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association (SWAFCA) organized under the leadership of SCLC State Director Albert Turner with the help of SNCC and SCLC organizers. Covering 10 Alabama Black-Belt counties, SWAFCA is formed in the summer of 1966, and with the help of a $300,000 War on Poverty grant it soon grows to almost 2,000 Black land-owners, renters, and displaced sharecroppers.

"We saw it as the economic arm of the Civil Rights Movement." — Albert Turner. [2]

"The whole idea behind SWAFCA is to create some kind of economic basis by which people will be able to think for themselves .... If a man is able to feed himself he votes the way he wants to. Not only is this true, but he does anything else he wants to, and my feeling is that basically the power structure, especially in the South here wants to continue to create that master-servant relationship. As long as it exists, you can control the very destiny of people." — William Harrison. [2]

The SWAFCA farmers quickly discover that by collectively buying their supplies in bulk they cut their costs in half. Denied their fair share of subsidies and acreage allotments by ASCS county committees, Blacks can't compete against white cotton growers. So SWAFCA, like other southern CoOps, helps its members convert to "truck" (food) crops. And when it comes time to sell those crops, they're able to prevent the food processors from arbitrarily setting prices at subsistence levels by playing one farmer off against the others. "[We're] getting $90 a ton [for cucumbers] where we used to make $60 a ton," Albert Turner tells a reporter. Not only do SWAFCA members insist on a fair price, but other farmers (including some whites) follow their lead and in a single season the prices that all farmers get for peas, cucumbers, okra, and other truck crops jump significantly in Southwest Alabama.

But higher prices for farmers means lower-profits for the food processors and they are not amused. With the support of the White Citizens Council and local politicians, they complain to Governor Lurleen Wallace (George Wallace's wife) who arranges a meeting in Washington with the Alabama Congressional delegation and officials of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency responsible for running the War on Poverty. The Whitefield Pickle Company (who was forced to pay higher prices for SWAFCA cucumbers) generously provides a corporate jet for the trip. The Governor, the Congressmen, and the local politicos demand that SWAFCA's small OEO grant be rescinded. They don't argue that helping poor farmers get a fair price for their crops is wrong — that is, after all, what the OEO is supposed to do (and the USDA too, for that matter) — instead they claim that SWAFCA is a front for Communists, Black Power, Stokely Carmichael, and H. Rap Brown.

To his credit, in this instance OEO Director Sargent Shriver refuses their demand, and when Governor Wallace later tries to veto the grant, he overturns her effort. But elsewhere, Black-led and low-income cooperatives of all kinds — agricultural, housing, employment, consumer, credit unions — face unrelenting hostility from the white power-structure who defend their economic dominance with economic boycotts, assaults on funding, legal harassment, investigations of "Communist influence," indictments on trumped up charges, and intimidation and reprisal against CoOp members. Over time, this economic warfare against poor people and their organizations is successful in killing many of the CoOps that emerge out of the Freedom Movement. But some manage to survive.

Twenty-two low-income CoOps from 8 southern states — including SWAFCA, Freedom Quilting Bee, Southern Consumers Cooperative, Grand Marie Vegetable Producers, Mid-South Oil Consumers, Greenala Citizens Federal Credit Union and 15 others — form the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) in February of 1967. Led by Charles Prejean of Louisiana, the FSC develops advocacy, training, organizing, fund-raising and marketing programs for poor folks CoOps of all kinds. By 1970, the FSC has grown to over 100 CoOps involving more than 25,000 low-income families. And like the individual cooperatives, the FSC also endures harassment and attack from the power-structure and state and federal government agencies. But the FSC survives. In 1985 it merges with the Emergency Land Fund to become the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund, and as of 2012 it is still organizing and fighting on behalf of Black and low-income farmers across the South.

In 1983, the Reagan administration eliminates the USDA's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement and Adjudication (OCREA). Later, in his Pigford v Glickman court ruling, Judge Paul Friedman notes that after OCREA was dismantled:

.. [civil rights] complaints that were filed were never processed, investigated or forwarded to the appropriate agencies for conciliation. As a result, farmers who filed complaints of discrimination never received a response, or if they did receive a response it was a cursory denial of relief. In some cases, OCREA staff simply threw discrimination complaints in the trash without ever responding to or investigating them. In other cases, even if there was a finding of discrimination, the farmer never received any relief. [3]

In 1997, with the aid of the FSC, Black farmers file Pigford v Glickman, a class-action civil-rights suit against the USDA. (The Pigford and related cases are often referred to as the "Black Farmers Case.") The lead attorney in Pigford is long-time civil rights warrior J.L. Chestnut of Selma, Alabama:

"What we did say in the lawsuit was that the United States Department of Agriculture — a racist plantation, disguised as a government agency — had discriminated against Black farmers and it had done so since the Civil War. And we wanted money; we wanted damages. ... And we said we wanted injunctive relief. ... The injunctive relief was that we wanted legal assurance that Black farmers from that day forward would receive full, fair and equal treatment with white farmers." — J.L. Chestnut. [4]

Though the Black farmer's lawsuit narrowly focuses on discrimination in loan programs from 1983 when the OCREA was shut down through 1996, it evokes a century of systemic racism throughout all aspects of the USDA. As soon as the case comes to trial in 1998, the Department surrenders — they know they cannot defend their past actions. They quickly agree to a consent settlement that requires the U.S. government to pay significant damages to Black farmers.

Judge Friedman notes in his ruling that of the 925,000 Black-owned farms in 1920 only 18,000 are left and that:

The USDA and the county commissioners to whom it has delegated so much power bear much of the responsibility for this dramatic decline. He further noted, ...the widespread belief that the Department is "the last plantation," a department "perceived as playing a key role in what some see as a conspiracy to force minority and disadvantaged farmers off their land through discriminatory loan practices. [3]

Pigford and follow-on cases are still in the news today (2012). Ultimately, the damages awarded to Black farmers may exceed $2.5 Billion. But as the judge also noted: The settlement ... will not undo all that has been done [to harm Black farmers]. Nor does the settlement even attempt to address the history of racism and discrimination in other USDA programs such as ASCS, allotments, subsidies, extension service, soil conservation, 4-H, and so on.

Important as the Pigford cases are, they don't directly address the broader USDA context nationwide. Every year hundreds of billions are spent on agricultural programs and subsidies, all of which — according to the politicians — are designed to help and protect the "family farmer." Yet year after year, decade after decade, the number of American farms and farmers of all races continues to decline, while the amount of acerage under cultivation remains roughly the same. Meaning that as small farms go under, large farms — many of them owned by "Fortune 500" corporations — become ever larger and more profitable. As author Pete Daniel observed in the Journal of Southern History: Federal agricultural policy and laborsaving science and technology became tools that ruthlessly eliminated sharecroppers, tenants, and small farmers. ... The increase in USDA programs had an inverse relationship to the number of farmers: the larger the department, the more programs it generated, and the more money it spent, the fewer farmers who survived. [5]

In her 2010 speech to the Georgia NAACP, USDA official and Freedom Movement veteran Shirley Sherrod noted: "... it's really about those who have versus those who don't. They could be Black. They could be white. They could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people ... God helped me to see that it's not just about Black people — it's about poor people." [6]

It is this speech that the right-wing media-lie-machine then distorts and takes out of context to charge Sherrod with the false allegation that she is a government-paid racist. And the same deceptive pundits and bloggers who smear Shirley Sherrod also attack the Pigford settlements as fraudulent rip-offs of taxpayer funds by greedy Black con-artists and their liberal stooges. To justify their false accusation, they cite the fact there are only 18,000 Black farmers in the entire United States, yet 86,000 people have filed claims for a share of the Pigford settlement.

But as Mark Twain observed: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics," and "Figures don't lie, but liars figure:"

  1. The Census of Agriculture figure of 18,000 that the far-right pundits cite is for Black-owned farms, not farmers. Many farms are owned and operated by partnerships of two or three or more people, so the number of farmers is always greater than the number of farms.

  2. Many farmers (of all races) don't own the land they till, they rent it. Black farmers who rent their land are not included in the 18,000 Black-owned farms, but the settlements (and the laws they are based on) specifically include renters.

  3. Black farmers forced out of business by USDA racism are not included in Census figures because they are no longer farming. But they are included in the settlements.

  4. Some farmers covered by the settlement have passed on. But their multiple heirs are still entitled to claim shares of the settlement.

Therefore, it is entirely possible to have 86,000 legitimate settlement claims.

To this day, many Freedom Movement veterans remain skeptical that the institutional racism which so permeated the USDA for so many decades has actually been eradicated. And many believe that the USDA's illegal and unjustified firing of Shirley Sherrod was as much (or more) due to her tireless support for Black and low-income farmers as from the Obama administration's panicked fear of the far-right's media distortion and smear machine.

For more information on CoOps and the Pigford case:
Web: Pigford v Glickman "Black Farmers" Case
Books: Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama

 


1966 Quotation Sources:

1. Dr. King, the Farmers Will Tell You..., Don Jelinek
2. Carry It On: the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama
3. Opinion, Judge Friedman, Pigford v Glickman
4. Attorney J.L. Chestnut's Speech on the Black Farmer Lawsuit (FSC-LAF)
5. African American Farmers and Civil Rights (Journal of Southern History, 2/1/07)
6. Shirley Sherrod Address at the Georgia NAACP (American Rhetoric)
7. Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), by Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell.
8. Lowndes County Freedom Organization, Jack Minnis.
9. Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt, by Hasan Jeffries.
10. Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement, by Henry Hampton & Steven Fayer.
11. At Canaan's Edge—America in the King Years 1965-68, Taylor Branch.
12. U.S. Civil Rights Commission: Staff Report, "Voting and Political Participation by Blacks in the 16 Alabama Hearing Counties."
13. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North, Thomas Sugrue.
14. "Address to Chicago Freedom Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King. March 12, 1966.
15. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Clayborne Carson (editor).
16. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, & Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David Garrow.
17. The Trumpet of Conscience, Martin Luther King.
18. The Last Steep Ascent, Martin Luther King. The Nation, March 14, 1966
19. Program of the Chicago Freedom Movement, July, 1966
20. Remember Why You're Here, Brother, Bernard Kleina. (Poverty & Race Research Action Council)
21. Launching the National Fair Housing Debate: A Closer Look at the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement, Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC)
22. Grenada County Political Handbook Freedom Information Service (FIS)
23. MS Voter Registration by Congressional District, 1964
24. Number of Negres Registered by County, 1961
25. Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear, by Aram Goudsouzian
26. Justice in Grenada Mississippi, SRC. 1966
27. Memphis Press-Scimitar, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Grenada Daily Sentinel-Star, 9/13-9/15/66
28. Letter excerpt, Bruce Hartford, 1967
29. At Canaan's Edge — America in the King Years 1965-68, by Taylor Branch.
30. SCLC field reports, Bruce Hartford.
31. Excerpt from report to parents 12/20/66. Iris & Paul Brest and Marian Wright
32. In Celebration of Black History Month: The Grenada Movement


1965 (Jan-June)

1967

© Bruce Hartford
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