1960

1962

1961

University of Georgia Desegregated (Jan)
Rock Hill SC, "Jail-no-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)
Tougaloo Nine and Jackson State Protest (Mar)
Freedom Rides (May-Nov)
Frame-up, Escape, & Exile of Robert F. Williams (1961-1969)
Mississippi — the Eye of the Storm
Voter Education Project (VEP) (1961-1968)
Direct Action or Voter Registration? (Summer)
Voter Registration & Direct action in McComb MS (Aug-Oct)
Herbert Lee Murdered (Sept)
Desegregate Route 40 Project (Aug-Dec)
Albany GA, Movement (Oct 1961 - Aug 1962)
Savannah Boycott Victory (Oct)
Christmas Boycott in Clarksdale MS (Dec)
Baton Rouge Student Protests (Dec 1961 - Jan 1962)

University of Georgia Desegregated (Jan)

In the summer of 1959, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes apply for admission to the Athens campus of the Unversity of Georgia (UGA). They are recent graduates of Turner High School, the elite academic institution of Atlanta's segregated Black school system. Despite their obvious qualification and the Supreme Court's Brown v Board of Education ruling UGA denies them admission.

Represented by Constance Baker Motley of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (known as the "Inc Fund"), plus Atlanta attorneys Donald Hollowell and Horace Ward (who had himself made an earlier attempt to integrate UGA), along with law clerk Vernon Jordan, Holmes and Hunter fight their case through the courts. Each quarter they submit an application and each quarter they are denied on various flimsy pretexts such as "No room in the dormitories."

On January 6, 1961, a Federal judge orders them admitted. Georgia's appeal to the Supreme Court is quickly denied a couple of days later. When Hunter and Holmes arrive on campus white students jeer and taunt: "Two, four, six, eight. We don't want to integrate!" After a sports event on January 11, a mob attacks Charlayne Hunter's dormitory and has to be driven off by police tear gas.

Instead of punishing the white rioters, UGA suspends Holmes and Hunter "for their own safety and the safety of other students." It is later revealed that some university and government officials hope to repeat the tactic that worked for the University of Alabama when they expelled Autherine Lucy after a white riot in 1956. But this time their strategy backfires. More than 400 UGA faculty (a majority) sign a resolution condeming both the violence and the suspension, and calling for the return of the two Black students.

Within days a new court order is handed down and they return to class. Hunter and Holmes are joined by Black graduate student Mary Frances Early, who transfers from the University of Michigan and in 1962 becomes the first Black to receive a degree from UGA. Hamilton Holmes becomes the first Black admitted to Emory University School of Medicine and caps a long career as medical director of Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital and associate dean at Emory. Charlayne Hunter (today Charlayne Hunter-Gault) graduates from UGA in 1963 and builds an honored career in journalism working for The New Yorker, The New York Times, the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, National Public Radio (NPR), and Johannesburg bureau chief of Cable News Network (CNN).

For more information on school desegregation:
Books:
     To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement, Charlayne Hunter-Gault
     Schools and School Desegregation
Web:
     School Desegregation
     University of Georgia, Desegregation of

 

Rock Hill SC, "Jail-No-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)

At the October 1960 SNCC strategy conference in Atlanta, some activists argue for "Jail-No-Bail" tactics. They take a Gandhian position that paying bail or fines indicates acceptance of an immoral system and validates their own arrests. And by serving their sentences, they dramatize the injustice, intensify the struggle, and gain additional media coverage.

There is also a practical component to "Jail-No-Bail." The Movement has little money and most southern Blacks are poor. It is hard to scrape up bail money, and sit-in struggles are faltering — not from lack of volunteers to risk arrest — but from lack of money to bail them out. Moreover, paying fines provides the cops with financial resources that are then used to continue suppressing the freedom struggle. By refusing bail, they render meaningless the no-money-for-bail barrier and by serving time they put financial pressure on local authorities who have to pay the costs of incarcerating them.

In the Fall of 1960, CORE field secretary Tom Gaither — who as Claflin student-body President had led the large Orangeburg sit-in movement — arrives in Rock Hill SC. Sit-ins began in Rock Hill almost a year earlier, but have made no headway against the intransigent resistance of the White Citizens Council — there have been many arrests, over $17,000 in bail money has been posted, and the media no longer covers the protests. Tom and students from Friendship College (a 2-year Baptist institution) decide to intensify the struggle with "Jail-No-Bail" tactics.

On February 1, 1961 — a year to the day after the Greensboro sit-in — Gaither and 9 others are convicted of "Trespass" for sitting-in at the McCrory lunch counter. They are sentenced to fines of $100 each or 30 days hard labor on the county chain-gang. They begin serving their sentence on February 2nd.

Four days later on February 6, four SNCC leaders —  J. Charles Jones, Diane Nash, Charles Sherrod, and Ruby Doris Smith (later Ruby Doris Robinson) — journey to Rock Hill and stage a solidarity "Jail-No-Bail" sit-in.

The "Jail-No-Bail" tactic re-energizes the Rock Hill movement, 300 Blacks attend a mass meeting, and picket lines grow to over 100 protesters. The media resumes covering the demonstrations, including full-page spreads in the Baltimore Afro-American. More SNCC reinforcements arrive from Nashville on February 12 for a weekend of direct action culminating in a Sunday motorcade of 600 people to York County Prison Farm.

Inside the prison, the students are placed in solitary confinement as punishment for singing the song, "Oh Freedom — Before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave." As further punishment, they are restricted to bread and water. When the students complete their sentences they are honored by a mass meeting in Rock Hill — they are the first the first group to serve their entire sentence for a sit-in arrest. Says soon-to-become SNCC field secretary Charles Sherrod: "You get ideas in jail. You talk with other young people you have never seen. Right away we recognize each other. People like yourself, getting out of the past. We're up all night, sharing creativity, planning action. You learn the truth in prison, you learn wholeness. You find out the difference between being dead and alive."

Meanwhile, picketing, rallies and mass meetings continue throughout February and March.

But while "Jail-No-Bail" temporarily revives the Rock Hill movement and garners a new wave of media coverage, it is not enough to force Rock Hill to desegregate. As exhaustion begins to sap the Rock Hill protests, Gaither proposes a new idea to push the struggle forward — a Freedom Ride through Rock Hill and other states of the Deep South.

As the Freedom Movement continues into the future, the "Jail-No-Bail" tactic is tried again by many of the Freedom Riders. More than 300 of those arrested in Jackson MS, refuse to pay their fines and instead serve sentences in Mississippi's notorious Parchman Prison. But in later years, "Jail-No-Bail" is rarely used as a tactic-of-choice. Instead it is mostly used as a tactic-of-necessity when there is no money available to pay bail or fines. There are a number of reasons for "Jail-No-Bail" becoming the strategy of last resort:

For more information on the Rock Hill Civil Rights Movement:
Web:
     Rock Hill & Charlotte Sit-ins (J. Charles Jones)
      Dynamics of Protest Diffusion: 1960 Sit-In Movement [PDF] (Andrews & Biggs — Oxford Univ, UK)

 

Tougaloo Nine and Jackson State Protest (Mar)

Tougaloo College is a private Black institution that in the 1960s was just outside the Jackson MS city limits (it has since been incorporated into the city). After careful planning and training, nine members of the NAACP Youth Council — Meredith Anding, Samuel Bradford, Alfred Cook, Geraldine Edwards, Janice Jackson, Joseph Jackson, Albert Lassiter, Evelyn Pierce, and Ethel Sawyer — attempt to use the white-only Jackson public library on March 27. They sit quitely at different tables reading books that are not available in the "colored" library. When the nine refuse to leave, they are arrested for "Disturbing the Peace" and become known as the "Tougaloo Nine."

Tougaloo President Daniel Beittel — who is white — courageously refuses to expell the student protesters, despite threats of retaliation against Tougaloo and himself.

Later that day, while the Tougaloo Nine languish in jail, Jackson State College students including Dorie and Joyce Ladner organize a "prayer vigil" in their support. Jackson State is a segregated state institution and demonstrations — in fact, civil rights activities of any kind — are forbidden. Hundreds of people attend the prayer which is broken up by Jackson State President Jacob Reddix backed by a squad of cops. President Reddix, in a rage, knocks one of the students to the ground. Four students, including the Ladner sisters, and student President Walter Williams, are expelled for their activity in support of the Tougaloo Nine.

The following day, Jackson State students boycott class, hold an illegal rally, and then march towards the jail where the Tougaloo Nine are being arraigned. The Jackson State marchers are attacked by club-swinging police using tear gas and dogs to disperse them. (A few blocks away several thousand white marchers in Confederate uniforms carrying rebel battle flags are being reviewed by Governor Ross Barnett to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mississippi's secession from the union in 1861.)

When the the the Tougaloo Nine arrive at the courthouse they are cheered by a small crowd of Black supporters who had not been able to squeeze into the "Colored" section of the courtroom. The cops attack these bystanders with clubs and dogs. That night, more than 1,000 people — many of them adults — attend a rally in support of the Nine. Myrlie Evers latter says of the Tougaloo Nine: "The change of tide in Mississippi began with the Tougaloo Nine and the library sit-in."

See Jackson MS, Boycotts for continuation.

For more information on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement for partial list of books.
Web links:
     Jackson Municipal Library (Mississippi Heritage Trust)
     Mississippi Movement

 

Freedom Rides (May-Nov)
Photos
Map

See also
Freedom Riders — 1961

Contents:

The First Ride
Burning Bus in Anniston
Mob Attack in Birmingham
SNCC Students Resume the Freedom Ride
Mobs in Montgomery
Arrests in Jackson
Freedom Rides Roll Across the South
A New Generation of Leaders
Freedom Rides — Important Points

The First Ride (May, 1961)

[This article covers the Freedom Rides of 1961. An earlier freedom ride organized by CORE occurred in 1947. That ride, called the "Journey of Reconciliation," was met by violence and arrests for violating local segregation ordinances.]

In December of 1960, the Supreme Court rules in the Boynton case (Boynton v. Virginia), that segregation in interstate travel is illegal, and that as a matter of Federal law integrated travel on interstate buses and trains is a legal right. Separate white and colored toilets and dining rooms for interstate travelers are no longer allowed, travelers have the right to use whatever facilities they choose, and sit wherever they wish. (The Boynton decision reaffirms and extends Morgan v Virgina which formed the basis for the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation.)

By early '61, the Rock Hill SC sit-in movement has run into a stone wall of racist resistance, and CORE activist Tom Gaither proposes a "Freedom Ride" through Rock Hill and elsewhere in the Deep South to test and implement the Boynton decision.

On May 4, CORE Director James Farmer leads 13 Freedom Riders (7 Black, 6 white) out of Washington on Greyhound and Trailways buses. The plan is to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Their final destination is New Orleans, Louisiana. Most of the Riders are from CORE — many in their 40s and 50s — and two are young students from SNCC. Little trouble is encountered as they travel through Virginia and North Carolina, but John Lewis, Al Bigelow, and Genevieve Hughes are beaten in Rock Hill, SC. Defying the Boynton ruling, local police arrest some of the Riders in Charlotte NC, and Winnsboro SC.

Burning Bus in Anniston, AL
Photos

White political leaders in Georgia choose not to defy the Supreme Court ruling by arresting the riders. Nor do they incite racist hysteria or mob violence. The Riders cross Georgia — Augusta - Athens - Atlanta — without incident. But in Alabama and Mississippi, segregationist politicians seize on the Freedom Ride as a political opportunity, railing against integration, "race-mixers," "Communist-plots," the Supreme Court, and the Federal government.

With the cooperation of the cops, on May 15 (Mothers Day), a mob of more than 100 Klansmen ambush the Riders in Anniston AL, attacking the Greyhound bus, smashing the windows, and slashing the tires. The bus tries to flee, but the attackers give chase, halting it on the outskirts of town, then setting it on fire. The mob holds the door shut to burn the Riders alive. The Alabama Highway Patrol has an undercover cop on board. He pulls his gun to force the Klansmen back, and the passengers tumble off the bus — barely escaping with their lives — just before the gas tanks explode. SNCC student Hank Thomas is beaten with a baseball bat to the head while other riders are assaulted.

When the violence subsides, a 12 year old white girl who lives nearby defies the taunts and insults of the Klansmen to bring water to the bleeding riders who are still choking from the smoke. For daring to help the injured riders, she and her family are later ostracized and forced to leave the county.

Mob Attack in Birmingham, AL
Photos

When the Trailways bus reaches Anniston, the mob boards the bus and beats the Riders with fists and clubs. The bus manages to escape Anniston and reach Birmingham where Commissioner of Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor encourages another KKK mob to savagely attack the Riders again, leaving them bloody and battered. At the hospital, Jim Peck of CORE requires 53 stitches to close his wounds. The FBI knows in advance that the two busses are going to be attacked in Anniston and Birmingham, but they do nothing to prevent the violence, do nothing to protect the Riders from assault, do nothing to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. Though they well know who the mob leaders are, they make no arrests.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and activists from the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) defy the mobs to rescue the Riders. Shuttlesworth is arrested twice on trumped up charges.

Photos and news reports of the burning bus in Anniston and the mob violence in Birmingham flash around the nation — and around the world — to the great embarassment of the Kennedys. Attorney General Robert Kennedy calls for a "cooling off period" (meaning that CORE should halt the Freedom Ride). He blames "extremists on both sides" for the violence. Freedom Movement activists are both dumbfounded and outraged. Yes, clearly, smashing peoples' skulls with baseball bats and trying to burn them alive in a hijacked bus are the acts of extremists. But the nonviolent Freedom Riders are peaceful, and their actions are entirely legal under Federal law. By what measure of justice and common sense can they be labled "extremists?"

The next day, Greyhound and Trailways drivers refuse to drive any bus carrying Freedom Riders. Unable to proceed to Montgomery, the CORE Riders decide to fly to New Orleans to attend a previously scheduled rally at which they are the main speakers. Bomb threats prevent the plane from taking off, and they are harassed by another Klan mob as they wait hour after hour at the airport. Finally, under pressure from Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the airline manages to get a flight off the ground in the dead of night, and the CORE Riders reach New Orleans.

SNCC Students Resume the Freedom Ride

Though they know they are putting their young lives in deadly peril, activists from the SNCC-affiliated Nashville Student Movement (NSM) won't allow the KKK to defeat the Ride. Student leader Diane Nash tells Rev. Shuttlesworth: "The students have decided that we can't let violence overcome. We are coming into Birmingham to continue the Freedom Ride." Their elders — teachers, community leaders, pastors — are certain they will be killed and try to dissuade them. The students are not deterred.

Ten Riders (8 Black, 2 white) — including John Lewis and Hank Thomas, the two young SNCC members of the original Ride — take bus from Nashville to Birmingham on May 17. When they arrive, they are arrested by "Bull" Connor who transports them in the middle of the night to the Tennessee border and dumps them by the side of the road. They manage to make their way back to Birmingham where more Riders, including Ruby Doris Smith from SNCC in Atlanta, reinforce them.

Now 19 strong (16 Black, 3 white) they return to the Greyhound terminal. Again, the drivers refuse to carry them — "I have only one life to give, and I'm not going to give it to NAACP or CORE," says one driver. All night — hour after hour — the Riders wait for a bus while constantly harassed and besieged by a racist mob led by Robert Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Mobs in Montgomery AL
Photos

Under intense public pressure, the Kennedy administration extracts a reluctant promise from Alabama Governor Patterson to protect the Freedom Riders on their journey from Birmingham to Montgomery. Greyhound is forced to provide a driver. On the morning of May 20, the Freedom Ride resumes. Afraid of a Klan ambush, the bus streaks south towards Montgomery at 90 miles an hour escorted by Alabama Highway Patrol cars, their sirens screaming.

But when the bus reaches the Montgomery city limits the Highway Patrol suddenly disappears. Just before the bus arrives, all the cops who had been guarding the Greyhound terminal also disappear. When the Freedom Riders step off the bus, hundreds of Klansmen swarm over them, screaming "Get the niggers!" They attack with baseball bats, broken bottles, and lead pipes. Reporters are beaten and their cameras smashed (which is why no photographs exist of this murderous attack).

Jim Zwerg is beaten to bloody unconsciousness, his teeth knocked out. John Lewis is felled by a wooden crate to the head. When Justice Department official John Seigenthaler tries to rescue two of the women Riders, he too is beaten unconscious and left bloody on the pavement. Acting against orders from his political masters, Alabama Public Safety Director Floyd Mann pulls his revolver and stops the Klansmen who are kicking and stomping Zwerg, Lewis, and William Barbee — probably saving their lives. (When Governor George Wallace takes office in 1963, he immediately fires Mann, and replaces him with "Colonel" Al Lingo, a rabid segregationist.)

After allowing the Klan its reign of terror, the police finally show up. The mob, now grown to over 1,000, expands outward from the Greyhound terminal attacking Blacks on the street, setting one teenage boy on fire, and burning the Riders' luggage in a bonfire. The cops make no arrests. Instead they serve the Freedom Riders with injunctions blaming them for the violence.

Under the segregation laws, Black cab drivers cannot take white Freedom Riders to the hospital, and white drivers won't. Only the Catholic St. Jude's hospital will treat wounded Riders of any color. From his hospital bed, William Barbee tells reporters: "As soon as we've recovered from this, we'll start again." And from the white side of the segregated hospital, Zwerg agrees, saying: "We are prepared to die."

In Washington, pressure intensifies on the Kennedys. JFK issues a tepid "statement of concern," and Robert Kennedy orders Federal marshals to Alabama to protect interstate commerce. Meanwhile, James Farmer of CORE begins recruiting more Riders to head south.

The following night, Sunday, May 21st, some 1,500 Black citizens pack Reverend Abernathy's 1st Baptist church to honor the Freedom Riders. Dr. King speaks in their support. Outside, a mob of more than 3,000 whites heckle and harass Blacks and the handful of Federal marshals protecting the church. No city or state cops are in sight, though they lurk near by and some in civilian clothes have joined the crowd. Shuttlesworth, down from Birmingham, braves the mob that now completely surrounds the church to escort in James Farmer.

The streets were full of roving bands of short-sleeved white men shouting obscenities. ... The crowds grew thicker as we approached the church. ... As we got close, they clogged every roadway, waving Confederate flags and shouting rebel yells. ... As we stopped, the crowds grabbed hold of the car and began rocking it back and forth. We shoved the car into reverse, heavy-footed the accelerator and zoomed backwards. ... The only approach to the church was through a graveyard, but we were too late, the mob was already there, blocking the entrances to the church. Shuttlesworth just plowed in, elbowing the hysterical white men aside. ... "Out of my way," he said. "Let me through." The mob obeyed. ... Looking back. I can only guess it was an example of the "crazy nigger" syndrome — "Man, that nigger is crazy; leave him alone, don't mess with him." — James Farmer. [7]

The mob overturns a car and sets it ablaze. The marshals desperately try to protect the church from assault and fire bombs. Inside, the people of Montgomery sing hymns and freedom songs in defiance. As rocks shatter the stained-glass windows and tear gas seeps in, the children are sent to the basement for protection. Black men draw hidden pistols from their pockets and prepare to defend their families if the mob manages to break down the doors.

Black cab drivers and military veterans in the community begin arming themselves and assembling at a nearby gas station to fight their way through the mob and defend those trapped in the church. The cab drivers, who rescued many of the Freedom Riders at the Montgomery bus depot and also played a crucial role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, are a kind of unofficial security and patrol service for the Black community. But Dr. King knows that armed Blacks confronting the white mob and their police accomplices will result in a horrendous blood bath. He calls for volunteers to walk with him — unarmed — through the white crowd to dissuade the cab drivers from meeting violence with counter-violence.

There was an unforgettable silence as they passed out of the church. We watched as they walked through the howling crowd; I was sure I would never see them again. And yet, for all the yelling, the mob didn't touch them — such is the power of nonviolence.

About an hour passed. Suddenly, out of the darkness, they all reappeared, unharmed. Dr. King had convinced the cab drivers to abandon their mission. This was no small miracle. Dr. King showed through this act of courage in this most harrowing moment of the campaign that fear was not a factor for him. It was, at that point in the Freedom Rides, the greatest lesson he could have offered. — Freedom Rider Bernard Lafayette. [8]

Slowly, reluctantly, President Kennedy moves towards committing federal troops, but Governor Patterson forestalls him by declaring martial law and sending in the Alabama National Guard to disperse the mob. With the mob finally being broken up, Blacks try to leave the church, but the Alabama National Guard — the "Dixie" Division with the Confederate flag as its shoulder patch — forces them at bayonet point to remain inside the sweltering, tear gas filled building for the entire night.

Arrests in Jackson
Photos

The next day more Freedom Riders from CORE and SNCC arrive in Montgomery.

Behind everyone's back and hidden from public view, the Kennedys cut a deal with the governors of Alabama and Mississippi. The governors agree to have their state police and National Guard protect the Riders from mob violence — thereby ending media coverage of bloody lawlessness which is humiliating JFK at home and embarrassing the U.S. around the globe. In return, the Federal government agrees to look the other away and allow the states to illegally — and unconstitutionally — arrest the Freedom Riders even though they are lawfully engaged in interstate commerce protected by the Supreme Court's Boynton decision.

On Wednesday morning, May 24, a dozen Freedom Riders board a Trailways bus for the 250 mile journey to Jackson MS. Surrounded by Highway Patrol and National Guard, the bus heads west on Highway 80 in a caravan of more than 40 vehicles. They pass through Selma at top speed without stopping — there will be no bus-depot rest stops until Jackson seven hours from Montgomery. Meanwhile, back in Montgomery, 14 more Riders board the mid-day Greyhound for Jackson.

When the weary Riders arrive in Jackson and attempt to use "white only" restrooms and lunch counters they are immediately arrested for Breach of Peace and Refusal to Obey an Officer. Says Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett in defense of segregation: "The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him."

From lockup, the Riders announce "Jail No Bail" — they will not pay fines for unconstitutional arrests and illegal convictions — and by staying in jail they keep the issue alive. Each prisoner will remain in jail for 39 days, the maximum time they can serve without loosing their right to appeal the unconstitutionality of their arrests, trials, and convictions. After 39 days, they file an appeal and post bond.

Back in Montgomery, a Greyhound from the east arrives with yet another team of Riders including Charles Jones of SNCC and Yale University Chaplin William Sloan Coffin. The Alabama Guardsmen are unable (or unwilling) to prevent a mob from attacking the Riders with thrown rocks and bottles. When SCLC leaders Rev. Shuttlesworth, Rev. Abernathy, Wyatt Tee Walker, and Bernard Lee join them at the bus terminal's "white only" lunch counter, they are all arrested.

Freedom Rides Roll Across the South
Photos

The Kennedys again call for a "cooling off period" and condemn the Riders as "unpatriotic" because they embarrass the nation on the world stage. Attorney General Robert Kennedy — the chief law enforcement officer of the land — is quoted as saying that he, "Does not feel that the Department of Justice can side with one group or the other in disputes over Constitutional rights." Civil rights supporters across the nation retort that defending the Constitutional rights of American citizens is part of the department's job, that's why it's called the "Justice" Department.

But the majority of Americans share the president's attitudes. While 96% of Blacks support the Freedom Rides, only 24% of the population as a whole approve. By overwhelming margins, white southerners oppose the rides as do more than two thirds of whites nationwide. They are uneasy at thoughts of racial integration and equality, and direct action agitation disturbs and disrupts their tranquility. But 70% approve of Kennedy using federal marshals to quell white violence in Alabama which is seen as upholding law and order rather than defending Black civil rights. When directly polled on integration, 7% nationwide are adamantly opposed (much higher in the South, of course), only 23% favor pushing for equality in the "near future," and fully 61% support only "gradual" progress someday in the vague future.

Defying the Kennedys and majority public opinion, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC reject any "cooling off period" and form a Freedom Riders Coordinating Committee to keep the Rides rolling. June — July — August — more than 60 Freedom Rides criss-cross the South (see map). Most of the rides converge on Jackson, where every Rider is arrested. By the end of the summer, more than 300 have been jailed, including 41 local Jacksonians busted for joining the Riders at segregated lunch counters.

A New Generation of Leaders

Many of the Freedom Riders are moved to Parchman Penitentiary, the Mississippi prison farm notorious for its brutal treatment of inmates — where prison life is described as "worse than slavery." Murders and rapes are common, and the guards use shotguns and leather whips to enforce absolute rule. Mississippi intends to halt the growing Freedom Movement by breaking the Riders' spirit. When the Riders won't stop singing freedom songs their mattresses are removed, forcing them to sleep on hard concrete and steel. It's summer in the Delta, the windows are closed and the fans stopped to create sweltering, suffocating heat. The riders must endure poisonous hatred, inedible food, and vicious beatings. Fire hoses are used to smash bodies against the steel bars, and the prisoners are tortured with agonizing electric cattle prods. Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) later recalls: "When [the prod] touched your skin, the pain was sharp and excruciating, at once a jolting shock and a burn. You could actually see (puffs of smoke) and smell (the odor of roasting flesh) your skin burning."

Mississippi fails to break the Riders. They emerge from prison — Parchman and Hinds County Jail — stronger and more committed than before. And for many of them, what began as a simple protest has been forged into a vocation, a commitment to freedom and justice that shapes the rest of their lives.

Finally, the Kennedy administration has the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) issue another desegregation order. When the new ICC rule takes effect on November 1st, passengers are permitted to sit wherever they please on the bus, "white" and "colored" signs come down in the terminals, separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms are consolidated, and the lunch counters begin serving people regardless of color. In the Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, a crack has been forced open in the solid wall of segregation.

But rules put to paper in Washington must be enforced on the ground in the South — and that requires men and women of courage to defy generations of custom and a century of terror. The new order is signed on November 1st, and on that same day nine Black students in Albany GA try to use the bus terminal's "white-only" facilities. They are denied. And from that seed of defiance grows the Albany Movement which goes on to challenge segregation throughout Southwest Georgia.

See Albany Movement and Desegregate Route 40 Project for continuation.

Freedom Rides — Important Points

For more information on the Freedom Riders:
Books: Freedom Rides
Web:
     Freedom Rides (this website)
     Freedom Rides (other websites)
Documents:
     Swimming Pool Showdown, Robert Williams. Southern Exposure
     The Single Issue in the Robert Williams Case, NAACP Personal stories of the Freedom Rides:
     Terry Sullivan The Freedom Rides: Were They in Vain?
     Stephen Green Freedom Rider Diary - 40 Years Later

 

Frame-up, Escape, & Exile of Robert Williams (1961-1969)

See Robert Williams & Armed Self-Defense in Monroe NC for previous events.

In June of 1961, the Black community of Monroe NC, led by Robert Williams, resumes the struggle to integrate the city-owned swimming pool so that Black children have a safe place to swim in the sweltering summer heat. Led by Williams, Black teenagers picket the segregated pool. White racists attack them. A white mob of 2,500 chants "Get the niggers! Get the niggers!" The local police, the FBI, and the Department of Justice do nothing (as usual). Williams and his wife Mabel carry pistols to defend themselves against the mob. Rather than integrate, the city closes the pool.

Williams requests that Jim Forman (soon to be SNCC's Executive Director) and Paul Brooks of SCLC arrange for an integrated team of Freedom Riders to come to Monroe and picket the courthouse in support of the Monroe struggle. Because Freedom Riders are so much in the news he hopes that their presence will bring media attention to the Monroe situation.

In August, the Freedom Riders arrive in Monroe. With young people active in the newly-formed Monroe Nonviolent Action Committee, they begin picketing in support of broad desegregation demands. The city council enacts anti-picketing laws restricting not only how citizens can protest but what their signs are permitted to say. The nonviolent demonstrators are harassed and limited by the police and repeatedly attacked by racists. (The iconic photo of a young woman holding a "Justice" sign is from one of these protests. Shortly after the picture is taken, they are attacked. The police arrest some of the pickets and let the attackers go free.)

On Sunday, August 27, a huge mob of 3,000 racists is mobilized by the KKK to surround and attack the nonviolent pickets at the courthouse. Jim Forman is clubbed in the head with a shotgun and others are injured. More than 20 of the pickets are arrested for "Inciting a riot." The mob attacks, and fires shots at Black bystanders.

In the Black neighborhood around Williams' home, local Blacks arm to defend themselves from the Klan. There is a tense stand-off with the KKK who are supported by the police. No one is killed or injured, but when a white couple accidentally drives into the neighborhood they are threatened by angry Blacks. Williams takes the couple into his home to protect them. They are not harmed and leave as soon as it's safe to do so.

The cops use the incident to frame Williams, his wife Mabel, Movement supporter Mae Mallory, local activists Harold Reape and Richard Crowder, and white Freedom Rider John Lowry on phony kidnapping charges. Robert and Mabel Williams are forced to flee the country to escape these false charges and the threat of being lynched, or "shot-while-trying-to-escape," before they can defend themselves in court. The others are eventually arrested, and after a four year legal struggle they are cleared of the absurd kidnapping charges.

For five years Robert and Mabel Williams live in Cuba where they broadcast "Radio Free Dixie" and publish a newsletter, The Crusader, both of which advocate armed self-defense. While there, Williams writes Negroes With Guns which greatly influences the Black Power movement and the founders of the Black Panther Party.

In 1966, Williams and his family move to China where they live until returning to the U.S. in 1969 to contest the kidnapping charges which are eventually dropped in 1976. Ironically, the Williams family return is paid for by the U.S. government which wants to learn more about Communist China from Williams.

For more information on the Monroe Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Robert Williams, Self-Defense, & Monroe Movement
Web: Robert F. Williams, Monroe NC Movement, & Self-Defense
Documents:
     Swimming Pool Showdown, Robert Williams. Southern Exposure
     The Single Issue in the Robert Williams Case, NAACP

 

Mississippi — the Eye of the Storm

It is a truism of the era that the further south you travel the more intense grows the racism, the worse becomes the poverty, and the more brutal is the repression. In the mental geography of the Freedom Movement, the South is divided into zones according to the virulence of bigotry and oppression: the "Border States" (Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, and portions of Maryland); the "Upper South" (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Texas); and the "Deep South" (the Eastern Shore of Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana). And then there is Mississippi, in a class by itself — the absolute deepest pit of racism, violence, and poverty.

Duing the post-Depression decades of the 1940s and 1950s, most of the South experiences enormous economic changes. "King Cotton" declines as agriculture diversifies and mechanizes. In 1920, almost a million southern Blacks work in agriculture, by 1960 that number has declined by 75% to around 250,000 — resulting in a huge migration off the land into the cities both North and South. By 1960, almost 60% of southern Blacks live in urban areas (compared to roughly 30% in 1930).

But those economic changes come slowly, if at all, to Mississippi and the Black Belt areas of Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana. In 1960, almost 70% of Mississippi Blacks still live in rural areas, and more than a third (twice the percentage in the rest of the South) work the land as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and farm laborers. In 1960, the median income for Afro-Americans in Mississippi is just $1,444 (equal to a bit over $11,000 in 2013), the median income for Mississippi whites is three times higher. More than four out of every five Mississippi Blacks (85%) exist below the official Federal poverty line.

Education for Blacks is totally segregated and severely limited. The average funding for Afro schools is less than a quarter of that spent to educate white students, and in rural areas the ratio is even more skewed. In 1960, for example, Pike County spends $30.89 to educate each white pupil and only $0.76 cents per Afro-American student. It is no surprise then that only 7% of Mississippi Blacks finish high school, and in the rural areas where children are sent to the fields early in life, functional illiteracy is widespread.

Mississippi is still dominated — economically and politically — by less than 100 plantation barons who lord it over vast cotton fields worked by Black hand-labor using hoes and fingers the way it was done in slavery times. They are determined to keep their labor force cheap and docile. The arch-segregationist Senator James Eastland provides a good example of the economic riches reaped by racism in Mississippi. His huge plantation in Sunflower County produces 5,394 bales of cotton in 1961. He sells that cotton for $890,000 (equal to almost $7,000,000 in 2013 dollars). It costs Eastland $566,000 to produce his cotton for a profit of $324,000 (equal to a bit over $2,500,000 in 2013). The Black men and women who labor in his fields under the blazing sun — plowing, planting, hoeing, and picking — are paid 30 cents an hour (equal to $2.34 in 2013). That's $3.00 for a 10-hour day, $18.00 for a six-day, 60-hour week. The children sent to labor in the fields are paid even less.

This system of agricultural feudalism is maintained by Jim Crow laws, state repression, white terrorism, and the systematic disenfranchisement of Afro-Americans. Overall, whites outnumber Blacks in Mississippi, but the ratio of Blacks to whites is higher than any other state in the union. And in a number of rural counties, Blacks outnumber whites, in some cases by large majorities. Given these demographic realities, the power-elites know white-supremecy can only be maintained if they prevent Afro-Americans from voting. And in that they are ruthless — using rigged "literacy" tests, white-only primaries, poll taxes, arrests, and economic retaliation. And also Klan violence, and even assasinations, which over decades have become an accepted part of Mississippi's southern way of life. On average, six Blacks have been, and are, lynched or killed in racial-murders every year in Mississippi since the 1880s.

According to the 1960 Census, 41% of the Mississippi population is Black, but in 1961 no more than 5% of them are registered to vote. In many of the Black-majority counties not a single Afro-American citizen is registered, not even decorated military veterans. Across the state, of those few Afros on the voter rolls, only a handful dare to actually cast a ballot. This systematic denial of Black voting rights is replicated in the Black Belt areas of Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Southwest Georgia.

See Direct Action or Voter Registration? for continuation.

 

Voter Education Project (VEP) (1961-1968)

By the Spring of 1961, Freedom Rides are rolling across the South. International news stories documenting southern racism and student courage are blazing around the globe, humiliating President Kennedy as leader of the "Free World," and undercutting his Cold War strategies for containing Soviet influence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The Movement rejects his call for a "cooling off" period and the rides continue. JFK thinks that if the students turn to voter registration rather than sit-ins and Freedom Rides there will be an end to racist violence and embarrasing media attention. Behind the scenes, he arranges for financial grants from the Field, New World, Stern Family, and Taconic foundations for voter registration, and he promises that the Federal government will provide protection and legal support for Blacks engaged in registering voters if the students will just stop protesting.

Under the auspices of the non-profit Southern Regional Council (SRC), the Voter Education Project (VEP) is established by the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC to receive the foundation money and disperse it to the organizations doing the work on the ground. Directed by Wiley Branton, the VEP begins operations in early 1962. Between April of '62 and the end of '64 almost $900,000 (equal to $6,800,000 in 2012 dollars) is distributed to Movement organizations across the south. Under subsequent directors Randolph Blackwell, Vernon Jordon, and John Lewis, the VEP continues until 1968.

With the state of Tennessee on the verge of shutting down the Highlander Center as a "subversive organization," a home has to be found for the Citizenship Schools project led by Septima Clark. Using VEP money, SCLC agrees to incorporate and expand the program, adding Dorothy Cotton and Andrew Young to the leadership team and moving the location from Highlander to Dorchester Center in Georgia. SCLC also sets up a seven-state voter registration program under Jack O'Dell.

SNCC is initially divided over the question of voter registration versus direct action. But by 1962, it has active voter-registration projects underway in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Other Movement organizations also begin devoting more attention to voter registration. Registering voters was always an NAACP focus, but in the Deep South little progress had been made against the entrenched opposition of the white power-structure. Now the availability of foundation money combined with the increasing activity — and increasing militancy — of NAACP youth groups opens new opportunities. CORE too, is interested in adding registration to its programs, and they use VEP funds to begin building up a Southern field staff in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and the Carolinas.

In its first two and a half years (mid-1962 through the end of 1964) VEP funded projects manage to register large numbers of Blacks in the upper and mid-southern states. But little progress is made in the five Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. It is only after passage of the Voting Rights Act in August of 1965 that significant numbers are registered in those states.

Kennedy's plan to tame the Movement shatters on the rock of racist resistance. To his astonishment, he discovers that the southern white power-structure is even more furiously — violently — opposed to Blacks gaining the right to vote than they were to desegregating lunch counters and bus stations. Instead of diminishing, news stories of brutality, bombings, and murders increase as the Klan and White Citizen Councils use every form of terrorism and economic retaliation to prevent Blacks from voting.

The many promises made by the Kennedy administration that the federal government will provide legal support, and protect Blacks who try to register, are not kept. The Department of Justice and FBI do almost nothing as a reign of terror — arrests and other forms of police harassment, shootings, assaults, fire bombings, murder, and economic warfare — is unleashed against Blacks across the South.

 

Direct Action or Voter Registration? (Summer)

See Mississippi — the Eye of the Storm for background.

Back in the summer of 1960, Amzie Moore, Medgar Evers, and other local Black leaders in Mississippi told Bob Moses that they needed help with voter registration more than demonstrations against segregation. He promised he would return in the summer of '61, and in July he begins voter registration work in McComb. Staunch, long-time, Movement supporters such as Harry Belafonte and many of SNCC's student leaders also believe that SNCC should focus on voter registration rather than direct action such as sit-ins and Freedom Rides. They argue that poor, rural Blacks have no money for lunch counters or other public facilities and what they need most is political power that in Mississippi has to begin with winning the right to vote.

Other SNCC leaders — many just released from Parchman Prison and Hinds County Jail — argue that the Freedom Rides and other forms of direct action must continue. The protests are gaining momentum and bringing the Movement into the darkest corners of the Deep South, raising awareness, building courage, and inspiring young and old. They are deeply suspicious of Kennedy's demand that they switch from demonstrations to voter registration, and they are unwilling to abandon the tactics that have brought the Movement so far in so short a time.

In August, the issue comes to a head when SNCC meets at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. After three days of passionate debate, SNCC is split right down the middle — half favor continuing direct action, the other half favor switching to voter registration. Ella Baker proposes a compromise — do both. Her suggestion is adopted. Diane Nash is chosen to head direct action efforts and Charles Jones is chosen to head voter registration activity. Both groups send activists to join Bob Moses in McComb.

Amid the fires of the Freedom Rides and the heat of debate, SNCC as an organization is rapidly evolving away from its campus/student roots. More and more SNCC activists are leaving school to become full-time freedom fighters. With money raised by Belafonte, first Charles Sherrod, then Bob Moses, then others are hired as SNCC "field secretaries," devoting their lives to the struggle in the rural areas and small towns of the south. In September, James Forman becomes SNCC's Executive Director to coordinate and lead far-flung projects and a growing staff. Increasingly, it will be the SNCC field staff from projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia and Maryland who will shape and lead SNCC in the years to come.

And as so often turns out to be the case when committed activists passionately disagree over strategy, both sides are proven correct. Both direct action and voter registration are needed. Each supports and strengthens the other. The determination and courage of student protesters inspires and encourages their elders, and the growing political power of adults organized around the right to vote supports and sustains the young demonstrators. And as the ferocious and violent resistance to Black voting rights by the white power-structure becomes evident it also becomes clear that, in a sense, voter registration is a form of direct action.

An important point. Movement veterans look back today and recall that SNCC was torn between direct action and voter registration. But instead of splitting the organization apart, they forged a unifying compromise. By respecting that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics — yet remain allies — they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole. Unfortunately, in later years, some radicals and leftists in the North all too often adopted the opposite approach, treating anyone who disagreed with them as enemies — thereby splitting organizations and undermining their effectiveness.

See Voter Registration & Direct Action in McComb MS for continuation.

For more information on SNCC:
Books: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
Web links: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

 

Voter Registration & Direct Action in McComb MS (Aug-Oct)
Photos

See Direct Action or Voter Registration? above for preceding events.

Voter Registration

Black voter registration in the Deep South is entirely controlled by the white power-structure. For decades they have maintained a savage system of oppression, repression, retaliation, and legal restrictions to keep Blacks politically disenfranchised. The "Jim Crow" schools and school attendance laws systematically and deliberately keep Blacks illiterate and ignorant of government and their political rights while at the same time literacy and civics are made the essential requirements for voter registration through the so-called "literacy tests." Brutal violence, often deadly, and swift economic reprisal are used to deter and punish Black men or women who dare attempt to gain the political franchise.

Voter registration procedures in the Deep South — which vary from state to state and county to county — are based on a voter application and a so-called "literacy test" that prospective voters must pass in order to be registered. The system is designed to allow the county Voter Registrars (all of whom are white, of course) to rig the outcome however they wish. Whites are encouraged to register regardless of their education (or lack thereof), while applications from most Blacks are denied even if they answer every question correctly.

In McComb, for example, the "literacy test" consists in part of the Registrar choosing one of the 285 sections of the Mississippi constitution and asking the applicant to read it aloud and interpret it to his satisfaction. He can assign an easy section, or a dense block of legal baffelgab that even law professors cannot agree on. Then it is entirely up to the Registrar to decide if the applicant's reading and interpretation are adequate. Voters are also required to be of "good moral character," and again the Registrar has sole authority to decide who does, or does not, posses sufficient "moral character."

Blacks who attempt to register in defiance of the white power-structure are harassed and threatened. They are fired from their jobs and evicted from their homes. Many are beaten. Some are murdered. See Voting Rights for more information on literacy tests and denial of voting rights.)

In urban areas of the Deep South, a few token Blacks — usually ministers, teachers, doctors, and other professionals — are allowed to register, but never enough to affect the outcome of an election. In the rural counties, particularly those with large Black populations, only a handful — or none at all —  are permitted to register. In the three Southwest Mississippi counties around McComb, for example:

Pike County (McComb)    Adult Blacks - 8,000    Registered - 200  (2.5%)
Amite County Adult Blacks - 5,000 Registered - 1 (0%)
Walthall County Adult Blacks - 3,000 Registered - 0 (0%)

The McComb, Project

With 12,000 residents, McComb is the largest city in Pike County, Mississippi. Founded in 1872 by Henry McComb, president of the Mississippi Central Railroad, to be a regional hub and repair depot, it's a gritty railroad town in the state's southwest corner, not far from the Pearl River. Culturally and economically, Pike county is similar to adjacent Washington Parish Louisiana (Bogalusa), and the Pearl River region on both sides of the state border is known as "Klan nation." Financed by a wealthy oilman, Klavern #700 of the United Klans of America has over 100 members. McComb's mayor is Chairman of the White Citizens Council, the police chief heads the local chapter of Americans for the Preservation of the White Race (APWR), a virulently racist white-supremacy organization, and the county sheriff participates in their meetings.

According to the 1960 Census, Blacks comprise 42% of McComb's 12,000 residents. The railroad, now part of the Illinois Central, is still a major employer of both Blacks and whites, and because they are protected by union contract, Black railroad workers cannot be summarily fired for opposing segregation or advocating Black voting rights. From these union ranks emerge activists and leaders of the Pike County Voters League and the local NAACP chapter.

In July of 1961, NAACP leader Reverend C.C. Bryant invites Bob Moses to begin a voter registration project in McComb. Moses is soon joined by SNCC members John Hardy of the Nashville Student Movement and Reginald Robinson from the Civic Interest Group in Baltimore. Webb Owens, a retired railroad man and Treasurer of the local NAACP chapter introduces the SNCC organizers to people in the Black community and urges them to support the voter-registration project with donations of food, money, and housing for the civil rights workers. He takes them to the South of the Border Cafe owned by Aylene Quinn, "Whenever any of [the SNCC workers] come by, you feed 'em, you feed 'em whether they got money or not" he tells her.

Before begining work, Bob Moses writes to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asking what the Federal response will be if Blacks are prevented from registering. In line with the Kennedy administration's promise to defend voting rights if the students will turn away from direct action, the DOJ replies that it will "vigorously enforce" Federal statutes forbidding the use of intimidation, threats, and coercion against voter aspirants.

In August, SNCC workers in McComb begin teaching Blacks the complexities of the voter registration process. All 21 questions on the application form have to be studied and understood, and all 285 sections of the Mississippi constitution have to be mastered. After attending the class, 16 local Blacks journey through a century of fear to the Pike County courthouse in Magnolia. Six manage to pass the test and be registered.

More SNCC workers arrive in McComb direct from the Highlander meeting: Ruby Doris Smith, Marion Barry, Charles Jones, and others. In late August, after training in the tactics of Nonviolent Resistance by the SNCC direct action veterans, two local teenagers — Hollis Watkins and Curtis Hayes (Muhammad), both of whom go on to become SNCC field secretaries of renown — sit-in at the local Woolworth's lunch counter. They are arrested.

Rev. Bryant introduce Moses to Amite County NAACP leader E.W. Steptoe, and the project spreads to cover adjacent Amite and Walthall Counties. On the last day of August, Bob Moses takes two Blacks to the Amite County courthouse in Liberty Mississippi. He is brutally beaten in the street by Bill Caston, cousin to the sheriff and son-in-law of E. H. Hurst the State Representative. That night in McComb, more than 200 Blacks attend the first Civil Rights Movement mass meeting in the town's history to protest the arrest of the students and the beating of Moses. They vow to continue the struggle.

Moses files charges against Caston who is quickly found innocent by an all-white jury. But this is the first time since Reconstruction that a Black man has filed charges against a white for racial violence in Amite County.

Brenda Travis, a 15 year old high school student in McComb, canvasses the streets with the SNCC voter-registration workers. To awaken and inspire the adults, she leads other students on a sit-in. For the crime of ordering a hamburger, she is sentenced to a year in the state juvenile prison. She is also expelled from Burgland High School. In response, McComb's Black students form the Pike County Nonviolent Movement — Hollis Watkins is President, Curtis Hayes is Vice President.

The Klan, the Citizens Council, and racist whites in general react violently to Blacks beginning to assert their rights. White "night riders" armed with rifles and shotguns cruise through the Black community at night. SNCC workers John Hardy and Travis Britt are beaten by whites and arrested on trumped up charges when they bring Blacks to the courthouse to register in Walthall and Amite counties. In Amite County, Herbert Lee is one of those working with Moses. In late September, he is murdered by State Representative E. H. Hurst.

In early October, more than 100 Black high-school students led by Hollis Watkins and Curtis Hayes ditch school and march in McComb to protest Lee's killing and the expulsion of Brenda Travis. When they kneel in prayer at City Hall, they are arrested, as are the SNCC staff who are with them. Bob Moses, Chuck McDew, and Bob Zellner (SNCC's first white field secretary) are beaten. The SNCC workers are charged with "Contributing to the delinquency of minors," a serious felony.

More than 100 students boycott the segregated Burgland High School rather than sign a mandatory pledge that they will not participate in civil rights activity. SNCC sets up "Nonviolent High" for the boycotting students with Moses teaching math, Dion Diamond teaching science, and Chuck McDew teaching history. Nonviolent High is one of the seeds from which grow the "Freedom Schools" that spread across the state three years later in the summer of '64.

Late in October, an all-white jury convicts the SNCC members on the "Contributing" charge. Their attorneys appeal, but bail is set at $14,000 each (equal to $107,000 in 2012 dollars). Unable to raise such a huge amount, they languish in prison. With their SNCC teachers in jail, Nonviolent High cannot continue, and the boycotting students are accepted by Campbell Junior College in Jackson.

Meanwhile, arrests, beatings, and shootings continue. CORE Freedom Riders are brutally attacked by a white mob when they try to integrate the McComb Greyhound station. Paul Potter and Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) are dragged from their car and beaten in the street when they come to McComb to support the Movement. Shotgun blasts from a Klan nightrider almost kill Dion Diamond and John Hardy.

Despite their repeated promises of protection for voter registration, Kennedy, the Justice Department, and the FBI do nothing. The DOJ's legal efforts are feeble and ineffective. The arrests, the reign of terror, and the brazen murder of Herbert Lee by a state official, all take their toll. The McComb-area voter registration drive is suppressed — for the moment.

In November, Bob Moses manages to slip a message from prison to SNCC headquarters in Atlanta:

We are smuggling this note from the drunk tank of the county jail in Magnolia, Mississippi. Twelve of us are here, sprawled out along the concrete bunker; Curtis Hayes, Hollis Watkins, Ike Lewis and Robert Talbert, four veterans of the bunker, are sitting up talking — mostly about girls; Charles McDew ("Tell the story") is curled into the concrete and the wall; Harold Robinson, Stephen Ashley, James Wells, Lee Chester Vick, Leotus Eubanks, and Ivory Diggs lay cramped on the cold bunks; I'm sitting with smuggled pen and paper, thinking a little, writing a little; Myrtis Bennett and Janie Campbell are across the way wedded to a different icy cubicle.

Later on, Hollis will lead out with a clear tenor into a freedom song, Talbert and Lewis will supply jokes, and McDew will discourse on the history of the Black man and the Jew. McDew — a black by birth, a Jew by choice, and a revolutionary by necessity — has taken on the deep hates and deep loves which America and the world reserve for those who dare to stand in a strong sun and cast a sharp shadow. ...

This is Mississippi, the middle of the iceberg. Hollis is leading off with his tenor, "Michael row the boat ashore, Alleluia; Christian brothers don't be slow, Alleluia; Mississippi's next to go, Alleluia." There is a tremor in the middle of the iceberg — from a stone that the builders rejected. — Bob Moses. [2]

Finally, in December, SNCC manages to raise the bail money and the jailed SNCC staff are released on appeal.

In a narrow sense, McComb is a defeat for SNCC — the project is suppressed and driven out by arrests, brutality, and murder. But in a broader sense it is an important milestone, the crucial lessons learned in McComb form the foundation for years of organizing to come, not just in Mississippi but in hard places across the South — places like Selma Alabama and Southwest Georgia. In McComb they discover that courage is contagious and that local people — particularly young people — will respond to outside organizers. They discover that as student activists they have much to teach, but also much to learn from the community, and that if they respect the community the community will in turn protect, feed, and nurture them. And from the community will come new leaders and new organizers to expand and sustain the struggle.

One of the things that we learned out here [in Amite County] was that we could find family in Mississippi. We could go anyplace in Mississippi before we were through, and we knew that somewhere down some road there was family. And we could show up there unannounced with no money or no anything and there were people there ready to take care of us. That's what we had here in Amite. One of the things that happened in the movement was that there was a joining of a young generation of people with an older generation that nurtured and sustained them. ... It was an amazing experience. I've never before or since had that experience where it's almost literally like you're throwing yourself on the people and they have actually picked you up and gone on to carry you so you don't really need money, you don't really need transportation. ... They're going to see that you eat. It's a liberating kind of experience. — Bob Moses. [3]

Out of McComb comes the hard kernel that transforms SNCC into an organization of organizers who in a few short years move the Movement from protest to social revolution. Building on the lessons learned in McComb, they shift the voter registration campaign first to Jackson and then into the Mississippi Delta where Blacks outnumber whites and segregation is deeply rooted and ruthlessly enforced. And out of McComb they bring five young organizers on to the growing SNCC staff — Hollis Watkins, Curtis Hayes, Emma Bell, Ike Lewis and Bobby Talbot — the first of many to come not from college campuses but from the red dust roads of the rural South.

For continuation, see:
     Council of Federated Organizations Formed in Mississippi.
      McComb — Breaking the Klan Seige

For more information on the McComb Civil Rights Movement:
Film: Freedom Song.
Books: Mississippi Movement for partial list of books.
Web:
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
     Mississippi Movement
     McComb MS Movement

 

Herbert Lee Murdered

Herbert Lee, a Black farmer with 9 children, is a founding member of the NAACP in Amite County Mississippi and a close friend of NAACP county chairman E.W. Steptoe. Lee is one of the few rural Blacks who dares to work on voter registration with Bob Moses and the McComb Project. State Assemblyman E.H. Hurst (white, of course) lives across the street from Lee. They are friends and neighbors. But trying to register Black voters is a challenge to white supremecy that Hurst cannot accept and he orders Lee to stop.

In mid-September, Justice Department official John Doar learns that Hurst is threatening to kill voter-registration activists including Lee. Though intimidating or threatening a voter (or prospective voter) is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution and Federal law, no one in the Department of Justice takes any action.

[See Brief Memorandum on Federal Civil Rights Authority.]

On the morning of September 25, 1961, Lee takes a truckload of cotton to the gin in Liberty Mississippi, the Amite County seat. Hurst follows him. According to witnesses, Lee is sitting in his truck when Hurst angrily walks up, begins arguing, and pulls out a pistol. "I'm not fooling around this time, I really mean business," shouts Hurst.

"Put the gun down," responds Lee. "I won't talk to you unless you put the gun down."

Lee slides out of his truck on the other side. Hurst runs around the truck and shoots Lee in the head, killing him instantly. More than 10 people witness this murder.

The Amite County Sheriff surrounds Hurst with armed men — not to keep him from escaping but to protect him from possible retaliation by Blacks. An all-white Coroner's Jury is summoned while Lee's body still lays beside his truck. Hurst (6'-3" over 200 pounds) claims that Lee (5'-4" 150 pounds) "attacked" him with a tire iron and he shot in "self-defense." Louis Allen and other witnesses are pressured to confirm Hurst's claim. They know that the what happened to Lee can happen to them if they disobey. The jury accepts the "self-defense" story — the typical result when a white Southerner kills a Black man. Hurst never spends a day in jail.

See Louis Allen Murdered for continuation.

For more information on Civil Rights murders:
Books: Mississippi Movement for partial list of books.
Web:
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Movement
     McComb MS Movement
     Oh Freedom Over Me, PBS
     Martyrs of the Movement for web links.

 

Desegregate Route 40 Project (Aug-Dec)

See Baltimore Sit-ins & Protests and Freedom Rides and for preceding events.

As countries in Africa and Asia free themselves from colonial rule, they send diplomats to Washington and the United Nations in New York City. Dark-skinned ambassadors traveling between New York and DC through segregated Maryland are denied service and subjected to the same Jim Crow humiliations as American Blacks. As the owner of one establishment explained after refusing to serve the ambassador from Chad and then physically assaulting him: "He looked just like an ordinary nigra to me." All of this embarrasses the U.S government. And it undercuts the State Department's effort to woo emerging nations into the "Free World," and prevent them from aligning with the Soviet bloc.

US-1 and US-40 are the major highways used by travelers driving to and from Washington. When the Freedom Rides force the issue of segregation in interstate travel to national and international attention, the Feds pressure restaurants on those routes to serve African diplomats, and gas stations to allow them to use the cleaner "white" restrooms. But to be recognized as foreign dignitaries they have to wear traditional garb.

Students at nearby Black colleges dress as Africans and are served. CORE activists Wallace and Juanita Nelson lead a sit-in at a highway restaurant. They are arrested, refuse to pay their fine, and go on hunger strike while serving a 14 day sentence. This sparks CORE's "Route 40 Project," with the Baltimore CORE chapter taking the lead. They systematically protest at highway restaurants up and down the state, demanding desegregation for all Blacks regardless of what they wear. Also involved in the Route 40 project are Baltimore's Civic Interest Group (CIG) — a SNCC-affiliated coalition of student activists from Morgan State and other local colleges — and the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) from Howard University. The Route 40 Campaign uses a variety of nonviolent, direct action tactics including sit-ins, consumer boycotts, pickets and other protests.

When CORE and CIG threaten a massive "Freedom Motorcade," most US-40 and US-1 restaurants finally agree to desegregate.

CORE then expands down US-1 into Florida and Virginia, and then North Carolina (see Freedom Highways in the Tarheel State).

CIG begins organizing "freedom rides" into Maryland's East Shore (see Cambridge MD — 1962, and Maryland Eastern Shore Project).

For more information on the Baltimore and Maryland Civil Rights Movement:
Web: Baltimore & Maryland
Document: CORE Route 40 Project Flyer [PDF]

 

Albany GA, Movement (Oct 1961-Aug 1962)
Photos, Photos

In October, SNCC field secretaries Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagan travel from McComb to Albany Georgia (pronounced All-BENNY) to begin a voter registration project. Albany — the bustling commercial hub of Southwest Georgia and seat of Dougherty County — is 40% Black but few are registered to vote. Adjacent to Dougherty are Black-majority "plantation" counties Baker, Lee, Mitchell, Sumter, and Terrell where fear lies heavy on the land and Black sharecroppers and day laborers endure conditions of feudal semi-slavery toiling in cotton fields and pecan groves.

When we first came to Albany, the people were afraid, really afraid. Sometimes we'd walk down the streets and the little kids would call us Freedom Riders and the people walking in the same direction would go across the street from us, because they were afraid; they didn't want to be connected with us in any way. ... Many of the ministers were afraid to let us use their churches, afraid that their churches would be bombed, that their homes would be stoned. There was fear in the air, and if we were to make progress we knew that we must cut through that fear. We thought and we thought. ... and the students were the answer. — Charles Sherrod [2]

Now joined by Charles Jones, SNCC begins working with students at Albany State College for Negroes (today, Albany State University), Monroe High and Carver Jr. High. They set up an office in the Black section of town where they conduct voter registration classes for the adults and teach the strategies and tactics of Nonviolent Resistance to the young. Nearby Shiloh Baptist and Bethel AME churches open their doors for meetings. "We drew young people from the colleges, trade schools, and high schools, and from the street," said Sherrod. "They were searching for a meaning in life... Every night we grew larger and larger. But we had not been training in nonviolence in a vacuum. November 1 was to be the date."

November 1st is the day the Interstate Commerce Commission's new prohibition against segregated bus terminals is to go into effect. This is the ruling won by the Freedom Rides. The Albany bus terminal is located in the Black section of town and on November 1st — with a neighborhood crowd watching — nine Black students attempt to use the terminal's "white-only" facilities. As planned, they leave without being arrested when ordered out by the police and then file immediate complaints with the ICC under the new ruling.

The explicit defiance inherent in the student's action galvanizes Albany's Black community. A coalition of the Ministerial Alliance, NAACP, Federation of Women's Clubs, the Negro Voters League, and SNCC meet to form the Albany Movement — whose goal is ending all forms of segregation and discrimination, not just that relating to interstate travel.

Significantly, each organization surrenders some of its individual identity to become part of a common united organization. While they mostly agree on goals, they — like all organizations — have jealousies, rivalries, disagreements over strategy and tactics, and all the other human elements that make achieving unity in action so difficult. SNCC's galvanizing presence, the courage of the local students, and the leadership provided by Sherrod, Reagan, and Jones make it possible for these disparate groups to come together in The Albany Movement.

Organizing, voter-registration classes, and training in Nonviolent Resistance pick up momentum. On November 22, when students go to the bus terminal to return home for the Thanksgiving holiday, an Albany State dean — whose job depends on the all-white Georgia Board of Regents — is stationed there to direct them to the "Colored" waiting room. Five young people — 3 from the NAACP Youth Council and 2 from Albany State — defy the dean, a century of oppression, and the orders of Police Chief Pritchett to leave the white waiting room. They are arrested. Bertha Gober, one of the Albany State students, chooses to remain in jail over the holidays to dramitize their demand for justice.

After the holiday, more than 100 Albany State students march from campus to the courthouse where they picket to protest the trial of those arrested at the bus depot. A mass meeting — the first in Albany history — packs Mt. Zion Baptist church to protest the arrests, segregation, and a lifetime of subservience. At the end of the meeting they rise to sing, "We Shall Overcome." Student song-leader Bernice Johnson (Reagan) describes the effect, "When I opened my mouth and began to sing, there was a force and power within myself I had never heard before. Somehow this music ... released a kind of power and required a level of concentrated energy I did not know I had."

Albany State students Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall are expelled for disobeying the dean's orders to use the "Colored" waiting room. Students march to the college President's office to protest the expulsions and 40 more are expelled for daring to disagree with the administration.

Early in December, eight SNCC Freedom Riders (4 Black, 4 white) led by SNCC's new Executive Director James Forman are arrested after integrating the Albany train station, along with 3 Albany Movement activists who are there to greet them. But Chief Pritchett does not charge them for violating segregation, instead they are charged with "Disturbing the Peace" after they leave the station. Bond is set at $200 each for a total of $2200 (equal to $1300 each and a total of $17,000 in 2012 dollars). These huge sums are almost impossible for the impoverished Black community to raise.

On the day of their trial, 267 college and high school students march in nonviolent protest. They are all arrested. Inspired by the young peoples' courage, Marion King — wife of Albany Movement leader Slater King (no relation to Martin Luther King) — leads a protest prayer at City Hall. She and the others — mostly adults — are arrested, as is her husband who leads a similar prayer protest. Two hundred more are arrested on another nonviolent protest march. Police Chief Pritchett states, "We can't tolerate the NAACP or the SNCC or any other nigger organization to take over this town with mass demonstrations."

With the Albany jails overflowing, Pritchett transfers arrested demonstrators — who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their Constitutional right to free speech, and have not been convicted of any crime — to lockups in the surrounding plantation counties notorious for police brutality and abuse of prisoners. For some adults with families and jobs, the $100 bail is posted, but money for bonds is desperately short and there is no way to get majority released.

Georgia Governor Vandiver sends in National Guard troops to suppress the growing freedom movement. With close to 600 already arrested, no money left for bail, and facing the National Guard, the Albany Movement asks Dr. King and SCLC for support. More than 1500 people pack both Shiloh and Mt. Zion churches (across the street from each other) to hear King's address. The next day King and Abernathy lead 265 marchers to City Hall. They are all arrested, bringing the total number of arrests to over 750. Along with others, Dr. King is transferred to Sumter County jail in Americus. Enough bail money is scraped up to free a few leaders to continue the struggle and raise funds, but King announces that he will remain incarcerated over Christmas to protest segregation and denial of basic human rights.

With King in jail, the glare of world media focuses on Albany. A verbal agreement is announced between some Albany Movement leaders and a few white officials. In return for the Albany Movement halting the demonstrations and Dr. King leaving town, all protesters except the original Freedom Riders are released without bail, Albany agrees to abide by the ICC order ending segregation of interstate travel facilities, and the city promises to address grievances of the Black community in the near future. SNCC criticizes the truce — the city's vague, verbal promises of future consideration are too little to warrant ending the direct action protests.

The white power-structure fails to follow through on its promises and the truce soon breaks down. In January of 1962, 18 year old Ola Mae Quarterman is arrested for sitting in the front of a municiple bus. Blacks boycott the bus company and put it out of business. SNCC workers are arrested for integrating the Trailways terminal, and the City Commission denies the Albany Movement's petition for redress of grievances.

In March, the original Freedom Riders arrested in December go on trial. Charles Sherrod is beaten to the floor for sitting in the "white" section at the front of the courtroom, and white SNCC activists Bob Zellner, Per Laurson, Sandra & Tom Hayden are violently dragged from the courtroom when they sit in the "Colored" section at the rear.

In the following months, as spring turns into summer, pickets urging people to boycott stores that refuse to hire Blacks are arrested, as are those who participate in lunch counter sit-ins. Students trying to use the "white-only" city library, park, and swimming pool are arrested. Week after week arrests continue, mounting to over a hundred.

Violence against peaceful, nonviolent protesters also increases. Marion King, five months pregnant, is beaten unconscious by a sheriff's deputy and the child is lost; SNCC worker Bill Hanson's jaw is broken while he's in jail; and C.B. King — brother of Slater King, and Southwest Georgia's only Black lawyer — is brutally beaten by Dougherty County Sheriff Cull Campbell who brags, "Yeah, I knocked hell out of the son-of-a-bitch, and I'll do it again. I wanted him to know ... I'm a white man and he's a damn nigger."

In July, Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy are sentenced to $178 or 45 days in jail for leading the march back in December. They refuse to pay the fine. Marches, demonstrations, and arrests increase. Again the glare of national publicity focuses on Albany. King and Abernathy are released when an "unidentified person" anonymously pays their fine. Says Abernathy, "I've been thrown out of lots of places in my day, but never before have I been thrown out of jail."

[Years later it is revealed that the fines were paid by Albany Mayor Asa Kelley as a ploy to divide the movement and diffuse media attention on King's imprisonment.]

Late in July, J. Robert Elliott a Federal judge appointed by Kennedy, issues an injunction against mass marches.

The city then got a temporary restraining order from the district court using a very strange legal concept of the Fourteenth Amendment. An argument which was essentially this: that demonstrations require the presence of policemen; policemen who are present during demonstrations could not handle other complaints of other citizens in the community; therefore, the demonstrations were denying other citizens — white citizens — equal protection of the law. So we should be restrained from engaging in any activities, First Amendment protected or otherwise, because it tended to deny equal protection to white citizens. — C. Charles Jones. [9]

SNCC argues that the injunction should be ignored, but Dr. King reluctantly decides that he has to obey a Federal court order because it is Federal court orders that are (very, very slowly) forcing school desegregation. Though marches and protests led by SNCC and others continue, and the injunction is eventually lifted, it slows momentum and weakens the movement. In early August, Dr. King withdraws from Albany without having won any specific desegregation victories from the Albany power elites.

Demonstrations, sit-ins, protests, and arrests continue in Albany through 1963 and 1964, though not in the mass numbers of 1961-1962. The city library is finally desegregated by court order, though the chairs are removed to prevent Blacks and whites sitting together. And in early 1964 the city finally repeals all segregation ordinances.

In the years after the Albany protests of 1961-62, segregationist groups all over the South invite Chief Pritchett (a graduate of the FBI National Academy) to consult with them and speak on his tactics of suppressing Black protest. He describes his methods as "nonviolence" — meaning he orders his cops to avoid and prevent the kind of bloody physical brutality that attracted media attention during the sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Though arresting people for peacefully exercising their Constitutionally protected free-speech rights is a form of violent repression — and holding them in prison is also an act of violent coercion — the media accepts his self-serving distortion of reality and lauds him as the South's "nonviolent" lawman. Lacking dramatic images of violence, the press loses interest in the Albany struggle for justice. And when Dr. King withdraws from Albany without having won specific concessions from the city, the national press declares it a "defeat."

Albany Movement — Important Points

For more information on the Albany Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Georgia Movement — Atlanta — Albany
Web: Albany, Americus, & SW Georgia Movements 1961-1964
Personal memories of the Albany Movement:
     Randy Battle The Great Pool Jump...
     Joan Browning Albany Freedom Ride Letters and Chronology
     Cathy Cade My Family, the Movement, and Me
     Peter de Lissovoy
          Albany GA in 1963
          "Outside Agitator" and other terms...
          A Confrontation
          Remembering C. B. King's Campaign for Congress

 

Savannah Boycott Victory (Oct)

See Savannah Sitins & Boycott for previous events.

After a 19-month boycott (March 1960-October 1961) of white-owned merchants, the city agrees to desegregate a number of public facilities and the boycott is ended.

See Savannah GA, Movement for continuation.

 

Christmas Boycott in Clarksdale MS (Dec)

Aaron Henry — President of the Mississippi state NAACP, a pharmacist and drugstore owner — and the Coahoma County NAACP organize an effective Christmas shopping boycott in Clarksdale, the county seat. Coahoma is a Black-majority county (68% Black, 31% white) but the white-owned stores refuse to hire Blacks for anything other than the most menial and low-paying jobs. The boycott economically cripples the white merchants, but they refuse to even meet with Black leaders. Aaron Heny and half a dozen other Black leaders are arrested and convicted for "Conspiring to withold trade," Henry is arrested and convicted on a phoney "morals" charge. The convictions are appealed and the boycott continues.

 

Baton Rouge Student Protests (Dec 1961 - Jan 1962)

See Baton Rouge Sit-ins & Student Strike for previous events.

With the assistance of New Orleans CORE leaders Dave Dennis, Doris Castle, Julia Aaron and Jerome Smith, Southern University (SU) students Ronnie Moore, Weldon Rougeau and Patricia Tate begin organizing a new CORE chapter at SU in October. Early in December, they ask Baton Rouge's major downtown merchants to negotiate with them regarding segregation. The stores refuse to meet with them, and CORE launches a merchant boycott similar to those underway in New Orleans.

In mid-December, 14 CORE activists — 7 men and 7 women — are arrested for picketing in support of the boycott. Among them are Theda Ambrose, Jarvis Thompson, Janetta Gilliam, Claudia Smith, and Beverly Redford. All 14 are incarcerated in East Baton Rouge Parish Jail for a month until their release in mid-January. In immediate response to their arrest, 3,500 Black students attend a protest rally at SU. On December 15th, 1,200 students march five miles to the state capitol to protest the arrests and segregation. The cops attack the marchers with dogs and tear-gas. More than 50 students are arrested.

With the other CORE leaders in jail, D'Army Bailey leads 3,000 students on a march to the campus residence of SU President Felton Clark who promises not to expel students arrested on sit-ins as he had done the previous year. The next day the Louisiana Board of Education bans all student demonstrations — on and off campus — at all Louisiana colleges. Clark closes SU four days early for the Christmas break.

Early in January 1962, U.S. Federal Court Judge Gordon West — a segregationist appointed by Kennedy — issues a sweeping injunction against CORE banning all forms of protest of any kind. When students return to SU in mid-January, they discover that seven CORE leaders have been expelled. A thousand students protest the expulsions. At a faculty convocation next day, SU President Clark denounces the demonstrators as "hoodlums" and "anarchists."

State police troopers occupy the campus to quell any further protests and 40 more students are expelled. Judge West's unconstitutional injunction is not overturned by a higher court until 1964. The combination of repression by the state police, a Federal court injunction, and mass expulsion of students who participate in the Movement succeeds in suppressing student activism at Southern University until protests again erupt in 1969.

After their expulsions, some CORE leaders become full-time field secretaries, and other expelled SU students are hired for voter registration projects with money distributed by the Voter Education Project (VEP).

See "Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana for continuation.

For more information on the Baton Rouge Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Louisiana, Bogalusa, & New Orleans for partial list of books.
Web: Justice (CORE ~ Online Archive California)

 


1961 Quotation Sources:

1. In Struggle, SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960's, Clayborne Carson
2. SNCC The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn
3. I've Got the Light of Freedom: ..., Charles Payne
4. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr ~ M.L. King Research Institute at Stanford University
5. Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum
6. You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train, Howard Zinn. Beacon Press, 1994
7. Everybody Says Freedom, Pete Seeger & Bob Reiser.
8. The Siege of the Freedom Riders, Bernard Lafayette. New York Times May 19, 2011.
9. SNCC: The Growth of Radicalism in a Civil Rights Organization, Emily Stoper.


1960

1962

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