Mass Meetings & New Orlans Freedom
My Freedom School Experiences — Mississippi & New Orleans
Being in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964, changed life entirely. I moved down South, to Louisiana, and spent the next five decades there! I have written a little about Jackson MS that summer: ...
There were state-wide efforts going on — the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. Young social workers, lawyers, organizers and others in the civil rights movement felt moral outrage when we saw police-state tactics being used on African-American young people. Whites were sometimes beaten and arrested as well. Our families worried a great deal about those of us who went South to battle apartheid; there were over 800 of us who traveled to work as volunteers in the Mississippi Freedom Summer — 400 of us were women.
After teaching for three weeks in Jackson, at the Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, during the summer I went back and resigned from my job in Washington D.C. I began to work full time for the Medical Committee for Human Rights Office, Jackson MS, fall 1964. It was under the general aegis of the National Council of Churches. I was the office administrator at the MCHR office for a few months while the organization recruited a doctor to run the program. We were coordinating the schedules of volunteer doctors and clergy who were helping civil rights volunteers. They were also writing up reports for colleagues around the u.s. on the conditions under which poor Blacks received medical care in the Deep South.
Through trying to resolve a serious MCHR case — a civil rights worker in jail who'd been injured in a car crash — in 1964 I met the civil liberties lawyer Ben Smith, from New Orleans. We married the next year. The marriage lasted until 1973. Ben died in 1976.
"How did we get around? We shared automobile rides. Young people (or older people, for that matter) seemed lightly employed and often available to help, or to work with The Movement or to help with whatever COFO volunteers were up to. When we got ready to go someplace, to a church for a Mass Meeting or to City Hall to try and register voters, or to the Freedom School nearby, a big, old car would materialize. Neighbors would climb in. It was like an informal, friendly taxi service whoever owned a car would place it at the service of others."