Oral History/Interview — 2012
Integration in the Deep South: Death Goes On — 1963
Letter From Albany, GA — 1963
Vietnam War Protest, 1965
Jews, Religion, and the Movement — a Discussion
Our Mississippi Dilemma
I first worked with SNCC in Albany, GA in the summer of 1963. (I misssed my Brandeis commencement because I was on a bus heading south to GA) I didn't realize it at the time, but the project leader, Charles Sherrod, was apparently the first SNCC field secretary to try a racially integrated group of civil rights workers. So that's how I, as a white woman, got to work on a SNCC project.
The first week, while we were in training, Medgar Evers was killed in Miss. In less than two weeks, we and over 100 people from the Albany community were in jail. When I was put in a cell with the other white women, they told me they were on a hunger strike and gave me a choice of joining them. I couldn't very well eat in front of them, so I spent a week on a hunger strike drinking only very sweet tea and water. (To this day I drink my tea plain.)
One night an intoxicated white woman was arrested and because the jail was overflowing, she was put into our crowded cell. I still remember how frightened she was of us. Us - all very nonviolent women.
The trial was at the end of the week. C. B. King was our lawyer. The judge fell asleep for about 40 minutes during the trial. We were found guilty and told to leave town. My dad, a newspaper man, had come down from Indianapolis for the trial. He broke the story nationally by telling a friend on the New York Times about it. Until then, when the northern press had called, the jail had denied the arrests.
After the summer of 1963 in Albany, we were sent North to raise money for SNCC. Then in October, I called Bob Moses and asked to come work in Miss. He said I couldn't come to work, but I could come visit for two weeks. So I went. Someone stole my money from the Freedom House & I had no money to get home. While I was there, Matt Suarez (Flukie) asked me to come help on the CORE project he was working on in Meridian, Miss. So I ended up being the first white woman I know of to be working in the field in Miss. It was so unheard of that I found out later that the community assumed I was black. "Bright" was the word they used for a light skinned Negro.
We worked on the mock election that fall. If I remember correctly we got 60,000 people in Miss. to vote! Then came the idea of the summer of 1964 project. I remember being at SNCC staff meetings in Miss. where it was discussed (heatedly!).
In the spring of 1964 I worked in the Washington D.C. SNCC office. I did some research for Jack Minnis who was in the Atlanta office. We were challenging the election of a U.S. Congressman from Miss. I remember pretending to be attending a college in the congressman's district and going to his office to meet him. We were trying to gauge how concerned he was about the challenge.
I also did some research on what the politics were behind Miss. refusing some of the federal programs available for poor people. No surprise, I found someone in the federal government who was willing to leak SNCC some background information.
In the summer of 1964 I participated in the Mississippi Summer project, working in a church being used as a community center in Indianola, Miss. I was teaching adult literacy. Just after the summer project, the church was fire bombed, as were so many others. I don't remember what the church looked like before it was burned, but I'll never foget the picture I saw of the ruins with just the chimney standing.
I stayed in Mississippi until Feb. 1965. I was working in Columbus, Miss. I remember canvassing door to door. Of all the families that I lived with in the South, I remember this one the best. I lived with a mother and father and their five children. The mom was the one who had to try to protect their 12 year old daughter when the police stopped their car and ordered the daughter out. I remember her saying she told the police, "She's only 12!" It was clear it was too dangerous for the father to say anything.
I also remember from Columbus, that two men who'd tried to unionize the local group of a big U.S. tree company had been murdered. I left SNCC, reluctantly, in Feb. 1965, because the African-American leader of my project made very clear a white woman was no longer welcome. The last thing I did with SNCC was participate in the March of Unrepresented People in Washington, D.C. in Aug. 1965. Current and former civil rights workers joined Catholic pacifists from the Northeast to get arrested to protest the Vietnam War. I spent a couple of days in the D.C.D.C. (Dept. of Corrections of the District of Columbus.) We got what we hoped for - a couple of pages coverage in the newspaper about a war most Americans did not know we were getting into.
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