In 1965 I clipped an ad titled: "Teachers WANTED To Teach FREEDOM" in an American Federation of Teachers newsletter. I filled out the application to be a Freedom School teacher for the summer. I carried it around for about a week and finally mailed it. So began a lifelong journey working for social justice.
I attended the SCLC training sessions in Atlanta. Trainers included Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. My assignment was to join the group of Civil Rights workers in Gadsden, Alabama to set up a Freedom School and help with voter registration.
The following summer I volunteered again. This time the AFT and SNCC sent me to Jackson, Mississippi for orientation under the leadership of Carolyn and Arthur Reese, two educators from Detroit. My teacher colleagues in the Robbinsdale, Minnesota Schools had collected money for a car to use and to leave with the Movement workers at the end of the summer. My assignment was Columbia, Mississippi about 125 miles southwest of Jackson. Activities included integrating the local playground, tennis court, library, Laundromat, theater and organizing petition drives, boycotts, picket lines.
We worked out of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Headquarters which was bombed in 1965 and later repaired. In constant use, seven bullet holes reminded one constantly of violence. In this old three-room shanty, Lynn Porteous, a teacher from San Francisco, and I with the help of students organized a library of over 500 books donated by teachers around the nation. Ira Grupper, a Civil Rights veteran had laid the ground work for community work in Columbia.
A cross burning was attempted in front of the house in which Lynn Porteous and I stayed that summer. I say "attempted" because Lynn fired over their heads with a shotgun and they dropped the cross and ran for their car. (SNCC had recommended self defense for the Civil Rights workers that summer). We put the kerosene soaked cross on the hood of my Freedom Fairlane and drove to the Headquarters across town and did not return to that house. A family on a farm took us in for the rest of the summer.
In 1968 I traveled with the Minnesota delegation to Resurrection City in Washington, D.C. for the Poor People's Campaign. There were daily demonstrations from May 14 until June 24.
Since the 1960's I have worked on local issues in Minnesota with the American Indian Movement and through Human Rights Commissions. Workshops, forums and classes on race, ethnicity, poverty, and hate crimes have been regular events for me before and after I retired from full time teaching. Through the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions, I organized REHaB (Reducing and Eliminating Hate Behavior). The purpose is to dialogue with students and adults who have been convicted of hate crimes or who have been involved in hate incidents. We have worked with cases in schools and through the court system.
Copyright © Marion Helland 2005