Fear, Courage, and Commitment in the Freedom Movement
A Discussion
April, 2015

[Recorded at "Past & Present: a Gathering With Freedom Movement Veterans at Stanford University," April 11, 2015.

If you were part of the Southern Freedom Movement, and are listed in the Veterans Roll Call, you are encouraged to add your comments to this discussion by emailing them to webmaster@crmvet.org. If you add a comment, please indicate where in the transcript it should be inserted.]


Ron Bridgeforth (Facilitator)   Willie B. Wazir: Peacock
Kathleen Kolman Jimmy Rogers
Maria GitinRoy Torkington
Stu HouseMitchell Zimmerman
Bill Light 


Initial CommentsGeneral Discussion
Maria GitinIn Spite of Fear
Kathleen KolmanSomeone Would Arise as a Leader
Wazir PeacockI Couldn't Stop Shaking
Jimmy RogersI Went With the Training
Stu HouseWe Believed it Was Going to Work
Mitchel Zimmerman   That Carrol County Look
Roy TorkingtonMurder in Hayneville
Bill LightHow Were We Changed?
Ron BridgeforthGoing Back
 Responsible for Fighting Against Racism
 Domestic Terrorism

Ron: OK, you know, my name is Ronnie. That's what my mother calls me. And I think what we're going to do is start around by having everybody go around and introduce themselves, simply their names. And just to get it on the record. [Then each person will have three and half minutes each time they speak.] The other thing is, Diane is going to try to capture some of your ideas, and they will be up there [projected on the wall]. And that may help with creating a continuous flow in a conversation. While we're not trying to reach a conclusion, or consensus, I think it's good to be able to capture some ideas and see how that works. And then we'll share that, it's a Word file, so we'll just email it to Bruce, and he can either include it as part of the transcript or not. So what are we talking about today?

Man: Fear, courage and commitment.

Ron: Fear, courage and commitment. We're all agreed with that? Who'd like to start?


Maria Gitin


"Gradually I learn that even though I can't see from any perspective but this one, (meaning my own), I can include other perspectives, understand that others have their own perspective, and each one is just and true as real as mine, even if we're in disagreement. That's a stretch of the heart muscle."

For myself, working in the Movement in the summer of '65, going through experiences with my coworkers in SNCC and SCLC and the local people that I worked with in Wilcox County, Alabama stretched my heart muscle so much more than my brain.

At some intellectual level, we had all this training.

We had amazing orientations. By that time, voter registration project leaders had learned from CORE and SNCC, and their own experience. The SCLC SCOPE orientation was tremendous. We had workshops; we had great speakers: Hosea Williams, Bayard Rustin, Jimmy Webb, James Bevel and Martin Luther King himself. Septima Clark taught us how to sing. We had intensive orientation, and then suddenly we are plunged into this violently segregated environment, sharing the experience of being hated, reviled, shot at, arrested, in a very, very rural area.

I was assigned to Wilcox County Alabama. I was just 19 years old and trying to grapple with the reality of how dangerous it was. At first, I had so much trust and faith in my coworkers, our leaders and the people in the community. Before that summer, my sense of myself was that I was a weak, scared girl. That summer, I felt like I really became a woman. Hah, For one thing, I had sex for the first time. That took courage too because, you know, girls like me were supposed to stay virgins until we got married. He was white, just for the record. [Laughter]

Aside from that, it was so dramatic, the violence, the threats - I was afraid all the time. The boys, both the Black and white, always talked about how brave they were and "Oh no, they can't do nothing to me." I was just scared all the time. But because the local people were so brave, and they were protecting us, I had to act brave. But they were the courageous ones.

I didn't know until I went back later to write my book This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, that men in some of the familes who kept white kids were sitting up all night with shotguns while we slept. I had no idea at the time. They didn't let us know that they had to keep up that level of protection to take in a white field worker. I honor those people. I owe them my life, literally, because people were trying to kill us.

Besides the locals, I witnessed incredible courage, role models in both SCLC and SNCC folks I worked with. I was fortunate to work with both groups, the respected reverends and the radical students. It was so exciting to be in the thick of these world changing events. The SNCC kids in Selma, especially Charles Bonner, really broke it down for me, in terms of theory. It was the beginning of my looking at social action critically. I suppose I could have done well to apply that learning in college but when I returned I was such a physical and emotional mess that it took me 15 more years to get a B.A. degree. My experience in the Movement, learning to see the sharecropper in Alabama not as somebody less than, but just somebody with a different perspective, different life experience - that was an invaluable lesson for me. You can learn from all people, not just people like yourself.


Kathleen Kolman

Kathleen: My name's Kathleen Kolman. And I was not in the South during this period of time we're talking about, that Maria's talking about. My Dad was in Mississippi during that period of time working as a physician. And I guess I grew up watching so many brave adults do so many politically and socially active things with seemingly no fear, it never really entered my mind to be afraid. And I think that only maybe as a grandmother I've started to feel some kind of mortality, but I certainly knew that people were hurt. I knew people were murdered both in the Civil Rights Movement and in the Anti-War Movement which I worked in for a long time. But I never really felt the fear that somebody was going to hurt me for standing up.

I was fine about standing up. And maybe I was lucky. I mean, I think some of us were lucky. And I think that now, working with kids who have some pretty scary experiences as high school students, like I do now, I work with kids, many of whom are in gangs, many of whom have their friends hurt and murdered, I can see their perspectives better because of what happened to us as protesters in the Civil Rights and Peace Movements. But I still think my parents and their activist friends taught me that if we stand together we don't need to be afraid of things. And I don't really think too much about it.


Wazir Peacock

Wazir:: This is Wazir Peacock. I'm just gonna start talking about the fear. I only knew real fear one time, and that was in — my Godfather — a bunch of us young kids and young teenagers had a secret spot we would meet down by the railroad track. We even had linoleum laid out there, where we shot craps. And somehow or another, he had found out that some of us were down there, and I was one of the kids that he had no idea would be a part of something like that, you know? And so I was scared to death when Mr. Johnson, when I looked down the track, I saw him going — to this day, because he's gone now, he never knew that I was — I took off running and running and running, and it was a little holler like a foxhole. I jumped in it, and I was so scared my whole body was jumping. Fear, fear, fear.

And I have never known fear to that level anymore. I hated fear. I didn't want to feel that way anymore. So throughout life, the things that I have done — when my parents moved when I was 11 years old to this plantation in the [Mississippi] Delta, Sriber's plantation, where I began to see what — I'd get a picture of what slavery must've been like, because it was just like slavery. And I met people who had been on that plantation, it was a family lineage, who had gone all the way back to slavery.

The land had changed hands several times, and in the days of Europe of that [peonage] system, they went with the land. They went with the land. And it just so happened, I was about sixth grade when we moved there, and we had been studying about slavery and a little world history and all that kind of thing, and I could see no difference. This is just like that. Then I saw the abuse that Black people went under, under this system. And the first thing that came into my mind was, I was slightly angry. Why did my father get us into this position? It was later on that I knew why. I knew what happened. I won't go into that story, but anyway, it gave me a determination in life. Right in there, by the time I was 12 years old, I was already figuring out how to end this system, to get this done, and how to get it done, and what could I do to get my life and self in a position where I could do this?

And I know that I couldn't do it by staying on that plantation. So by the time that I was — just before my fifteenth birthday, I ran away from the plantation, left my family there. Tried to put pressure on my parents to move from that plantation, move out of that system. And I was the least expected one to do something like that, because I was very close to my parents.

And finally, I got away, but before that I had never been 10 miles away from home. So I'm about 30 miles away from home — I mean, my headquarters was Grenada, Mississippi. And there I worked with a produce company, Lyles Brothers Produce, and they would take trips to — anyway, from that point, I began to understand a lot of things about life and what I needed to do. I needed to go back home, go to school, and get myself ready. I went back home, got ready, and started raising sand at the school to help change things. And everywhere I went that I saw things that weren't just, I started doing. So I was consciously and intentionally getting myself ready to join forces with anybody who was moving against this system. And here I am.


Jimmy Rogers

Jimmy: My name is Jimmy Rodgers, and I worked for SNCC in Lowndes County, Alabama. And the area where I worked mostly was probably the most dangerous place in the county. It's so dangerous that I forgot the name of the — 

Man: Whitehall?

Jimmy: No. I mean, this was the meanest place in Lowndes County — 

Wazir:: I know which one you're talking about. Fort Deposit.

Jimmy: And with me [one day in Fort Deposit] were a Catholic priest, an Episcopal seminarian, Jonathan Daniels, I'd say about 10 teenagers, three or four SNCC people, Gloria Larry and me and Ruby Sales. We were the main people in that SNCC thing. And we were there because the kids wanted to go downtown in this little town and protest in order to buy something in the [store] in town. They had to stand outside the back door. They couldn't go in the place, and they ordered their food in the back door, and [the owner] would bring it to the door. They wouldn't even let them in the [store]. So they decided that they wanted to have a protest.

So we were standing around talking, and all of a sudden the FBI walks up, and they're saying, "Well, we wouldn't advise you to go down there, because there's a bunch of people down there with all kinds of weapons and stuff. And they're gonna probably try to hurt some people." And they thought they would persuade [the students] by saying this, that they wouldn't go. They didn't think they would go. Well, I felt that they shouldn't go, but I didn't say anything. You know, they were determined that they were going to go down there and do what they had to do.

So we stood outside. We were outside of a church, and we stood out there, and people were talking about all the things that they would do. And you say, "Well, no, there's not going to be any violence on this." You know, you have to go down and do it nonviolently, whatever it is that you do. So we marched downtown, and we got there. And sure enough, we saw ax handles and pistols and practically any kind of weapon you can find. You know, there were a bunch of people out there with these weapons. And here I am, I'm standing in front of the line, and the sheriff walks up to me and sticks a gun in my face telling me I was under arrest. So I asked him, I said, "Well, for what?" He said, "We haven't decided this yet." [Laughter]

Wazir: Haven't decided... [Laughter]

Jimmy: Had us under arrest but hadn't decided this yet. So I asked him, "What?" And finally, he came up with, "For parading without a permit and disturbing the peace." I said, "Oh, OK." And I remember at the same time, Stokely Carmichael and Chris Wiley got arrested too — they weren't in the demonstration. They said, "Well, what did we get arrested for?" "We haven't decided that yet.' [Laughter]

So they came up with — I don't remember exactly what they came up with for them, but it wasn't the same thing. So anyway, all of a sudden a garbage truck came up, and they put us all on the garbage truck and took us all down to the court. You know, it was a small court, it wasn't the main part of [the county court system]. They drove us all the way from that little place all the way up to Hayneville [the county seat], and we ended up going to the county jail, all of us.

Ron: I'm gonna have to cut you off there, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Am I going too long? OK, well anyway, this is a long story. So can I come back?

Woman: To be continued. [Laughter]


Stu House

Stu: Stuart House, known in the Movement as Stu House. I worked in Mississippi and Alabama. On the subject of courage, I want to echo something that Kathleen said about our coworkers and comrades and people we worked with and family and getting strength and courage from them. I think that a lot of us who were coworkers looked to each other and found — my coworkers got the courage to deal with this situation, and I had the courage too, so there was a lot of collaborative feeling of support and interdependence and that sort of dynamic gave us courage to do what we had to do.

Also, Maria talked about training. We had our first [Freedom Summer] training in Oxford, Ohio about how to cope with the situations we'd be faced with, and that training, I think, also helped tremendously. We saw some amazing examples of the veterans who preceded us who had been, like Wazir, in Mississippi and Alabama before us who were there and training us. They had exercised tremendous courage. There was Jimmy Travis who had been machine-gunned in Greenwood, Mississippi in a car, and then before we left Oxford, Ohio to go to the Mississippi Summer Project, we were pretty much convinced that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were dead. So at some point — I don't remember who exactly but perhaps Bob Moses or someone else — said, "We are looking at the possibility of people dying going down there. So now's the time. Either you guys, if you don't think you can deal with this, then you need to go home." So people had to make a decision whether they were going to forge ahead, so they had to, at that moment, come to terms with their fear and their commitment and say, "We're gonna do this. This is important. This is something we've decided we're gonna do. We know that some of our coworkers might likely be dead, but we need to move ahead with this."

I think that every time we had someone martyred, whether it was Jimmy Lee Jackson in Selma or it was Jonathan Daniels or whether it was Herbert Lee or whether it was the long list of people who had been beaten or killed, I think that their sacrifice also emboldened us to keep on fighting, to keep on struggling, because they had lost their lives. People we knew. I mean, we all worked with Jonathan. He was just a really, really good person. That's all I can say. I wouldn't say he was a saint, because he drank beer with us, but — 

Woman: Saints can drink.

Stu: Can they? I didn't know that. So, you know, this whole idea of our coworkers giving us strength was one thing, and making a commitment. It also strengthened our resolve, that's what I want to say. We said, "No, we're going to forge ahead." And I looked at a picture of Willy Ricks and I recently in Montgomery, and both of us are clomping towards the cops, and I looked at my face and I looked at Willy's face, and there was like no fear. And I kept saying, "Well, where did that come from?" Because I was surprised. I looked at this picture, and I'm going, "We're totally fearless. Not a care, totally unfazed by cops or horses." We had already been in Montgomery, and they ran us down with horses in front of the state capitol and the rest of it. But I think that kind of trial by fire, if you want to call it that, which is why we really are veterans. We went through this trial by fire, and it just strengthened our resolve to go ahead.


Mitchel Zimmerman

Mitchell: Mitchell Zimmerman. I think what Bruce said about the range of experiences and complexities here, I think as a young white person going to the South, I came to this out of a range of different motivations and different experiences. And I think, personally, when I think about, "Why did I get myself involved in this thing?" I think it was partly a desire for adventure, and it was partly kind of a rage and indignation at injustice that was very strong in me then, and it was partly a desire to overcome fear.

I was the kind of kid, when I grew up who didn't get into fights a whole lot, who was kind of a scaredy-cat, and part of what was in my mind when I came South was, "This is an opportunity for me to try to overcome that." And I remember — I mean, I'd been in Atlanta for the summer and then spent a couple of weeks traveling through Mississippi in '64, and probably the most frightening day of my life was the first night in Mississippi, being stopped with a group of people in the town square in Oxford around 10 o'clock at night and really thinking, "We're probably not going to get out of this alive."

And you know, I went to Arkansas there afterward, and I remember going there feeling both fear about, "Am I going to get hurt here?" And also fear of "Am I going to make a fool of myself and be kind of an idiot in what I'm doing?" And in fact I kind of was an idiot and alienated a lot of people in the project through my stupidity.

And I think what I learned was to just keep going anyway, and even though I was afraid of both things and made a lot of mistakes along the way, I wasn't so embarrassed by them that I couldn't just keep going. And I guess in Arkansas, probably the most frightening experiences were in jail, and it was just kind of a question of saying, "Well, I can't control exactly what's going to happen here, and I just have to calm down and live through it."

And I'm not sure by the end of the year that I spent in Arkansas that I became a braver person. I didn't feel that way. I still felt kind of like frightened a lot, but I felt like, "Well, you just decide what you're going to do." For me, anyway. Like I decided, "This is what I want to do and what I need to be doing now, and I'm gonna do it anyway, even though I'm scared."

And I think that maybe in the Anti-War Movement after that in the following years I was actually in more violent experiences, but I started to change in a gradual way, and it didn't happen all at once. And maybe part of what I felt like was it was good enough. I mean, I stayed; I worked at things, even though I was frightened. And maybe that's all commitment adds up to.


Roy Torkington

Roy: Roy Torkington. I was in Mississippi and Louisiana. I didn't realize how frightened I was in Mississippi until after I left Mississippi. I suddenly realized I could be around a bunch of strange white people and not be afraid, not be looking over my shoulder and wondering, wondering what was going to happen.

I think that there's fear that paralyzes you or makes you run like hell in the other direction, and there's fear that quickens your mind, makes you more alert, makes you more cautious — doesn't make you so cautious that you don't do things you have to do, but makes you cautious in how you do the things you have to do. For instance, Willy McGee, who was the project leader in Itta Bena, knew dozens of different ways of getting in and out of Itta Bena. We're talking about a town that has a population of one or two thousand, so you know there can't be that many ways to get in and out. But he would always take a different way out and a different way in. Part of that was because it was on that road from Itta Bena to Greenwood where Jimmy Travis got machine gunned, that Stu alluded to before. Was Willy afraid? Well, I'd say, "Yeah, Willy was afraid that if someone saw the patterns that he was moving by that he was in danger of getting shot." And so he took precautions.

That's fear; that's good fear. It makes you do the smart thing. One time I was afraid. It was when they were trying to run us out of Itta Bena. They stopped us, and I was afraid they were going to start beating us up, and I looked down at the ground. It was a dirt road next to the railroad tracks. Freedom Street, maybe? Peacock agrees. And there was a conversation going on, but I was looking down. All the time, I was glancing down at that dirt road, and I was looking for the place where there were the fewest rocks so that if I got knocked down, I tried to fall down in a place where there weren't so many rocks, I wouldn't get my head hit.

I was afraid; there was fear there. But it was focusing my concentration on the pavement underneath me. That was good fear. It didn't stop me from doing anything that I had to do.

I went to Louisiana — Bogalusa. I was asked to go by the campus CORE at UC Berkeley because I was, in the parlance, I was a veteran. I had been in Mississippi the previous summer, and therefore, I was a veteran.

And I was friends with the Deacons [for Defense & Justice] in Louisiana.

[The Deacons for Defense & Justice provided armed protection for civil rights activists in the Deep South. See Deacons for Defense & Justice for more information.]

Charles Sims was the leader of the deacons, and one day Sims sent one of the deacons out to do something. I can't remember what it was. I went with him. I can't remember why I went with him. Don't know. We left late in the evening, and by the time we got to where we were going, it was dark. And we opened the doors to get out of the car, and the dome light went on. And I just about jumped out of my skin. I was afraid. Because in Mississippi, we got a car, took out the dome light, because you didn't want to be a well-lit target at night.

Now, I didn't want to be saying, "You know, when I was in Mississippi, blah-blah-blah" to this guy who was in Louisiana and a deacon, so I very cautiously said, "You know, it's a good idea to take that light out of there, the bulb out of that dome light, because you make a real good target when you open that door, and the light goes on." And the look on this guy's face was a look — he suddenly realized what had happened, and it was a look of either horror or fear, I'm not sure what it was. But he had that light out so damn fast. [Laughter] I thought he was going to rip the light apart getting it out. And he said, "Thank you for telling me that."

So there's fear, and that's good fear. That's useful fear. It doesn't paralyze you. It doesn't make you run away. It doesn't keep you from doing what you have to do, but you do what you have to do in a smart way, in a way that doesn't get you killed or doesn't get somebody else killed. And I think that when you're in a dangerous situation, if you don't feel fear of the kind that I'm talking about, you have bad judgment.


Bill Light

Bill: I'm Bill Light. I worked in Mississippi. In June of 1965, I went down to Jackson to participate in a demonstration supporting the Freedom Democratic Party. We were to march from Morningstar Baptist Church to the state capitol. I couple of blocks short of the capitol the police started arresting us for parading without a permit under a law that had already been declared unconstitutional. Now, I had already been in Mississippi well over a year. I'd been arrested three times. I'd been threatened many times. I'd been chased. But I'd never actually been physically abused up to that time. We were all herded into state trucks — that were fitted with wire mesh cages — that had been used for hauling trash, and we were taken to the state fairgrounds and crowded into an exhibition hall. I don't remember if any of you were there at the time.

Man: I was there.

Bill: You were. Wave after wave of us were brought in, and soon there were hundreds of us surrounded by an ever tightening circle of Jackson police officers bearing billy clubs. It was stifling hot, and tempers were high on all sides. Every person in that room was angry. We were shouting at the cops, and they were shouting at us. There was an intense feeling of danger, and a dam of emotion was about to burst.

I found myself foolishly meeting the eyes of one particular cop, and he was meeting my eyes right back at me. With no immediate provocation, the cop hit me on the skull with his club, and I went down in a blinding flash of pain. I was aware of profuse bleeding from my scalp. Two others, Emily Gordon and Ron Weiss, were also beaten, and three of us were taken by ambulance to a hospital where I received several stitches.

Back at the fairgrounds, I requested an investigation of my beating. Several days later, I was interviewed by two FBI agents. They showed me a book of mug shots, and I pointed out the guilty cop. As I was describing to one agent how the cop raised his club to hit me, the other agent interrupted me in mid-sentence and demanded to know if I had been a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee here at Stanford. [Laughter] That was where their interest lay, not in investigating my being beaten.

I felt so helpless. Even the FBI was not going to help me. About 800 of us were held at the fairgrounds for eight days. We tried to keep our spirits up singing Freedom songs and playing chess with chess sets made from plastic forks and spoons. Eventually, they just let us go.

So although my injury was not serious, that beating was a significant event in my life. In the Movement, we frequently claimed that violence against us didn't work, that it only made us stronger and more determined. But, that beating really took the wind out of my sails. It really intimidated me. The anger, fear and helplessness stayed with me for years afterwards. I lost a lot of my spark and frequently found myself afraid to assert myself. It took me a long time to make the connections and identify the source of my malaise, but eventually, with the help of therapy and meditation, I was able to put the problem largely behind me. But that fear really got me, and I still get flashes of it sometimes.


Ron Bridgeforth

Ron: My name is Ron Bridgeforth. The first time I really can consciously think about fear is when I was in Compton [CA]. I moved there from Arkansas, and I was different. All through my — up until I was about maybe a sophomore in high school, I experienced a lot of bullying. And we had to walk a long way from school to get home, and the butterflies in my stomach are really — it was not like I was a passive kid. I was a pretty mouthy kid, so if you challenged me, I might talk about your mama and your daddy and everybody else, pretty effectively. But by the time I got to be about a sophomore in high school, I realized that a two by four was an excellent deterrent from being bullied, and that became part of where I lived.

But this thing about Mississippi, I don't know if I was — after a year, it wore on me. This thing with the lights, this thing with looking over your shoulders, that just started to wear. And it was time to go after about a year. But I think Mississippi increased my capacity to deal with fear. There is a quote somewhere in Howard Zinn's book, The New Abolitionists, from Bob Moses. I downloaded it yesterday to see if I could find it on Kindle, but I couldn't. The quote in says that the young people who were active in the South were not brave because they were unafraid. They were brave because they were afraid, and they acted anyway.

And so that's just been my mantra in life. It's come somewhat easy to me, in some ways, that — I remember once being in a house and hearing gunshots outside, and everybody running to the back, and I'm walking to the front. What's up? You know? I don't know where that comes from. But there are different things that I'm afraid of. I'm afraid of failure. Sometimes there's fear in my life that keeps me from — causes me to procrastinate. So I guess fear comes in a lot of ways. And it's an everyday challenge, to be all that you can be or whatever that is. There's still a lot of work to be done.


In Spite of Fear

Ron: Well, now we get to go sort of like popcorn, but you only get to speak once until everybody else has had an opportunity to speak. So if you'd like to speak, if you'd like to respond, if you'd like to add something more.

Wazir:: I agreed, and my feeling with everything you said, because my mantra was that people would ask me, even during those days of the Movement, if they said to me something like, "I know what you're saying is right, and we should do something, but I'm afraid, out of fear." I would say, my mantra would be, "It's not what you do; it's what you don't do." I say, "What you do in spite of fear." I said, "That's the name of the game called being brave and a hero. It's what you do in spite of fear."

Because there were times I would have to go and hide myself. I would have the shakes, what you call the shakes. And I had no control over it. I couldn't stop it. It was just that buildup — subconscious buildup — from some time in the past where I had experienced a fear, and I already named that first fear, that I really felt deep fear.

And that deep fear came from something that Ronnie said. I didn't want to be wrong in my actions. And I felt that day when my Godfather, I felt I was completely wrong in what I was doing, and I didn't want to be caught doing something wrong. And that translated into parts of my life where if I was right, although I might be a little shaky, I was unmovable. I could be cussing the sheriff out and be shaking, but if that was the right thing to do, I felt that that's what I would do. Because I felt that you can't kill me but once, you know? And I made a commitment that I'm here to do what I came to do and that he's wrong.

Ron: That fear will kill you a thousand times.

Wazir:: Yes.

Ron: Yes, sir.


Someone Would Arise as a Leader

Stu: A couple of things. One, regarding the incident in Jackson, Mississippi when 800 of us were in jail at the fairgrounds, one of the most remarkable things I ever experienced in terms of movements and people and leadership and overcoming fear, if you will, was that they made a policy to try to isolate the leaders from the rest of the group and from the fairgrounds, so the police were over there. Their policy makers wanted to separate the leaders from the masses. So every time they thought that someone would arise as a leader or acted as though they had leadership qualities in that situation, they would take them out of the fairgrounds and take them to the city jail, Jackson city jail.

So you had this emergence of leaders every few hours. And so by the end of the second or third day, they had filled the Jackson jail with 100 or 150 people, because leaders kept emerging out of this 800. So we filled the jail, the city jail. And I always marvel at that because it sort of speaks to movements of people that they will produce leadership, if you need to have some sort of leadership. And we were always talking about, "Let the people decide. Anybody could provide leadership or had the strength to be engaged in the struggle." And it just sort of proved it in a way that was just remarkable to watch and laughable too, because we had so many people emerge from that group, and they ran out of room in the jail just because so many "leaders" emerged.


I Couldn't Stop Shaking

Stu: There was a time when I was afraid, but it was after the fact. I told a story earlier to a few people about being nearly murdered on a road outside of Selma by some whites with guns. I should've been killed except for an old man who drive right between the would-be assassins and me, and I jumped on this guy's old 1930s car on running boards. You know, he seemed to have come out of nowhere. He was just a very old, white-haired African-American gentleman who decided to drive right between the guys with guns. There were about four or five of them.

And I knew I was dead on that day, so at the moment that I decided that I was dead, it was over. This is where my life was going to end. I picked up a rock, having decided, "I'm dead anyway. It's over. I mean, there's nowhere to run. No place I can hide behind." So I'm dead. So all I can do is not grovel and not beg for my life, but I picked up a rock and said, "OK, let's get it on." And this old man drove right between us, and I jumped on. He told me to "Get on, boy." I got on the running boards of that old car, and he drove off down the road. And I still had that rock in my hand. And I held onto it for the next 24 hours.

And the next day, not when all this was happening — when it was going on, I had all my wits about me; I was without fear. But the next day, I must've gone through some post-traumatic stress thing, and I couldn't stop shaking. My hands just wouldn't. I just shook constantly for another day. And I was still holding onto that rock.

So you know, sometimes you have post-traumatic stress behind some of these incidents, but right at that moment, I wasn't afraid. It was just because it was the sense of resignation about the fact that I was dead, so why be afraid, you know? I accepted it.

And one more point. I think Martin Luther King talked about in his Memphis speech, "It'd be nice to have longevity, and everyone would like to live a long time, but you have to — we have to in this Movement — face that fear and that possibility." And I think a lot of us knew that. We internalized it. We said, "Yeah, we might die. It's probable we're gonna die." And just like a lot of soldiers who are about to go into battle thinking you might die today or tomorrow, you know, you come to terms with that, and you say, "I'm gonna keep fighting anyway."


I Went With the Training

Maria: I've heard Stu tell that story in my living room, and it still just moves me to tears.

As I said earlier, we had all this training. We had briefing in Berkeley from Reverend Cecil Williams — ,who's now at Glide Church — who had been beaten on Bloody Sunday. We heard graphic descriptions of civil rights injuries from the Medical Committee for Human Rights. Lots of stories of what had already happened in the South. So we had some awareness of the potential danger.

Before we went down in the Summer of '65, all of these murders had taken place, not only of all the names that we all know like Jimmie Lee Jackson, Rev. Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, but many other people had been murdered. Locals and civil rights workers had been beaten, hospitalized — homes had been firebombed in Wilcox where I worked. And that continued, actually heated up, after we arrived. And of course, Bloody Sunday was very much on our minds.

My original letters home from the orientation in Atlanta had these lofty statements like, "Well, I may die this summer, but it's a cause worth dying for." I had this very idealistic, naive, white-girl view of what I was getting into. Then, the first time that they tried to run us off the road, we spent a whole afternoon, instead of registering people, diving into ditches, covering ourselves with leaves. [Laughter] You know how it was, you'd be going somewhere in an integrated car, and suddenly they'd say, "White people out. Stand behind the tree." We didn't know where we were. We didn't know when they would come back and get us. You know, we were out in the rurals; almost no Black people had phones in Wilcox which is 79% Black, not even that many people had cars. We only had two staff cars for the entire project.

So the fear was always there; you never knew if you'd get out of a bad situation in time, if someone would come or if the racists would just back off after scaring you.

When we got arrested, a cop put his gun in my back. When they closed down the church, the sheriff pointed his gun in my face. I had just turned 19 and I weighed 105 lbs. At the time, I just kind of — I guessed I blocked out the fear somehow. I just went with the training, kind of on auto- pilot.

The training is, "Don't show them your fear. Represent the Movement. You're not representing yourself. You're here for the people. This is not about you. None of this is personal." This was our indoctrination. "You're here to support the locals."

It was especially important to act brave when I was out canvassing with young kids. They'd have 13, 12-year-old kids, some of whom I've reunioned with, and they remember taking me around. They told me, "Oh, you were so brave!" I said, "No, I was totally scared all the time! But I had to keep up a good face in front of you. You were a lot braver than me, you had to keep living there."

One of our local leaders was Ethel Brooks, 24 years old, and one day we were driving out of this rural area, and this Klan truck started chasing us and chasing us, and they're going faster and faster, and she pulls behind a store and hides in the bushes. I was so relieved, and then something inside her just snapped, and she took off after and started chasing them! And we didn't have any guns or anything. We're in an integrated car, and she's like trying to chase this Klan truck off the road. And finally she backed off, and they just looked at her like, "You're a crazy lady. We'll get you next time."

I have so much respect for you guys here in this room, the years you put into the Movement and all the dangers you survived. But even though I was only there for part of a summer, I definitely had post-traumatic stress. I had to drop out of school when I came back. I could not see the world as normal. I could not relate to Black Power or Students for Democratic Society activities on campus. They just seemed so far from what tenant farmers were dealing with in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, that I just couldn't relate to it.


We Believed it Was Going to Work

Kathleen: I think some of what I'm realizing is that many of us felt really alienated and angry about the culture and the politics of the time and that there was some fear in that, of being isolated and being alone. And once we found a community of people whereby we could share our ideas and share our thoughts on how progress could be made for the better in the world. That we felt like we lost the old fear of having to sort of be in the closet with our ideas and who we were.

And like I was told I couldn't have my friends go down to the laundry room with me, because there were these books that we shouldn't have in our house, according to the government, like things about Marx and Stalin and things about Civil Rights. And so when I got a little older and became friends and part of a community with people who wanted to make a change for the better in the world, that let me leave the old fear and get into a situation of power actually. And I think that something that happened to everyone in this meeting probably is that instead of being more like I think of a soldier on the front lines and saying, "Well, this is my job. I need to do it" that we had a belief system that doing it, that fighting for freedom, that fighting for justice would, in fact, make a change.

It's not clear to me that the young men and women going off to war now have the belief that the world is going to be better. There's all sorts of reasons why people go off to the armed services now, but I think that we became Freedom Fighters and Fighters for Peace and Justice because we really believed it was going to work, that the fight was going to work.

And we, as young people and as a community of course, didn't feel mortality the way one does when you're older, but also we had examples of people who had succeeded. And like I had examples of people who walked across the friggin' Himalayas to get out of the Nazis, and they succeeded. And came to this country.

And the only other thing that I wanted to end with was for me as a skinny little white girl, probably weighing in at 100 pounds, standing up to police and motorcycles and horses and whatever, it was a big deal that I had seen my mother's Women [Strike] for Peace women working together as I grew up. And that it helped me as a young woman be part of the Women's Liberation Movement, and even in fact stand up to some of the leftist men in the Movement. So it was a big deal for women to stand up to one's fear and build a community as women.


That Carroll County Look

Roy: I think one thing that people sort of touched on is that when you go through these experiences, there is a bonding I'd guess you'd have to say it. And there's also sometimes some gallows humor too that's in it. But I remember when we drove up to Memphis to pick up some cars and then drove them back down to Jackson to get outfitted with radios, and then we got a car to take back. Willy McGee and James Brown and John Paul and I took it back to Itta Bena. And while we were in Jackson waiting for our car, the four of us — two Black guys, two white guys — we were in the Jackson office, we were just sort of sitting and lounging around by a small table waiting to get the car, and there was a flurry of office activity going on. Which looked kind of strange to me to see this bureaucracy at work here. But of course, bureaucracy is always necessary, I guess.

And so we were called "volunteers;" that was the official name. And some Jackson office guy came walking in with a stack of papers and said, "I need a volunteer! I need a volunteer!" Somebody to go and do some work, and he came by, and he saw us. We were there at the table, and he sort of looked, slowed down and looked at John and me and saying, "I want a volunteer." And we all just stared back at him, including Willy and James, we all just stared back at this guy as he came by, and he kept on going. And then Brown turned to John and me and he said, "Aren't you boys glad you're in Itta Bena and not in Jackson?" [Laughter]

About the gallows humor, we did spend a fair amount of time in Greenwood because it was the headquarters; it was the county seat, and Blood Bullin's restaurant was there. We could go and eat. And I'd been told that you could get beer to drink at Blood Bullins', but I wouldn't know anything about that of course. I certainly never drank beer while I was in Mississippi. Or not much. [Laughter]

Anyhow, I always wore a wide brimmed straw hat, because I'm very light skinned, and I sunburn easily. And believe me, there's a lot of sunburning that you can get in Mississippi in the summer. And there was one young Black girl — she must have been a teenager, a high school girl maybe, a local Black girl that saw me, and she said, "Oh, look at him! He got that Carroll County look!" Carroll County was the next county over, and sort of getting into the hills, sort of out of the Delta. You know, 'cause I had blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin. And she'd say, "Oh, he got that Carroll County look!" And next time I was there, she said to her friends, "Oh look, show them that Carroll County look." And I sort of look at them like — gave them that cold look, and they'd all shout and make noise and stuff like that. So there's a certain amount of gallows humor that comes into effect here. Peacock, do I have the Carroll County look?

Wazir:: No. [Laughter]

Roy: You're sure?

Wazir:: I've seen Carroll County. You can't fake it. [Laughter]

Man: You're an amateur.

Wazir:: I was just going to say something else. I made the comment about the vicious look that the Carroll County people had. Those people. The reason is it had to come from inside. Their intention was to kill. It was no joke, no doubt about that. And they were smart about it. They used their smarts to figure out how they were going to kill you in different ways. For some people, they wanted to make it look like you provoked them, like he was talking about it, like you provoked them to do something to you, that kind of thing. But it was always figuring out how they were going to do it.

So those young ladies that were joking with you, they probably were hitting on you. [Laughter]

Roy: I wish Wazir was there to tell me that! Instead of telling me 50 years later! [Laughter] That's not going to do me any good. [Laughter]


Murder in Hayneville

Jimmy: Well, I think where I ended off we were in court in this town that I was telling you about, and they put us on the garbage truck, and on the truck was Stokely Carmichael, Chris Wiley, me, Jonathan Daniels, Ritchie Morrisroe. Ritchie Morrisroe and Jonathan Daniels were both white. Ritchie Morrisroe was a Catholic priest. Jonathan Daniels was an Episcopalian seminarian. Ruby Sales and Joyce Bailey and there were a couple other people, and we were all arrested, taken to Hayneville to the county jail.

And we stayed there for a whole week. We were arrested on a Saturday, and we were released on a Saturday. And we asked them, "Why are you releasing us?' And they refused to say anything. They said, "No, you just get out of here." This, that and the other thing. And they wouldn't tell us anything.

[The bail for these protesters had been set outrageously high and SNCC didn't have the funds to get them out. Then they were ordered to leave the jail without any bail having been posted, which was highly unusual and highly suspicious.]

And I told [the group] — because I was supposed to be the one in charge — that I wasn't going to go anywhere until I find out what's going on. But there were two women and two white men who decided that they were going to go get something to eat or drink or something like that. I told them I wasn't going anywhere. I was going to stay right outside, and everybody else followed me, and they stayed right outside [the jail].

We were standing outside watching them go down to the store, and when they got to the store, this guy charges out the door with a shotgun, big ol' shotgun, and he's yelling and screaming and going crazy, you know. And all of a sudden — we could see everything. He sticks the shotgun in the stomach and just blows [Jonathan Daniels] away. So there was a woman behind [Jonathan] which was Ruby Sales. She ran. Behind her was Morrisroe. He pushed Joyce Bailey out of the way, and he turned to run, and he got shot in the back. Daniels was killed immediately, and Morrisroe was shot in the back, but he didn't die. He was just seriously hurt.

After that, Kolman, the guy that shot him, jumped in his car and took off. Well, after he left, I decided I would go up there and see if there was anything that I could do to help them, because I didn't see anybody else around. But when I got up there, hidden away was about 10 to 15 people with weapons. And they said to me, "Nigger, if you don't get you're 'A' out of here, you won't be around any longer." So I left.

And by that time, everybody else had scattered. And I was lucky, because at that time, as I walked away, Bob Mants was driving a car coming up. And I ran over to the car and hopped in, and he turned around and went back. You know, he says, "What happened?" And I explained what happened. And he was more nervous than I was, because all the way to Selma he asked me the same questions over and over and over again, and it just almost drove me nuts, because I had told him about five hundred times.

So after that, I think a few months later, most people were getting summons and what-not to appear in court, but I didn't get one. So I went down to the place, the sheriff's office or whatever it was, and I asked, "Where's my thing?" So they acted like they didn't want to give me anything, you know.

Wazir:: Because you were an eye witness.

Jimmy: But they did. And they gave me two hundred dollars or something for traveling expenses. Because they asked me, "Where did you come from?" I said, "New York!" [Laughter] By plane!

So when the thing came up, when the court day came up, I went to court, and when we got there, they said, "People for the defense, stay in the courtroom. People for the prosecution, you stay outside."

[This was Tom Kolman's murder trial.]

You know, I didn't pay too much attention to that until I figured out what was going on. The people for the prosecution, that was me, and they didn't want me to be in the courtroom listening to what was going on. And they had all the friends and relatives inside the courtroom so that they could see what was happening. But every now and then, the SNCC people that were there which were able to get into the courtroom, they would come out and tell me what's going on, but I couldn't go in, right? So they had a recess, and I went and I asked the prosecuting attorney, "When are you gonna call me?" He said, "I don't think we'll be needing you."

And the next thing I know Kolman got a [verdict] of — self defense and all that sort of stuff. And after that, it was all over.


How Were We Changed?

Ron: So how has all of this affected the rest of your lives?

Wazir:: Well, here I come again. That post-traumatic stress syndrome. I left Mississippi in '66, and I returned to Mississippi from California in the 1970s. And a few months after that, I got married. And automatically, I was doing certain precautions things, to the point that one time — my wife is much younger, and she'd be laughing at me. She'd say, "What is your problem?" I said, "Well, you got to be checking things out here, you know?" And it just got so bad, she said, "Look, nothing is going to happen here." I said, "You just don't know." I said, "It looks like it's over, but it's not over."

I mean — I was just speaking to you, Bill — I had it bad. I really, really had it bad. And on top of that, I had gotten better. [Laughter] I got well enough to come back to Mississippi, but it had me. It took a long time for me to work through all of that. And I made a little documentary, and I talk about burnout, a combination of burnout, having to live under that kind of combat alertness all the time. Knowing what could happen, but you're doing stuff in spite of all of that. It takes its toll, and sometimes, even now, I'm checking things out. Not that I'm not going to do something, but I'm checking it out — checking myself out and checking it out, how I'm going to relate to this thing that needs to be done. I still do that.

Jimmy: I just want to say that I still have problems with the John Daniels thing, but see also, I was involved with the Young thing. Sammy Young. Because I was one of the people that was there when they found his body, you know, laying behind the [bus depot]. And I had just talked to him a half hour before. And for those of you who are not familiar with this particular case, Sammy Young was a schoolmate of mine at Tuskegee who was also — I could call him a SNCC activist, and he was very into civil rights activity. And he was a Black man, but if you saw him, you would think he was white. And most people did. Those people that didn't know him thought he was white. But he wasn't white; he was Black. But everybody in town knew the family — the mother, the father. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father worked — I don't remember exactly what he was doing.

Ron: So how did that affect you?

Jimmy: How did it affect me? Well, we were very good friends, and we worked together. Now, Peacock can probably tell you some things about him.

Wazir:: I tell you right now, I haven't been able to go back to Tuskegee, because Sammy's not there. You know, we were together every day — during the day, during the night, everywhere; we'd be out doing things, out in Macon County, which Tuskegee is located in. And sometimes, it just drives me mad that something could happen to him.

Stu: Jim Foreman wrote a book on Sammy Young which whoever is listening to this might want to refer to. Sammy was with us when we marched in Montgomery with the students from Tuskegee and TIAL, and I knew him well also. He was a veteran. He'd been in the Navy. He's a Navy man. And you know, another really nice person, good person.

He was again, for those who don't know, he was shot down while trying to use a bathroom at a local gas station in Tuskegee. Just because he asked to use the bathroom he got killed. So again, I think a lot of us developed what we called the "SNCC twitch," you know, looking over your shoulder a lot, wondering. And also for a lot of African-American men and probably the white volunteers had another view of whites. If you saw a white, you had to evaluate whether this person could potentially harm you. So that sort of evaluation of whites that you wouldn't have done for me as a Northern urban kid, never would have occurred to you, but in the South, every white you saw was a potential person who could harm you. So it was also this nervous kind of check out that person, what's the probability of them harming you kind of thing.

Mitchell: I had that same feeling after I got back to New Jersey after a year in Arkansas. Like driving at night, I found myself both feeling like, "OK, you feel safer, because nobody can see who I am, and more dangerous, because they might be coming and watching taillights and all that." It faded away after awhile.

For some time, I've been working on a novel that involves, among other things, the murders in Philadelphia, Mississippi. And on some kind of business, I found myself in New Orleans about, I don't know, eight or ten years ago. And I took the opportunity to drive to Philadelphia. And the feeling I had going there was like, "This place seems too normal now. It just seems like another part of the U.S, except that all of the radio stations have Christian music going on them." And I drove around town, and I stopped in some drug store, and what I started feeling again was, "These people have me under surveillance. What is this white guy with a Northern accent doing in our town?"

So I don't know if it's like paranoia or not paranoia. I felt a little bit like, "These people could decide to do something to me here." That's the way it is. And I'd had like a limited period of involvement and without intense, dangerous experiences, and it still comes back to you.

Ron: A couple of thoughts. One of the things I developed in Mississippi was an intense anger at the injustices being visited in the community. I carried that ever since. Sometimes it's carried me a little too far. The other thing is the sense of — I've compared it to you're soldier, right? If you were in Vietnam at the time, which I was terrified to go to, but you had guns. You could at least have an equal fight. But in places like Mississippi, there was no — you were helpless, you know?

I don't like being afraid. Now, my response is a sort of rage. As I grow older, I learn to channel it into productive things. But I think that the experience that we went through changed us all. I would like to think for the better, actually.

Bill: I think those changes fall on both sides of the ledger, like any life experience. But I was wondering if anybody else here besides me still backs into a parking place, always as a habit? Which we were trained to do in Mississippi so you could get out quickly.

Woman: They never let the girls drive. [Laughter]

Bill: OK. Anyway, I still do that. And partly because it makes sense to me. It's easier, especially in a parking lot. You can see better when you come out, but some of it is that Mississippi thing. And I think every time I park the car like that, I remember about that kind of being careful and that kind of being alert.

Wazir: My landlord — I did it so often he made the comment, he said, "Did you ever work for the fire department or something?" I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "You always back in. There's no traffic on this little road here. You always back in, headed back out." I just said to him, "No, I never worked for the department." And I left it like that. And I thought about it — I knew what part of me that he was referring to, but he didn't know. But it needed to be where you could get out and get away if you needed to.


Going Back

Roy: By 1994, I thought that the Mississippi thing, reaction was long gone. Of course, I was only there for a summer, whereas we've got guys who were there for years, and we got a guy who was born there. But when I came back for that reunion in 1994, I flew into Birmingham and rented a car, because I was going to drive back to Birmingham and had a friend in northern Alabama I was going to visit.

Now, I knew Alabama was not a nice place, [laughing] but I had no particular personal, emotional connection to Alabama, you know? So driving from Birmingham to Jackson, driving through Alabama, was not any particular big deal for me. But unexpectedly, I crossed over the Mississippi line, and all of a sudden, I don't know what — I sort of gasped, held my breath, or something. I mean, it was like a jolt of something went through me. And I'm not going to say it was fear — I don't think it was nostalgia, but it was that kind of heightened awareness maybe came back. And suddenly, my God, I'm back in — this is Mississippi. It just lasted for a second, and then I calmed down.

The other thing was, when I was there  — when you're in Mississippi, if you're a white worker — if you see a white person that you don't know, you wonder, "What the hell have they got in mind here? What's gonna happen next?" And you get that quite quickly.

But what I found when I was there [in 1994], and I made no secret of it — if I met someone and I was talking to them, I made no secret about what I was there for, and that I had been there in 1964 and so on. And the reaction that I got was very interesting. I mean, sometimes it was intense curiosity about what it was like. Sometimes, they were actually sympathetic. It was very surprising. Never hostility. It was very interesting. Maybe the ones that were hostile just kept quiet. I don't know. But it was unusual. The same thing happened when I went back in 2003. Again, the reaction was interest at least.

Man: I had people thanking me. White people.

Roy? One very nice thing that happened when I went back in 2003, and we talked, and we gave a book tour. And we were in Hattiesburg, and one young Black guy — I would say he was college student age. He came up to me and said, "I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you."

Maria: In 2008, my former boyfriend, Bob Block, (now Luke Block) he and I went back to our county together without our spouses. He had so much traumatic stress and anger, and I was going to write this book about the Wilcox County Movement. I said, "Let's go back together and find out what happened to those people." When we drove over the Wilcox County line, we were both shaking. We went and stood in front of the jail where we had been. It was old, empty and falling down. That was the beginning of a long healing process for both of us. For me, it was the beginning of continuing reunions and new relationships with the people in that county. I've been back many times and hear new stories from people all the time.

Ron: You know, Bill took me back to Mississippi in June of 2014. And he invited me to come to that 50-year anniversary, and the first thing I said to [my wife] Diane is, "I can't be driving around Mississippi with a white guy." [Laughter] That was the first thought that came to my head.

And she looked at me like, "Really?"

I said, "Oh, OK. We've changed."

But Bill did get sick while we were there, and we took him to the hospital. And the people at Tougaloo — the Black people — were thanking us for your service. You know, it's like that. But this was like random doctors, white males, who weren't even born then, would just say thank you for what you did. I'm like, "Really? OK."

There was a young, Black woman. We didn't know she was Black who arranged for him to get through the emergency room within an hour. The last time I was in the emergency room in Berkeley, it was seven hours. No, she had him through there in an hour. And I met her the next day, and she brought a bunch of balloons and wonderful things to his room. And so there was Ron Carver, the third one of us who was at Starkville MS, and so I just had to ask her, "You don't really know us." She said, "I grew up in Birmingham." I guess she's about maybe 35, 40, maybe 45. I can't tell about age anymore. But she said, "I know that I could not even be a patient in this hospital, much less be a department head, if not for what you did 50 years ago.' I was like ... So some people get it. And it did matter. And it does matter.


Responsible for Fighting Against Racism

Maria: When I returned to California, naturally I was still a white person. But I had become afraid of white people; white men specifically, especially ones who looked like the crackers who wanted to kill us and our friends. It took me a long time to get over it. And I always had a certain wariness around blue eyed blondes, because of things that happened when I was a child.

But it wasn't until I went back and started writing the book This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight and talking to women civil rights veterans — who are sadly under represented in our organization on the West Coast — I hope it's different elsewhere — I realized the double layer of oppression and fear that was always there for Black women. The stereotype put on them, which was often true in fact, was they were supposed to be protecting everybody, being brave, being strong. All the women, especially black women local activists in these communities lived with the threat sexual assault, rape. And there were rapes during the Movement- something very traumatic and little discussed. I couldn't put any of those stories in my book because the women didn't want them told, which I completely understand, but I hope at some point someone does break the silence on that.

To go to the other part of the question: "How did working in the Movement change the rest of your life?" It made me feel responsible for racism. People who look like me set up racist systems and beliefs, and people who look like me need to end them. I went to work with anti-racist organizations like the YWCA. "To eliminate racism wherever it exists, by any means possible," was a quote from Malcolm X that the YWCA had as their "One Imperative" for two decades. I worked my way up to become Executive Director there, founded a domestic violence shelter, and continued to work on anti-racism and diversity training, and registering voters.

There was a period of about 20 years when I very seldom mentioned to anyone that I had been a civil rights worker. SCOPE project was a summer project, and didn't get the attention or results of other longer efforts. And I felt as a white person I shouldn't try to claim that I did anything important.

In terms of my contributions, I've done more important things since then, including writing and speaking about voting rights, and about that summer.

But being in the Movement was one of the most important experiences of my life. I got the sense that I had been given an opportunity to participate in a small slice of this incredibly important history - and that I had to be responsible to it. I still feel responsible for it.

Stu: I have two words to say about what she just said. One is that I continue to hear about this society "needs to have a dialogue about racism," or that there needs to be something on the part of whites in America that comes to terms with racism. I don't know how that dialogue is supposed to happen, but it is something that has to happen where whites take responsibility like you talked about. Not just to say, "Well, we don't have a problem," or "Racism is over," or "We're a post-racial society" and all the rest of that crap. When we have today [2015] the kinds of police shootings of Blacks all over this country that's just indicative of Blacks' lives not mattering. But there needs to be a greater sense of responsibility and ownership of racism on the part of whites in this country which hasn't happened. It's like we don't want to talk about it. And it's too awkward, or it's too troubling to — 

Ron: How does it affect you?

Stu: How does it affect me? It's kind of like he mentioned there are a lot of people out there who are just not talking about it. They're just silent on the subject, and you don't know. How does it affect me? I just have a sense that yeah, there are a lot of people out there who don't want to talk about it or who are just silent, and you don't know how they feel, or you don't know what they're thinking. So you have this sense of, "You're not telling me everything. You're just sort of pretending that it's not happening."


Domestic Terrorism

I have one other quick thing to say which was terrorism. Beginning with the Ku Klux Klan — after the Tilden-Hayes Compromise [1876] and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the South and actually before that, there is a very deliberate program of terrorism, domestic terrorism, against Blacks has been in place. And I think the cops today are the last — 

Ron: And judges.

Stu: And judges. Which accounts for all of the disproportionate imprisonment of Blacks, all the selective enforcement, all of this stuff that's about subjugation. And people have a right to be angry. You know, we have all kinds of awful statistics like one-half of all Black men have been to jail or been arrested or something like that. There's some amazingly horrible — somewhere in the justice system. All of that stuff is really about terrorism, and it just changed shape from white robes to — 

Man: Black robes.

Stu: Black robes with pistols that say, "My life is threatened; therefore, I've got to kill you." That whole thing. So domestic terrorism is also a very real problem that continues.

Mitchell: On this like accepting responsibility for it, I sort of lead a big list in my [law] firm of people interested in progressive issues, and some of the things I do is rant at people a fair amount, and point out information to them about how we're not actually a post-racial society yet, but I think some of the things I do sometimes is acknowledge in myself still — you know, I can't extirpate racist stereotypes from myself. I mean, they are pervasive in the culture.

You know, I think a couple of years after I was in Arkansas, I was a student teacher in a mixed kind of school in San Francisco, and I realized at one point, I'm looking at some girl's essay, sixth grader or something like that, and thinking, "God, this is really terrible." Looked up in the seating chart; I was a student teacher at the time, and I realized I was surprised that it wasn't a Black girl who'd written the essay. And I realized, these things are very deep, and they're very unconscious. And for me, part of trying to deal with other white people about this involves sometimes acknowledging that it's not something I can get rid of in myself simply based on good feeling and intent. And that's part of the measure of how pervasive it is in this society.



Ron: Anything in closing you want to say?

Kathleen: I think one thing I have learned is that it's way more complicated than we thought it was then. We thought that there was a black and white, a right and a wrong, a lot more then than I do now. And I think that, for example, one's reaction — I'm a teacher — a reaction to a white or a Black student or one's reaction to driving through a white or a Black neighborhood, it has to do with more than just white and Black, for me anyway. It has to do a lot with people's general world views, and it has to do with people's economic situation a whole lot. I think as much as it does with whether people have a different color skin. I think that's all I wanted to say.

Maria: We need to wind up, so I won't say more — a lot of emotions came up for all of us. I want to announce what's going to happen next, because I worked on organizing this event, and got this closing exercise included. We're going to have a closing circle that I'll facilitate. It's called "Highlights and Appreciations." It's something I've done in diversity trainings all over the country, so that people can share their feelings with the large group, have some kind of closure - because there are a lot of strong feelings here today. You each get to say one sentence. "A highlight for me today was... and someone or something I appreciated about it was..." And it needs to go zippy, because we have 50 plus people, and everybody gets to speak. So I just want you to know, we are going to end on kind of a Kum Ba Yah note. Thank you. e

Stu: I just want to thank each of you, each one of you for your service to the Movement, to the struggle, to the progress of people in this country. That's all. Thank you. If nobody else says thank you, I will.

Jimmy: I want to thank you for saying that, because that's exactly what I had in mind.

Wazir:: I want to thank everyone that heeded the call. Whether it was about some hook or crook you thought it was, but I hold that there are no coincidents or accidents. Those who came, in whatever contribution you made and however long you stayed, it was very important, and your role was extremely beneficial to the cause.

Ron: When I went back to Starkville in June, there was a guy there named James Graham — and that's a whole other story — but he's a year younger than me. He's still there, got great grandkids. But I was talking to the head of the Black Studies department at Mississippi State University, right? Figures. And I had said to him that I didn't think we'd made much of a difference, that we didn't register that many people to vote and other stuff. And so James heard that, and James got kind of like irate. He said, "You know, we needed a spark. We needed something to get us going." I said, "Well, what was the difference?" He said, "Are you afraid? Do you feel terror?" I said, "No." That was the difference.

Stu: Someone asked me, "How did we convince people there to register to vote? Or to participate in the struggle?" And I just give them one word which is "hope." That was the difference. We gave people hope, whether it was using the name of Martin Luther King or the Freedom Riders or the Freedom Workers or whatever. Whatever key words, it was hope that we could make — that a change could be made and that if they made the decision to move from inaction to action that they would have a better life, their children would have a better life, but the key concept I think that we used to convince people to risk their lives, to face fear, was hope.


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