The Freedom Movement's Effect
on Us and Others
A Discussion, February 2019


Chude Pam Parker Allen  Miriam Glickman
Ron BridgeforthBruce Hartford
Cathy CadeEugene Turitz
[The starting point for this discussion were some issues and questions raised by 1965 interviews of Gene Turitz and Nancy Turitz.]

Chude: I think there are so many really important points in [the interview] that I didn't want it to — that people either don't start it, or they just use it to be anti-SNCC. I told one friend, and she was immediately like, 'Most people don't know what SNCC is.'

I mean, it starts so negative, but the issues are so important. SNCC's use of volunteers, or their not wanting volunteers, and really the mistreatment of volunteers is one. The Freedom Democratic Party hierarchy [is another], I thought that was really interesting, that FDP had a hierarchy, you know. I mean I loved the example of the snobbery of the Black landowning farmers, snobbery towards the sharecroppers. It was so classic, and it was just the same thing again. You know, 'Oh, if they'd only saved their money, they could've bought their own land.' And then pointing out that the person saying it didn't do that. Businesses versus cooperatives is just hinted at, but it's a very, very interesting question. And some of the stuff about first being in the Friends of SNCC here and the whole question of Atlanta not allowing Friends of SNCC to do any local work. I thought that was very interesting. These are contradictions, right? And the difference between how the same Black SNCC worker treated the same white person in a meeting versus individually [was another one]. I thought that was very — these are all real. I mean, they felt so real. Oh, and then he ends with, 'I'm not going to go back and do any fundraising, because fundraising requires lying.' I just thought that was too great. I mean, again, these are all things we can talk about, every single point. They're just really good.

Ron: How old were you Gene?

Gene: 24.

Chude: And the thing is, once Gene talks about himself, you start to understand who this person is and the kind of person he is and stuff. So that's why I want [there to be an introduction to the interview when it's posted on the website], because I want people to get past the first two pages without just hating SNCC and quoting something [out of context], but to see and be encouraged to read the whole — to not just take the first part without going on and really seeing it more in context.

Cathy: So do you want to write the introduction? Do you want to have the introduction with your name?

Bruce: Gene said it, so the punishment should fall on him. [General Laughter]

Gene: I appreciate all that you've said.

Ron: In her [Nancy's] interview, she used the word "Negro" throughout. I found that kind of jarring, but it was 1965. They hadn't quite articulated Black Power yet.

Gene: She says [today] that she can hardly believe that's herself talking. She says she's so direct and opinionated — which everybody tells her she is — and she didn't think she was. And it was even back then that she was like that. [General Laughter]

Ron: Well, I thought her analysis — I mean, she touched some hot buttons, you know? Sexual racial relationships and the way that — the different philosophies about raising local organizing. You know, SNCC versus MFDP which was a hierarchical. So yeah, I thought there was a lot there.

Chude: So maybe the same intro could be put on both of them, saying you were down there and — 

Gene: Like when I just read it over — I [had forgotten] forgot it — I just read it. To see that description of the brick [making] cooperative, Frank Smith's, I had forgotten about that. He had proposed this brick cooperative. I don't think it ever happened. But I thought, 'Wow, that's an interesting — ' And then we talk about somebody else had this idea that it was like a kibbutz. Anyway, I read this, and I go, 'Wow, I don't remember knowing this.'

Bruce: Well, I'd like to read a paragraph here, because I think it raises an interesting question. And I'm quoting you now:

"This is what [Bob] Moses worries about. He talks about this all the time. He's talking about the native Mississippi Negroes who are working in the Movement are getting more and more isolated from the rest of the country, that the Movement has become their home. But what's happening to the Movement? You know, like when red-baiting comes, who's going to help out? Is there going to be northern help for these southern people? What can these southern people do? These southern Mississippians who can no longer live in their communities as satisfied members of the community but who are just tied up in the Movement and can't see anyplace to go and can't see any way out.

I mean, look, Moses goes traveling around; Stokely goes traveling around, you know, guys like this they travel all over the place. The volunteers come in and go out. But what about these guys whose home is Mississippi? They can't go anyplace. They've got no people to go to. They have no money to get there. I mean, that's what I mean, and I think it's real mental sickness where you see no way to go. And the Movement does become a dead end for people at certain points when you're not able to function, so they turn to drinking, and that's what I mean by sick, you see. And the Movement, like SNCC, is too concerned with its functioning that it doesn't think of those people who aren't functioning." And what's interesting about this — 


Ron: Well put.

Bruce: Well put, yes. But all of us are those people you're describing. All of us in this room are people who were so profoundly affected by our experience in the Movement that it shaped all the remainder of our lives. And we all had to make an adjustment to that.

Yes, we had advantages that Black Mississippians did not have in terms of economics and education, but everybody who was in the Movement, whether they started as a Black Mississippian like Hollis Watkins or Curtis Hayes or a college person like Charlie Cobb or Diane Nash or anybody, we all had to deal with the fact that we were no longer fit to be the round pegs in the round holes that America had drilled for us. And that profoundly affected how we — what happened to the rest of our lives. And I think that's really an interesting thing that we never really talk about. That all of us, in a sense, are weirdoes, I mean.

Ron: Now, I agree with that you're saying, but I also agree with what he's saying which is that the experience of the Black Mississippian is different. I mean, when I left Mississippi, I burned out. We drank a lot down there. When I burned out, I came to California, and I carried guilt for 50 years about James Graham. Because there was no place for him to go. Now, he's fine maybe. Maybe. And he kept fighting, but I had so many other options. Education being one of them.

Bruce: When you went back to Starkville, did you meet him? Did you find him?

Ron: Yes. He's a great-grandfather who's got diabetes and a heart stent and a bunch of other stuff.

Bruce: How does he fit into his community?

Ron: He's fine. His son-in-law is the minister of the church they all belong to. He's got a whole community. But right after we left, when we started leaving out of Starkville, he got hooked up with the Poor People's March campaign. It felt like he was at loose ends. He started carrying a gun. Because of the stuff he did while I was there — he better carry a gun.

You know, [now he's] fine, and that was my guilt. But I look at Wazir [Peacock], and listening to Wazir talking about coming out of the Delta, going to Jackson, and he started a mosque down there.

Cathy: Started a what?

Ron: A mosque.

Bruce: The Nation of Islam.

Ron: They were looking for mental health. You know? They tried that. They tried alcohol. They came up here. He belonged to a — remember at his memorial that whole community of people that came out where they were reenacting the slave journey? That's all mental health.

Bruce: Well, I heard from Wazir that Sam Block was basically homeless when he died. He was living in his car down in L.A.

Chude: But if I understood Gene, it's like what happened to Rita and Sid Walker, they were recruited into the Movement in Holly Springs. They ended up moving into the Freedom House with their children. At some point they were no longer welcome in Holly Springs. They were working class people. They were not middle class.

Bruce: Welcomed by SNCC? Or welcomed by the local people?

Chude: By the local people, and then SNCC cut them off.

Ron: And they were Black.

Chude: They were Black. SNCC cut them off. At some point, it was "no more money for your project," and they moved to Illinois, and Rita died in Illinois. And at some point Sid moved back. But it is one of those [situations that] I think fits what you were talking about. It's like what happens when there is this class dynamic within the Black community, and we partly organized people who the middle class don't want anything to do with or whatever you want to call them.

I mean, in other situations, it's different. I mean, Unita Blackwell gets organized, and she ends up being the mayor of their little town. I mean, she is able to move along. So it's different what happens. But I interpreted Gene to be saying that in some of these situations, certainly SNCC's no longer thinking about — we activate these people; we get them moving, and then — 

Ron: We've done the operational thing.

Chude: Yeah, and then goodbye! And for whatever reason, we're not going to be here.

Now, of course, SNCC was going through changes, so that's part of it. Holly Springs I think is one of those places. Like when you were there as a volunteer, where the people helping out were white, and so you get into the volunteers that support people, that are coming down, are white, college-educated people. And they might be working with some of the local people, but they're not necessarily going to in any way be hooked into the ones that are going to start being — the ones that get elected and to jobs and stuff.

So it's a very complicated thing, because I think you're right Bruce, we have our experience. And Cathy, when you finally do read [the interview], there' a paragraph that goes on to actually refer to Wazir as one of the people who was just completely burned out. I can't remember what [Gene says], he's walking around like a ghost or something, but it's like that extreme.

Gene: And I don't remember meeting him there. I mean, that's what's so nutty about the whole thing.

Chude: But I think it's a really profound point. I mean, it reflects two things. It reflects the violence and terrorism and repression going on in Mississippi, and it reflects the fact that we didn't have a clue about mental health. You know, it's not our fault we didn't have a clue, but the kind of understanding we have now about post-traumatic stress and stuff, we didn't have that.

Bruce: But even if we'd had the understanding, what could we have done?

Cathy: That's what I was wondering, thank you Bruce.

Ron: For the people in Mississippi? Not a lot.

Gene: Did we do — I mean, there were a lot of people, Penny [Patch] and Chris [???] were examples. I mean, they burnt out. They came out here [to the Bay Area], and then they moved back to Vermont on an abandoned Air Force base where they sort of stayed underground for two or three years, and then they moved off-grid in Vermont to another community. They wanted nothing — I mean, Penny's totally different now. I mean, she's involved and everything, but it's like — 

Cathy: From being what?

Gene: Totally wiped out. And it was that they too — they had lost their family. Both families, the ones that they grew up in and the one that was SNCC.

Cathy: I was with Penny in Albany, Georgia. That's '62, we're talking.

Miriam: We were in jail with Penny.

Cathy: Right, right, right.

Chude: So he's saying '65. So she had stayed a long time.

Cathy: I know. That's what I'm saying is that she had an early start. Every reason to be burned out.

Bruce: It's true that we were so much into dealing with segregation and voting rights, that we didn't think about mental health. It wasn't part of our world view. But even if it was, what could we have done? I mean, we were in our late teens and twenties. We had no resources. What could we have done?

Ron: Well, if we understood, we could've recruited volunteers who could've come down and provided some mental health services.

Miriam: We did. I was very upset about something and cried for 24 hours, and then a psychiatrist who had come down to support the staff met with me. He actually had a pipe, and he was smoking.

Cathy: He what?

Miriam: He had a pipe that he smoked. [General Laughter]

And he said almost nothing. I told him what had happened. He asked a couple of questions, and he mostly just nodded. And whatever he did, his presence, made a huge difference. I stopped crying and got back on track. But we did have that. And when we had the training at Oxford at Miami University, they had, who was it, Robert Coles who was the psychiatrist?

Cathy: Yeah, that's who I was trying to think of.

Miriam: He was there trying to, in my opinion, figure out who might be so unstable that they'd have a breakdown. And so there was some screening going on. So I say that they did do that.

Ron: Well, we could've been more intentional. Like on the 15th of this month, this group that I'm in, they're going to have a healing circle where people can come, because we know we're all messed up, if you live in America. But yeah, I think we could've been more intentional if we had had a clue. But he's right. We were kids.

Bruce: Okay, yes, there were some professionals from MCHR [Medical Committee for Human Rights] in a few places at a few times and they did provide some mental emergency first-aid. But most projects and times they were not there and neither we nor anyone in the local community were trained to identify and treat the kind of emotional trauma that we were experiencing. I mean, the whole concept of PTSD didn't even exist back then, it wasn't until late in the Vietnam War that people began to talk about that. So we did what soldiers have always done, we pushed down our emotions, suppressed them, and soldiered on until we couldn't anymore.

Chude: But it also had a politics. Certainly this was true in the Women's Liberation Movement which was — you can't solve your emotional problems in a bourgeois society. We have to change the society first.

Ron: Well, I don't know about all that.

Gene: I mean, I don't even know — For me, the question is, can you build a movement when you're thinking about that stuff?

Cathy: Thinking about what stuff?

Gene: Well, I think now — Well, I find, even now, that the issues that we're dealing with, or were dealing with then, were so immense that to add another one on would've immobilized people even more. So you focused. You chose things that you thought were somewhat accomplishable.

Cathy: Like race and class.

Gene: No, we didn't deal with it as race and class. We dealt with it as getting the right to vote.

Ron: Concrete change.

Gene: Yeah, we didn't talk about race and class. As a young radical at that time, I used to feel like, 'Wow, we never talk about class. Here we are in Mississippi, and we don't talk about class at all.' So we chose not to do that somehow. I mean, most of the people I knew had a very clear understanding about class and yet they never talked about that. The struggle was a struggle of race. The whole issue of whether you organized poor white people; there were some people thinking about that, but most of us said, 'Well, that's not something I'm gonna — There's no chance of me doing that here.' You've made your choice, you know, and so — I think we sort of did. I don't know if we consciously chose. We chose our issue, and I don't think mental health was one of them.

Ron: {UNCLEAR} drink or sex.

Gene: People certainly had a sense of what became called the Beloved Family, and that's why I talk about it. I can see in that thing where I talk about some people had religion, and I clearly, even then, was impressed with people having religion. I didn't have it.

Ron: That was — wonderful. That was really wonderful.

Cathy: That was a wonderful part of it.

Gene: So there I talk about having a conversation with Fannie Lou Hamer, and I don't remember it at all. I know it happened out here, because I looked, but I go — 

Ron: She stayed with [my aunt Maudelle].

Gene: I talked to Fannie Lou Hamer. You know, I went to visit her memorial when I was down there in '14. I did not think at that time, 'Oh, I remember when I had a conversation with her.' Nothing.

Ron: Hey, I got a lot of that. It's embarrassing.

Gene: I know. Well, that's what I'm saying, but I'm glad that I did. You know, and clearly gained something from that, an understanding.

Ron: There was a guy named Joe Brooks who I had a conversation with this morning.

Gene: I know Joe.

Ron: Yep. And he's talking about the Republic of New Africa and Mississippi, but he references a conversation with Fannie Lou Hamer who he said was ill at the time. She was out here to fund raise. But that was in that house, next door, my aunt's house. She was staying with her. And I never knew all this stuff, you know? But I finally said, 'So, where you born?' I said I was born in Maudelle's house. He says, 'Oh!' I mean, the connections. Yeah, no. And so he was here, and [Wayne] was staying back there.

Chude: Well, you know, recently a person from the Journalism School of Columbia contacted me and asked if she could interview me about burnout, how we dealt with burnout, and still deal with burnout. And I said I thought I might be interested, and so she suggested a time. And I said, 'Aren't you going to send me some kind of thing to sign?' And it was like, 'Why would I do that?' And then I realized, 'Oh, this is a journalist person who's going to be writing an article rather than an [academic or oral-history] interview.'

Ron: Rather than a research person.

Chude: Yeah, as a research person. So I thought about it, and I wasn't getting back to her, and I realized, you know, I am so tired of putting energy into people who take one or two sentences out of what I say and put it into something that they're doing, and they might not even choose what was important to me. But what I did say to her, and she never even acknowledged that she got this, but I did say, 'So I realize I'm ambivalent, and I don't particularly want to be interviewed, because I put out all this energy, and it's not worth it. But I do recommend that you look at 12-step programs, because a lot of activists have ended up in 12-step programs as a way to heal.'

And I said, 'The Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, we have a group, and we have a website, and if you look at the discussions, that is one of the ways we have done for ourselves and for others an opportunity to heal from those times.' I said, 'Both of these are after the fact, but they're still real.' I mean, I think that's one of the things.

We couldn't maybe do something then, but anybody who is in this area, you know, has had the opportunity to at least come and talk about some of their experience [with us]. And I do know that at least in the Holly Springs area, four people, two who were local people and two who were year-long volunteers, went around interviewing local people which again gave people a chance to be able to talk. It's not the whole thing. It's not the whole answer, but it's interesting, Miriam, that when you mentioned whatever happened to you, just being able to talk to a neutral person who wasn't going to tell you you were wrong or you were bad or whatever would've happened then or react, but was just going to let you talk helped.

Miriam: Yeah, but he was a psychiatrist, so he went through a lot of training.

Bruce: And he smoked a pipe! [General laughter]

Ron: What was in the pipe?

Chude: And he smoked a pipe, right. But I think it's important that even if we've only learned it in our elder years, we can see the importance of being able to share our experiences, the hard stuff as well as some of the good stuff. And I think it's interesting that bringing up interviews like this one of yours, Gene, done way back then where you were critical of so many things that you could see were not quite working, that there was a way in which you couldn't do more than just see it, and then say, 'I'm coming back, and I'm not going to try to raise money for this, but I do believe in Freedom Schools.' That's what you said, 'I do believe in Freedom Schools.'

Gene: Which I never worked in.

Chude: But you thought you might — 

Cathy: So you didn't see the problems.

Gene: No, I got sick.

Cathy: No, but I'm saying, because you didn't work with the Freedom Schools — 

Gene: Oh no, I did them there, in Mississippi.

Cathy: Oh!

Chude: And there were Freedom Schools around the country that did that kind of thing.

Gene: Yeah.

Bruce: So the one thing I would add though — we've often commented or noticed that very few people in any society become political activists. I mean, yeah, people vote or they may boycott something, but the number of people who actually are political activists in the way that we're political activists is always pretty small. And I think one of the reasons is that when you become a social justice warrior — a person at war with the society and culture you grew up in and that you still live in — being in that kind of conflict with your culture and your social environment, you may change the culture and the society, but that battle also changes you. And I think most people don't want that and are afraid of that happening. Where they're afraid of being changed in such a way that they no longer fit in comfortably with all of their family and friends.

Ron: They become the "other."

Bruce: They become the "other." Exactly.

Ron: And they're wise. [General Laughter]

Bruce: Yes!

Cathy: And yet that same person could be totally delighted that they no longer fit in. It just depends on the moment that they're thinking about it.

Bruce: That's right. That's right.

Ron: Yet it's a pretty lonely road.

Bruce: It is a lonely road. And I think that that's something that we don't often think about or acknowledge, but all of us have taken that road. We're all travelers, sojourners, on the road of those who have gone against their culture and their society in some way — as rebels, as outcasts. Yeah, as rebels. And that's a hard thing to be.

Ron: We're idealists.

Bruce: Well, that too. But wait a minute, there are idealists who dream of better things, but they don't fight — 

Ron: To make it happen.

Bruce:  — to make it happen or to make change. They just have ideals. They discourse in coffee houses and salons and teach at Berkeley — but that's not what we did.

Ron: I certainly understand that experience. I mean, I spent 33 years knowing that I was different from everybody around me, and I knew they knew it. There was something going on with Diane and Ron that they didn't quite get, they seemed like nice people, you call them when you need them. They go to war with the school board or whatever it is, but there was a barrier.

Cathy: But at the same time, I mean, I'm not disagreeing with those feelings, but I also am — My God, what if I had stayed where I was raised!? What if I hadn't become an activist?

Ron: None of us regret the decisions we made.

Cathy: Yeah, I'm — So I'm saying the point is that you have both feelings. You know, not that you just have one feeling.

Ron: Yeah, it's true.

Gene: But we've built communities around us too. {UNCLEAR} successful at it.

Chude: Well, see I think one of the issues is that we go South, and for many, especially among the white volunteers or white activists who go, [after awhile] there's a cut-off — all of a sudden the Beloved Community is not there [for them]. And what is very clear to me once we began to meet again, with people like Wazir, is that it was not there for the Black activists either. The Beloved Community fell apart.

And having changed, there was no longer a community. I go into Women's Liberation. Oh my God, the thrill at the beginning! I mean, we're all in the room; we all agree; you know, we're all in this thing together. And almost immediately, things are starting to fall apart, especially in New York, you know? And I mean, I didn't come out of an activist background, so I didn't know the contradictions were going to be the name of the game. I didn't know that of course conflict was going to come up. I was just so thrilled to finally no longer be alone, and then crash, it falls apart. It is actually the case that for me the big crisis of my twenties was understanding that nobody was like me.

Gene: But you see, I grew up thinking nobody was like me.

Chude: I know you did. But I'm a middle-class white girl. I thought that every — and if they weren't like me, they should be like me. [General Laughter] But I wasn't an outcast.

Ron: Yours was the norm.

Chude: Well, I was enough in the — I mean, I can look back and see I never was the norm.

Ron: Oh, really?

Chude: I didn't know it.

Ron: Oh, OK. You were in hiding!

Chude: I was in hiding. [General Laughter]

I was a — I didn't realize. I went to Carleton, as Cathy did, and all of a sudden I was in this place where I didn't fit. And the only people, the only people that felt anything like me were the activists and I came from a Republican family. I wasn't an activist. But those were the interesting people, because they thought. They weren't just there to get good marks. They actually were thinking about things. And that was the beginning of my trajectory of being different.

But yeah, the crisis. And it went on. It went on for years until I really just was able to accept the fact that each of us is really different from everybody else and that I could live with that.

Cathy: Like today, these days, I'm forever discovering — Oh, I'm old, I've got medical issues, and everybody at Strawberry Creek [senior housing] has medical issues. Some of them are different than mine; some of them are the same as mine, but we're all struggling. We're all old. And this is important for me to know, and I have to keep discovering it. But I do keep discovering it. And that's what I'm saying about the past is you may feel at one moment like you're the only one, but then you discover — oh wait a minute, I'm not the only one.

Gene: But you see, I think that there is a place where there is a difference, because we became people not only with these differences, but we actually wanted to change something about it. And so it wasn't only — I mean, for me, I thought I was, in a lot of ways, different than a lot of people I grew up with, that I went to school with and all that, but it took me a while to realize that just thinking that wasn't sufficient.

And just thinking that, 'Boy, things are really fucked up, and I know what's right.' But to say at one point, I really have to try and do something about that. And that was the difference, and that's a difference which even — one of the parts of me being different from when I was a kid was being Jewish. Well, it wasn't enough to be Jewish. I mean, you had to want to take on some of these things. There was a long time when I said, 'Well, I'm not really Jewish,' because I did see even my relationship to that. My dad said, 'You are Jewish.' I said, 'Why? I don't feel. I don't do any of the things.' He says, 'I'll tell you something. You don't get to decide.' [General Laughter] {UNCLEAR} decided for you. And it took me a long time to have that sink in.

But the idea that we were going to fight, and I feel like what has gone on since then is that — and it's still going on — is learning how to fight. And I sort of feel that's what my life has been about. Learning how to fight and learning different ways. And I still feel like that. I mean, I wake up, and I go, 'You know, why didn't I — ' And how to think about that. And that's the part that's a difference that many other people in our same situation don't have. They're not fighting. They're not fighting to change it.

Cathy: But it's not hard on us.

Ron: I want to say three things. I didn't realize until I got to Mississippi how different I was from everybody, from the time I was a little kid all the way through. I never fit, even in my own high school. I ran with a group of three guys who said, 'Why are you running with us? I mean, you're supposed to be with those bougie kids who play violins and have the top scores on the tests.' But that's not who I wanted to be. When I got to Mississippi was the first time I met SNCC. I was like, 'Oh, this is my water. I'm a fish. This is it.'

The second thing is I was very lucky or blessed to have Diane in my life, because we made this journey, because she was different too. She was just different from her family, different from the all-white Catholic schools she went to, and even when she got out of the state, she still was different. And we fit. And so that helped me get through life.

But the real litmus test for me is this, I mean, how different can we be? Really? We belong here. When I'm here — coming here is like going to SNCC in 1964.

Cathy: You mean coming to a Bay Area Civil Rights group meeting?

Ron: Yeah, this. This meeting. The fact that we still fit together is quite extraordinary to me. And that is — maybe it's a disease you catch. We're trying to infect other people. Yes, that's true. But that might be worth exploring on tape. There is something that ties us all together.

Bruce: Like a disease? [General laughter]

Ron: I was thinking of something more philosophical maybe or emotional maybe. It's got to be emotional.

Chude: This has been a very good discussion.

Ron: We should've been taping this one.

Bruce: We were taping this one.

Ron: Oh my God! I said all that stuff! General Laughter]

Gene: I just say again, thank you, because it's helped me think about that interview.

Chude: Well, thank you for sharing the interview.


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 (If you add a comment, please indicate where in the transcript it should be inserted.)

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