Chude Pam Parker Allen Bruce Hartford R. Cole Bridgeforth Marion Kwan Ron Carver Mimi Feingold Real Fatima Cortez Eugene Turitz Miriam Glickman
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Bruce Hartford Mimi Feingold Real Marion Kwan Organizing in Louisiana Gene Turitz Mimi ~ After the South Miriam Glickman Louisiana CORE Ron Carver Walking the Walk Chude Allen Speaking in Churches Cole Bridgeforth Becoming a Woman Cathy Cade I Was a Witness Fatima Cortez CORE Was There
I first got involved with Los Angeles CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality in the spring of 1963. We were doing open-housing protests and then opposing defacto school segregation. Then I got involved with Bruin CORE, the UCLA chapter of CORE when I was a student there. That was mostly employment discrimination issues, picketing, and getting arrested at the Bank of America. In 1964, I also worked with a group called the Non-violent Action Committee (N-VAC) on job-discrimination. Basically I was pretty much full time civil rights activist in LA, all through '63 and '64.
Then in '65, I went to Selma AL for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign and was eventually put on the field staff of Dr. King's organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). I ended up in a rural Alabama County — Crenshaw County — for the summer of '65. Later I worked Hale and Marengo counties.
In the latter part of '64, I came back to LA to have a paid vacation at the Wayside Honor Ranch, also known as the Los Angeles County Prison Farm, serving a sentence from sit-in arrests. Then I went back South, spent most of '66 and part of '67 on the Meredith Mississippi March, and then the long and bloody Grenada Campaign, which was probably as brutal and violent as anything we experienced in Selma but didn't have the publicity.
After I left the South, I was active in the anti-war movement, the student movement, San Francisco State College, SDS, the long student strike for open admissions and Third World studies, and then the GI movement against the Vietnam War. In the 1980s I was a founding member and long-time national officer of the National Writers Union. Today I work with an anti-Republican, anti-Trump organization called Indivisible.
That's sort of my brief summary. We're going to go through us to introduce all of ourselves to Fatima and Mimi, and then they'll pick it up and go on into Louisiana. So now I'll popcorn over to Marion.
I'm born and raised in San Francisco's Chinatown and was active in a church related center, Presbyterian Cameron House. From there I went away to school, of all places in the Midwest, in Nebraska for no reason, really, just to get away from home. From there, by accident — when I graduated in 1965 that was also the exact time that a professor from the college I was at in the Midwest talked about his experience being in Mississippi with the Delta Ministry. A classmate and I decided we're not going home at the graduation. We're going down there because it sounds like it's so dangerous and I was so curious about what it must be like down there. That's how I ended up two summers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi doing a lot of grassroots organizing, basically voter registration and so forth.
That's my very brief introduction into my involvement. I had no idea how that experience has kept me going. I didn't realize until I met this great group here that we were — at least I was — in shell shock for so many years. I didn't know that that really had such a great impact on me, [as someone] raised in Chinatown in a minority ghetto [and then going] to another imposed ghetto so many miles away down south. But I realized much later [that] these two communities I was doing grassroots in were really the same. That I can identify so easily with both communities, that it surprised me how that had impacted me as what it's like being a minority American.
To this day, my love and my passion is to bring these issues into a multicultural issue, not just the black-white issue, and to get Asians more involved in as deeply and as personal as possible into what it's like for us now to forge ahead and look into how we can be allies for one another. Not to erase who we are, but to increase what we are supposed to be doing especially this year. That's what I like to impart.
Okay, I'm going to popcorn to Gene.
All right. I was born in New York city and came out to California in 1962. I've been here ever since. I started working with Friends of SNCC in 1963 and at the same time I was starting to do anti-war work. I went to Mississippi in '65, just for three months, worked in Panola County.
Since that time I've been involved in — We tried to organize community control police, rent control, and housing work, did a lot of tenants defense work. Now I work with a community group in South Berkeley called Friends of Adeline [neighborhood] where we're organizing around issues of development or anti-development or pro low-income housing development, which is a major fight in the city. And working with [Freedom Movement] vets, doing some speaking and generally appreciating what we're all up to.
I'll pass it on to Miriam.
I worked in Albany, Georgia in the summer of '63. The leader there, Charles Sherrod, deliberately did an integrated, that is a racially-integrated project. Then I went over in the Fall of '63 and worked in Mississippi in the mock vote and the spring I worked in Washington, DC in the SNCC office. Then I was back in Mississippi in Indianola in the Delta for the summer of '64, and then in Northeast, Mississippi for the fall and winter of '65. Now I'm retired. I send checks.
Hello everyone and hello to Fatima and Mimi. I worked... I'll make it brief.
I grew up in Boston. I went to high school with Charlie Steptoe, the son of E.W. Steptoe, who was a leader in southwestern Mississippi, and with Howard Zinn's daughter, Myla Zinn. Other students from my school had been in Mississippi earlier and there was a connection between the school and the movement. Bob Moses and others passing through Boston would come and speak there, but it was mostly through my connection to Charlie Steptoe that I made a decision when the call came from Mississippi summer volunteers to go down in 1964.[Young Black students like Charlie Steptoe, who had been expelled from their southern schools because of their movement participation or were under threat from the KKK, were sometimes aided by northern civil rights supporters to continue their education at schools in the North.]
My parents said "No," so I went to see Howard Zinn who offered a compromise for me to work at the SNCC office in Atlanta. I did that for the summer of '64 before heading to Mississippi and Starkville where I met Ron Bridgeforth and Bill Light, worked with them and also bumped into Miriam. But before I went down in the summer, I worked as an assistant [in Atlanta] to Julian [Bond] and I learned a lot from him about press work, which has carried on through my life.
I left Mississippi a year later, 12 months later, went to school in New York, was involved in student strike at Columbia as a press secretary. Then went into three years worth of work with the GI Antiwar Movement and then into labor organizing. My specialty became designing and producing big campaigns against bad corporations. We called them "corporate-campaigns," or some people might call them anti-corporate campaigns.
I've done that essentially for the rest of my life, except I took three, four years off. The last four years until just the last six months where I did a project for a museum in Vietnam called the War Remnants Museum, who asked me to curate an exhibit about the GI's who opposed the war. I created an exhibit and companion book. Except for the pandemic, the exhibit is touring the country.
Now I'm back to working for the Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America, designing and coordinating a major campaign against General Electric, trying to portray them as a poster child for offshoring and outsourcing jobs around the world while decimating the workforces here in this country and hollowing out the communities where their factories here are based.
It keeps me more than busy. I've been going crazy lately trying to hold on to all the pieces. This group with some new friends, and particularly to get every other week to see Cole and Miriam, is a little bit grounding for me and I appreciate it.
Popping off to Chude.
I went to Carleton College in the early '60's and was an exchange student to Spelman in '64. Cathy, who will be speaking later, was also at Carleton and she was at Spelman two years before me, though we really didn't begin to know and work with each other until 1970 out here in the SF Bay Area.
When I was at Spelman, I worked both with the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights and the Georgia Students for Human Rights, which was predominantly a white group. Bruce is always pointing out to me that the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights is one of the founding members of SNCC and I'm always pointing out to him that by the spring of '64, there still was a big difference between the big guns in SNCC and the students on campus with, of course, some exceptions. Ruby Doris was still finishing up at Spelman, but was in the SNCC office all the time.
I was fortunate to be taking a class on nonviolence in the United States. It was taught by Staughton Lynd and he did recruit me and many of the others to go to Mississippi in the summer to be Freedom School teachers.
I was a Freedom School teacher in Holly Springs in the summer of '64. I then went back and finished at Carleton where I did a lot of public speaking about what was going on in the South. I've come to realize it is significant to tell younger people that women didn't do a lot of public speaking in that period. I can remember that at the first convocation, they had one of us who'd gone to Mississippi to speak and there were three of us back, all female. There had been seven who'd gone from Carleton, from both the senior graduating and the junior classes. Two of us had been at Spelman, but the other five directly from Carleton. I'm very clear that if any of the men had been juniors and were coming back as seniors that's who would have been the one who became the speaker.
One time I spoke to the Lion's Club in the Twin Cities. I have a letter from the president, I don't remember what they call themselves, saying that except for the boxer, Joe Lewis, more people came to that meeting than had ever come to a meeting.
I do remember — now this is all men, and that's significant really only in that two years later in the fall of '67, I helped organize the first women's liberation group in New York. My then husband, Robert Allen had gone to North Vietnam and had come back. He did a little speaking trip around the Midwest and in the Upper South. I can remember sitting in a meeting somewhere in Iowa and thinking, "I could never speak like that," and two years before I had. So that question of being isolated and not having other women doing it was important — I had to relearn it. That was a significant thing and looking back, I can see how important the work with SNCC and COFO was in terms of learning those skills. And writing. The same with writing.
I didn't consider myself a writer, but I did write letters because that's what we were asked to do when I was in Holly Springs and then I sent them to Betita (Elizabeth Sutherland Martinez) who was then Elizabeth Sutherland. And my letters are in the book, Letters from Mississippi, even though I still continued to think for a very long time that I couldn't write. It's very interesting how the movement just pulled stuff out of me and would again pull stuff out of me in the women's movement so that I finally really did start to take writing seriously.
Then in '89, I helped organize our first reunion out here, the 25th anniversary, and then we began to meet in a variety of ways before we named ourselves the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. I've done a lot of public speaking and now for the group and for the archive, I coordinate speaking. Although this year there have not been a lot of demands. I think the teachers are too overwhelmed to figure out how to use us. I think that pretty much covers me.
Okay, let's go to Cole.
My mother named me Ronald and —
That's a very good name.
I never liked it. Sorry. I never really... It's all right, when I was young, it was all right, but I got a chance to name myself. I chose Cole and I used Cole until I came back and my mother like Ronald, so I started using Ron again, but my mother passed in 2017 so now I use Cole again.
Formatively, I grew up from about age seven to about 18 in Compton, California in the 1950s and early '60's. The most formative years was spent on a farm in rural Arkansas for about seven years from my grandparents. Just thought about it the other day. Maybe yesterday, even that my grandfather was probably the person that loved me most. That kind of stuff is like pouring water on, on yeah... When people ask me, "Who do you think you are?" I'm Ian Miller's grandson. That all I need.
I left LA in '62 and went to a Presbyterian college named Sterling in Kansas. Had 500 students — two were Black. From there, I went to Knoxville College, Presbyterian college, where had 800 students and 10 were white and I didn't fit either place and had more questions than I had answers.
When Marion Barry showed up at Knoxville College campus and said, we need these folks to go to the South in the summer of '64, myself and Ike Coleman said, "Yes."
[The college] told us if you do that you can't come back to Knoxville because you messed with our cash flow from the white community. I said, "Yeah, okay."
We went to Mississippi and I think I became a project director in West Point maybe, or Tupelo. It was Tupelo. I became a project director in Starkville, Mississippi and I was 19 and I look back at it and think I was absolutely insane. What did I know at 19? We did some voter education. We did Freedom Schools and we did what Bob Moses said.
Bob Moses said about the Mississippi summer project, "We may not get many people to register to vote," and we didn't. "We may not even get many people to attend Freedom Schools." Actually, we did. "Maybe all we do is live this summer, and in Mississippi, that will be so much." It took me a long time to understand that my real job was to stay alive, and if you got put in jail like Ron and I did, go back to the community. We were selling a dream of what it could look like and feel like to be free. We were trying to break the hold of white supremacy on the minds and hearts of what we called the "local people."
What we didn't realize was those same local people were changing who we are. It was so powerful that it shaped the rest of my 50 some odd years, that experience from June of '64 to February of '65. Everything else in my life has been about that and perhaps about living a life of which my ancestors could be proud.
I left there, came to SNCC office in San Francisco in '65, joined Mike Miller who ran that office and raised money and did educational speeches about SNCC. I ultimately got called into organizing young Black men in the Fillmore district. We did that, probably had 20 or 30 young men. Very much under the spell of the Panthers. You have to realize that in '64, '65, '66 — San Francisco State — Oakland, California — Haight- Ashbury — I lived on Haight Street and I could see the marches coming down. The Free Huey, end-the-war campaigns coming down out of the Haight. It was extraordinary, extraordinary time to be alive. Perhaps this last summer has been, for some people, certainly in this country has been similar, transformative.[Referring to the massive "Black Lives Matter" marches that swept across America in the summer of 2020 to protest racially-motivated police violence against nonwhite people.]
Eventually I got married, had two sons, moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, got a degree in counseling and design, started out as a student who worked in the midnight shift, who became an assistant supervisor who rose to become director of employment at a college of about 14,000 students. I did that based upon education and based upon my ability to organize people. From there, I went into the faculty for 13 years as a counselor and as a instructor and I became an officer for the National Education Association at the county, state and national level. Representative, not officer. I liked the power that came with that, anyway. Stayed there 33 years, retired in 2011, came to the Bay area. My mother lives Los Angeles. My mother-in-law was in San Francisco. We decided Oakland might be the place to be, not either one of those other two places. My mother died in 2017.
Right now I do two things. I speak as a [Movement] vet. Gene and I have a two man show we do. Two old guys. I think this year we've talked to 10th, 11th and 12th graders back in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and 8th graders down in Tucson and 4th and 5th graders down in San Leandro, which is South of Oakland. It's quite gratifying. It causes me to reflect upon how I got here and I've learned a lot about myself. I joined the vets and started actually talking about it.
The other thing I do is I'm a co-chair of something called the Brotherhood of Elders Network. There's a group of African-American men or men of African descendants, they like to say, who have formed the network here in Oakland. I'm using the same set of skills that education and organizing. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to do it and we'll see what happens next.
So, Cathy —
Well, I'll start off by saying that my memory is aging. I have a lot of memory problems, but I do what I can. The check-in I'll say, well, if you want to know more about me, you can go on the website and there's a lot of information about my life there if that becomes useful to you.
My parents grew up in the Midwest and I started out living in the Midwest and then my father, who was an engineer, who invented cotton pickers, which put Black people out of business. We moved to Memphis in the 1950s because he got his job moved there and I went to high school at Central High School of Memphis. It was when Central High School of Little Rock was being forcibly integrated, so that had a lot of effect on those of us at high school in Memphis.
Well, I should say I grew up in a Unitarian family, so that had a lot of effect on me. In high school, I said "I'm for integration", I said it in a class and the teacher looked like she wanted to faint — but she didn't.
So I graduated from high school and went to Carleton College in Minnesota where Chude went and then like Chude also, I went to Spelman College, Black women's college in Atlanta, and got involved with SNCC when I was there. Next thing was I went to Albany, Georgia, and I was there about three days and got arrested and my father came down and had a nervous breakdown while he was there.
Then, I went back for my senior year at Carleton, and I did a lot of talking about my experience of being in the South and being at Spelman and the people I met there.
Then, well, it was time to go to graduate school, so I chose to go to Tulane, New Orleans and I studied sociology. While I was there, I was part of the beginning of the Southern Student Organizing Committee and I was one of the people who went up to the Mississippi coast in the summer and helped with voter registration for African-American people.
So, I'm still at Tulane and I'm working on my PhD and I decided to do my dissertation on interviewing people in the Black community about their lives. I lived in Canton MS and I went to SNCC meetings all the time up in Jackson and things. Then, I'm back at Tulane, working on writing up my research and we started a women's movement. That's when the women's movement was starting there.
Cathy? Can I add something you left out? Cathy and I spent a week in a jail cell in Albany, Georgia on a hunger strike. That's where I met Cathy.
Yeah. Well, I just wanted to add that I became a personal historian and a photographer. And becoming a photographer was very influenced by having been around the photographers in the civil rights movement.
Cathy? Also, we could just add you're in one of the first women's groups in the country in New Orleans and then you came out to San Francisco and we organize Breakaway together and you've done a lot of great photography for the lesbian feminist movement.
I'm just soaking all of this in. I'm really glad you called. This is very good for me, and I just want to say one thing before I start, I'm going to jump to this and then I'll go back.
When I got to Plaquemine I met Mimi. She was this legendary hero. She had such a history and reputation among everybody who had been there the year before in '63, and she had these great sandals. They were Bernardo sandals that I died to get when I got back to New York. That was her signature. It was her sandals, and I loved them. Okay. She was my hero. Two feet tall and I'm three feet tall. She was just this great person.
I was born and raised in New York and I attended the Notre Dame School for high school. At that time, I did not know that some of the people that I was in high school with were from some really incredible families. Not necessarily good families, but they had some history. There was also the fact that four other girls were women of color who considered themselves and passed for white, even a Korean student who was darker than me. Like Trujillo's godchildren and the Italian meat company owner who had all other kinds of dealings going on.[Referring to Rafael Trujillo, the dictator who ruled the Dominican Republican with an iron-fist for thirty-one years. Though he was supported by American multinational corporations, his violent and bloody rule eventually became a diplomatic liability for Washinton's Cold War efforts to counter the influence of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution and unite Caribbean nations into the anti-communist camp. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961 in a plot that some observers believe was engineered — or at least tacitly supported — by the CIA.]
Anyhow, when I was in high school, I was one of 31 girls in my class. We came in as freshmen and we graduated as seniors, the same 31 girls. We would divide into two classrooms, 16 in one, 17 in the other, and I had no idea about my being the only identified person of color, even though there was a Korean student, a Filipino student, an Asian student, and Dominican twins, all people of color, but who didn't identify as people of color. I was identified as a person of color, even though my family had denied that I was Puerto Rican. So, I come to this environment and it's really nice private school as a Puerto Rican in hiding — but I was the "colored girl." I didn't know that. I was just who I was.
Well, in 1961, my mother decided she wanted this apartment in Riverdale, New York, and they told her that there was nothing available. She basically said bull crap. She went to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, got involved in their whole housing and testing for apartments that were being denied people of color. She went to court and we got our apartment in Riverdale. While there, she increased her presence with the New York City Commission on Human Rights and got involved with Cora Weiss and Andrea Simon in Women Strike for Peace. She was marching with Coretta Scott King at the UN, protesting the war, and she dragged me everywhere. I'm like, "Okay, I'm fine. I'm going with you." I'm learning a lot and meeting a lot of really interesting people and just soaking up what was going on around me.
Andrea Simon used to host a meeting every Sunday at her house. I was one of the kids. We made the bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and served the tea and lemonade and stuff and folded envelopes and folded papers to put in envelopes, stuffed envelopes for mailings, and I'm hearing all this stuff about what's going on in the South.
This was just before the  March on Washington. I made the banners for the buses. I had no idea how to do that, but the canvas was donated and I got some guidance on how to prepare them to be attached to the side of the busses. There were two buses and I went to the march and it was like, "Wow, this is the most incredible day of my life." I knew many of the people on the platform as I had been around them as the March was being planned at those Sunday soirees.
I lived like about three different lives because the folks in high school didn't give a shit about whether I went to the March on Washington or not, and none of them were going. You have all these identities based on where you are at a particular time or on a particular day. You were more than schizophrenic. You were multiple personalities is what you were.
But when I came back from the March on Washington, I became really involved with CORE. It was Northwest New York CORE and Andrea Simon was still hosting the Sunday gatherings. There were a lot of people there who ultimately became quite, or were already, famous in some way or another. Clarence Jones was sitting there eating a bologna sandwich, and I didn't realize until much later who he ultimately was, but he was just "Clarence" [advisor and attorney for Dr. King]. Yeah, that was Mr. Jones.
Then, they were talking about what was happening for Freedom Summer, and they were making plans and they were raising money to support folks who were going to go. So I'm like, "Okay, I'm going." I graduated from high school in '63, so I was just old enough to be able to say, "I'm going and you really can't stop me." So, that's what I did. My mother had her conniption and then she was very supportive and I actually arrived in Baton Rouge LA, from a first class Delta flight that Schenley Liquors had paid for.[In addition to the SNCC/COFO 1964 summer project in Mississippi, CORE ran smaller summer projects in Louisiana and North Florida.]
Once I got there, I realized I had no idea what I was going to do, what I had to offer. I just knew I had to be there and I spent the first couple of weeks trying to keep my hair together because it got all frizzed out because of the humidity. We were in St. Francisville when Judy Rollins cut all my hair off because I was tired of walking around with hair rollers. What I learned, and I think it's important that I learned so much more from the people in Louisiana than I had to offer them. I will never forget that truth, that was my real education.
I started Hunter College, and then left college to go South — to the trainings in Plaquemine, learning what we were supposed to be doing, and then be dropped in different places. So, I was in Lettsworth [community, Pointe Coupee Parish, LA] in the beginning, or actually for the summer of Freedom Summer.
I stayed in Louisiana and I went home for a little side trip and then came back and I went up to Jonesboro and I got to be in Jonesboro when the Deacons for Defense and Justice were created. I lived in the freedom house and the Klan, or the, whoever you want to call them, just the local crackers in their cars would come up and down the road trying to intimidate us.
We were trying to run different groups like trying to organize the domestic workers. Judy Rollins was really key in trying to do that, organize the domestic workers to let them know that they needed to get Social Security, that there were all kinds of things that they needed to have that they didn't have, and just trying to organize people.
A lot of people lived out in the backwoods, so they were very afraid to be doing too much because they were very isolated from each other. When the [KKK] riders came through, the men in the town decided to form this organization called the Deacons for Defense, and one night, they stood across the road that the nightriders came through, with their rifles across their arms, and basically said, "Turn around. Go back where you came from, and don't come here again."
I'm looking, going, "Oh my God. These guys, they really got stuff going." That changed the dynamic of getting a good night's sleep. One of the Deacons had been coming to the Freedom House after his shift at Continental Can Co. to watch over the house from midnight til dawn.
I was taught how to shoot a rifle in the summer of '64 because we were staying at the Caufield Residence in Lettsworth. The two brothers and father were in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, doing construction work, and they would come home like maybe once a month or something. One of the brothers came in and said, "Look, you're here with my mother and my sister, and we can support your nonviolence, but you need to know how to defend yourself. You need to know how to defend yourself and stand up for my mother and my sister," so I learned how to shoot a .22 rifle and was very proud of that. By the time I got to Jonesboro and the Deacons were formed, I was like, "I know how to shoot, so I'm right there with you."[See Two Kinds of Nonviolent Resistance for a description of the kinds of nonviolence practiced by Freedom Movement activists.]
The fact that the Deacons, when they organized in Jonesboro, were organizing because they were protecting the outsiders who came to do something with them. And in so doing, they were protecting their own community and following their organization.
The schools and the teachers, the kids would later go out on strike in Jonesboro. And the Deacons, again, stepped up and defended them because they didn't want to see anybody to jail, and they didn't want anybody who had already been in jail to have to go back. So they were really organizing... Well, it started out to take care of the outsiders or the guests in their town and the guests in their homes, that they were really taking care of themselves and reorganizing their own communities to do the things that we hoped that they would do, because we couldn't stay there forever. We shouldn't be staying there forever.
I left Jonesboro and I went to Monroe where I created a Freedom School, and a newsletter, called The Freedom News that was printed on a legal size sheet of paper that I used the mimeograph machine to run off, and we distributed them around Monroe. Some of them got down to Baton Rouge and to Plaquemine, talking about what was going on. Different groups and who were working on different community projects.
Then, I came back to New York. I got married, which was the biggest mistake ever. When we came back to Louisiana, I selected to be the campus organizer, go to the different HDBU campuses around the state. And my brand new husband said, "No, you're not." Because I'm going to be in Shreveport, and I'm not going to have to worry about you traveling all around the state. At the time, I gave in and I was like, "Oh, okay," and it was also a time the women were taught to just support what the brothers were doing because they needed to have somebody standing behind them and just believing in them.
"Okay." I didn't understand, at that time, how the rule within the movement was just so accepted and not argued with. It didn't take long for that to change, because Oretha Castle Haley in New Orleans was just incredible. She started saying some things that the women's movement picked up on later regarding what we needed to do to be recognized and respected as adult human beings. We had the right to speak and act for what we believed in our families and community.
Of course, I ultimately divorced that jackass. I went back to college. I went to the University of Connecticut. I had a daughter at that time. I became a therapist and I also got — I was — Again, I had multi-personalities going on at the same time. I was becoming a therapist and I was studying theater, so I became an actor. Anyhow, there are all these different things. But I realized that in some ways I am a roadmap for my own discovery of how to become a woman in my own right. And how you become — People around you, and especially people who you are supposed to be helping, are really teaching you who you are and giving you value. And you start to feel like, "Oh, I'm actually making a contribution to the world."
When I got back to New York, I got involved with the New York office of CORE, and then I went into the mental health field in the South Bronx and did community mental health for a while. I then was involved in the Poor People's March on Washington and the beginning of Resurrection City which has all colors and incomes in DC in 1968.
Let me back up. When I got back to New York, originally, I became a follower of Malcolm and the things that he was talking about, and the things that Martin was talking about, in terms of antiwar stuff and all people of color needing to be organized together and understanding the race and class issues that kept us apart. There was a very strong Jewish coalition in Riverdale, and things kind of fell apart where people were now getting very separate.
Richard Haley, who came out of Florida, at a meeting at one point, said, "We need to stop all this dissension because I'm tired of hearing people say, 'My crow is the blackest.'" The idea is that all the crows were in the same forest or whatever, and they were all Black, so it didn't matter what your particular thing was. This is what you had to get beyond, because some of those coalitions really got picked apart in the sixties. People started saying, "Well, I can't support Black Power."
Well, just today, when you say Black Lives Matter, it's not at the expense of any other group. It's just saying at this particular time, this is what is going on, and we need to coalesce around this issue. When the mothers came out, in Minneapolis I think it was, and formed lines to protect the marchers, these were white women coming out saying [to the cops], "Hey, you're going to have to come through us first," which was the most wonderful, powerful, wonderful thing.
Of course, I ultimately divorced and went back to college at the University of Connecticut. I had a daughter at that time. I became a therapist and I also got — I was — Again, I had multi-personalities going on at the same time. I was becoming a therapist and I was studying theater, so I became an actor. Anyhow, there are all these different things. But I realized that in some ways I am a roadmap for my own discovery of how to become a woman in my own right. And how you become — People around you, and especially people who you are supposed to be helping, are really teaching you who you are and giving you value. And you start to feel like, "Oh, I'm actually making a contribution to the world." This was the precursor to my transition into the Feminist Movement.
Anyhow. So moving on through the anti-war movement, the women's movement, the women of color movement, the anti-violence movement has merged with all the things that I've wanted to do. I've done a lot of work around multicultural organization because without multicultural and multi-class coalition, we're just isolated and we don't get anything done, and we don't make any statements and we don't have any power. But, everybody together has all of this power that we're not tapping into, and we're letting it go. That's how some jackass can get elected president who has no business walking the dog. You know, it's just —
That has been my journey to today. I do a lot of speaking with high school kids and college kids. I mean, I became part of the Speakers Bureau in 2003, and I've been kept busy since then and been in some documentaries and stuff.
I've gotten less physically active and my memory gets a little shot sometimes too, Cathy, so don't feel bad because I forget things. I wrote down the word "Zinn," because the Zinn Educational Project is doing such incredible stuff right now. And I think that we need to pump them up somehow or other.
And I write checks too. I don't write the checks. I just press the button on the computer, "Donate." I got my $5. I got my $10. I get nickels and dimes all over the computer because how can you turn down everything from animals to the earth, to our kids, to all of it, and global issues as well. I understand that people of color are the majority people in the world, and yet we can't see where we have a power base to do anything but stay barefoot and pregnant. We have been so brainwashed over the generations to be wary of anyone not in "our group" whatever that is. But now I see the multi-everyone coming together more and more. Therein is our hope.
You are such a sweetheart. My gosh, you made my day. I'm so glad. Seriously. I never thought I had that much influence on anybody.
Oh, you did. You did.
But this has just been incredible hearing everybody's stories. I mean, they're just incredible and fascinating, and I've learned an enormous amount and just hearing names. Not only of people who were in the movement, but Chude, were you the one who mentioned Staughton Lynd? That is a name from the past. When I was in college, we just about thought he walked on water, but I guess I should start at the beginning of my story.
I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of very, very progressive, left-wing parents in a period when that was not a popular thing to do. My parents were actually victims of the McCarthy era. They both lost their job, and so I grew up in sort of a political bubble. I remember as a kid being taken to meetings and on picket lines, I don't even know that I always understood what the issue was, but I thought that was perfectly normal behavior. The important thing in life.
It wasn't that my parents preached this to me, and boy is this a lesson I have learned from my own parenting, is that you model behavior. My parents modeled this behavior of being very, very committed to an assortment of social justice issues. Now this, of course, was in the fifties and it was very hard to express yourself about very much, but nonetheless, I picked up the idea that there was much more in life than just being concerned about myself and about boyfriends. I remember the big thing in those days, what were the sets of cardigans, where you had a little short sleeve, and then the matching cardigan. Although secretly, I always wanted one of those. I mean, I understood that that was not the primary thing in life. No —
I was ways out of step in high school. I went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. It was a huge, huge public high school, and I was always out of step with most of my classmates politically, and actually I remember, in elementary school. So I just learned on one level what to keep my mouth shut about and on another level that I was going to do what I could.
When I was in high school, for example, I organized our high school, a bus load of us to go to the Youth March for Integrated Schools. This was in  or . It was after Brown versus Topeka Board of Education. It was this huge march. I assume, organized by the NAACP to show support for the Supreme Court decision.[After the Brown decision, segregationists waged a campaign of "Massive Resistance" to Integration across the South. To counter them, two youth marches, one in 1958 and the other in 1959, were organized by a broad civil rights coalition pulled together by A. Phillip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Dr. King, Harry Belafonte, Daisy Bates, Roy Wilkins, Jackie Robinson and many others. The goal was to demonstrate that students — including many young whites — supported school integration.]
Then, when I graduated from high school, I went to Swarthmore college and I chose it in part for its reputation as a school where social justice issues were important. It's a Quaker school, and the peace movement of course, was going to be very, very important. The commitment to nonviolence. When I got to Swarthmore, I became very active in a group called the Swarthmore Political Action Club, which was just about all there was on campus that did anything outside of campus, in terms of any issues. And at that point, the only issue was, was nuclear disarmament. We used to go into Philadelphia and March with other Quakers with the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, otherwise known as SANE.
Someone, I think my aunt, my mother's sister, who was active in a number of social justice organizations suggested that I might enjoy doing volunteer work for CORE at their national headquarters which was in lower Manhattan. I started doing that during my school breaks and it was while I was working in the core office that I heard about the Freedom Rides. There was absolutely no question in my mind that I would join the Freedom Rides. I had enough commitment to my academic education that I wasn't going to go until after I finished my sophomore year in college. Then, I signed up with CORE so I was on the Freedom Rides.
I was on the first bus to go through Alabama after the bus burnings. The governor of Alabama had issued a restraining order preventing CORE from sending Freedom Riders through the great state of Alabama. The restraining order lasted for two weeks and so right at the end of the two weeks, CORE, of course immediately sent another group through and that was the group I was in.
That was the beginning of my real education of what both the South and segregation were like. I mean, I had grown up in New York and I had grown up knowing all this theory. I knew that segregation was evil. I knew that what was going on in the South was bad, but I didn't know what that meant on a sort of minute-to-minute level and in terms of lifestyle.
I remember sitting in that bus, and among other things, just seeing the scenery pass by and thinking I have suddenly somehow dropped into a Third World country. I mean, this is not the United States that I know. Of course, growing up in New York city, this is the exact opposite. You'd see these shacks and you'd see these groups of Blacks out in the fields. It was just one eye-opener after another.
How we were treated when we finally got to Jackson and we were arrested and the kinds of questions they asked us. One of the real eye-openers for me was when we were being interrogated individually, as part of the booking, this deputy sheriff, who was like right out of Hollywood central casting, with the beer belly hanging over his belt, asked me what my religion was. We were told we would be asked that, and that it was up to us whether we wanted to answer or not. I had a moment of real reckoning at that point because I'm Jewish, but I knew that there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the South. The thought occurred to me that I could lie and say that I was some other religion, pick what Christian denomination I might be. It came down to, I could not lie. I could not deny my identity. I said I was Jewish and I wasn't prepared for the response. I mean, I think that if I wasn't a woman, I don't know what he would have done to me. But I just got verbal abuse. I mean, he just, he said to me, "Oh." He said, "So you're a Jewess." An "S" thing on the "S." Anyway, that was just one of the many eye-opening experiences.
Then, of course we were jailed in Jackson briefly and then transferred up to Parchman Penitentiary where I spent the rest of the 40 days that I had committed as a Freedom Rider to spend. I mean, I got to see the system up close and on every level, it was really, it was fascinating to me and it was horrifying.
Uniformly, the white power structure, the white jailers, anybody we met, including a white newspaper reporter who attempted apparently to interview us when our bus stopped overnight in Montgomery, and then proceeded to write me a long, long letter when I was at Parchman extolling the Southern system and calling us Freedom Riders, a bunch of crazy Commie pinko lunatics. The only reason he had tried to talk to me was that I appeared to him more normal than the rest, which I always took, I don't know whether I was supposed to take that as a compliment. I always took that as sort of an insult. But anyway, to watch how the jailers treated us, the small ways, day-to-day ways, that they would try to make us miserable. But in any event, that was the Freedom Rides. I mean, I could go on and on about that all day, but I'll try to cut that off.
One of the many things the Freedom Rides did to me was to cement my relationship with CORE. I realized that on some level, that was going to be my commitment for the next umpteen years. I mean, I would do what else I needed to do, but that I was somehow going to be helping CORE in whatever way I could. I went back to Swarthmore, finished, and by the time I graduated from Swarthmore, the initial voter registration project ran by COFO — Anyway, all the civil rights organizations participated and they had, as we all know, split the South up into, each organization got a part of the South and CORE got Louisiana. I signed up to go to Louisiana with CORE.
That's what I did. I graduated from Swarthmore. There was a brief period before I needed to report to Louisiana so I spent a week or two on the eastern shore of Maryland working with the Gloria Richardson and the movement there. Then, went on to Louisiana.
We had really a very, very thorough, really remarkable, wonderful training period in the town of Plaquemine. Fatima and I know you always have to make this distinction in Louisiana, between the town of Plaquemine and the parish of Plaquemine where, as a matter of fact, CORE never set foot.
Uh-huh. The High Sheriff Leander Perez.[Plaquimines Parish is at the very end of the Mississippi river. It's mostly alligator and mosquito-infested swamp. From the 1920s to the late 1960s, it was the personal political fife of Leander Perez who held various elected office such as district attorney and judge. He was a ferocious racist and arch-segregationist who ruled the parish with a feudal-like iron fist and was notorious for having built a concentration camp in the middle of the swamp to hold "race-mixers" and "agitators." In 1962, he was one of the first segregationist leaders in Louisiana to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. His racism was so vitriolic that he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church by the Bishop of New Orleans after he opposed integration of parochial schools and led a large white mob in a violent attack against Afro-Americans on the streets of the city.]
I remember Ronnie Moore who was absolutely fearless, and he would have gone anywhere. Except Plaquemines Parish. He made the decision, we are not going to Plaquemines Parish. But Plaquemine town, and Iberville Parish, was a different kettle of fish. We had just a magnificent training program there.[Against fierce and violent white opposition, in 1963 CORE had led a major mass movement against Jim Crow segregation in the town of Plaquimine the previous summer. CORE leader James Farmer had been unable to speak at the March on Washington because he was incarcerated in the Iberville Parish jail. By the summer of 1964, Plaquimine had become a key base for CORE organizing in the state.]
Then, we were sent out to the parishes and I was part of a group that was sent to the Felicianas, East and West Felicianas. We all stayed in East Feliciana because at that point, the situation in West Feliciana was much, much too dangerous to have any CORE workers live there. It was determined that it was actually too dangerous to even send in a white woman. I didn't actually work in West Feliciana Parish at the beginning. I just worked in East Feliciana Parish, which was hardly an improvement in terms of the conditions there.
Again, I was blown away by the conditions that people lived in. I mean, I just didn't think that these conditions existed in 20th century United States on the one hand. On the other hand, I was totally blown away by the community that we worked in. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, the people in Clinton and the people in every other little hamlet throughout the South are the real heroes of the entire civil rights story. What we did was very nice, but they — I mean, first on the one hand, what overwhelmed me was how unbelievably grateful they were that we were there. They couldn't believe it.
The one thing I noticed was that no matter how poor the housing was that people lived in, the shacks that they lived in — you remember, Fatima, those stilts of cement blocks that these shacks were on, they would all have TVs. I mean, if they had electricity, they had a TV and they knew what was going on in the rest of the country. They had seen the Freedom Rides, the demonstrations, and they were so unbelievably overwhelmed that this had come to their little community. I mean, they're a tiny little hole in the wall and here we were.
Anyway, we worked on voter registration all that summer. Just in terms of my own involvement, I became so incredibly involved and committed with what we were doing. I was supposed to go to graduate school in the fall. I was all signed up. I'd been accepted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison to do ultimately a Ph.D. Program in American history. I was supposed to go in the fall. I, at some point during that summer wrote to Madison and asked for deferment. There was no question. They said, "Fine. That's fine. You'll just enter the following fall."
I stayed in Louisiana all that year, and this is all before the Voting Rights Act.[Meaning that before the Voting Rights Act it was an act of great defiance and enormous courage for a Black citizen to try to register to vote because of the literacy test system — a rigged test, police intimidation, economic retaliation, the poll tax, and KKK terrorism.]
We were doing wonderful work and it was really community organizing in terms of getting people to try to register to vote. But Fatima, do you remember those [voter application forms]?
Oh, God! Absolutely the most horrendous form to fill out. I had to learn how myself.
Those registration forms? I've used them in my classroom teaching. I mean, those forms they were —
You had to know how old you were, how many years, how many weeks, how many months?
Yeah, years, months. How many months and how many days.
And people who could not read, had to write [and interpret] —
A phrase from the Preamble —
— the Preamble from the Constitution.
Right. They would always pick, for Blacks, they would pick "ensure domestic tranquility" as the phrase that you had to write. Whereas if you were white, you'd have to write, "We, the people" or some other very simple phrase.
We would spend — remember, we had voter registration clinics at night in local churches — and we would train people on how to fill out these unbelievably byzantine forms.[Referring to the multiple complex sets of "citizenship" questions that Blacks had to correctly answer while whites were usually excused from doing so.]
Again, it just amazed, here where people with third grade educations and they would just be bent over these forms and laboriously learning how to fill them out, and they would take them home and study them. Then, they would go down to Clinton and they would stand in line at Voter Registration Office for an entire day and not get taken [into the office to take the literacy test]. This is in the middle of the summer in Louisiana, which I also discovered — I mean, I thought I knew growing up in New York, what hot and humid was. New York was a refrigerator compared to Louisiana. I mean, it was — But anyway, that just amazed me that we did that day in and day out.
Then, by fall there was so much resistance from the white power structure. Well, I know in East and West Feliciana Parishes, and I think it was maybe throughout the Sixth Congressional district, the Voter Registration Office was closed. They simply closed the doors because they claimed that they didn't know what to do. That on the one hand, that they were caught between a rock and a hard place, between federal court decisions and local court decisions. There was some — who was that judge in New Orleans? The last name "Wright" keeps coming into me. W-R-I-G-H-T. But I may be wrong.
But in any event, he kept upholding the practices that were being used by the local registrars. Meanwhile, the federal government was — I don't even remember exactly what the issue was, but they claimed that they didn't know what to do — the Registrars — and so they closed their offices. [Meaning that nobody could be registered to vote.]
We then turned to general community organizing. We got involved in West Feliciana parish in particular, the way that the farmers earned their living was growing sweet potatoes, which were sold to the local cannery, the Princeville Canning Company. You remember Princeville?
For years, years and years afterwards, if I saw cans of Princeville sweet potatoes swimming in syrup in the local supermarkets, and this would be up North, I would get sick to my stomach. But anyway, we got involved in organizing the farmers. We actually had someone who would, and I don't remember his name now, but he had all kinds of connections with agricultural, with people, middlemen who bought crops and then sold them in Chicago. We were really working very hard to get it set up so that the farmers could sell their sweet potato potatoes directly to this middleman and he would have them sell them to whoever it was in Chicago. We also got involved in organizing farmers and the agriculture something something.
ASCS. Agricultural Stabilization Conservation Service.
Yes, yes, yes, yes! Oh, my God.
We were doing that in Alabama and Mississippi at the same time.
Yes. Well, I think we might've gotten the idea from you guys. That never came to anything in Louisiana.
It didn't anywhere else either. Even — but that's another story —
But in any event, we got involved with that. Oh, and then the other thing we did, which actually — well, it did involve, it did end up as a Supreme Court decision. We attempted to integrate the local public libraries. Were you there then, Fatima, when we had the library sit-ins?
Yes. That was across three parishes, I think, because all three parishes' libraries were part of the same system. [Pointe Coupee] Parish was right adjacent to West Feliciana and East Feliciana and New Roads was the parish seat.
Right. I thought Saint Helena Parish was also part of that library system. But in any event —
Yes, right across that strip.
I don't know that we ever come to think of it, at that point got the libraries integrated, but it certainly made the point.[When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in July of 1964, segregation of public facilities like libraries had been made illegal, but across the South local governments and agencies refused to obey the new law.]
The kids who participated in it were arrested, and that was the case that went
all the way to the Supreme Court and that conviction was overturned. We did
what we could during the year to keep the flame alive when we couldn't do
voter registration. I'm thinking that by the summer of '64, somehow the Voter
Registration offices had gotten opened again. Because we were doing, at some
point resumed doing, voter registration. Then, we were doing that all through
the summer of '64.
Then, in the fall of '64, I did go to Madison to do graduate work. The subject of what turned out to be my master's thesis was very, very much influenced by my work in Louisiana. I actually switched my focus in American history to Civil War and Reconstruction and I wrote about Black political activity and reconstruction in Louisiana for my master's thesis.
Then I realized there were a whole bunch of us who were veterans of the civil rights movement in Madison those years and we did a number of things on campus. We started a collection of documents at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Eventually they got most of the CORE papers, but I also realized that academia was not for me. That it really, it truly was an ivory tower. I mean, the petty politics within the History Department. That was the very first time I was ever really made aware of the discrimination against women.
I remember, when I finished my masters and I had passed preliminary exams, one of my professors called me in to invite me to become one of his doctoral students. But he said to me, I remember this vividly, he said, "You know, if you go on for your Ph.D here, you're going to have to be twice as good and work twice as hard as any male graduate student in the department." That didn't faze me at all, but it horrified me that that was a situation. I mean, that's what it was.
I did not go on to pursue my doctorate with that professor. Instead, I left. I had friends, a lot of friends from Swarthmore who'd gotten very involved in SDS. They were now scattered around the country in a variety of SDS projects. I joined them and I joined a project in Hoboken, New Jersey. We were involved in mostly community organizing, which got nowhere.
Then, SDS friends of ours who were already in California, said, "Look, the streets are paved with gold out here, this is where it's happening. This is where the movement is happening. Draft resistance, draft card burning. You've got to come out." We said, "Okay, sure." I mean, nothing's happening in Hoboken. It's a dead end here. Nobody cares. I mean, nobody. Basically, the community in Hoboken did not want to get organized. They were perfectly happy with the way things were.
There's a naval base in Bayonne, next door, you know?
Well, seriously, I mean, at that time it was a very, very tight knit Italian Catholic town. They were very happy.
We picked ourselves up and drove across the country in the dead of winter to San Francisco and arrived, there were two things we did immediately. We decided to live communally and we organized a commune. This was really almost before that became a word. But we all shared a great big house on, interestingly enough, Liberty Street in the Mission District. The joke then was Liberty intersected Castro Street. At the time, that was very ironic.
But anyway, I was part of this commune and we were very involved with draft resistance. Then, I became, what was beginning to happen to me, was that I was beginning to feel like, to learn a lot more about myself that all of these were very, very valuable movements, but it wasn't me. I mean, they weren't immediately addressing any oppression that I was experiencing.
That really led to, and Chude has been an enormous help refreshing my memory about this, I helped to organize the first women's group in San Francisco. It really started out as a very personal group. I mean, we were all, several of us had come out of the movement in one shape, form, or another, but we were all discovering what it meant to be a woman in the mid-sixties, mid to late sixties, a very personal level. We were all kind of grappling with that and trying to figure out who we were and how we were going to respond to this.
At that point, I sort of went off on my own. Eventually I got a job at UC Berkeley doing oral history, calling on my history background. I did that for about 10 years. That led me to starting my own company where I did oral histories of, of organizations and companies. Then, somewhere in there I got married and had a kid and so I took a break from work.
Then, when I, when my son was old enough for me to reenter the labor force, so to speak, I had subsequently become, in my search for identity, I had sort of discovered my Jewishness. In looking into that further and further, I discovered a rabbi who was giving some really wonderful adult education courses in San Francisco. I started going to those and got really, really turned on and then got very — it turned out that this rabbi was the founder and the Dean of a Jewish day school in San Francisco. I became very involved with that day school. Actually, my son went to the school all the way from kindergarten through high school. I became more and more involved with the school, ultimately ended up teaching there for quite a number of years, and the only reason I stopped teaching was the school closed for a variety of tragic reasons.
Now, I am a private tutor. And also like you, Fatima, I do a fair amount of clicking on Donate Now on the computer. I also do some speaking, although at the moment it's mostly by Zoom, to an assortment of classes around — at least with Zoom, you can do it around the country. But I guess that brings me up to date. That's me.
I have a question for you. What year did you graduate from Erasmus?
I went to college with a bunch of Erasmus grads —
Oh, my gosh! Where'd you go to college?
I have a question too. How many CORE people were in Louisiana?
Well, that's a good question.
Yeah, yeah. I was going to say it was way under. At any given time, it was way less than a hundred.
You're talking about CORE staff, or full-time volunteers, as opposed to people who were members of the New Orleans CORE chapter, right?
Right. Because New Orleans had its own base.
Right. New Orleans was like a different universe. We used to go to New Orleans for R and R.
To get away.
To get away.
To get away on safe territory.
So did I, out of Mississippi.
Some in SNCC and SCLC treated Atlanta the same way. It was interesting, Georgia had a big urban city and Louisiana had a bigger urban city, both of which had both safe zones and movements. But Alabama and Mississippi not so much — I mean, both Montgomery and Jackson had real movements and therefore were a kind safe zone in the same sense that a Black community on the front line was a safe zone. But they were small towns, not cities like New Orleans and Atlanta, they were danger zones themselves as soon as you got out of the Black community and those communities were small enough that to a certain extent you were always marked and identified as a civil rights worker — particularly if you were a white worker. Atlanta and New Orleans had movement bases and large enough Black communities to create a zone of both safety and to a degree anonymity.
A lot of the CORE staff people that you worked with had originally been in New Orleans CORE, got their training. Ronnie More, Aretha [Castle]...
Rudy. That's who I was trying to think about.
Oh my God, these people are my heroes.
I want to just back-up to something that you mentioned. The people in Louisiana who had, prior to our coming there, done different things like form farm co-ops and voter registration campaigns. Actually, in Lettsworth, Sargent Caufield (the Dad), had done a lot of organizing and even started seven different schools, four high schools and three elementary schools, which are still standing, including the bus system for transporting them. Because he was so on his own, the registered voters and farm co-op didn't all withstand the onslaught of crap. When we got there, it was like we brought new life back to those things that people knew they had done before and could do again. We were dealing with a lot of sharecroppers and walking those roads.
Remember all those roads? Oh, my god.
Just walking those roads and going from house to house. It wasn't like the house was right here and the next one was right — No. We had to walk — Okay, we had to walk, and it was from 8:00 AM until sundown.
And where we were...there were three of us, Sharon Burger, Peggy Ewing, who's now Meg Redding. We were at the Caulfield's. We had to go three houses down to take a bath every day because there was no indoor bath at the Caulfield's. But at the Caulfield's, we lived for the entire summer off their land. All the food — everything came from their land. People were so generous with whatever they had. There was so much I did not know about life and everything, but they appreciated my coming to their part of the world and they would ask me questions about my life. They just gave me so much.
In Louisiana, there were all of these people who had survived for so long, without anything I had ever done, in their past, but they were now re-energized — to do this stuff.
You know, every time we do these discussions with people from different states and different organizations, what strikes me so much is we all thought, "We're CORE, we're SCLC, we're SNCC." But in truth, we were all so much the same.
Fatima when you talked about the newsletter that you did — which, by the way, if you have copies, we want them for the website — you made this [circular] motion with your hand. And every one of us on this Zoom call, I'll bet, understood that motion. Understood you were referring to how we all had to crank those mimeograph machines by hand, one full turn for each and every page. Today's activists, for them that's like talking about building the pyramids by hand with mud and sticks and straw, or some shit like that. They wouldn't have a clue what that hand motion meant, but we share that, we all knew.
So the other thing I was thinking — I think we've all said so much — How much we learned and what we received was so much greater than what we did.
You went door to door, you had to walk those roads. In Mississippi, I only worked the town of Grenada because rural Grenada County was way too dangerous for a white activist. But in Alabama, I worked two rural counties, Crenshaw and Hale County. And we always, of course, paired up one of us with a local person, and I initially assumed that that was because, well, I'm white. We should have a Black person in there — that was an important component of it. But that wasn't the main reason. It's that when we were walking along those dusty roads — in town, we knew if the street wasn't paved, the houses were occupied by Black folk. And it was safe for us to go knock on the door. If the streets were paved and had sidewalks, we'd better not knock on that door.
But out in the rural, there wasn't no pavement. So we would be walking the road and we would see a shack that looked as poor and rundown and poverty stricken as any other shack. The local activists with us — they were usually high school students, would tell us, "Oh, no, no. That's a white house. Those are crackers there. Don't knock on their door".
And we needed that safety information. And sometimes — and this was news to me — we would see a little, blonde white kid playing in the dirt yard. We would start to pass it, and that local partner would say, "Oh, no, that's a Black house." Because there had been "midnight integration" for the Black woman who had been forced into sexual relations with the plantation owner. She had a child who looked white, but everybody in the county knew that was a Black family. And it was therefore safe for us to knock on that door.
Did you guys have similar experiences in Louisiana?
I don't, I don't —
Not as specific as you just laid out. But we had very similar stuff. We didn't really come across any poor white houses. But we didn't have white sharecroppers, where we were.
Right. Same here.
Everybody was Black. There were also more Black land owners where we were in Lettsworth. And in Jonesboro, the Mason family who took in everybody, had their in-town property up and down this Beach Springs Road for maybe a mile that the family owned portions of that whole road. And they had a farm of 97 acres out in the country that fed them. They'd go out there and get the snap peas or the field peas. They'd sell them, or they'd just share them with everybody in town.
So they really lived off the land and were land owners. That was in Northern Louisiana. In Southern Louisiana, they were property owners because the Caulfield farm was like several acres. And then down the road, there was the Russell family. They had horses and corn on their land. But then just around the corner, or around the bend in the road, started the whole row of sharecroppers and all that property was owned by white people. Those were all sharecroppers there. You didn't know who owned their land, but the idea that folks did own their land and were a little more brave and inspirational for everybody around them. And that was Louisiana.
Yeah, I remember in the Felicianas, we relied on the local people. Like you said, Bruce, we had any number of local people working with us and they would tell us where the Black people lived. The areas were very, very segregated, for lack of a better word. When we would be walking up and down those dirt roads, we could be certain that all the houses were occupied by Black families.
Interesting, in Alabama — or at least Crenshaw and Hale counties — it was much more mixed. Except for the plantations, of course, where all the sharecroppers were Blacks on white-owned land.
The churches were the place where you would have the most exposure to people that you would never come across no matter how many roads you walked up and down because you weren't going back up into the woods, and a lot of them live up in the woods
You were right. The houses were so spread apart. There was just no way you could hope to reach every single one of those little back roads.
Mimi, speaking of churches — As a "Jew-ess" [laughter], as a woman — Talk about what that felt like to you. Were you ever asked to speak as a civil rights worker in the churches?
Oh yeah. We would all speak. I mean, that was something we all did. That was part of the routine, that on Sunday — some of the ministers were too scared to have us, but other preachers would invite us. So somewhere toward the end of the service, somebody would get up to speak. I'm sure that I may have spoken a few times. But the thing fascinating to me, the thing that resonated, the thing that all of us would call on was the Exodus story. And of course there were other members of our group who were also Jewish, Mike Lesser for one. I can still see him standing up there speaking and riffing on the Exodus story — and the "amens" in the church.
"That had to walk across the red sea. You got to go down to the courthouse to register to vote."
I always self identified as a Jew when I was asked to speak. I said that right off so that nobody was thinking I was — and that was what I always went to — the Exodus Story.
Well, being a Catholic, I didn't have any of that to go to [laughter]. And I also was such a novice in speaking. When it came to my turn, I would just "bip-bip-bip-bip." And then, "thank you" and I go sit down. Folks would say, "Well, you convinced us that this was important and what we needed to do to really get some power. Thank you". Okay. I got no 'amens.' I just got, "Oh, well, thank you. That little girl, she's just so sweet".
I liked the expression you used of, "I am a roadmap for how I became a woman in my own right". And I think that is one of the best, for me, expressions of what happened to us who were female in the '60s and got involved in social change movements and began to change from the ways that we'd been raised.
I mean, I can completely identify with with marrying someone and then saying, "Oh, okay. My job is to support a Black activist as a wife." I was raised to be a wife and mother. I was not raised to go to graduate school. I was sent to college in order to get a college-graduate husband. I mean that was the world view.
Yeah. I know that place.
Being involved, especially in both SDS and Student Peace Union at Carleton, then of course going South, there was no way that that fit in as a contradiction in my mind to how I was raised. Somehow it was all going to be okay.
And then, of course, when I graduated, I discovered that it wasn't true that the in loco parentis problems in college, where girls had all these rules that boys didn't have, and the inequality of that (which I had organized against before I ever went South), was going to go away.[In loco parentis was a legal doctrine commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s to allow — in fact to required — college administrations to assume parental responsibility and power over female students, regardless of their age, as a condition of admission and continuance at the school. Administrators assumed that parents would not send their daughters to a university that failed to properly restrict and control their social lives, so the "parietal" rules they enforced were designed to satisfy conservative assumptions about what was acceptable behavior for a young woman. The result was that on many campuses "coeds" (as they were known) had early-evening curfews with bed checks, and were forced to obey rules preventing them from talking to or socializing with "undesirable" (non-college) males, or engaging in "immoral behavior" which was defined as sex outside of marriage. At many colleges, an un-wed pregnancy resulted in immediate expulsion on "moral" grounds.]
I actually thought that the way I was treated in the Movement was much more the way the world was going to be. So it was a shock to then discover that "No," the traditional society was more like college. You don't have the same rights. You're not of the same value. So I really liked, that as things happen, we'd begin to evolve into understanding new ways of being in the world.
I'm the only female in my generation, in my family. And I did have the benefit of my cousin's friends. One of whom introduced me to Simone de Beauvoir.
Oh my gosh.
And at that point, that was it. That was absolutely it. "Born a Girl, Becoming a Woman." Her statement of, "You're not born a woman, you become a woman." We all got these little markings on our bodies and on our psyche that says, "This is where you change from this — to this".
This is when you discovered "this". And then you keep on discovering yourself. And I think I'm still in process, because I realized that you are always "becoming" a woman. It's a lifelong career, because it's always somebody trying to tell you why you're wrong in so many ways.
Yeah. And we could also say in truth, men are always becoming men — If they bothered to pay attention to what it means to be a human being.
If that's something that they think about.
I think for men, it's becoming an adult. They're born men. They're always men. But becoming an adult male is a whole other world.
It's really clear that it would not be safe for any of the guys in this line to be about defining women's journey. I'm pretty clear. I've been married 50 years. [Laughter.]
That is interesting. You start with a conception of man also. What happens in movements for social change is we begin to change. And we begin to redefine what it means to be, if we want to use the gender things, a man, a woman or someone that's between a man and a woman. We begin to redefine that in the process of struggle to change things.
Marion, you must have something to say as someone who was brought up in the Chinese community.
Actually, I just wanted to say, briefly, something that a lot of things that Fatima has said. And I also have a quick question for Mimi. For me, I liked the idea — We talked about this in our own group as well, that we're always evolving. We're always experiencing. And there is no doubt that our time spent in the Deep South has internally, in a very deep way, affected all of us. And that's why we're in this group because we really needed each other to talk about that. There's no other groups like this one.
I think my experience is more — I cannot separate being a woman from being an Asian-American. When I'm down South, the first thing that I think people notice is my race, my color of my skin. So I've used that, in a lot of ways, to my advantage — to say that "I'm here. What is this all about? Is it a black-white issue or is it a human issue?" People are forced to question that when I'm in the midst of marches, demonstrations, and integration. And so for me, I like what Fatima said. I don't know what I'm going to do here, especially, but I had to be here and I like that a lot.
And looking back, that means a lot. It does mean a lot to me, even now, that the important thing for me was that I was a witness. And I came back from the Deep South telling people that it wasn't only poverty, it wasn't only fighting for justice. But for me, I had witnessed it all.
And I was able to compare poverty in San Francisco, Chinatown in the alleys and in the tenements that I've lived in myself. And I've also been able to witness the same thing in the close-knit community in the Fourth [congressional] district of Mississippi for two summers living with Mrs. Sims, an elderly woman who had also been an activist herself in Hattiesburg. So there are so many similarities that I feel like if I didn't witness that, I would not have such a compassion for what's happening in both of these communities. I've witnessed both. I lived in one and I was able to live in another. So I tell people that I live in two Chinatowns and I need to talk about it.
Wow. Thank you. I just got to say this too, in response to Marion, is that one of the things that I have come to understand is to talk about civil rights is to talk about a pigeonhole. What we really need to be talking about are, in fact, human rights, because that's the way we look at the whole globe. The way we look at how we treat the earth. It's about all of the human rights, all of the rights of every living being. Whether it's a four legged being or a two legged being it's about human life. Just life and life rights.
Yes. And I hope we are going in that direction and thank you for sharing that.
Right. Right. Okay, thanks. Thanks for both of you. It's really a privilege to be able to meet you all.
Marion... Marion... I'm about to fall asleep. Thank you to Mimi and Fatima, you filled in a bunch of stuff for me. I never knew about Louisiana. I Appreciate you doing that.
Thank you very much for —
Well, for me to be included in all of this... thank you —
Yes. Thank you, Bruce.
Well, you're welcome, but it's all of us.
It was Bruce because he wanted to bring his CORE people. [Laughter]
Louisiana got left out of all that... Thank you very much.
She said she had a little chip on her shoulder as a CORE person and I said, "I know what that feels like."
We're sort of the forgotten people.
Yeah. Well, not as forgotten as us in SCLC.
Oh, yeah, well — And CORE was there in 1941 with A. Philip Randolph with the original March on Washington —[In 1941, Randolph and Bayard Rustin began organizing a massive March on Washington to demand the de-segregation of the armed forces and an end racial discrimination in the defense industry. To prevent the march, President Roosevelt agreed to issue the first Fair Employment Act, thereby allowing nonwhites to obtain industrial jobs in defense plants that paid union wages.]
Oh God. Yeah.
Right. And the original Fellowship of Reconciliation —
Ron, Was there something you wanted to say?
I thought, a little while ago, we weren't going to be a sectarian about these groups [laughter] —