The Movement in Alabama
A Discussion
July, 2003

   Chude Pam Parker Allen    Willie B. Wazir Peacock
   Bruce Hartford    Jimmy Rogers
   Don Jelinek    Jean Wiley
   Betita Martinez (Elizabeth Sutherland)      

Additional Comments by:
   Gwen Patton, 3/04   


   Preface    Alabama 1965 Elections
   Tuskegee in the Early 1960s    Selma in 1965
   Campus Struggles    Who Benefited?
   TIAL and the Montgomery Marches    Alabama Compared to Mississippi
   Tusgekee, Macon County & Class Issues       Mississippi Rape Trial
   Selma and the 1966 Elections    Kwame Ture & Alabama
   Additional Comments   

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In memory of those killed in Alabama for their heroic efforts to win voting rights, 1963 — 1966: William Moore, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Rev. James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, Sammy Younge, and Jonathan Daniels. And also Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), Virgil Ware (13), and Cynthia Wesley (14).

Why would people risk their lives for the unimpeded right of Black people to vote? Far from an abstraction, voting was a bread and butter, life and death issue in the Black Belt counties of Alabama, many of which had majority Black populations. The hope was that voting would usher in vast improvements in the lives of Black folk. No more governors and school officials barring the entry of black students. No more sheriffs and deputies accommodating the Klan in its reign of terror. No more tax assessors unfairly (and often illegally) throwing folk off their land. No more county clerks turning away potential voters. No more all-white juries and all-white military draft boards.

Voting promised a measure of control, power and influence, and with these would come improvements. A mass movement took shape to gain the ballot. While textbooks cite the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and television images document the massive Selma to Montgomery March, few know of the organizing that led to them. These are stories from some of the veterans of that struggle.

NOTE — This is NOT a history of the Movement in Alabama. Rather it is a discussion about some aspects of that movement by Movement veterans which was held in the summer of 2003. It covers only the topics that we felt like talking about at that particular moment, and it does not even touch upon or mention many of the major events of the Alabama movement. (For more information on the Movement see this website's Movement, Links, and Bibliography sections.)


Tuskegee in the Early 1960s

Jimmy: I'm going to start the discussion of the movement in Alabama by talking about the participation of the students at Tuskegee University/Institute and Macon County. I got to Tuskegee in 1961. There were things going on there, but it was mostly centered around the YWCA. We used to have an exchange with students at Auburn University where one month we would go to Auburn, and the next month they would come to Tuskegee. But when we went to Auburn, we couldn't go on campus because of the segregation law. At that time black people couldn't even walk on the campus. There was a church right outside of the campus where we used to meet.

While I was involved with the YMCA, we used to go to regional conferences and whatnot, and I remember one regional conference that we had up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Dr. Walker was sort of our advisor. He could pass for white. If you didn't know, you would think that he was white. So I remember going to Gatlinburg one day, and we were so hungry, and there really wasn't anything to eat. So he said, "I'll get us something to eat." So he walked into this place, and he bought up all these hamburgers and stuff. And as he was coming out, he asked them, "Do they serve Negroes?" And they said, "A nigger better not come in here." He said, "Well, I tell you what. You just served one." [Laughter] He broke for the car, and we took off.


Campus Struggles

Jimmy: The organization on campus was called TIAL, the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, and many of the people involved in it later became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In TIAL, we were first concerned with academic freedom, because we fought just as hard against the people who were oppressing us on the campus as we were with the people in the community that were discriminating against us because of our race.

Chude: I think the struggles with the administration on campus is an important part of the whole movement. People don't know how conservative some of the black colleges were and how, at times, they were even kicking people out who were activists.

Jean: There's a whole story that's fascinating about the revolt in black southern schools, because that was the class of people who were supposed to be the buffers between ordinary black people and the white power structure. So they were groomed to be the power brokers between the two for the rest of their lives and therefore it was the last place anybody was going to expect revolt. So that's why it was really striking when these struggles came out of the colleges and high schools in a lot of places. That was never supposed to have happened. And you could see it in stark relief at places like Tuskegee, Albany, Alabama State, and the schools of Mississippi. But you could also see it in places as far north as Baltimore and Delaware and Philadelphia — that whole north-eastern quarter.

Jimmy: For one thing, for a lot of the women on campus, they had a ten o'clock curfew. But men, they could go on about their business, and a lot of the women were very upset about that.

Jean: It might have been nine o'clock. It was just after dark. Because I was accosted by a campus guard, and I was a teacher at Tuskegee. And he would not believe that I was not a student but a new instructor.

Chude: At Spelman the girls were not supposed to be out of the dorm except to go to classes unless they'd signed out to a "permissible" place. And most places weren't permissible, that's how tightly they were controlled. Obviously people did a whole lot more than that, and there were some people that came to Spelman who had been kicked out of Albany State. Bernice Reagan — Bernice Johnson then — and a couple others came to Spelman. It was a friendlier environment compared Albany State. But it still had that containment aspect of how you kept women proper and respectable.

Wazir: I was in graduate school at Tuskegee at the time that TIAL got really active in the community. After things started moving in '65 at Tuskegee, things started changing pretty rapidly. I wasn't aware of the limitations that the women faced — well I was aware of the limitations, but the people that I was running with, they didn't accept those limitations. Ann Anthony, Gwen Patton, Billups, Ruby Sayles, and all of these people. I mean, they busted all the rules, and these were top students academically.

And we had — forgive me ladies, I wish I could name all of those women that were with us, but I was only at Tuskegee a year, and I can't — but Ann Anthony and Gwen Patton stand out. There were about 15 of them that we were running together all the time.

Jean: Jennifer Lawson?

Wazir: Oh yeah!

Jimmy: Lily Washington?

Wazir: Yes, yes. Exactly.

Bruce: During the Selma Movement, there was a lot of people in the north who donated stuff to send down to Selma: food and clothing and so forth, and an enormous amount of books. Thousands of books.

There was a college there called Selma University, which was a Black Baptist college. They had recently had a big fundraising drive and built a large new library, but they spent all the money on the building, and they had no books in it. Only about five or ten percent of the shelf space had books and all the rest was empty. So after the Movement sort of died down and people were saying, "Well, what are we going to do with all of this stuff?" The idea came, "Well, let's donate the books to Selma University."

But the Selma University Board of Trustees met and refused to take them. We — Chuck Bonner, Janet Webster, and maybe a couple of others — snuck in and listened to their debate which was held in the library that had no books, just empty shelves. They were afraid that they would be seen as aligning with the Movement if they accepted the books. And a lot of them were saying that not only did they not want to do it for fear of being associated with the Movement, but that they were afraid of the ideas that might be in these northern books that were sent down by people. They said they had a "responsibility" to the parents of the children who were sent to their school to "protect" them from these ideas. So they rejected those books.

Chude: That was one of my questions — this whole question of how much freedom of thought, not just freedom of action and not just the freedom of the female students being able to go do something and maybe not make it back by the curfew — but the ability to actually think, the freedom to think on the campuses, because that was definitely an issue at Spelman when I was an exchange student there.

Jean: It was an issue at Tuskegee too.

Chude: One of the things that this discussion is making me think about is the whole question of calling the struggle the "Freedom Movement," versus the "Civil Rights Movement." Because part of what we've been bringing up today is why it was so much bigger than just civil rights. Some of these issues which had to do with thought control, as well as movement control, — you know, people's ability to do things. In the South as well as in places in the North where the administrations were trying to control and contain the student bodies.

And people, they were bursting out of all those constraints. So to me, that's one of the reasons why it's important to call it the "Freedom Movement," because that wasn't just about civil rights. It was about the right to think and have ideas, and have books that had ideas that were maybe different and controversial and have the right to discuss them in class as well as at the Student Union and on the street.

But I am curious what kind of punishment,  — I mean, something happens in the early phases of movements. People get hurt. People get zapped. And then there's some kind of critical mass that happens when the female students are no longer being kicked out of school for not getting back on time because they're at a demonstration. And I would assume by '64 that kind of shift had happened, right? So when you're talking about if female students are supposed to be back at nine o'clock, in the old days when nothing's happening, the female student who doesn't get back, usually doesn't stay, is gone.

Jean: You mean is expelled.

Chude: Expelled, yes. So something happened. At some point a critical mass happens, and the students are out and they come back late and there's enough of them that they don't get expelled, right? Or did they?

Jimmy: Wazir, when I was there, me and Scott B. and a guy named Phil Frazier rented this house, right? It was on Old Montgomery Highway, and that used to be like sort of, it sort of reminded me of the Underground Railroad.

Don: It was a safe house.

Jimmy: When people got back, if they would get into the campus too late, they usually ended up at our house.

Wazir: And George [Ware?]'s house too.

Wazir: Yeah, what I observed was that after awhile so much was going on on the campuses that the least of their worries was girls getting back on campus on time. I mean, they were just trying to keep the lid on what was going on.

After we got our office there in Tuskegee, I remember Wendell and Simuel Schutz, and Jimmy, you were there, got on the phone and called the bank and found out about all of these people's connections with this guy, who had them in his pocket.

Jimmy: Allen Parker. One of the problems that we had was — for those of you who knew who Allen Parker was I don't think I really have to explain — but Allen Parker was the local banker in Tuskegee. And there were a lot of people at Tuskegee on the faculty and in the administration who he had in his hip pocket. They owed the bank money, so he could dictate to them the kind of things that he demanded. He had people that he could go to because they owed him.

But see we students didn't owe Parker anything. Most of us didn't even have a bank account. So we were pretty free to do what we wanted to do, other than having conflicts with the school administration. Dean Philips — and I don't count him among the people that Parker probably had in his hip pocket — but he would come to me and talk to me and get me to talk to other people to stop something and I would always give him the same answer, "There's nothing I can do. I don't have any control over these people." And I would point out Scott B. as a perfect example of someone I had no control over. [Laughter]


TIAL and the Montgomery Marches

Wazir: I remember that when I got there in the fall of '64 there was a group already functioning and that Jean was its advisor. Every group on campus had to have a faculty advisor, right? That's the way it went. And Jean was the faculty advisor for TIAL. Somehow or another, either TIAL knew about your activity and pulled you in to advise them, or it was an official faculty thing. I don't know for sure. All I know is that when we got ready to make the decision to go to Montgomery to force King to march, that you were the pivotal person that could have said "Yea" or "Nay" to those students, and it wouldn't have happened. We made the decision to go, and the next day, the next morning, the buses rumbled. We were on our way to Montgomery to demonstrate in front of the state capitol.

Chude: So it was all Jean's fault.

Jean: A lot was Jean's fault. [Laughter] They wanted me out of Tuskegee so bad. Oh God.

Chude: But they couldn't fire you?

Jean: Sure they could. But it would have been difficult, because then they would have had all the students objecting.

Jimmy: That's when their troubles really would have began.

Wazir: The students would have tore it up.

Jimmy: Right after we went to Montgomery to the state capitol — Jean was there — we participated in a number of demonstrations with SNCC, and some of us ended up being arrested and put in the city jail. And they had so many people at the city jail that they moved us to the Kilby state penitentiary.

I can remember that during that time in Kilby State Penitentiary there was me, Wendell Parish, Simuel Schutz, Sammy Younge and then some of the people with [Worthidall?]. That was the first time I had ever met [Worthidall?]. And Julius Lester was there. I forgot, there was so many people there. There were literally thousands of people that had been arrested at that time, all for the same thing: parading without a permit and resisting arrest. That was the reason why we were in jail. And that case followed me for the next three or four years, because I can remember that me and Schutz I think — Sammy had been killed by that time — but me and Schutz and Wendell had to go before a Judge Johnson in federal court for this demonstration that happened two or three years prior. And we had this attorney by the name of [name withheld] who — [Laughter]

Don: God help them.

Jimmy: Yeah we were in court and the judge was getting mad and frustrated. We were getting mad and frustrated, because we figured, "Uh- oh. Here we go. Twenty years." But miraculously, in walked this man, I mean he was so sharp. I had never seen anybody dressed that clean, you know. A very distinguishing looking gentleman. And when he walked in the whole room just stopped, he walked in there like he owned the place. He walked up and he listened. He listened to what was going on and just shook his head. And then he tapped [name withheld] on the back and he talked about what seemed like a minute. I don't know what he told him, but [name withheld] told it back to the judge and the judge said, "Why didn't you say that in the first place? Case dismissed." [Laughter]

Bruce: So who was this mysterious stranger?

Jimmy: Judge Crockett out of Detroit. For those of you who don't know who he is, he was one of the foremost constitutional authorities. That's what they said.

Chude: I wonder how he got there?

Jimmy: Well, I'm sure he figured if he had any dealings with [name withheld], he probably said to himself, "I think I better go down there." So he walked in just in time. But we were floored. You know, the judge said, "Well, why didn't you say that in the first place? Case dismissed." They just threw the whole thing out.


Tusgekee, Macon County & Class Issues

Jimmy: In addition to academic freedom, one the projects that we took on was trying to organize people in the rural part of Macon County, which is where Tuskegee is located. And we held a few mass meetings, and I can remember at each of them there was Sammy Younge, Wendell Parish, Simuel Schutz, Ron Wooding.

Jean: I got to Tuskegee in '64, and there was already a cadre of people — I guess they would have been incoming freshman at that point — who took offense to the Gomillion versus Lightfoot decision. That was a case which some professors at Tuskegee had brought because they weren't allowed to vote, and they were PhDs and medical doctors at the VA Hospital. And when it got settled in '62 or '63 it didn't get settled like across the blanket in such a way that all black people could vote in Macon County.

Jimmy: No, it didn't do that.

Jean: It wasn't even that all educated black people could vote in Macon. It wasn't even that broad. And people were very, very offended by that. Students, and some of the faculty as well. In other words there had been a number of very insulting things happening in the courts as well in the streets, and things were at a boiling point, really.

Wazir: Sammy Younge and I started going out in the outlying areas in Macon County, meeting at a public school. That's before we had adopted a project to work. He was teaching literacy using a typewriter. The person typed their name for the first time. Having them put one letter, boom, boom, boom and then see what their name looked like in print. And then later they'd come back and have them write their name, you know, make those letters. "That's your name," Sammy would say.

I think the mass meetings started afterwards. They started doing mass meetings after the spring of '65, after we had been among them, because after the big marches in Montgomery everybody was fired up. So, when we got back, we had to do something.

Jimmy: Yeah, but see one thing that they really didn't want us to do, now that I think about it, they really didn't want us to register all the black people out in the County.

Chude: "They" being the black administration?

Jimmy: Right, the black bourgeoisie. Because there were more poor blacks in the rural area than there were whites and middle class blacks in "Tuskegee Institute." And I put that in quotes, because you had Tuskegee, and then you had Tuskegee Institute. And you had more poor blacks than you had whites and middle class blacks, see?

Jean: And it was inconceivable to them that that would happen, because one of the first things I noticed when I got there was the elevated status that Tuskegee had as opposed to Alabama State, for example. And everybody knew it. I mean, the Tuskegee students didn't get beaten up really badly. Alabama State students always did. Same demonstration, you know? They were treated very, very differently.

Chude: The class differences.

Jean: It's a major class difference, and what Jimmy's bringing up is that people didn't talk about it, but there was always the recognition of the class difference between the Macon country Blacks and professionals at Tuskegee. Tuskegee Institute is vast, because it had the largest VA hospital in the country.

And so they used to call it — I'll never forget it — "The Oasis of the South." That's what black people, not white people, called Tuskegee. And you know, it's like "This is really neat!" So no, you were not supposed to go out into the county. As a student you were being groomed for something else. And that certainly did not mean going out — interacting with share cropping families and stuff like that. It wasn't supposed to happen.

Don: Doesn't that relate in part to the history of Booker T. Washington? Play it safe, learn to do vocational things, don't make waves — 

Jean: But it took it much further than I think Booker T. would have, because Booker T. said "work with your hands," and the whole school, the whole campus was built by hand. So they took it much further than — 

Don: But the policy was not to make waves, and to stay in your place, and then you'd have a chance to rise. But if you went outside the limits, it would jeopardize your career and people's safety, and it seemed like that became the history of the institute.

Jean: But it was the history of all of them at that time. It was the history of Spelman. It was the history of Morehouse. It just happens that Tuskegee was in a different state from Spelman and Morehouse, but that's what I'm saying. That was the buffer zone. That was what was supposed to keep everything calm and quiet.

All over students were challenging the concept of leadership. The sit-in protests had demonstrated the power of young people. Now teachers and ministers and power brokers could be ignored and even challenged, the traditional leadership. It's no accident that students at Tuskegee would be the first in the country, that I know of, to lock up and hold hostage the college's board of trustees with a list of demands. A few months later, anti-war protest demonstrations would erupt at Jackson State and Orangeburg State and several students would be murdered by national guardsmen. People remember Kent State, but rarely the casualties on the Black campuses that occurred before.

Wazir: But that was the essential conflict between W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington. Dubois pushed professionalism, and he felt that people be trained to be professionals. Where Booker T. felt that people ought to be either school teachers and tradesman. You know, you couldn't leave Tuskegee without a trade, even from the high school level.

Jimmy: One of the things that I really want to mention before I forget it, some of the most rebellious among us were the sons and daughters of Tuskegee professionals. You take people like Wendell Harris. He came from a professional family. Simuel Schutz, he came from a professional family. Sammy Younge, he came from a professional family.

Wazir: Let me talk about Simuel Schutz just for a minute. And Sammy Younge. Those guys had never cracked an egg in their life. There were maids and maidservants at their house that took care of everything. And I remember that they weren't the only family that had that. And I was really — I was really fascinated. I said, "Black people got maidservants and stuff here and manservants up in their house taking care of things." And Sammy Younge, he just took it for granted, you know? But they were the most rebellious people on that campus. They rocked the boat.

Don: Because they felt entitled.

Chude: Kathleen Cleaver.

Jean: Yeah, Kathleen's another one.

Bruce: The last time we were here, Hardy Frye, who had grown up in Tuskegee but not of a — 

Jimmy: He wasn't a professional. That's right.

Bruce:  — a professional. He was talking about that, about how as a local Black kid he could spend time on the campus, but it was made very clear to him he could not date, you know? His place was very different, which is why he rebelled and went and joined the Army.

Jimmy: But of all the people that were involved with us, Hardy Frye was the only one in that category that I can think of.

Bruce: A local kid you mean?

Betita: This is so interesting, people's comments on this overall social structure and all these forces. I think if you look at almost every country that has had any kind of revolutionary movement you'll find the petty bourgeois kids, young people, being the ones who spark something though they don't fight all the battles there. It's true in China. It's true in Africa and independence movements. If you look all over it's the same thing. It's those ones that come out of privileged families who often provide the leadership. Cuba too, Fidel Castro was not a starving peasant, and neither was Che. He [Fidel Castro] was a lawyer, my God, he was a lawyer. So, what does that mean?

Jimmy: Che was a doctor. A physician.

Betita: It's just amazing to hear this reality from you all, because I didn't know it, about the South.

Jean: I reacted the same way, when they said that black families had maidservants and manservants. It was like, I guess this is why they call this "The Oasis." I don't understand what that meant.

Betita: But it's the control class that ends up rising up and surprises the cause. And that's very satisfying. I can see it in New Mexico, the same thing. It's also a colonized area, and where I lived in northern New Mexico it is the same thing. The colonized always has a control middle class to keep the natives down. And it's a pattern. And even though the South, African Americans, it was not a direct colony, but it was an imported colony. So it's amazing, fascinating.


Selma and the 1966 Elections

Don: I don't want to break the college plot, so tell me if there's more. But I wanted to move on to the time frame post-Black Power [Fall, 1966], when in Selma, in the elections, you had the same battle between the black middle class and the black working class/Movement people. The black middle class led by Amelia Boynton wanted to back Wallace for re- election, in this case George Wallace's wife Lurleen. So that they could get a good sheriff.

And the working class/SNCC group wanted to put up their own candidate and certainly not to back Lurleen Wallace. And you have this incredible war. And once at a meeting that I was at Boynton said that she didn't work all these years in Civil Rights to have some ignorant Negro become the sheriff of her county. I will never forget that. It took a lot to shock me, but that really shocked me. I knew she felt that. It was hearing it that really shocked me.

And eventually you had the same war now going on. The upper class blacks in Selma were aligned with the White Power structure against SNCC and the working class blacks. And this all came to a head when Stokely [Kwame Ture] came to town. This was the eve of the election, and SNCC had this sound truck and everybody, it seemed like everybody in the Movement was in Selma that day.

Bruce: This is in '66?

Don: Yes, '66. You had Stu House, who was the SNCC leader in Alabama. And then you had Stokely, of course, who was the Chairman of SNCC, and Stu is riding around the street, and on the left side of [Franklin] street is the jail, the mayor's office, the sheriff's office. And on the right hand side [of Franklin], was — 

Jimmy: The SNCC office.

Don: My office and the SNCC office.

Jimmy: And Amelia Boynton had an office further down on that side too.

Don: It was like a Gary Cooper western. And in fact, we sent out Christmas cards, and we had a photograph of both sides of the street. It said, "Greetings from the Forces of Good and Evil." [Laughter]

Bruce: It was just like that, yes. [Laughter] And they had a funeral home down there on the bottom floor.

Don: On the bottom, yeah. We could do everything in one building, you know? And so you have this sound truck going around and it's almost pathetic how impotent the message is. You know, it says, "Come out and Vote," very weak and light-hearted. We were kind of annoyed that it was sort of so passive, but it was aggressive enough to get the other side of the street crazy.

And so in a street so wide it could have taken six Humvees side by side going down the street, Stu parks the car for a moment. He had to go to the bathroom, and they decide to arrest him for "blocking traffic." There's no cars on the street altogether. In order to enforce this, somebody with a rifle smashes the windows of the vehicle and places him and somebody else under arrest. Somebody else comes down, they place him under arrest, and we all, what we hear is the lack of sound. All of a sudden the sound stops, and we all come running down. I come running next. Doby[?] comes running down. And by this time, everybody on the other side of the street has come over with rifles and pistols. I mean, this armed camp all based upon Stu's blocking traffic, in this ten-lane street.

And so, at this point, they charge Stu, and the other guy that I don't remember. And at that point, I go over, and while I'm arguing the legals with the sheriff, Stokely comes over to, what's his name? Cotton? He was the guy running for sheriff, right? He goes over to the head guy at that moment, whoever it is, and he suddenly goes into this "Yaza, boss," routine.

And they all know who he is, but he says, "Boss, I'm sorry we've done this and sorry for causing all this trouble, and you're right, we shouldn't be blocking this traffic, boss. And if it's okay with you, I'll just move the car to stop this crime from continuing." And they're all paralyzed. They know it's him, and why is he talking like that? And he gets in the car, he told me later on he just prayed that the keys were still there. And there were the keys. He gets in the car, and he turns on the ignition, turns on the speaker, and he says, "Now you know why we need Black Power!" [Laughter]

Don: Everybody goes wild! All these guys with guns, they were standing outside the truck, you know? [Laughter] And this became a charge of "inciting to riot." [Laughter]. The issue became whether the words, "Black Power," was inciting to riot, and that actually became a question. But I think if they'd had a recording of his voice, even I might have agreed that it was, except nobody moved. And that became the cause celebre of the area, because the Voting Rights Act had come into effect. Blacks are about to vote, and suddenly there is this cause celebre where you're arresting everybody who's trying to get people to vote in the first election where people have the right to vote.


Alabama 1966 Elections

Bruce: We ran a sheriff in Hale County — McAlistair I think his name was, and that was in May '66. Remember Gilmore? The guy who ran for Sheriff in Greene County?

Jimmy: Yeah, we ran a candidate too in Lowndes.

Bruce: The Voting Rights Act had just gone into effect in August of '65. In May of '66, I was working Hale County, of which Greensboro was the huge metropolis of maybe 2,000 people, which was the county seat.

Don: But did you have a federal registrar already coming down registering?

Bruce: No. Right after the Voting Act passed, we didn't have federal registrars at that time. A few counties did, but most did not. We started bringing people down to the Crenshaw courthouse to register, but there were no federal registrars then. That was in Crenshaw County, which was south of Montgomery. And we got a few people registered, but there was still enormous resistance, and they were using all kinds of pretexts. They couldn't use the literacy tests anymore, but they found all kinds of ways.

Then there were some local town elections that came up that Fall and people went out and found candidates to run. It was the abuse of those elections that provided the proof that got the Federal registrars in to a lot of counties. Not a single Black candidate won office anywhere in the state. We said, "All right, now you have to send the federal election registrars," because they had violated the Voting Rights Act in this election where the white registration was 110%, and the white turn-out was 120%. [Laughter] And almost no Blacks were allowed to vote even if they were registered. They were all turned away on one pretext or another.

So I think you're talking about May '66 which was the big state-wide election where Lurleen ran for Governor and there were county candidates for sheriff and other county offices.

Jimmy: That's right. In fact, the first election that I remember we had in Lowndes County in '65, we lost it the same way, and Hewlett ran for sheriff and didn't get elected [in '66]. Because they cheated us at that election. But the next time, he did win.

Bruce: Those first elections [in '65 and '66] were just a travesty. They were doing things like, if a black person showed up at the polls, they would say, "Oh, you're at the wrong poll. You have to go 10 miles down the road." And they were hiding ballot boxes, and doing all that kind of stuff. And there were the usual Federal — What we had was the Federal, "write it down," note-taker type people who would say, "Oh yeah. Right. Black person here. Beaten up." Or, "Voting box stolen." But they wouldn't do anything.

Jimmy: Well, that used to be the famous refrain from the FBI. They were the best note takers I've ever seen. [Laughter] They couldn't do anything unless you were resisting the draft or something like that.

Bruce: Right, right.

Wazir: Hoover came out point blank and said he wasn't going to protect any Civil Rights workers or protect people who were trying to get the franchise.

Don: They claimed they didn't have the authority.

Wazir: And he did. He had the authority. It's on the books.


Selma in '65

Bruce: Do you remember that funeral home that was there in Selma on the corner? Back in early '65, when we were doing the business boycott every weekend, they would arrest anyone who was picketing. So you couldn't even walk towards downtown carrying a picket sign, they'd grab you before you'd reach the business district. So what we used to do was make the signs up in Brown's Chapel. And somebody from the funeral home would take them and hide them in the coffins, and we would send the kids up the next day.

By this time the high school kids had pretty much burned out, so it was the junior high school kids. And they would walk up, and we would count them off at Brown Chapel, We'd tell them, "Go two by two, or two by three, wander up, sneak into the funeral home, open up the coffin, take out the sign, and as soon as you had 10 kids with signs, hit the streets." And some of them would get a half a block, sometimes a whole block, sometimes a block and a half. And the cops never figured out where they were getting these picket signs, because they were in the coffins. And so we were able to keep pickets going all day, we would time it out so each group would be arrested and have a big turmoil, and then it would die down. And then we would send another group, so to keep up the action on Saturday, which was the big shopping day, because the people from the rural came in, to keep turmoil going and keep the cops on the street which intimidated the shoppers.

It was interesting listening to the Tuskegee stories because before we started taping we had been talking about how in Mississippi people in the Greenwood area or the Macomb area had no idea about the Movement that was going on in northern Mississippi based in Holly Springs. And it was similar in Alabama. I was working in western Alabama, the western side of the state, centered in Selma, and we had no idea of all this stuff going on around Tuskegee, which is on the eastern side of the state. We never heard these stories.

Jean: But a lot of Tuskegee students went to those mass meetings.

Bruce: Yeah, but we never heard people talking about what was going on in Tuskegee, or maybe I just missed it.

Wazir: It's possible — you might have thought that nothing was going on. It wouldn't have occurred to you that something was going on in Macon County, but they were participating in other places in Alabama, and things would happen in Macon County simultaneously.

Jimmy: Because there were a lot of people from Tuskegee who were involved in Montgomery, especially around the time when I first became involved, which my initial involvement was in Montgomery, right before the Selma to Montgomery march. In fact, during that time, they had a SNCC office in Montgomery.


Who Benefited?

Chude: Were there ever discussions about what it meant to be organizing against "them" that were trying to prevent people, black people, from voting versus what was going to happen once people could vote and what the upper echelon of the black community was going to do with those votes? I mean, did you anticipate that class struggle? I am curious how you talked about it.

Wazir: We tried to prepare. In Mississippi there was a budding grassroots organization that got derailed after the Summer Project came about. That gave the middle class group a chance to take the reins. But in the heat of the day everyday, it kind of pushed them into the background. We were building grassroots organizations. We had the support of the established groups, you know, people who had been able to vote all those years. They had the Voter's League and the Civic League, and they all belonged to the same ones. The Civic League they voted, and they pulled together to see who the few of them were going to vote for in the city election. And they pulled themselves together to see who was going to vote for — the statewide and county election. And so we had that support.

But when the Summer Project was over the bourgeoisie people came out of the woodworks saying "It's safe now for us to take it over," so to speak. And these were the people who got elected to different offices, not those in the grassroots organizations that we were trying to build. For example, Fanny Lou Hamer never got elected to a position in Sunflower County. And people like her who came from the grassroots, they didn't get elected.

Jimmy: Although she didn't get elected, I'm sure that she had more clout than most people who did.

Wazir: Oh yeah, of course.

Don: In Green County, Alabama, you had a radical, Gilmore elected sheriff in '66. So it wasn't across the board.

Bruce: You know, in SNCC you guys were trying to build community grassroots organizations. In SCLC, where I was, that issue didn't even get discussed. [Laughter]

Even the people doing the field work, leading the field work, like Rev. James Orange, who was a great guy, didn't raise those questions. It was not something that was discussed among SCLC field staff as to "What kind of people are going to be running for office?" I think they all just assumed what kind of people would be running for office, which would be the people you would expect — ministers, doctors, lawyers, and so on.

At one point in Alabama we were between big campaigns. And whenever that happened the field workers were usually pretty much left on their own to do whatever they wanted to do until the next mobilization came on. And I said, "Well, I'm going to work to try and organize farmers around the ASCS elections." That was the 'Agricultural something Stabilization something' which dealt with the cotton allotments. There was serious money at stake in those elections. I got no support from SCLC on that, they didn't forbid it, they just ignored it. And then in Grenada when there was sort of a lull, I started to organize a welfare rights group, and again they didn't tell me no, but they made it very clear that this was not something that would be encouraged. So at least at SNCC you had that concept. Within SCLC, there was just the attitude of "There's a certain leadership that will be the leadership. That's it."

Jimmy: In Lowndes County, I worked on the ASCS election, and they even let SNCC people count the votes. Which was important because anytime you can tell somebody how much of a particular crop they can plant — 

Don: Yeah, that's a lot of money involved.

Wazir: We worked with the grassroots people. Those other people [the elite] weren't going to work with us, you see. They had too much to lose, you see? The grassroots people, they figured they didn't have nothing to lose. They had lost everything already, you know? The middle class, they would always say, "We're with you 100%, but you see I got two daughters in college, or this son in medical school, this son — "

So that's what was left to us to deal with. The reason Amzie Moore and people like that were advocating grassroots organizing, was they [the grassroots] were the people who were going to make it happen. They are the people who have seen both sides, they can't be hoodwinked or fooled or rocked to sleep. They know the uppity blacks and the whites, and they know all of the oppressed. And when we finally got things moving, that's when things moved. We wanted to teach these people how to run government, run their own stuff. Our theory was that some gains would happen before they would get corrupted, you know? That's what we figured. And people would be much further ahead, but in most cases it didn't happen like that.

Jimmy: I think that Lowndes County we came the closest to doing what we wanted to do as possible in that we were able to get Hewlett elected sheriff, and he was one of the — Well, he was a fine mover, he was the Chairman or the President of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. And then there were other people, I don't remember who they were, who were also elected to public office. So we were able to do that. But in Macon County, we weren't as successful in terms of creating an organization. But after the second election in Macon County, I can remember on two occasions, one when Scott B. and I met with [Imison?], and he thanked us for the good work that we had done out in the county, because we were responsible for getting a lot of people elected — I mean, registered to vote. And the same thing with [Reed]. Remember Reed who ran for the State Legislature? And he won, you know. And he also thanked us and said that if it wasn't for us going out there and talking to people, getting them prepared to vote, you know, that they never would have been elected.


Alabama Compared to Mississippi

Betita: What you think are the differences between organizing like you were doing in Alabama and in Mississippi? What were some of the key differences? You touched on them, but I was just wondering if someone could sum them up. And secondly, were the differences between different counties so much or so great that it's hard to do that?

Don: In answer to the first question about the differences between the two states, Alabama was, to some extent, the forgotten state. It had no money, few organizations, and as a result we had fewer problems as far as unity. We worked with SCLC with complete harmony, and we had church group organizations — names that I can't remember at the moment — that were independent, and worked with them very well.

Betita: When you're talking about, when you say "we," you're talking about various — 

Don: Well, in this case, it would be SNCC.

Jimmy: SCLC.

Jean: It's hard for me to compare the two states, police or klansmen, because there was so much terror in each, and so many deaths of civil rights workers in each. The thing is, no segment of the white community would stop the violence, not the churches, not the police, not the officials, not the moneyed class, and certainly not the KKK.

Don: In Marshall County, in Mississippi, the county itself was easy, but there were so many people butting in and complaining about "The grassroots is against upper income," — though not so much in that county — that it was a much more difficult situation.

Wazir: One of the most outstanding differences, the one that stands out, is the NAACP which at the time had been totally banned in Alabama by law. It had been sued, and they still had their suit hanging over their head. In Mississippi, we were able to form what is called COFO which was made up of NAACP and SCLC and CORE and SNCC. And each one of these organizations had somebody representing them in the field; however, naturally SNCC had more people in the field in Mississippi. Though CORE had Madison County and over there, Meridian, Philadelphia. They had projects. SCLC, they basically helped prepare people in Mississippi to run their businesses, they took citizenship classes and so forth like that, which was good.

Bruce: Annell Ponder.

Wazir: Yeah, they set up citizenship schools all over the place, which helped with the literacy part. I think SCLC did that better in Mississippi than they did it anywhere else so far as literacy schools.

Bruce: It wasn't just literacy. It was also political education. It wasn't just teaching people to read, because there was definite political education. And a lot of those people, the key people, were taken to the training sessions at Frogmore, South Carolina. And they later came back and were a lot of the grassroots local leaders that you were talking about.

Wazir: Yes, yes, yes, that's right. That's how Fanny Lou, and Annell Ponder, and June Johnson, and Euvester Simpson got arrested coming back from Frogmore South Carolina.

Bruce: Right, in Winona.

Wazir: Yeah, from Frogmore. So COFO kind of aligned the staff of SNCC, the radical going into the bowels of the beast kind of people. It kind of coalesced and came out at a really sharp point. When we moved into the area, we had a team doing things that just — Well, we had an organizing team  — organizing on those different levels simultaneously.

And this is why most of the SNCC staff felt so strongly about not having the Summer Project of '64 at that time, because we had a Movement of that type going on. And anybody that couldn't be brought up to speed, in other words it was basically about people stopping what we were doing to bring somebody up to speed to what we were doing and their whole agenda. That was impossible. It didn't happen. Things got stymied, stopped. Everything had to stop and accommodate the Summer Project instead of things keeping moving, you know? That basically was the difference, because for Mississippi in 1964 the MFDP challenge had become the key.

And Alabama kind of got discounted, put on the back burner. All of those things were still happening. Organizing were still going, but the emphasis was on these two powerful Senators, Eastland and Stennis. We were going to make a move on them, on their whole political base.

Bruce: I worked in Alabama in '65 in Selma and then in rural Alabama, and then in '66 in Grenada, Mississippi. And mostly, I didn't see a lot of difference. Now maybe that was because I was within SCLC, and one SCLC project was pretty much like another, one could say. I would say the slight differences I saw — Well, first of all, the first thing I noticed was that people in Alabama tended to say, "Things are really terrible here, but thank God I don't live in Mississippi." [Laughter] And then when I got to Mississippi, I heard them say, "Oh Lord, it's terrible here, but thank heaven I don't live in Alabama."

Don: They were wrong. Mississippi was far worse.

Wazir: Of course it was.

Jimmy: I don't think so.

Bruce: This might be a difference of years. Wazir was talking about '63 and '64 and I'm talking about '65 and '66. But what I saw was that in Alabama the resistance and the repression was more police and state troopers with some Klan; whereas, in Mississippi, it was more Klan and White Citizens Council with some state troopers. In Alabama there was some Klan, obviously, the people who were killed: Viola Luizzo and so forth, but the real center of the resistance was the police, the state troopers, Wallace standing in the doorway. And in Mississippi, the state troopers, at least when I was there in '66, were present but they took a back seat to the Klan in terms of violent repression.

Jean: Except when they were in the Klan.

Bruce: Except when they were in it, but in terms of the organizational form — 

Don: My question is, "Which was the worse operation?" And I thought the police were much easier to work with.

Bruce: In Alabama.

Don: Right, in Alabama compared to working against the Klan in Mississippi.

Bruce: Because they were out in the open.

Don: They were out in the open. But the Klan was on its own. There was no discipline. There was no centralization.

Bruce: And with the police, like you said, Bull Connor, Al Lingo, we had the press. And the press would be there to cover it.

Don: Bull Connor and Jim Clark really sacrificed themselves. Because I mean, they were chosen because they were psychotic. [Laughter] They didn't represent the South. They were literally psychotic people.

Bruce: We learned from Albany, you've got to find the psychotic sheriff, because Pritchard was too smart.

Don: Do you know the story of Bull Connor's heart attack? He's had a heart attack, and he's in the hospital, and Dr. King is going out to pray for his recovery. And everybody is just enraged. "Why would you pray for that miserable son of a bitch?" King gets to a place where Connor can hear him and he's saying, "The Lord will take care of him," and whatnot. And then later I told people, "If that doesn't kill Connor, I don't know what will!" [Laughter]

Wazir: The state troopers in Mississippi were racist, but they had a pride. There were a few that might have allied themselves with the Klan, but they — and I only understood it later after the Movement — they were free of Klan pressure.

Don: I agree with you.

Wazir: And they would move on those suckers if they tried to approach them with that kind of stuff, move on them for approaching them to support the Klan. They took pride in that they — I mean, this is what I have. This is something I can be proud of. This is something I can be — So it made them act differently.

Jimmy: Yeah, but you didn't have that in some of those counties with the sheriffs and deputies there, like in Neshoba County.

Bruce: In Alabama, being state trooper was almost like a political appointment, and so they had to be — They were dependent on the Klan and the politicians and tied in to them in a way that the Mississippi state troopers might not have been.

Don: Another difference, I think, is that post-Selma Bridge, the white South had learned that this beating up of nuns and priests and Civil Rights workers was not a great idea for their cause. And while you could control that in some places, you couldn't control it in other places.

Bruce: In Mississippi.

Don: That's right.

Bruce: In Grenada, they certainly hadn't learned that.

Don: In Alabama, the reason they were voting out Jim Clark was because he brought on the Voting Rights Act, but you couldn't get that into Mississippi heads. The other thing is the White Citizen's Council, which were above it all, they were manipulating the Klan to do what they wanted to do while they were 'respectable' and stayed out of it. So you had money people really funding and directing the hoodlums. In my opinion, it was a much more dangerous situation.

Bruce: And there was a lot more money in Alabama than you had in Mississippi.

Don: That's right. You've got these two big industrial areas.

Bruce: Right. But I don't want to leave any impression that Alabama was not as savage as Mississippi.

Jimmy: I still think it was more savage.

Don: Can you think of a county or counties in Alabama that you thought it was too dangerous to work in?

Jimmy: Lowndes County was really dangerous.

Don: But you worked it.

Jean: But one of the reasons Lowndes hadn't been touched was because it was so dangerous.

Don: How about Pearl River County in Mississippi? It was like death. It's where Mack Charles Parker was lynched. I mean, these are counties that nobody would go into.

Wazir: We had a — what's his name? We had to pull him out of Jefferson county, this white kid named something Klein. He was married. But he went in there, and not me, but some fellow like George Greer or Houston had to go in there and get him and bring him out of there and swear not to ever go back in there. I mean, it was too dangerous. Some places in Mississippi like that, if you weren't going in there with a Gatlin gun, you shouldn't go.


Mississippi Rape Trial

Don: While I was in Mississippi, I picked up a case through SNCC of a guy who was accused of rape, attempted rape, in Pearl River County. Now we weren't supposed to go in there. I don't know whether I was just sort of crazy or just didn't know enough, but I spoke with Jess Brown, God bless him — 

Wazir: Yes indeed. Jess is the man.

Don: Who had been Mack Parker's lawyer, and the judge had asked him, "Are you going to be staying over town tonight?" And he said, "No, I have to go back home to my wife." That's one of the reasons he's alive. He would have been killed that night. Well, I should have known more. If I had read more history, I think I wouldn't have gone. [Laughter]

So I go down there, and it's kind of simple. All we have to do is show there are no blacks on the jury. It's that simple. In order to do it, we need somebody to look at the jury list. So it was all arranged with my client who I'll call "Joe." It was his family was going to look over the list and just say, "There are one or two black names," and that's all. We'll just throw it out. Easy. I got to the family's house and they wouldn't let me in the door. They said, "We would probably be killed if we even talk to you." And so I go back to the hotel room and I'm totally unprepared. Fortunately, I was from corrupt New York Wall Street, so I had ideas on how to deal with these things. [Laughter]

I just got up in court, and I said, "I can prove conclusively that there are only three blacks out of ten zillion on the jury roll." And the prosecutor stood up. He says, "Shows you what he knows. There are eight names." I said, "Okay." [Laughing and clapping]. There are eight names. Now we got it all established. Now, it's a free ride.

The defendant was a guy from Chicago, and he's working on a plantation, and he had been with white women [up north]. And he goes up, so he told me he went up to the woman and said, "Mrs. [name witheld], I'd like to be with you." [Laughter]

Jimmy: But he was in Mississippi.

Don: Well, that night she told her husband.

Jimmy: Whoops!

Don: And next thing you know, he's arrested, charged with attempted rape. Now, what none of us knew is that nobody else knew this. The husband told the sheriff that there'd been this attempted rape. He'd told "Joe" that he'll get what Mack Parker got. He'll be lynched if he doesn't plead guilty. So he pled guilty, and he's doing life in Parchman. That's when we got the case.

So now that we know we can get him a new trial, it's sort of a free ride to see what kind of evidence we can develop in advance. So I called the victim. I called her to the stand, and I ask her the usual questions. And I finally get to the key questions, and I apologized to her in advance for asking all these personal things. But I asked her, "Did he say these words?" And she said exactly what he said. I said, "After that, did he touch you in any way?" And she said, "No." And I was just shocked, because I assumed she was going to tell a story. And I said, "Well, I mean, did he — forgive me now — touch you anywhere above the waist? Below the waist?" "No." "Did he touch your clothing?" "No." "Rip off your clothing?" "No." "Did he do anything except say those words?" She says, "No." I'm just baffled, you know? And I say, "OK. No further questions." And the DA is just as baffled as I am. They didn't know. Nobody knew that it hadn't happened. She thought that he got life imprisonment for just saying those words, and that was appropriate.

She didn't know. And so, at this point, the DA says, "Now we'll put on our evidence," and they read his confession, where he confessed to raping her, after she just said nothing had happened to her. And that convinced the judge, and he then re-sentenced him. At this point, I'm with another lawyer, and I turn to him and I say, "You know, Bruce, there's something that's really worrying me. I don't think we're going to get out of here alive. I don't think they're going to let us leave this courtroom alive, because we're the only people who know that this has happened. All they got to do is kill us and "Joe" and destroy the record, and then they have no problem. But if we get out, all hell is going to break loose."

So he goes to the telephone, and he calls the ACLU boss who later fired me for working with SNCC and Black Power, who's outraged that he finds that we're in Pearl River County. And he said, "Calm down. What can we do?" And he says, "Well, I'm going to call the FBI, but I don't think that will do any good." Just do your best.

And then I say, "Your Honor, we've just spoken to J. Edger Hoover." [Laughter] "And he advises us that if anything happens to Bruce or I or "Joe," — I was using his first name. Actually, I was breaking all SNCC rules. I was deferring to keep the judge as calm as I possibly could. I said, "Then you personally will serve 10 years in a federal penitentiary. And that goes for every person in this courtroom." Well, he had a few words for me after that, and we got out, and we got "Joe" out in another year. I mean, that was Pearl River County. I mean, you didn't have places like that in Alabama.

Wazir: Even Amzie Moore didn't even recommend nobody going to Jefferson County.

Jimmy: One thing that I thought about, with SNCC in Alabama we worked mainly in the Black Belt counties. I think that in Mississippi there were some counties where you had a majority of whites in the county where we had Civil Rights activities going on. And I think this might be the main reason why you perceived Mississippi to be that way.

Don: But how many whites did you need to terrorize a county?

Jimmy: But see, it was different when you had like in Lowndes County for example, more than 80% of the population was black.

Don: But all the guns were in the hands of the whites, you know.

Jimmy: No, every black person I knew had a gun.

Wazir: In Mississippi we were working in what was called the Second Congressional District where the Black Belt is. That's where it was the most oppressive. More lynching and all that kind stuff went on in that area; although the majority was black.

Bruce: Well, I think it goes back to the thing that in Alabama the focus of the resistance was from the state government through the state troopers and the police and Governor Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. Whereas in Mississippi the main focus was the Klan, individual terror, assassination, which would then make Mississippi worse because with the state repression, you're not going to have as much chance of being simply gunned down on the street at night.

Wazir: They had that thing so organized in Mississippi. The state troopers were clean of the Klan, because these are the people, if things get too far out of hand, they put everything back in check.

Wazir: And they knew they had to have that; otherwise, the Klan did not move unless the powers that be, which you just mentioned, the Citizen Councils, the people kept themselves squeaky clean, said "Move.'

Don: I always called the state troopers to alert them, to give them instruction that we were [coming].

Wazir: Right. Exactly.

Don: So the higher level would have a chance to think about it.

Wazir: Because things that they didn't want to happen -

Bruce: They did that in Alabama too.

Wazir: But it worked in Mississippi. Things that they didn't want to happen, that would go out of the range of what they wanted to happen at a particular time, would not happen when you called a state trooper in Mississippi.

Jimmy: But the same thing can be said about Alabama. When the circle of power structure didn't want to have nothing happen, it didn't happen.

Jean: As I see it, Freedom Summer [in Mississippi] was like a classroom for what people would take from it and take to Alabama. They hadn't conceived of Alabama and how they would do things differently until the Summer Project.

Bruce: Yes, and the Selma campaign grew directly out of the [MFDP] challenge. They started planning it right after the challenge. After the betrayal in Atlantic City, Bevels and Diane Nash and people like that said, "All right, we have to do something different." In other words, they had that whole strategy at the Selma campaign, which they started planning that the next month after Atlantic City.

Don: It was a different plan than the one that went into effect, because it was SNCC that was doing the planning, but it was Dr. King that turned it into a media event. And the "Selma" that is a household word is a result of those television cameras that were brought, that came because of Dr. King's presence.

Bruce: But that was the plan that Bevels came up with, and then went and started to work for Dr. King to implement it.

Don: Well, SNCC was already in Selma.

Bruce: Yes, with Prathia Hall and Worth Long and that. So I'm agreeing with what Jean said that in a way the Summer Project was a class, was a school, a place where people learned and applied what they learned to Alabama.

Don: I agree with Jean completely with that analysis, but the other point is the capitalist issue. Mississippi had nothing, unless you think Jackson is something. Alabama had two major metropolitan areas which were quite dependent upon the North. So there was a great deal more control in Alabama. And as the federal government got more involved, after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, a pressure was felt very strenuously in Alabama that you could never impose in Mississippi.


Kwame Ture & Alabama

Chude: Gloria [Xifaras Clark] said that in the fall of '64 Stokely [Kwame Ture] was still there [Mississippi], and Ivanhoe Donaldson in Holly Springs. Every night the ones based in Holly Springs were up discussing not just politics but philosophy, figuring it all out. Stokely would come over from, — I guess Greenwood — and they'd stay up all night talking. And it sounds like for whatever reason, that area still had a lot of energy.

She said that Ivanhoe sent the white women into the most dangerous areas. He knew that the black men couldn't go in. They'd get killed. But he thought the women had some chance, and so he was sending them in. And they were doing education. They weren't just doing voter registration. They were doing some kind of Freedom Schools, and what Gloria says is that she was saying, "But Ivanhoe, you want us as whites to go in and teach black history?" And his attitude was, "Yeah. Maybe since you're white they'll take it seriously."

It sounded like there was still a lot of energy there and that certainly when then Stokely and others moved over to Alabama, they must have taken some of what they'd been learning in those counties.

Jean: I can see them staying up at night and battling, but I also remember times when there was total exhaustion. Well, you know, I saw that in Wazir himself — the summer wiped people out. A lot of them remained in Mississippi through that fall, but by spring they were ready to go somewhere. And that's when the march opened up — 

Wazir: Right.

Jean: Much more of SNCC went in to Alabama than had been there before. Far more SNCC workers came to Alabama as a result of that confrontation on the bridge than had been there before.

Don: Well, I guess because of the bridge, when Black Power was declared, Selma became the capitol of Civil Rights and certainly the capitol of Black Power just because of what it symbolized, and everything emanated from Selma.

Jean: But those are two different years. The march is '65, and Black Power is '66.

Don: Right, but in '65, you got the march that's creating all this energy. In '66, it erupts. Jean: It just occurred to me how closely Kwame's Movement experience parallels the ebbs and tides in the Movement itself. Do you know what I mean? I mean, he starts out as a student activist. He doesn't get South until he goes on the Freedom Rides, and that's when he lands in Parchman, right? And then we all know what happens from there, but those huge events of the sixties Movement, you can see very clearly through, you know, his life as a young activist. Very interesting.

Jimmy: Now you're saying during the time of the Freedom Rides, he was at Parchman?

Wazir: Yeah, he went to Parchman.

Wazir: And what's his name that's still in Alabama? Bob Mants. Up until a point he was one of Kwame's lieutenants. Because when they came through there to Tuskegee campus in the fall of '64, both of them looked dehydrated and wiped out. They were going to go and get something else started. That's when you all started going over on the weekends to Lowndes County and Green County and all that kind of stuff. But they had learned a lot. Kwame had learned a lot in Mississippi, because prior to that, he was not a stand- still organizer. He was a mobilizer, but when his foot hit the ground in Alabama, he was organizing, which surprised me. He had the staying power, to stay, because he learned — 

Jean: He learned a difference.

Wazir: He learned a difference.

Jean: Between mobilizing and organizing.

Wazir: Yes, he did.

Jean: He said that once. I remember.

Additional Comments

From: Gwen Patton, March 9, 2004

Thanks for this discussion! I think it is important to make comparative studies, — but I continue to sense, even in this discussion, a competitive edge from those who organized in Mississippi. Mississippi was a powerful experiment, and many COFO planning and strategy meetings were held at Tuskegee Institute in Dean P. B. Phillip's office, and we gathered powerful lessons for subsequent movements from Mississippi. We were all oppressed and still are. Each struggle rests on its respective historical conditions and the character of its movement. For example, the labor struggles (OIC and United Mine Workers in Birmingham) made class differences within the caste very sharp in Alabama.

I was happy that the discussion noted that Tuskegee students had a four-prong strategy: Class struggle within the caste, and race struggle outside the caste; and for true freedom on campus and in the greater community. Your analysis was similar to my own analysis. Thanks.

I appreciated the discussion around the state-orchestrated violence and murder perpetrated on us and our people in Alabama (Wallace, Al Lingo, Jim Clark, etc) with para-military back-up from the KKK and cohorts, compared to Mississippi where the para-military forms took the lead with the sanction of the state. A very interesting twist,  — but the bottom line is still that the state perpetrated violence and murder on us and our people, whether it was in AL, MS, VA, SC, NC, MD, GA, TN, ARK or anywhere else where movements were taking shape and consciousness.

It is also important to note that all of our candidates on the 1966-1972 maiden voyage of Black political power were elected as independents, — from the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA) coordinated by John Cashin of Huntsville, AL. This was a response to the shameful debacle of our so-called friends at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The contradiction with the NDPA was that it insisted that it was the "true democratic party" and fought a lawsuit to prove it as such (I have the court files in the archives),  — as if it really mattered, from my point of view. Now, Blacks in AL are fully co-opted into the Democratic Party which was an absolute "no, no" in 1966 when the Lowndes Country Freedom Organization and its Black Panther crystallized.

Yes, Kwame learned from Lowndes County that there is a fundamental difference between mobilizing and organizing. Organizing requires "staying power." Movements cannot be built, let alone sustained, if organizers are coming in and out of an ongoing movement. In the 1960s I called them "interlopers," and I still do today.

Gilmore was known as the "Sheriff without a Gun." I think Lou Gossett made a movie about him. And, yes, Lowndes County people have always carried guns. A true account during the peak of struggle by tenant farmer and land renters was that if the overseer carried his gun openly, Black folks in the filed carried their guns openly, either in the bib-pocket of their overalls or on a belt on their hips. If the overseer concealed his gun, then the field hands would do likewise. You may want to read INDIGNANT HEART by Charles Denby which is a true story about Lowndes County life. The people in Lowndes County have a history of self-defense, protecting their families and their property. You may also want to read REAPING THE WHIRLWIND by Robert Norrell.

I look forward when we can take about our movement experiences as matured organizers and not as childish competitors.

Sisterly — Gwen Patton

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