Canvassing in Louisiana
Sharon Burger (CORE volunteer)
Mishawaka (IN) Enterprise, July 30.1964

Excerpted from "Louisiana Summer 1964" CORE Pamphlet, November 1964

THIS AFTERNOON we did some canvassing about 30 miles from Plaquemine. We talked to people who were afraid of us, people who didn't want us bothering them, and many more people, who wanted us to help them get registered. The various community leaders are very concerned about their people (I speak of the Negro community) and anxious to work with us in every way they can.

I'm the only Hoosier here, but Chicago and Detroit are represented. There are kids from California, New York, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, and Ohio.

You've driven through the south. You've gone down bad roads and seen shacks with a dozen ragged children sitting on the porch — too hot to play. Well, that's where I am — sitting on the sagging porches or inside on a broken down bed with bugs crawling over the walls and floors and ceilings — walking through a dry field under a blazing sun to a woman picking butter beans — trying to get past the wall of fear a white face causes.

And even if they know of usthat they have nothing to fear from CORE itself, even if they would like very much to register to vote, even if they know that when they can vote they may be able to change some things — they aren't sure that someone won't fire bullets into their homes in the night, because they were seen talking to us in the day.

Yesterday a man sat talking to us with a knife in his hand. As we were leaving he laughed and told us what had been in his mind when he'd seen us coming. White bill collectors down here [to] hire Negroes to lead them to the houses they're looking for and to beat the debtors.

Last week I was in the "home" of a young couple. He was one of the fortunate few who had a job, and the three room shack they lived in was owned by his employer, who took the rent from the wages. She was barefoot, wearing a dress that was faded and didn't fit.

Dirt was blowing in through all the holes and cracks, but they had a new chair, there was a plant on the porch, the cheap bedspread was clean. They try — they have a little bit of next to nothing — and they may lose even that if they do something the "white folks" don't want them to do — such as register to vote.

This morning we had about 20 Negroes waiting outside the registrar's office. They were standing quietly and calmly, waiting for their turns to go into the office where the registrar looks over their shoulders and blows smoke in their faces as they fill out the forms. (They have to go in one at a time.)

The registrar walked out behind a lady he had just failed (without telling her why, of course) and saw a CORE member. He said, "Come here, you. Do you work for CORE?" Bob said yes and the man shouted "I refuse to be intimidated."

He then threatened to close the office if Bob didn't leave, and as Bob was leaving he said that he wouldn't let anyone that Bob had brought down come into the office.

And people say don't force things. We're not asking the registrar to invite a Negro home for supper — neither he nor the Negro wants that. We're asking that an American citizen, 21 years of age, who has lived one year in this parish, six months in this ward, and 30 days in this precinct be allowed to fill out an application to become a registered voter.

And who can say that no pressure should be brought to bear on a man — on a state — which says OK if that citizen is white and No if that citizen is black.

Hooray! The boys just came back to the clinic (we're teaching the forms in a church); and said FIVE PEOPLE PASSED! We danced around and grinned silly grins at one another. FIVE people in ONE day. It must be some kind of record!

Loria and I are canvassing Montpelier this afternoon and holding a clinic in a chapel there tonight. I have been soaked with sweat since I've been here. I don't remember how dry clothes feel. The work is hard — a lot of walking in a lot of sun. My patience is really developing — everything takes a lot of time — especially teaching the minute details of the form.

But I wouldn't be anywhere else doing anything else for anything. I really feel — for the first time in a long time' — that there's some reason for me to be living and that what I'm doing really matters.

About the dangers — three of our group were arrested while canvassing in another part of the state. I'm in St. Helena Parish this week and comparatively safe. The sheriff here is afraid of us because they don't want the Justice Department here at any cost.

Copyright © Sharon Burger. 1964.

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(Labor donated)