How did it affect you?
In one word, profoundly. I was never the type of person who would sit by and watch something happen without becoming involved, so my becoming involved was a natural thing. When the Voting Rights Act, and other civil rights acts were actually signed in to law, it was emotionally overwhelming to me.
Do you feel as if you made a difference?
Yes. However, in the recent past and now I'm not sure that the impact that we made, that the differences that we made are going to hold. That is; as I see things happening like laws being repealed that effect minorities, that allowed them to be accepted in to schools, colleges and universities. That allowed them to be hired on all levels, and not just as maids or janitors...I am sickened. When I hear Black people speak for the restrictions of these laws, such as affirmative action and so forth, I wonder why on earth did we even bother? Those same Black people who speak out against affirmative action benefited from affirmative action in their own lives, and yet they try to sell the bill of goods that affirmative action is no longer relivant or viable. Which is not true. When they dare to say that all employers would hire Blacks, women and other minorities on their own without affirmative action, they are speaking without thinking. Although, in some minds the civil rights issues are solved, in most thinking minds we know that they are not. We realize that if you have a qualified Black person, woman or other minority applying for a job, and a qualified white male applying for that same job, that the white male will get the job. That if it were not for these restrictions placed on hiring in the first place, that the white males would work, then on a much lessor extent the white females, then the minority workers would be considered. While in general they act as though affirmative action was a whim....and some sort of bandaid program, indeed it was not.
I know that we made a huge difference. First we helped to shine a light on what was wrong with our society with segregation and racism at a time when most people didn't want to look. And we changed our own lives by becoming more conscious political actors and more effective organizers through that experience.
It was a shock to the police and authorities to see. They knew we were Mississippians, and to see us facing up to them and standing up to them, they couldn't understand what had happened, what had gone wrong. So breaking through that fear and getting people to make the attempt to register to vote, that was a big, big step. And I know the students reading this today, they cannot appreciate how big a step that was. But yes, we made a difference. We made a difference because we put ourselves out there first. We had to do what we were asking the people to do.
I think that one of things that we as a movement did was get the Voting Rights Act passed. I think that we motivated a lot of the local people in Lowndes County to believe that the situation could change somewhat, and it did. Since I left the South, I've been back to Lowndes County two or three times, and I'd have an opportunity to talk to people and when they recall the old days they talk a lot about SNCC and how they feel that SNCC impacted their lives and just about all of it was very positive because it gave them motivation to stand up to oppression.