How and why did you become active in the Civil Rights Movement?

Patricia Anderson:
I personally became active in the Civil Rights movement as a clear matter of choice not chance. Some years before I was old enough to make that kind of a decision, My Grandfather, a half breed Osage Indian himself, owned a very large ranch, and employed a number of men to do various types of jobs on the ranch.

When World War II, came along, most of the white men who were employed by him were drafted in to the services, and he was left having to manage and run a ranch of more than 15,000 acres. About that time there were several black families who sent a representative to ask my Grandfather if he would hire black men to do the work, and my Grandfather replied, "Yes". When these black men came to work for him, they of course, brought their families with them, and eventually established a small community in the woods of my grandfather's land.

My grandfather quietly assisted them in building their homes, and took them food and made sure that they had medical service if they needed it. In Oklahoma, this was in exact opposite to how most black people were treated by any 'white' person. Although Oklahoma is not considered a 'southern' state by geographical bounds, in mind set it was a bastion of racial prejudice then [the 40's] and unfortunately generally still is today. I was about four or five years old when I first visited this unknown community with my grandfather..the first of several visits that I have never forgotten.

The reason I became involved in the Civil Rights movement was set in my head from years before, by a man who's humanity is alive in me today. He showed me that people are people, and the color of their skin is incidental and a happenstance of birth. When I was made aware of the 'movement' I of course, was one of the first persons to volunteer. I sat in, I marched and yes, there were people in my neighborhood and in every part of my life in the white world that hated me much worse that they hated the movement itself....I was spat upon, and called almost every name in the book! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

Hardy Frye:
At 64 I continue to be amazed at how I grew up differently in some ways. I grew up in Tuskegee Alabama. About 10% of the town and county's population was white. They owned all the shit downtown, and we Blacks owned the rest.

I spent a lot of my growing up days on the college campus of Tuskeege. It's now called Tuskeege University. I had grown up where they make a very real distinction between a Black Ph.D. and M.D, and Blacks with no degrees. I ran and walked through college labs all my life. I've been looking at all this stuff, but I was from the other side of the tracks in the local Black community. I couldn't date certain Black girls and all that kinda stuff.

But I had a very good sense of history because of my teachers. Sammy Young's mother was one of my teachers. They made me join the NAACP at ten I think — nine or ten. You had to bring fifty cents to school. You had to pay whatever the fee was. You had to join. You didn't have a choice. Everybody belonged. And they would teach us Black history out of the "back door." It wasn't much in the main curriculum. I also remember Beulah Johnson a local NAACP member and Jacqueline Johnson's mother was one of my teachers. And so I kind of grew up with this whole thing a sense of Black history.

When I was growing up, there was no Black movement in the local community that I was aware of. There was a Black movement on the campus though. I was around a little for the Montgomery Bus boycott. I joined the Army just as that was going on. I was kind of naive, I went in the Army and I had this great respect for people in the Civil Rights Movement. I read about it and everything in Jet magazine. That's all I read. You read Ebony, and you read Jet magazine.

After I got out of the Army, the first thing I remember that was significant was the "Tuskegee boycott" of local white merchants in Tuskegee. They had voted to gerrymand all of the Black voters in the town to be outside of the city limits thereby denying most Blacks the right to vote in city elections. During the gerrymander strike or boycott, people actually drove to Montgomery to get groceries some 40 miles away. And that wasn't easy for my father because he had no car. So it wasn't about just going down and not buying no groceries, you had to figure out a way to get to Montgomery and back, which is about 80 miles round trip or something like that.

Bruce Hartford:
As a Jew, I grew up learning about the Holocaust, 6,000,000 men, women, and children murdered because of their religion. I hated those who committed that crime, and I also hated those who stood by in silence and let that crime take place without protest. If I hate those whose silence allowed my people to be murdered, I could not remain silent while others were being persecuted and abused in my own country. 2000 years ago, the great Rabbi Hillel asked: "If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?"

Gabe Kaimowitz:
My immigrant parents were active in labor union organizations. I picketed for the first time in New York City in 1962-63 for quality education, and later picketed with a colleague to protest restrictions on First Amendment rights of journalists like me by our TV Age publisher. That colleague, I and our spouses volunteered to join Mississippi Summer of '64, when her husband connected with Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee ("LCDC").

Joan Mandle:
I became active because I had been involved in high school in a "Food For Freedom" Drive in Providence Rhode Island where I was in high school at Classical High. We collected and sent food to Mississippi in 1960 and I can't really remember how it was linked to the civil rights struggle but it clearly was.

My mother had been involved in the National Council of Christians and Jews which at the time was involved in much bi-racial work on prejudice and discrimination. I was also involved in my synagogue (a reform temple) in a youth group that also was interested in reaching out to African-American churches to overcome prejudices and stereotypes of both Jews and African-Americans. All this was on a person-to-person level and really didn't involve politics. Yet these were crucial steps in my development as a committed political activist. This is an important point because if we want to get people involved we need to start where they are and get them involved at whatever level they feel comfortable.

When I went off to college at Vassar in 1962 I organized a tutorial project with the Northern Student Movement that tutored African-American kids after school in Poughkeepsie. Then one day in 1963 during my Sophomore year, the Freedom Singers from SNCC came to Vassar and talked about the CR Movement and I knew I had to go South.

My parents were vehemently against it although they approved of the struggle because they were afraid for me. My mom found out about an alternative — a project in Orangeburg South Carolina organized by the American Friends Service Committee — that would be doing voter registration and outreach with a group of African-American citizens organized in Orangeburg. My parents were willing to pay the fee involved to be part of the project and I agreed to go. I had had no other contact with the civil rights movement or with SNCC, knew no one involved, and so this seemed like a good alternative and I signed up.

I was not motivated by religion as I was an atheist — I had no idea that we would win or that we would be protected — I just felt that it was my moral duty as a human being to put myself on the line. I was a philosophy major and had been reading lots of existentialism that argued that you choose your life each day, you choose what kind of person you will be, and I felt that I was choosing the most important thing I could do to fight the racism and unfairness that I saw around me in the world.

Mike Miller:
It was the most significant thing happening at that time in which I could express my commitment to social and economic justice. My specific reason for being SNCC's Bay Area representative was that Chuck McDew, then Chairman of SNCC, asked me to do it.

Wazir (Willie) Peacock:
Basically, my involvement in the movement came about as a result of my background. Living in Mississippi and under those oppressive conditions as a youth, it was always just a part of my upbringing. My father was actively involved in meetings that were going on in the little town of Mound Bayou where the Black soldiers from World War came together to form a statewide organization. I guess he was just kind of tutoring me all the time but I didn't realize it. And so it was in me to get involved. We ended up on the plantation somehow, and I got a chance to see what slavery was probably like and feel it. It really made me want to do something at an early age. So I went to college. My motivation for going to college was to put myself in a position where I could do something.

I went to Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I was in college when the sit-ins started in North Carolina, so we started right there on the campus. The little theater we used to go to downtown, the movie theater, the first thing we did was boycott it, because we were sitting up there in the balcony. It was separate. The college students provided 90% of the income for that theater, but we had to sit up there in this balcony separated from the main floor. So we did that successfully. So rather than integrate it, the owner of it, he closed it. He closed it, because he wasn't going to step out there on his own and do something. Economically, he couldn't go on running the movie without us, so he closed it. That was our first action. We got our feet wet. That was the first thing we did.

Around the spring of '61 I met Bob Moses. He was dealing with people who had attempted to register to vote in Tallahatchie County, and so he came up to the campus to get a bunch of students to come down there to support those people. They had white people coming out of the woodwork to intimidate all those people. So we did that. I met Amzie Moore, in Oxford, Mississippi up at the Federal Court. When I saw him, I had seen him before. I knew I had seen him before. Then I came to realize later on that summer of '62, about August, when he and Bob came to my house to get me, it clicked. I had seen him in association with my father.

We were doing voter registration. We started out organizing right there in Holly Springs. The first thing we organized, we got together with the Black civic leaders there. What they wanted to do first of all was they wanted us to help them organize a credit union. So we helped them to organize a credit union, and then we went around to gather affidavits from people who had attempted to register to vote. We got the affidavits notarized, and we sent them to the Civil Rights Division in Washington, DC.

I was still going to school. Just in case I didn't get a chance to go to medical school that fall, I took some educational courses so I could teach if I needed to. And then the time came for me to make the decision, what I was going to do. So in August of '62 I went home. I went home, and my father's sister was there visiting, so I was poised to leave with her and go to Detroit and maybe work about a month and then return to the south, go to Meharry Medical School in Nashville. I think I was home about a week, when Bob Moses and Amzie Moore said to me, 'We need you, man.' So I said, 'OK.'

I went and talked to my mother. She was scared. She was definitely disappointed. My father was pretty happy about it because his old partner, his old buddy Amzie Moore was there. They were Master Masons and they were giving signs, and they were like just having a good time about it, you know. But my mother was really upset. So she gave me her blessings to go on, so we left.

Dick Reavis:
Though I think nobody can truly discern his or her motives, the CRM promised adventure and service to a good cause. My father had been an air corpsmen during WWII. The CRM was my call to follow him.

Jimmy Rogers:
I felt that it was something that really needed to be done. In saying that, I still don't feel that the movement is over. I think that the resistance to inequality based on race has just changed. For example, movements resisting the racial profiling by the police. There's just so many discriminatory type things that are still happening that I feel that I could live probably another 10 lifetimes and I don't think that all of it will be resolved.

In 1959 after coming out the service, I went to work for the New York State Commission Against Discrimination which investigated complaints of discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. During the time that I worked at the commission I got a scholarship for the summer to Syracuse University through the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ). That gave me motivation to go back to school and I noticed that there were a lot of things going on in the South that were an extension of what I was doing at the commission. So I decided to go to Tuskegee University in Alabama.

I became involved with the Tuskegee campus YMCA, we had a race relations group where we used to meet with white students from Auburn University. This was about 1962 or '63. We used to alternate meeting sites. One time the meeting would be at Tuskegee and the next time it would be at Auburn. But when we had the meetings at Tuskegee, we would have them on the campus. But when we had them at Auburn, we weren't allowed on the campus, we had to go to a local church and have the meeting. I attended a regional conference in Tennessee. We would have both Black and white. We all stayed at the same hotel and things were fine until somebody suggested that, "We don't have to eat this hotel food all the time. Let's go to a restaurant." We walked in and the man looked up and saw all these Black and white people coming in there, and he reached down and grabbed a shotgun and he said, "Ain't no niggers coming in here. The only way they coming here will be over my dead body." I didn't want a hamburger or anything else that bad.

Later, we had a group on campus called the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL). We were not only interested in civil rights, but we were interested in academic freedom and that sort of thing. We had a similar movement to what Berkeley did in 1964 with the Free Speech Movement. We did voter registration work and we took people in Macon County down to try to register to vote. We went out into the community and talked to people. From TIAL, Bill Hall of SNCC was coming onto campus. That's around the time that I met Wazir Peacock. Stokely Carmichael, Courtland Cox, James Foreman, and a lot of other SNCC.

Howard Romaine:
From a devoutly religious home, Roman Catholic Dad, Presbyterian Mom, both vets of WWII, one in Phillipines, one on home front, I was 'thrown' into confronting mass repression in Louisiana, near my home, and in nearby state, in Mississippi, (James Meredith), the meaning of which was explained to me by the leading Jewish, Bob Dylan, and Christian, Martin King, prophets of our time.
After John Kennedy's death, I joined NAACP youth in Memphis, under the direction of Rev. James Lawson, and began my work, which continues.

Alvin Rosenbaum:
My father and grandfather were original supporters of the Southern Regional Council (SRC), an initiative by the Ford Foundation after World War II to help solve housing problems for African-American soldiers returning to the southern homeland with GI Bill benefits, but little or no adequate housing.

The SRC spawned state organizations, including the Alabama Council on Human Relations (ACHR) in the 1950s. My father, Stanley Rosenbaum, who was an officer in the Southeast Region of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, (ADL) was one of the organizers of the ACHR.

The ADL helped to identify and monitor Klu Klux Klan and White Citizen Council activities, which tended to be not only anti-Black, but also anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic. We lived in Florence, Alabama, which was comparatively enlightened. With my brothers Jonathan and Michael, we came of age during the 1960s and became active in a number of Civil Rights activities.

Jean Wiley:
When I was growing up, there was a term called "Racemen" and "Racewomen" and that's what you wanted to be. You aspired to be a Raceman or Racewoman. It meant that you were constantly and consciously doing things that furthered the race. That your personal success had to take a back step. In a way, it was probably a little like the Talented Tenth except that the Talented Tenth meant the intellectuals. This was across class and income lines. So you grew up knowing who the Racemen and Women were, in a city as big as Baltimore.

I was a student at Morgan State College, now Morgan University in Baltimore, when the sit-ins broke out in 1960. It seemed like the perfect thing to do, so Morgan, like Howard and all the other border- state Black colleges, jumped right in. Baltimore was completely segregated as that time, as was Washington.

The sit-ins struck me, as the perfect answer to an impatience that everybody was feeling coming out of the Supreme Court decision and then Little Rock. It was something that you could do spontaneously. So I jumped in then. We were picketing not just the five and dimes, but also the department stores and the theaters to open up (desegregate) the facilities. I mean, everything was segregated in Baltimore.

So it was the answer, for me, personally to "you can't." I grew up hearing, "you can't. You can't do this. You can't go to the symphony. You can't go to the library. You can't go to the swimming pool. You can't go to that park, no." It became — oh, but I can do something about this. I don't have to wait for the legal route, which is moving too slowly anyway.

Bob Zellner
How? I organized students at Murphy High School in Mobile, Ala. to support Autherine Lucy, the first African American to integrate the University of Alabama in 1955. I was learning that racism was harming my white southern family and me. Why? Because I had just turned 16 years of age and Emmett Till, fourteen, a teenager like me was lynched just 280 miles away in Money, Mississippi. I could not imagine why two grown white men would deliberately murder a child from Chicago because he may have violated a minor rule of my segregated South. I could not help my fellow human being, Emmett Till, but maybe I could help Miss Lucy, who only wanted to civilize my race-crazed state.

At age 75 I am still involved, working with Rev. Dr. William Barber in the Moral Movement in NC. Last August 28th,on the anniversary of Emmett Tills death, Lennon Lacy, seventeen, was hanged with a rope in Bladenboro, NC. Along with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless others found hanged and quickly declared suicides by local law enforcement, there is still a war on young women and men of color. Racism is alive and well. As long as it is and I have breath, I will continue the struggle alongside my sisters and brothers.


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