Testimony of Ronnie Moore, Bob Moses, & Bob Zellner
CORE Committee of Inquiry, May, 1962

[Excerpts from the testimony. As reprinted from Black Protest: 350 Years of History, Documents, and Analyses, by Joanne Grant.]
[A Committee of Inquiry into the administration of justice in the Freedom Struggle was assembled by the Congress of Racial Equality in Washington, D.C., May, 1962 to hear testimony of civil rights workers on police and court action in the South. The committee was composed of: Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, chairman, and Roger Baldwin, Kenneth Clark, John Bolt Culbertson, Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., Boris Shishkin, Rev. Gardner Taylor, Telford Taylor, Norman Thomas. ]

First Witness Ronnie Moore, chairman of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, CORE, is twenty-one years old. A sophomore at Southern University majoring in sociology with the intention of becoming a minister, he was expelled last January for leading student civil rights action. Charged with criminal anarchy, he goes to trial in Baton Rouge in mid-September, 1962. He said that in November, 1961, he helped organize a CORE chapter at Southern University, the largest Negro university in the world, and that month tried to negotiate with merchants of twelve stores in nearby Baton Rouge toward desegregation~of lunch counters and jobs. When merchants refused to see him, CORE started a selective-buying program and, on December 7th and 8th, he directed a CORE workshop for about 170 students.

See Baton Rouge Sit-ins & Student Strike for background info.

Q. What is a workshop, Mr. Moore?

A. Something like a school. We teach the rights of American citizenship, the right to picket, and we expose persons to the philosophy of nonviolence.

Q. What was the outcome of the workshop?

A. The students went into the community, sat-in at the lunch counters.

Q. You were denied service, you were told to leave and you did leave?

A. Right.

Q. Then what happened?

A. On December 14th, we decided to exercise our right to picket. We regarded that in America we had this right; and we still believe we have this right. Twenty-three students who picketed the stores for a minute and a half were arrested for obstructing the sidewalks.

Q. Were they obstructing the sidewalks?

A. They were picketing like the labor unions picket, in orderly manner, walking on the end of the sidewalk.

Q. Then what happened?

A That evening I and a few others addressed a rally on campus. We discussed the unlawful arrest of the students, and decided we should go down to Baton Rouge the next day in nonviolent fashion to redress our grievances with the parish officials.

Q. How did you intend to do that?

A, We intended to ride buses and catch cabs and go in automobiles down to Third Street and march two by two to the courthouse. We would sing and make a few statements in protest of the denial of the right to picket.

Q. Did you do that?

A. Well, as students moved off campus they were arrested, about fifty. Bus drivers were arrested.

Q. For what?

A. They claim the buses were overloaded and a lot of things, and ordered students back to the campus. As police pulled students off the buses, students continued to walk for seven miles to the courthouse.

Q. How many students participated?

A. Around 3,000 to 4,000.

Q. You were not in the walk but were operating a sound truck, directing students?

A. Right. I was arrested for illegal use of a sound truck. I created a nuisance by a protest of segregation in an all-Negro neighborhood.

Q. In your opinion you were welcome?

A. I think so.

Q. Is a license required?

A. A license is not required.

Q. Are sound trucks used generally in that area?

A. Politicians use them each and every year. I was in jail about six hours, then my attorneys posted $1500 cash bond, and I came downstairs from the cell, and as I was going out of the door I was re-arrested, charged with conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, taken back to jail, and an additional $2000 bond.

Q. Do you know what criminal mischief is?

A. It was brought out that criminal mischief had something to do with the nonviolent workshop.

Q. The additional bond was posted?

A. Twenty-one days later, when I was released.

Q. Have you a comment about treatment in jail?

A. Well, there were three incidents of police brutality. I made three requests to see a doctor. They were ignored, so I knocked on the door to go out. One officer reached through the bars and choked me and slapped me.

I spoke of the incident to students there and Dave Dennis, of CORE, approached the door to inquire about the beating. They opened the door to the Negro cell and reached in and grabbed Dennis. One officer pulled him up and slammed him up against the iron bars and put him in solitary. Jerome Smith, of CORE, was beaten.

When we came out of jail we reported these incidents to the local FBI and they went to investigate with local police officers, and came out with, "no violation of civil rights."

NORMAN THOMAS: That is civil rights as understood in Louisiana?

A. Apparently so.

[On January 4th, Ronnie Moore and seventy-two other students returned to Southern University with the pledge of Dr. Felton G. Clark, its Negro president, that he would not expel them although the all-white State Board of Education demanded their dismissal. On the night of the 17th when it became known that Dr. Clark would expel seven CORE leaders, 1500 students gathered before his home to ask why. Dr. Clark refused to appear. The next morning he announced the closing of the university by five o'clock that afternoon and ordered all students off campus by that hour. After attending court, Ronnie Moore returned to campus shortly before five, and after half an hour met his friend, Weldon Rougeau, at the gymnasium.]

See Baton Rouge Student Protests for background.

Q. Were you arrested?

A Yes. It was raining so we went under the ramp of the gym and two officers came up and asked our names and said, "You are under arrest for criminal trespass and for disturbing the peace."

Q. Were there other students on campus?

A. Yes, over 500.

Q. Were any of them arrested?

A. No. The officers pointed out that all seven CORE leaders will be arrested. "You find the seven, you arrest them."

Q. Were you doing anything other than standing out of the rain?

A. I wasn't, no. We were talking.

Q. You were taken back to jail?

A. Yes, placed under $3000 cash bond.

Q. Bringing your collective bond to $6000?

A. Right.

Q. Do you know the maximum penalty for disturbing the peace?

A. Six months in jail and a $50 or $100 fine, something like that.

Well, we, (Moore and Rougeau) had to stay in jail in the same cell. It was a solitary confinement cell seven by seven feet. We stayed there fifty-eight days until bond could be raised.

Q. An additional charge was placed against you on February 12th?

A. Yes, the charge was criminal anarchy. It means I advocated in public and private opposition to the state of Louisiana by unlawful means.

See "Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana for background.

Q. Bond?

A $12,500.

Q. What is the penalty for criminal anarchy?

A. The count is ten years in the state penitentiary at hard labor.


[Robert Moses of SNCC, Harvard graduate, told of working on voter registration in southern Mississippi in the summer of 1961, and of the killing, on September 25th, of Herbert Lee. Mr. Moses said that police rode around the area where voting schools were held, intimidating people, that some who attended meetings lost their jobs, that in Liberty a cousin of the sheriff attacked him in sight of officers, his head wound requiring eight stitches.]

See Herbert Lee Murdered for background.

Q. Mr. Moses, did you know a person named Herbert Lee?

A. Yes, he was a Negro farmer who lived near Liberty.

Q. Would you tell the Committee what Mr. Lee was doing and what happened?

A. He was killed on September 25th. That morning I was in McComb. The Negro doctor came by the voter registration office to tell us he had just taken a bullet out of a Negro's head.

We went over to see who it was because I thought it was somebody in the voting program, and were able to identify the man as Mr. Herbert Lee, who had attended our classes and driven us around the voting area, visiting other farmers. That night we went into the county to track down people who had seen the killing. Three Negroes told more or less the same story.

That they were at the cotton gin in Liberty and Mr. Lee drove up to gin the cotton in his truck, followed by Mr. Hurst in his car. He is representative to the Mississippi state legislature.

Q. Mr. Hurst is white?

A. Mr. Hurst is white. That he got out of his car and went over to the cab of Mr. Lee's truck. That they began talking. That Mr. Hurst was waving a gun. That Mr. Lee got out of his cab on the right side. That Mr. Hurst ran around the front and shot Mr. Lee one shot in his temple.

A Negro witness said a deputy sheriff asked him, "Did you see the tire tool?" The witness said he didn't see any tire tool in Mr. Lee's hand. The deputy replied, "Well, there was one." The witness testified at the coroner's jury that there was a tire tool. When they had a grand jury, about a month later, the witness came to us to know whether he should testify that there was a tool, which he said there wasn't though he had testified this at the coroner's jury.

We called Washington and Justice Department officials explained that they could not guarantee protection for individual witnesses. The man testified at the grand jury that there was a tire tool.

Q. The grand jury found no basis for an indictment against Rep. Hurst, is that correct?

A. Yes.


[Robert Zellner told the story of Brenda Travis, seventeen year-old high school student of McComb, Mississippi, under parole forbidding her to engage in civil rights action and hence unable to appear at the hearing.]

See Voter Registration & Direct Action in McComb MS for background.

Mr. Zellner: Brenda is a very dynamic person with great courage and determination. With two friends, she was arrested in the white section of the McComb bus station, on August 30, 1961. They had bought interstate tickets.

Sixteen then, she was convicted in adult court of disturbing the peace, sentenced to six months, fined $200, put on bond of $1000. She spent September in adult jail, awaiting bond. October 4th she went back to her school. The principal said he'd sent her records off somewhere and she couldn't get back in.

About 115 students walked out of school in protest. Also the killing of Herbert Lee had fired them up. They determined to walk in orderly fashion to the county courthouse about eight miles away. I joined their march.

But it was late in the afternoon and it was decided to go into McComb. By the city hall there was a large mob. About twenty white men shoulder to shoulder across the sidewalk, with two police in front, stopped the march.

I was the only white person marching. About fifteen police standing around allowed seven or eight men to attack me. Some students stood on the bottom step to pray and were arrested. Then we were all arrested.

Brenda was in jail three or four days. Then the prosecutor and the judge decided she should be treated as a juvenile. Two plainclothesmen took her out of her cell and told her they were taking her to a lawyer. They drove her eighty miles to the Oakley Training School. Brenda didn't know where she was. The men left and a lady told her she was in reform school.

She was there six months and three weeks. There was no class for her, she only went to one in home economics. She couldn't continue her education and this upset her. The food was very terrible with bugs. It was very degrading there.

Q. Tell about Brenda's release.

A. Professor [withheld], he had been an anti-Nazi in Germany and teaches German at Talladeda College, was tremendously concerned when he heard Brenda's story. He said, "I'm going to Mississippi and talk to the judge." (After several visits Dr. [withheld] persuaded the judge to release Brenda in his custody.)

MR. Zellner: So they drew up papers for her release and Dr. [withheld] took Brenda to Talladega College, where she is living with his family. ...

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