Questions regarding the implications of the Chaney-Schwerner-Goodman lynching
Bob Moses, 1965

Transcript of a talk given by Bob Moses at the 5th Anniversary of SNCC, 1965.


What you should suppose about SNCC people is they are not fearless. You'd have a better idea about them if you would suppose they were very afraid and suppose they were very afraid of the people in the South they have to fight and struggle against. And suppose also that they are very afraid of this country.

But suppose, then, they have no choice, that is they can, through many different ways, see that their backs, so to speak, are against the wall and they have to move within that fear. And then suppose that what they're trying to do is to explore how to move within fear and that what they've got to learn about fear is that it paralyzes you so you don't move — you don't do what you think you should, be it ask a question or take a person down to register.

And suppose also about Mississippi people that they're not heroes and that we're not heroes, and that we're trying very hard just to be people and that is very hard. If anything, what we're trying to do, or have to do, is to see how you can move even though you are afraid.

I have just one thing that I would like to share with you. It's a question, it's a problem that our country faces tangled up with thousands of other problems. We suppose that the people who murdered, Micky and Andrew and James were not like us, not like most people in the country, and I think that that's a deep mistake, that we don't understand the implication of that.

[Referring to the Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman in June of 1964 and the upcoming trial of the police and Klansmen who committed the murders.]

People keep asking me, "Do you think that they will get convicted?" and I keep saying, "No." But I also wonder why they keep asking because if you think about it, it seems that our experience will tell us they cannot be convicted, that they will not be convicted, that the chance of their being convicted is almost zero. For them to be convicted would be for society to condemn itself and that's very hard for society to do, any society. Condemnation seems to have to come from outside or from the ranks within that are not part of it.

So the jury that votes together to decide whether or not the people, the 18 or 21 people who evidently got together and sat down, planned, then got up and murdered — that jury is like them. That's a hard thing to understand in this country. The only place where they can be tried for murder is by a jury, a local jury, called together in Neshoba County.

They're being tried right now, not for murder, but for depriving people of their civil rights in the act of murdering them. That's the actual charge. People don't understand that. That jury, that local jury, if you called it together, would presumably be the murderers' jury because the juries in the counties in the South are called together under the auspices of the sheriffs and the sheriff is presumably one of the persons indicted for the conspiracy to murder.

I am fascinated with that. It's a very, very clear kind of thing. Suppose the sheriff killed somebody; then to have his trial, he calls the jury together. So you have the murderer's jury. And the problem seems to me to be, how can a society condemn itself?

I think that question is a question for the country in this sense, the country refuses to look at Mississippi, and the white people down there, as like them. So, therefore, they miss the main point, it seems to me, about the Deep South and about the people there and, also, about ourselves.

Life magazine had a picture of the people who did the murder and they pictured them eating and laughing and joking and talking as though they were morally idiots. And I think most people in the country reading that got that impression. But you don't put yourself in that classification so they're other people — they're not like you or like us. The Saturday Evening Post had a picture of a Ku Klux Klan on the front page just recently and at the end of the article talked about them as outcasts, as people who are in no way like most Americans, as rejects from the society.

I think that's a false interpretation which people are getting and, therefore, they analyze the problem wrongly and, therefore, they look for wrong solutions.

The problem is so deep, all you can do is raise these questions. We feel that if we're going to get to the bottom, if we're going to go down there and try and create anything new, then we have to do this because it seems that right within our country you have that problem where everybody can focus on it and say what are the conditions which create a society in which people sit down and plan and kill and then pat themselves on the back as patriots. Because they're defending their liberties and what they hold most dear and their civilization?

That, it seems to me, is the point about us as a country where we are with the [atomic] bomb and what we do in terms of Vietnam. We are not over there killing people primarily, but "defending liberty" and defending our concept of what is democracy, civilization, and so forth. There's no forum to raise those questions.

I raise them because I don't think we're going to escape that easily, because they're going on killing in Mississippi. At the same time that everyone knows about the three who were killed and the people who are on trial for that, no one asks about the two Negro boys whose bodies were severed in half, who were found while they were looking for the other three, because nobody knows about them. And nobody asks why did that grand jury let those people off who were indicted for that crime, on the same day that they indicted the people who were supposed to have killed the other three. And nobody asks because, again, nobody knows about it.

I have one other thing that I'd like to share. What we have begun to learn and are trying to explore about people is how they can come together in groups, small groups or large groups, and talk to each other and make decisions about basic things about their lives. I think that has application everywhere in the country. Whatever we currently mean by "democracy," we don't mean that people should come together, discuss their main problems that they all know about and be able to do something about themselves. That was what the Free Speech Movement [at U.C. Berkeley in 1964] means, as I understand it, as it unfolded in part.

One problem with people who might want to try to do this, say in San Francisco or anyplace, is that they would first think that in order to go to people and get them together, they would have to have something for them to talk about. So they would have to have a program to carry to them or they would have to have something to organize them around.

But it doesn't turn out to be true, from our experience. You could in the North, in the ghettos get together 10 or 20 people and out of their getting together and giving them a chance to talk about their main problem would come some programs that they themselves decided on, that they thought about. If that happened and began to happen around the country, that would be the key to spreading some of the things that have happened in the South to the rest of the country.

That not only goes for poor people but for the professional people as well. The last meeting where I was partially hooted down, was at a doctors' meeting in Los Angeles when I asked them about Medicare. The concept that doctors should discuss Medicare, pro and con, in their meetings seems to be alien to democracy.

Copyright © Bob Moses, 1965.

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