Letter/Report on Hattiesburg MS Freedom Day
Charles Hartfield, local student activist

[See PDF Scan to view the original of this letter/report. This text-version has been re-typed from the original, formatted into paragraphs, and some typos have been corrected.]

On the date of January 22, 1964, a Freedom Day took place in Hattiesburg, which is located in Forrest County. At that time, 400 people participated in it. I think that was the largest Freedom Day that had ever taken place in Mississippi; and we didn't have any violence, at all. And at that time, this Freedom Day lasted longer than any other, because here in Mississippi, there is an anti-picketing law which prohibits any kind of demonstration in the State. But Freedom Day lasted for three months, (or more), and on the day that this Freedom Day took place, it was cold and rainy and there were a great number of whites standing on the opposite side of the street heckling us, but no one retaliated. But it was awfully cold and wet, and I know that people were overwhelmed with emotion because wanting wouldn't withstand as long as the people were standing in the rain and partial snow as they did.

Later that day, it was still raining and half snowing when Mrs. Fannie Lou Hammer came and she came in with the inspiration that the people needed. She began to sing freedom songs such as "Which Side Are You On" / "Go Tell It On the Mountains" / And of course, "This Little Light of Mine." These are the songs that helped the spirits of the people on the picket line. I feel that I can truly say this because I can explain just how it helped me keep going.

Mrs. Hammer, she came on the scene about 10:45 and at that time, man was it cold, and I was just about ready to call it a day; But when I heard a loud voice up farther on the picket line, and later more voices singing. "Which Side Are You On," my body began to become warm with emotion and I began to sing and the songs that I didn't know, I just hummed and clapped my hands and later I forgot that my garments were wet and that it was raining. And I guess that is the way that all of the people felt. So, we marched all day until the courthouse closed. After that we went to the church where the mass rally was held to further lift our spirits. The mass rally lasted about 3 hours and we retired, went home and went to bed.

On the next day, we went back to the picket line and marched until it closed. It went on like that for three months, but the last two months, the people. decreased into nothing, practically, and there were only 10 persons that held the picket line, but it soon was only three or four people left, with my friend Ulysses and myself, we were two of the four, and later there were only Ulysses and myself left and we held the line for the remaining time during the four months that the picket line existed.

We were arrested twice. The first time was on April 10th, and we stayed in jail for one week. An our bond was set for $500 each. And ten hundereds dollars land bond. With the first arrest, there were 48 people arrested. And with the second arrest, the number were five decreased, and myself and Ulysses were the only Negroes that were arrested and the others were white church clerics. And the white people that were arrested with us, they were out of jail within 10 days, on $500 bond. We stayed in jail for two months and two days and our bond was $500 land bond and $1000 cash bond each.

[$500 bail bonds set by segregationist judges in 1964 for misdemeanor arrests were the equivalent of $4300 in 2021 — an excessive and punitive amount for nonviolent protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. Mired in chronic poverty, it was almost impossible for civil Black rights activists to come up with such high cash bails so excessive bail was a common method of suprressing protests across the South. "Land bonds" were a form of bail in which a local land owner put up property as a guarantee that the jailed protester would show up in court, but they were not allowed to use the same property more than once, or for multiple defendants.]

The reason that we were held in jail so long is because every time that people came in to get us out, the sheriff would pretend to be busy, it was not that he would be gone, or out of time, if not that, then he would say that he lost the papers. All of this was done to break our spirits, but it never happened. So, we finally got out on July the 2nd, and were promptly shipped to Laurel, because there were only three people in Jones County. and it was raw a virgin. No one had ever made any progress there, and the three people were college coeds.

Hattiesburg is my hometown and the only thing that the jailer broke was my stomach. The rotten food that we were served gave me ulcers. But my spirit, they never touched; in fact, it just made me angry; angry enough to keep swinging at Mr. Charlie. The same night that I got out of jail, a big policeman stopped me on the street and told me to pull my car over. He then came and pulled me out of my car and threw me on the top of the hood, cursing and threatening me of what he would do if he ever saw me again on the picket line. But the next day I was there again, confronting him. He began to cuss at me and walked away and he never harassed me again. This was the first time that I went to jail. He tried to put fear into me, but he didn't know that I am a person that talk. And brutality don't bother me.