Report from SNCC Field Secretary
The Freedom Ballot for Governor
Joan Bowman
October 23, 1963

[See Freedom Ballot in MS for background information.]

1072 Lynch Street, Room 10
Jackson, Mississippi

The Freedom Ballot for Governor is beginning to look and act more and more like a genuine political campaign; run by an organization which expects to be a permanent fixture in Mississippi politics. Indeed, that is precisely what the staff has in mind for it; we are gaining confidence in what we are doing as our daily routine and responsibilities stabilize, and as our problems become clearer.

The history of the Freedom Ballot for Governor properly begins with the October 6, 1963 meeting of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) with delegates from the various civil rights organizations in Mississippi: NAACP, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the other voters leagues and civic organizations. At that meeting it was decided to conduct a political campaign for governor, with two main areas of concentration. Those Negroes who are registered voters in the state would in effect void their ballots by writing in the name of Aaron Henry for Governor in the general election on November 5; those Negroes who are not registered (constituting by far and away the largest percentage of the voting age population, I think 94%) will participate in an unofficial "mock" election to be conducted in community centers and staffed by special election personnel, on November 2, 3 and 4.

The mock election is to be conducted as formally as possible with the freedom ballot offering a choice between the regular candidates and the Freedom ticket. These ballots are to be counted and the results released to the public; it is hoped that as many as 200,000 ballots for freedom will be tallied. We have discussed using these ballots in some dramatic way, perhaps depositing them at the door of the Justice Department to dramatize the willingness of Mississippi Negroes to participate in the political affairs of their state, given a modicum of protection from local violence and intimidation.

It was the feeling of the assembled COFO delegates that a Freedom Ballot for Governor would dramatize the plight of Mississippi's Negro population; not only are Negroes in our state deprived of the ballot with all the attending implications, but as well they are the victims of oppressive social and economic conditions. Mississippi Negroes are victimized by a rigid and vicious social system--segregation--which is depressing them economically and psychologically. They are as a matter of course and by design discriminated against in all of the state's institutions, the courts, the schools, public welfare, and in employment, even in the federal programs of area redevelopment and job retraining. And in the Mississippi scheme of things there is no opportunity for the Negro to change his fixed position; it is defined by a powerful monolithic structure which has mobilized the entire resources of the state to keep him there.

With these thoughts in mind, then, a campaign committee was set up to organize and conduct the Freedom Ballot for Governor, and staff began assembling from all over Mississippi and the South. The state was organized into districts, corresponding to congressional districts in the state, and District Managers named who would be responsible for the coordination of field activities with the main campaign headquarters in Jackson. Bob Moses, head of the SNCC Delta Project in Greenwood, was named Campaign Manager.

On Monday, October 14, a press conference was called in Jackson to announce the campaign to the press. On the previous Sunday evening; October 13, Rev. Edwin King, Chaplain at Tougaloo College, a privately endowed church school near Jackson which is the only genuinely integrated school in the state, announced that he would run on the ticket with Henry as the Freedom Ballot's candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Therefore at the press conference the world was to learn of the first integrated political ticket in Mississippi, as far as anyone knows, since Reconstruction days. The press conference was a disappointment, however, because only Mississippi Free Press and local press attended. (The story was buried, however and the press has in effect boycotted us.)

That evening the first political rally was held to kick off the campaign, Approximately 400 people heard the candidates deliver their initial campaign speeches; they enumerated the points in the platform drafted previously and released at the press conference. Rev, King spoke of the desperate state affairs which demanded the immediate attention of all Mississippi citizens, even those whose role is traditionally considered spiritual and not political. Henry who is a popular civil rights leader from Clarksdale spoke in general mass-meeting style rather than in political terms. Also on the platform were the Rev. R. L. T. Smith. recently a candidate for Congress from the Third District, and Charles Evers, state field representative of the NAACP. The hall was hand decorated by Tougaloo students and participants in the literacy project, and the platform podium announced the claim of Negroes throughout the South, "one-man, one-vote." The traditional songs of the freedom movement were led by SNCC students. we had composed a campaign song while driving in from Tougaloo one morning; it was introduced to the audience and sung. Material had been circulated throughout the audience which summarized the campaign issues and instructed the people about the details of the freedom vote, at the end of the meeting they were asked to offer their services to the campaign.

The following week the pace of things slowed a bit and we spent time doing organizational work; we completed work on the platform and on the speeches; assimilated "workers kits" to supply basic information to the field workers who were responsible for the local organization; rented office equipment and a mimeograph machine; established routines and press relations.

In the meantime we were conceptualizing about the future of our work here. We discussed how we could build a continuing organization on the temporary one set up for the campaign, perhaps with a new, independent third party in Mississippi to be "our" party; the party of the impoverished, disenfranchised and degraded Negroes and whites. We thought to introduce some dialogue into Mississippi politics not on the race issue alone. but on the other problems as well.

We discussed immediate problems related to the campaign; we hoped we could feature for the campaign "Freedom Fish Fries" and "Hootenannies for Freedom" at which such prominents as Peter Paul and Mary, Theo Bikel, Bobby Dylan, Ray Charles and others might perform. We speculated about the implications to the movement of Greenville Negroes being able to use County Courthouse for a political rally for the first time; the likelihood of harassment from local police because our office staff is integrated; and always the over- riding problem dictated by necessity and a malevolent fate over which we have no control: that of raising the necessary money to keep the body and soul of our campaign together.

Some of the problems which cannot be solved until funds are somehow raised are such ones as getting a Wide Area Telephone Service line for Mississippi at the cost of $500 per month, which would allow us to keep in direct contact with the field; accumulating enough duplicating supplies to be able to run off enough material for the field; how we can afford to find space apart from the office itself where we can set up a duplicating room, and always to pay the petty fines imposed by the police. The need for money is always there; we cannot move or think on any subject without defining these topics in terms of what they will cost and their priority with other competing issues. The budget calls for $20,500; at this point we cannot see even one-fifth of that.

One of the best friends the Movement has, Al Lowenstein, contacted us about having some students from Yale come down to Mississippi to contribute their talents to the campaign. Approximately 60 students began arriving in Jackson this week in clusters of three or four, at their own expense and driving their own cars, anxious and willing to learn. (It is strange to see TR's and MG's and VW's running errands in Negro neighborhoods.) We have one Yale student to coordinate their activities; he collects biographical material from each one, then usually dispatches him to the field to work with a local project. Many of these students are journalists; they are dispatching copy constantly to their newspapers and contacts. Too, they have been canvassing in neighborhoods and getting a good sense of the Movement, its strengths and weaknesses. It is good, I believe, because there is no better way to commit the young and frequently confused about the civil rights movement in the South than to get them on the scene. Today we learned that two students were arrested in Indianola for distributing leaflets along with twelve SNCC workers from Greenwood and their bond set for $50.

Over the weekend a major tragedy occurred which was to affect us personally, as well as inhibit the progress of our work. Mike Miller, former SNCC field workers in Greenwood and Lee Hill, who had arrived from California at the invitation of Moses to work on the campaign, and Gene De Alissy, an engineer for Station KSFO in San Francisco, currently donating his vacation time to the Movement, were involved in an automobile accident early Sunday morning the 20th as they were returning from Clarksdale. Miller and DeAlissy were critically hurt; Lee suffered from shock and cuts.

Mike bad been well known to Mississippi SNCC personnel because he had worked the last summer on the Delta project in Greenwood; Gene had completed drawing up a prospectus on an educational radio station at Tougaloo College and was friends with many of the Tougaloo students. As they were driving through Tchula on a deserted road near Lexington) Mississippi, a car crossed the center line; struck their car and forced it off the road, throwing the three out of the car. The two men were unconscious; Lee was able to crawl to the road to signal help. Because that part of the country has so little traffic at that early hour it was approximately 2 hours before she could make anyone stop. A passing motorist called the police and an ambulance, the three were taken to a hospital and then removed to Jackson early the next day. (There were three Negroes in the other car; they were taken to Lexington hospital and later released.)

For an anxious two days Mike and Gene were kept in the innards of the University of Mississippi hospital emergency rooms and operating room (Mike had a ruptured spleen removed) inaccessible to their friends. We learned on Monday that their conditions were "satisfactory," the extent of their injuries, that only hospital staff (who also teach at the University medical school) were treating them, and that every service of the hospital had been extended them. It was soon clear that the hospital was willing for us to see our friends; in fact they have given us every courtesy. The world outside of Mississippi cannot conceive of the relief of those of us who have loved Mike for a long time, and who have come to love Gene in his short stay here.

The materials in the car were confiscated by the Holmes County police, including tape recorder and valuable tapes of Henry, his speeches, several manuscripts and plans of the campaign. We will be unable to pick up this material without a court order; Holmes County is in one sense the deepest part of Mississippi, with all that implies.

In the meantime the work of the campaign moved along with Henry meeting speaking engagements setup in the field. He is explaining the issues of the campaign to the people in the language that is their own, talking not only freedom but as well specific problems in Mississippi such as jobs, housing, education, justice. Henry is developing a splendid style; much of his material is in the form of anecdotes, little jokes, and succinct statements of delicate issues. For example he says, "Now white people will tell us that they have to have segregation because they don't want us fooling with their white women. NOW I JUST WISH THE WHITE MEN WERE AS SATISFIED WITH THEIR WOMEN AS WE ARE WITH OURS! (applause). Moses is accompanying Henry on the campaign tour; he is speaking at length on the Freedom Ballot itself, its importance, and as well helping the community to organize for the campaign. Moses is a fine speaker himself; his approach is more tough-minded than Henry, as it must be.

On Tuesday evening Al Lowenstein arrived for the duration of the campaign, bringing a slender financial chest with him and some new ideas. He immediately departed for Greenwood for a conference with Moses; he spent the same evening in a Clarksdale jail. (It is clear from the pattern of arrests that many of our workers will be jailed for "distributing leaflets without a permit," "violating curfews" and the like).

A campaign leaflet which is to be distributed throughout the state is to be ready by Friday; on Tuesday morning posters arrived from New York which are to be distributed throughout the State.

The problems which are crystallizing are usually organizational in nature; we cannot seem to best use the manpower that we have for the jobs that need doing. Too, we are not turning out enough factual material for outside sources; too much of our time is taken with flitting around the office, waiting for telephone calls, and coordinating our activities with that of others. The problem of money is one we can do little about.

Thus far I have said nothing about our opponents, or the kind of campaign they are running. As might be expected both are arch- segregationists whose only claim to political platform is the race issue. The Republican candidate, Rubel Phillips, is claiming that only the party of conservatism, the Republican Party, can maintain segregation in Mississippi; that the Democratic Party is the party of the Kennedys and that the Democratic Party is constantly selling out the South. The Democratic Party is arguing that Rubel Phillips is a "moderate" that this is the first genuine threat to the one- party system since Reconstruction days and that Mississippi voters should treat these scalawags just as they did 100 years ago. The one- party system is the only way to preserve "our way of life" because 40% of the voting population is Negro (false because they are not allowed to vote) and that the "block vote" can control the balance of power in the state if the "conservative unity" is broken. Our candidates are the only ones who seem to care that Mississippi is the most impoverished state in the union with the lowest standards in education, literacy, economic and social justice, or who speak for the disenfranchised people of Mississippi both black and white.

It is not clear yet what our impact has been on the other candidates, or on the state at large. Because the Jackson press is boycotting us), and the Mississippi press in general, we have no way of measuring this impact. The general response by the press to our activities has been disappointing as well. It is hoped that in the short 10 days remaining to the campaign that we can improve on all these areas and get the nation alerted to what we are doing in Mississippi. If we are to build a continuing organization on the campaign; this must be done.

Joan Bowman

Copyright © Joan Bowman, 1963

Copyright ©
Copyright to this web page, as a web page, belongs to this web site. Copyright to the this letter belongs to Joan Bowman.