Jackson City Jail
James Kates
June, 1965

26 June 1965
Jackson City Jail
Jackson, Mississippi

Dear People,

When Cleve Sellers met us in Jackson, it took me about half an hour to re-acclimate myself to the state. Then we walked into a mass meeting in the Masonic Temple/NAACP headquarters — and there were Reverend Middleton from Batesville and a lady from Crenshaw!

Thursday was the march. With over 500 people in jail (and stockaded in the Jackson fairgrounds) there were only 75 of us marching. Two blocks from the meeting church, and just across the street from the MFDP office, we were halted by the police. Mrs. Devine, an FDP candidate, hopped on top of a car in a private lot to lead a rally. The chief of police said, "The lady in blue is under arrest for unlawful assembly." Then Jim Forman jumped onto the car to continue where Mrs. Devine left off. He was put under arrest, and asked the rest of us to sit down. The chief said then (a good deal for the reporters and cameramen) "Bring 'em in — don't force 'em more than you have to." I understand Jim Forman was clubbed in the groin, cops held my arms, I was kicked twice in the scrotum — nonviolent protection saved me from a good deal of trouble, I guess, because I could use my legs to guard myself. Then we were packed into an open-wire "cotton truck" and carried out to the fairgrounds.

Mrs. Devine and Jim were separated from us then, and taken back to the city jail. (They kept on weeding "leaders" out for two days — trouble was, they discovered we were all leaders!) We waited without water or restroom facilities six hours before we were put into the large exhibition hall which was our "cell." There were a few ten-eleven-twelve year olds with us who hadn't been on the march; this was their indoctrination into the movement — an arbitrary imprisonment. In the hall the whites were kept segregated from the Negroes, across a line in the concrete. Some of us protested this, but were dragged back among the whites, and the Negroes were penalized; so we stopped. One fellow was dragged by a billy club held against his throat, but that was the only real brutality. Mealtimes we washed our trays in the kettles of boiling water that have become infamous: A Negro fellow last week dropped his tray into the kettle and was made to reach in to his arm's length to pull it out. He was immediately removed to the hospital and, last I heard, he might lose his arm. Yesterday the girls were bought here to the city jail and we whites were moved into the women's "compound" (where at least one lady miscarried last week) after the original 500 were bailed out. We feel that the reason we were moved was because the guards expected trouble if we were watching them load nearly 30 Negro men into a police van built for 9, and leave them there for 2 hours in the sun. Then this morning we, too, were moved to the city jail.

Several of us are on a hunger strike in protest against the segregated jail (we are crowded thirty-three in a sixteen-man cell and there is definitely room in the Negro cells) but since the food is only bread, grits, beans, and water, we're not missing much anyway. We're trying to swing vitamin pills from the doctor. (Our medical people were arrested with us.) I'm not a bit hungry or ill — my voice is shot to hell from singing, and sleeping on cold concrete.

The Negro girls are far down the hall and we can communicate with difficulty (because of the echoes) by shouting and singing. The trusties carry notes, too, and bring up cigarettes and candy. (We on hunger strike won't eat the candy, though.) The lawyers also bring whatever they can and carry out letters; tomorrow we hope for a newspaper. The minute the lawyers come they are bombarded with questions: "When's the next march?" "What's happening in Washington?" "Is there any news from the world?" Paul, from Toronto, received a call from the consulate in New Orleans — his imprisonment was brought up in the House of Commons. And that's been the only word from the outside world besides the lawyers. Bob, from Adelaide, Australia, has had no word at all, even second-hand. If anyone has tried to call, it never got to us. Naturally, we weren't allowed our legal telephone call when we came in.

We sing, and read novels, poems, and prayers from the books we took in. (East of Eden. Saul Bellow's Victim, James Bond, The Rebel, my book of poetry.) A rabbi came last night and left a prayer book ("You guys have a chip on your shoulder." Of course we do! Otherwise we'd never last in here!) We expect a minister tomorrow and we'll hold a general service. The biggest blow to our morale is the segregation — the symbol of all we're working against.

27 June 1965
Sunday noon

This morning the following note reached our cell, written in red ink on toilet-paper:

to any one that see a lawereness This is George Lee Jones
I am in jail on the floor next to the door where the police come in the elevation [elevator]. I have been beating, kicks all in the rib, lung, and Back. I need help please I have got to see a lawerness. the police will not let me see a lawerness or make a phone call. Ib am sick down here. I am in the room with the drunger [drunkard]. They got me from morning star church for pick[et]ing friday. I am a civil Right working FDP member from Indianola Mississippi tell the lawerness that a boy by the name of George Lee Jones have to see him please. they may try to kill me. I have not broke a law.

Copyright © James Kates, 1965

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