Mike Lesser
(1937–2021)

 

As remembered by Mimi Real
June 6, 2022

Another hero is gone.

I first worked with Mike in Louisiana on voter registration, with CORE, for over a year. He was a quiet pillar of strength and quickly became a leading member of our team. He was always ready and willing to take on risky assignments, without blowing his own horn.

He and I were among the first group of CORE workers sent to East and West Feliciana Parishes, two of the most segregated and oppressed counties in the state. Both had, at that time, majority Black populations; but in West Feliciana not a single Black was registered to vote, and in East Feliciana only a handful of Blacks had the franchise. Mike was one of the few members of our group, and one of the only white CORE workers, sent into West Feliciana Parish; the fear of violent retribution against voter registration workers was too high to risk sending others.

Ronnie Moore, COREs Field Secretary in Louisiana, came increasingly to rely on Mike, sending him to start CORE operations in Bogalusa, LA, and eventually sending him to northern Louisiana, which was even more violence-prone toward civil rights workers than was the Sixth Congressional District in the southern part of the state. Mikes life was threatened or in danger on many occasions, including one arrest for criminal anarchy, which carried the death penalty. Protecting him (sometimes with their rifles at the ready, especially on night drives) were the Deacons for Defense and Justice, with whom Mike worked closely while maintaining his commitment to nonviolence.

In the years after Louisiana, Mike and I again worked together — this time on an SDS project in Hoboken, NJ. Mike was always a source of quiet humor and great inspiration. He had a great appreciation for music — he introduced me to the genius of the Beatles. When the Hoboken project lost its steam, we, as a group, decamped to San Francisco, where Mike, another group member, and myself, among other accomplishments, assembled a harpsichord from a kit. (We also became part of the draft resistance movement in the Bay Area.)

I lost touch with Mike for a while after that, but when the organizers of a 50th reunion of Louisiana CORE workers, to take place in New Orleans, couldnt locate Mike to invite him, I dug into my records and finally found an email address for him. Mike, Diane (his significant other), and I traveled to New Orleans together and had a wonderful few days reuniting with former colleagues, and enjoying the best of New Orleans food and jazz. The trip was capped by an excursion — Mike, Ronnie Moore, and I — to our old stomping grounds in West Feliciana Parish, an eye-opening trip to see all the changes that 50 years had brought and to visit some of our old friends there.

When we returned to the Bay Area, I visited Mike as often as I could, bringing with me books about the civil rights movement in which he was mentioned. We shared some good memories and had some good laughs.

Mike, we veterans will miss you.

May your memory be a blessing.


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