A Jewish Woman in the Movement
Miriam Cohen Glickman

[As told to and discussed by Freedom Movement veterans and family members at a story-telling session, U.C. Berkeley, September 30, 2018.]

Movement VeteransGuests
Stephen Bingham SNCCRachel Reinhard (UC Berkeley)
James (Jimmy) Garrett, SNCC 
Miriam Cohen Glickman, SNCC 
Rick Sheviakov, CORE 

Miriam: My sophomore summer I had traveled around the South to different Civil Rights sites. This was in 1961. I applied to work in SNCC and I had never heard back. But in 1963 when I applied again, SNCC accepted me into the Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, Georgia. [Charles] Sherrod was the leader there.

So a little history to why in 1963 SNCC was now willing to have white folks on one of their projects in the Deep South: In Southwest Georgia in 1961 and 1962 there had been a huge Civil Rights Movement in Albany, Georgia. It was a small town and yet more than 700 people had protested and gone to jail. Martin Luther King had come down and been arrested and jailed. And yet nothing for the black community had improved. So Sherrod, the leader, decided to think outside the box.

Fifty or so years later, at one of the reunions, Sherrod explained it. He gave three reasons: First, that something could happen in the South and no one outside the South would ever hear about it. But if it happened to a white person in the South, word would get out, getting the country involved. Also he knew of no Black people who had an uncle or a grandfather with how did he say this? a trust fund or a lot of money in the bank. But he did know that some white people had wealth. And lastly he knew of no Blacks in the South who had influence with Congress folks or people in power and could therefore appeal to them, but he knew that there were whites who could do that.

So, anyway, I was accepted and we went to a place just outside of Albany for orientation. It was Koinonia Farms where they grew nuts.

Then we went to Albany, and about a week or so after we got there, all of a sudden, we started getting arrested. And it was very clear to me that Sherrod wanted us to get arrested. This was not accidental. How do you get people arrested? Oh, you start a little demonstration in Albany, Georgia, and that will do it. So I did not want to get arrested. I did not see how my being in jail was going to help make things better in Albany, so I hid out in the Freedom House.

Sherrod found me there the next day, and he said I had to go out. So it's the middle of the day. I'm walking up to the church where there is a meeting, and a police officer comes on this arm, and a police officer comes on that arm, and they lift me up, and that was the end of my avoiding jail. So in the car going to jail, there were three of us, all three white. Me, Wendy Mann and I forget the name of the guy. Maybe it was Peter.

The guy was a med student, and he told us that if we didn't eat we would be fine for a month, but if we didn't drink water for two or three days we could do permanent damage to our organs. We didn't know this. So the other thing about this med student was that he had $50+ in his pocket which was probably equivalent today to a huge amount of money [$57 in 1963 equal to about $550 in 2018]. I was impressed.

In the police car on the way there, the police were cussing and saying the most vile things. And since I had two older brothers, I was not at all upset about that. But I found out later that that was standard across the South, that the police would try to rattle people by talking cuss words and all that stuff. Anyway, at the jail, they explained that we were being charged with vagrancy and that the vagrancy statute included suspicious characters. And they thought that it was certainly suspicious for whites and Blacks to be working together.

So I get put in this cell. The jail was all segregated. There was a white woman's cell, a Black woman's cell, and then the two men's cells. I was put in with the white women who had been picked up the day before, and they said they're on a hunger strike, but of course it's up to me. I didn't see how I could eat in front of them while they were on a hunger strike. We're in this tiny cell built for four people, and I think there were seven of us in there. However I thought being on a hunger strike was pointless. What I noticed was that you get one paragraph at the end of a long news story that might mention that the people were on a hunger strike. I didn't see how it was effective at all. But I wanted to be on good terms with the other women, so I too went on a hunger strike. I was on it for a week.

And indeed, the project at the end of the summer asked people not to go on a hunger strike because it took so long after one for people to have the energy to work on the project. But anyway, there I am on a hunger strike. No food, but I did drink sweet tea. I took seriously this business about drinking enough liquid. The jail put so much sugar in their tea that I have ever since had my tea plain.

We were allowed a phone call and I must've called home. My father came down and he was upset because I had, over the course of the week, lost 10 pounds and I was already petite and small to start with.

My dad played an important role which goes to back to why Sherrod wanted white people down there. My father was a newspaper man. He ran a Jewish weekly out of Indianapolis, Indiana, that also had editions in St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville and New York. People from the North had heard about what was going on and the press had called to the Albany jail which denied they had arrested anyone. In fact they had arrested over 140 people. My father called a colleague on the Jewish news section of the New York Times, and that broke the story nationally. So Sherrod was right.

The other thing that I want to say for the record is that I think we got set up by Sherrod and the other folks who had been down there working for a long time. They'd been jailed, and nothing had improved. They'd been working and working hard. I think they looked at us, well fed, no holes in our shoes, our clothes didn't have any mending, we were in good shape and they thought, Baptism by fire. We're gonna see what these new folks can stand. Lets see what happens if they're in jail for a while. So I think we were set up, because [after that] at least the white women were not arrested again that summer.

In our cell we talked a lot about food. I mean a lot. [Police] Chief Pritchett came back eating lemon meringue pie and offered it to us.

Now this goes back to what Rick had said about white men having the easiest time.

Rick: I think.

Miriam: Yeah. but I think white women did, because we did not get beaten up, where it was almost universal among white men.

Rick: Read Carol Ruth Silvers' book about her experience in Parchman. You will change.

Miriam: Oh, OK. But I think that we had — C.B. King was our lawyer, but he had Dennis Roberts (who lives in the Oakland/Berkeley area now) as his law clerk. And Dennis came every day to our cell. I mean, there were seven white women in this little cell, and we were so happy to see him, because otherwise we were there alone all day. I think that the South put white women on a pedestal — and I'll grant you Parchman — but in general, I thought that I was — I was never manhandled, beaten, threatened.

What did happen was that the police were the only local whites who would talk to me (except for a few folks in the local Jewish community I reached out to). If I went into the library, I could check out a book, but they would not talk to me. They would not say a word. When I went in Mississippi to take my driver's license test, they handed me the forms, but they would not say a word. Only the police would talk to us.

Anyway, right after jail I went home. My dad asked me to come home for the weekend after we got out, and I went home with him. And he must've called his contacts on the daily paper in Indianapolis, Indiana, because somebody came and interviewed me. They took a picture of me 10 pounds underweight. I looked really good in that picture. It went national, 'Local woman goes and helps in the South.' So Sherrod was right again.

Steve: That was what year?

Miriam: That was the summer of 1963. I was in Mississippi after that. SNCC recruited white guys at Yale and Stanford to work on the mock ballot that fall in Miss. Because I had worked in Albany in the summer, I went to Mississippi in the fall, so I was there in Meridian, Miss. I think there had never been a white woman working on a Civil Rights project out in the small towns of Mississippi — there were some white students at Tougaloo College who were involved, but it was unheard of to have a white woman on a project in Mississippi. [Meridian] was a CORE project. Everybody assumed I was black. You know, I had curly hair and was all tan and my project director didn't correct this - it would have made the situation more dangerous. But he did mentioned it to me after the project was over.

Steve: So you stay in touch with Dennis Roberts?

Miriam: I see him at things like this.

Steve: Do you know him?

James: Not off the top of my head.

Steve: He's around, and he's a great story teller and has written some stuff. He had a great memory. C.B. King was just a giant. I know several lawyers who clerked for him, and I think he had a real sense of how this was going to change their lives forever by having them work with him. And in Jackson, there was Jesse Brown, is that his name?

James: Yeah, Jesse Brown.

Steve: He was pretty amazing. I think he was either the only or maybe one of two Black lawyers in Mississippi.

James: Yeah. You could count on him. Weekends, nights, Sundays.

Steve: And he didn't hide {UNCLEAR} situation.

Rachel: So how did you end up going to Georgia? Was your family a progressive family? Or why were you looking to get involved?

Miriam: OK, I was a Jewish woman from Brandeis University. About half the whites who went down were Jewish and proportionately the number of civil rights workers from Brandeis was higher than just about any other college. We were students at the end of the 1950s, early '60s. We had been raised just after the Holocaust with "Never again," and "If not me, who? If not now, when?" I believed our purpose in life was to leave the world a better place than we found it. It's called "Tikkun Olam.", repair the world. So I believed this is what I should be doing.

Steve: And your parents were probably pretty progressive people, the way you're describing your life.

Miriam: My parents were progressive for the community they lived in. So Indianapolis, Indiana was a very conservative place, and my parents, being part of the Jewish community, were more liberal. They weren't as liberal as Brandeis students were. Oh, by the way, I should mention that I said I had my pictures sent out over the wire, the AP wire, somebody sent me a copy from an Iowa newspaper. The Klan knew about it and burned a cross on my parents' lawn in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Steve: Wow, wow. Yeah, they were very strong in Indiana.

Miriam: Yeah.

Rick: And southern Illinois.

Steve: Southern Ohio.

Rick: Yeah.

Rachel: And your parents' reaction to that?

Miriam: You know, I've discussed that with my — I come from a family where I'm one of eight kids, so I discussed that with my family. What do they remember? I remember we were going to Temple, Saturday morning, and my family was, as usual, running late. We were rushing, and my dad sees the burned out cross on our front yard. And it's not very big, maybe three feet high. And he picked it up, and he put it in the garage.

But the issue that my family has discussed is what was that look on his face? I think it may have been disgust, and "Oh no, now there's something else I have to deal with." We're rushing and all. What I do know is that there was a letter that the Klan sent to me to my parents' home, which I didn't know about till decades later. My parents gave it to the Anti-Defamation League and they sent it to the FBI. When I requested my FBI file, I saw the letter. But the sad part of the letter — I mean besides saying what you'd expect the Klan to say — I mean, they threatened me.

Steve: Is it threatening? In terms of your safety?

Miriam: Oh yes. Yeah. The sad part was misspellings were all over the place, and I thought, you know, Indiana could do a better job of educating people even if they're gonna end up in the Klan.

Steve: Well, that's one reason you do.

Miriam: Anyway, I have that in my folder in my house in Walnut Creek. I have that letter.

Rick: You should post it on the Veteran's site.

Miriam: It might be, but I'll check. I'll see if it's on there.

Rick: Yeah.

Steve: I think recently the White Citizen Council papers —  there were papers that had not been released that have been — 

Rick: Through the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson?

Steve: Something like that. I vaguely recall people saying there was a whole bunch of material, and they were out there.

Rick: Bruce would know.

Steve: Bruce would know. Wow. That's quite a story.


Rick: So when I applied for my [teaching] credential in California, Max Rafferty was the Superintendant [of Public Instruction], and he was a known arch-conservative. And so he had a committee that was a little — when you apply for your credential, there's a state committee that says, 'Yes, you've met all the conditions.' There was a subcommittee where all the political arrestees went and just circled as a little maelstrom and just never got out of that committee. And so because I had an arrest but not a conviction, I ended up in that little committee, because I was political. And eventually, it took a phone call from the Assistant Superintendant to Sacramento to free up my credential.

Miriam: You know what? I had a similar thing, but there was convergence of good luck. So I had gotten a Master's in Education back East and taught there for two years. When I wanted to move to California I applied for a California teaching credential. I never heard back. But luckily I had moved to San Francisco. My State Assembly member was African American and on the education committee. It was Willie Brown and I was now his constituent. His office helped me get my California teaching credential.

Rick: He helped you, yeah.

Miriam: That's how I got my — but when I got the letter, and I still have that letter too, it said, 'We expect a higher moral standard from our teachers.' referring to my civil rights arrests.

Rick: Hey, the highest one there! Yeah, I applied for my credential in '70, and Rafferty was still Superintendant, well in control.

Miriam: Mine was in '69.

Rick: So you remember the Rafferty days. [S.F. Chronicle columnist] Herb Caen said that when Rafferty went to Alabama to become their State Superintendant, he raised the IQ of both states. [General laughter]

Rick: Only Herb Caen could come up with that.


Steve: What about your high school?

Miriam: My high school was an inner city high school.

Steve: In Indianapolis.

Miriam: Yeah, it had been the school for the wealthy white kids, but as the population moved, it became a mix of everything the city had which was poor, middle income and rich whites, poor and middle income Blacks and most of the city's Jewish kids. And it was big. It was 3,000 kids.

Rick: That's what Berkeley High was, 3,000.

Miriam: And it was late '50s in Indiana, and there was some bad stuff going on in the school. Basketball was the main sport, not football. Basketball. We're talking Indiana. And the coach would not play the five best players. He would play the four best Black players and one white. And the one white guy — the Black players were never put up to be Homecoming King, stuff like that, or for Junior Prom. The one white guy was always the Prom King. And one of the women gym coaches used the "N" word with the kids. It was not a good situation. One of the Black guys and I formed a Human Relations Council to try to address some of the stuff going on.

Steve: And you got some buy-in from students? Or how was that set up?

Miriam: I heard that it was still there five or six years later which sort of surprised me, but —

Steve: No, what I meant, at the time, you had — how many people were involved in it?

Miriam: Well, people were talking about the issues. I should mention that the Jewish kids also were never put up as Student Council members or prom kings or queens with one exception in my years there.

Rick: No, no.

Steve: You were a small minority probably.

Miriam: Yeah, we were. We were. But an active one. I mean, we had a daily paper in my high school. The Shortridge Daily Echo.

Rick: We had a linotype machine that would actually print it on campus. We'd teach kids how to run a linotype.

Steve: We had a newspaper. I was actually the editor, but it came out like — gee, I don't think it was even once a week. I think it was once a month.

Rick: Well, a large high school can do that. That's one of the few benefits of a large high school is you can. There's an economy of scale that allows you do to that.

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