A SNCC Education
Daphne Muse

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

Movement VeteransFamily & Guests
Chude Pam Parker Allen (volunteer)Philip Canterbury
Linda Wetmore Halpern (volunteer)Carolyn Canterbury
Janet Heinritz-Canterbury, SNCC  Elliot Halpern
Daphne Muse, SNCCJoann Heinritz
 Randi Lauderdale, MLK Freedom Center

Daphne: I started my activism as a senior in high school at William McKinley High in Washington, D.C., and we were part of a group called High School Students for Better Education. And we actually ended up testifying before Congress about the inequity of education in public schools in the District of Columbia. And I found the transcript to that. I found it about six months ago.

Many: Wow!

Daphne: I was determined after all these years. And a scholar named Jonathan Karl out of the University of Baltimore, he saw my posting about it, and he actually was the one who unearthed it.

So when I graduated from McKinley Tech, I went to Nashville to attend school at Fisk [University]. I lived with my aunt and uncle who were serious middle class Black people. They were not on Dr. King's bus. I was not allowed to go to any kind of organizing meetings or demonstrations. Tell me I'm not allowed — and then oh boy, I go! [General laughter]

Daphne: And so I would say I'm going to the library, and I would go hear James Lawson and Diane Nash talk about the Vietnam War. I knew nothing about Vietnam. So my consciousness around Vietnam was what led, kicked me into the next gear of my activism. And I could not believe there was this Black woman who knew so much, and so much about the policies and the politics. I mean, it wasn't just that she was speaking with a passionate heart; she was speaking with some real knowledge to back up that heart. I was fascinated. I was just fascinated.

And so then I continued to sneak and go to those meetings under the cover of being at the library. And the discussion shifted, and Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks came for the Black Writer's Conference and Eldridge Cleaver, who — that was a whole other story. And Willie Ricks recruited me. I was an English major, and he asked me to run off flyers on the ditto machine about some organizing that was happening there. So I continued to work after they left. That was like the beginning of my real education, because what I was being taught at Fisk wasn't quite matching what I was learning from people like Ricks and what I was learning from Diane Nash and James Lawson and what I was witnessing in Nashville at the time.

Woman: What year was this?

Daphne: I went in '62, and I stayed until '67. And Alexander Looby, who was a lawyer in Nashville, his house had been bombed. So my aunt and uncle were very concerned about that. They didn't want their nice middle class home bombed. I understand that. And so after graduation, I started teaching school in D.C., and I was really upset that there were not books — I was teaching in this all Black school. I said, 'These children don't have any books with Black people in it.' I [had] hated Spot, Dick and Jane when I was in school. Did not learn to read until I was in the fifth grade.

And so I was working at Brentano's Bookstore, and the guy who was one of the managers was a young Black man. He said, 'A new Black bookstore just opened in Washington, D.C. called Drum and Spear.' I went up there to buy books for my students, and lo and behold, the bookstore was organized by Judy Richardson, Courtland Cox, Charlie Cobb, Jennifer Lawson, all these SNCC people. And it was like holy moley! And Joe Gross, [who] was then managing the store, says, 'You working for them white people down there at Brentano's. You should come up here and work for us.' So I quit my job at Brentano's, and a few weeks later I quit my teaching job, and I was working full time at Drum and Spear.

And that became, for me, the University of Drum and Spear, because it was the intersection of all these people from SNCC, the Pan-African Movement, the Black Nationalist Movement, the Black Arts Movement. It was amazing. And that was where I really learned more about the in-depth work that had taken place by people in SNCC. The Freedom Schools.

We saw Jennifer and Julius Lester. They did some children's books and sold the children's books. Drum and Spear. The first children's book I ever wrote, I collaborated with Courtland Cox and Jennifer Lawson, and we did a book called "Children of Africa." It was a coloring book. And all of this material, all of these books we were selling, and then all of that experience at Fisk translated, because [Artabon Thomps?], his books were being sold at Drum and Spear. I was reading his books. I had been his research assistant at Fisk. It was context for that experience.

So we also were heavily impacted — I mean, people would come through telling their SNCC stories, telling their Movement stories, conferences were organized. The store was almost like a cultural and political hub. So we did a lot of work with the universities there, especially Howard, and the University of the District of Columbia. So I got, on a daily basis, people were telling me SNCC stories. I was reading the liberation literature. Juadine Henderson was also a part of that group, and she came up out of Batesville, Mississippi.

And then Drum and Spear asked me to go down to Mississippi to Clarksdale to work on a project that Ed Brown, Rap's brother, had done, a literacy project that tied into voter registration. So I was in Mississippi with Jennifer for about three or four months, working on that voter registration project.

So again, it was more about what I was learning than what I was doing at that point. I mean, the work in the bookstore was daunting on so many levels, because the FBI was a constant threat. The FBI building was three miles from where we were, so they were a constant presence in the store. And Ralph Featherstone was also a big part of Drum and Spear. So my work involved providing materials for conferences, developing curricula with teachers, a lot of it based around the history, the novels and even the children's books that had been written that reflected what Stokely was talking about around Pan-Africanism, what Judith Lester was talking about around Black Power, Amiri Baraka.

At the time, the focus was really primarily through the voice of Black men, and it wasn't until maybe a year later that the voices of Black women, writers, especially Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, were beginning to really emerge in a major way.

But while I was in Mississippi, I met Fannie Lou Hamer. Jennifer said, 'I want to take you to meet this woman.' And she was in a field with a hoe, and she was hoeing in the field. She walks up, and Jennifer said, 'This is Mrs. Hamer.' I said, 'This is Mrs. who? Are you kidding me?' I was star struck. It was like people who've met Michael Jackson and all of that kind of crew. That was what that was like for me.

And she kept talking about to Jennifer, 'When was the last time you saw Harry?' She had all of this conversation about Harry. So when we left, I said, 'Is Harry her husband?' She said, 'No, Harry is Harry Belafonte.' She had this huge crush on Harry Belafonte. So it's just, every time I hear her name, every time I see her, something deep moves in my soul. And when I get weary, I go to Mrs. Hamer. I've {UNCLEAR} her a lot these last few years, hella lot.

So I was formed by experiences that were a bit later. I didn't work in the Freedom Schools, but I got to share that literature, selling it to people, especially teachers who would come in, and getting that material into curriculum, because I did some work here in Berkeley developing curriculum. And I was able to include the Freedom School material in that curriculum. And then I taught here at UC Berkeley for a number of years. Well it was then the Afro-American Studies department, and then I went and I taught at Mills.

But the other thing, a couple of years ago, two years ago, I moved, and I have a huge [book] collection. I did. It's still pretty big. At one point, I had about 21,000 rare Black books. It's down to about 12,000 now. And as I continue to unpack, I recently found a stash of 3500 letters, and this is a sampler that I have pulled together of some of those letters. And they include letters from Angela Davis. I was the secretary for the legal defense team, so I have correspondence from her, and one of the letters ends up by saying, I used to have to take her her personal items, her hygiene items, and she says, 'P.S. Thanks for the Tampax.' [General laughter]

So the funniest letter in the collection is — I had my own [FBI] agent, and he would follow me from the bookstore at night, and the bookstore was in the 'hood, to my apartment in Adams Morgan [neighborhood]. So I walked about 12 blocks from the bookstore. Some nights I had $3,000 on me. I mean, I'm walking through this neighborhood, pretty naive. The bookstore got broken into a lot. It was the FBI breaking in. The bookstore was set on fire a lot. It was the FBI. So he would follow me home, and then in the morning when I would leave, he would follow me back. But Ralph Featherstone told me from the very beginning, 'Do not ever talk to the FBI, because they're gonna say, "We were talking to Daphne, and Daphne said — '"

Well, Daphne didn't say squat, because I didn't talk to them. So one morning, my doorbell on the apartment is just ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. No, I go to walk out of the door, that's what it is. I turn, and I open the door, and there stands Jim South and another agent. I slammed that door so hard, it sounded like the foundation of the apartment building shook. So then they started ringing the bell on the door, and I wouldn't answer it. So they slid a note under the door. I have the note. He misspelled my name, and I was pissed! It says, 'Miss Daphne Muse, please call the FBI, exchange 73100, extension 765. Thank you. Jim South.'

And then J. Edgar Hoover was really pissed with Drum and Spear, and he subpoenaed 10 of us before the Grand Jury. This was 1971. The subpoena is now in our archive at Emory. And Howard Moore represented us. And I remember Judy Richardson and I putting on glasses to look very professorial, and we walk in that room, and the Grand Jury had these older Black women. There were at least four or five. We were stunned. We could not figure out how these Black women ended up on the Grand Jury. Then we realized the population of D.C. at that time was probably about 60% Black. And Judy and I both said, 'Thank you, Jesus.' [General laughter]

And all of a sudden, the charges were dropped. And my personal opinion is it was happening at the juncture at which Angela was happening and us, and I would like to see the documentation on exactly what the FBI claimed was going on versus what was really going on. I do have part of my [FBI] file. I don't have all of it. From 1969 to 1979, and then I don't from '79 to about the mid- '90s I don't have it. But I'm going to request it, because my last interaction with them was walking out of my door in the Fruitvale in Oakland, and two dudes sitting in a car, and I said, 'Boy, they have not quit.' Because you could smell 'em. You could tell. But that seeded — all of that seeded my activism in the academy, my activism in the community in the Fruitvale [neighborhood of Oakland], and then it was further heightened when I married a Marxist economist who was [General laughter] he was an {UNCLEAR}. [General laughter]

And we used to compare notes about our experiences in our parallel movements. But a lot of these letters document SNCC. I have a letter in here that Ralph Featherstone wrote. And I have when Ralph was murdered in the explosion. His ashes were sent to Nigeria, and I have the telegram that came back saying that his ashes have now been placed on sacred land. So it's in here. [Applause]

And I'm just pleased to be among you. Know that the work you did shaped me.

Janet: Thank you so much. You know, so many people you mentioned, it's just like bing-bing-bing. You know Jennifer, and even the Fannie Lou Hamer mention, like that one brought me to tears, because I mean I never met her. I didn't know her, but my husband drove her from when the Mississippi Challenge took place in DC. and she wanted a ride back to — not back to, but she wanted a ride to West Virginia.

Woman: Atlantic City?

Janet: Well, no, that was the Mississippi Freedom Party [Democratic Convention challenge]. This is the Mississippi Challenge that took place in Congress. A bunch of people went to Congress and said, 'We should be there and not you. Blah-blah.'

So [Mrs. Hamer] wanted a ride, and so my husband who was — I think he was still just footloose and fancy free but interested in this kind of stuff, you know, Civil Rights stuff. And I don't think he was with SNCC yet or anything, but he's a hillbilly. He's from West Virginia. And he died on March 3rd, so part of the reason I teared up was just thinking about Tom. So Tom took her seven hours in a car with Fannie Lou Hamer, and it's like, 'Oh my God, I can't even imagine it.'

So I would say to him, 'So Tom, what did you talk about? What did you say?' And it's like, 'Oh, you know, whatever.' And that was Tom. But I mean, if I had three hours in a car with Fannie Lou Hamer, I mean it's like you go out in the field — I just like, wow! And Jennifer — Jennifer is one of the most incredible women I've ever — I worked with her in Wilcox.

Daphne: Jennifer I met in '69 in Mississippi. We have a trove of 300 letters that we've exchanged, starting in '69. And we are really good friends, and in 2016, we went to Duke where she and Courtland and all were working on the The SNCC Legacy Project (SLP), and I got to participate in that. And then we left Duke, and we drove down to Kiawah, one of the sea islands, and we spent a week on Kiawah talking about we're going to get together hopefully next year and read the letters to one another. My letters to her and her letters to me. And if you ever have the opportunity to go to the SNCC Legacy Project, do. They have done such amazing work. They really have. And Courtland and Judy [Richardson] and Charlie [Cobb] and Jennifer and then the people there at Duke, it's just such a remarkable testimony to all of you and what you've brought to the table and you know that scholars even now are using the work in the archive.

Janet: So that was set up after the [2000 SNCC reunion in Raleigh], right?

Daphne: Yes, yes. And it's continuing.

Janet: I keep getting emails on it, but I haven't actually researched it at all.

Linda: I have one comment. Marcus Books in Oakland, it's not the hub like you're talking about, but as somebody who has got to read it all; I've got to know it all; I cannot walk into this classroom and not know the depth and the breadth of the African experience, diaspora, right? The whole thing. So I hung out at Marcus Books a lot, just sitting there. I couldn't buy the book, but I was just reading. You've got to fill yourself up with it, and it's so much, and it's so inspiring.

Carolyn: I was wondering if you and Jennifer Lawson are going to document your letter reading project.

Daphne: So we are going to read the letters first, because these receipts contain some deep [information.] [General laughter] I love the young people saying, 'I got receipts!' [General laughter] Deep information!

Woman: As long as there's no beer drinking in there.

Daphne: None of that, none of that! And then we will make a decision. And then there are certain things that, along with the letters, I have 17 portfolios of ephemera: invitations, flyers, all of that kind of stuff. So it's a good marriage in terms of the archive and what people did and visual representation of it. So back to your question, that's a decision Jennifer and I will make once we read the letters. There are certain things in my own — like I also have journals that I will embargo because some of it will have a profound effect on people's children. And that I'm — 

Woman: Some of it's personal, right?

Daphne: And that's one of the conversations at some point, without revising history, how do you deal with that? Because there's just certain stuff around Angela's trial, say, that I would never talk about. So it's a bit of a conundrum, because I absolutely, positively do not believe in revisionist history, and I think subconsciously that's why I collected all these letters, because when somebody says, 'Well, I was at the conference,' and I can say, 'Well, now wait a minute.' [General laughter]

'According to this document here — ' And that's the beauty of the SNCC Legacy Project, that there's documentation there. There's documentation within your own letters and journals and memories that can challenge some of this. But I'll keep you posted on that.

Carolyn: No, I was just curious about the thinking behind it, so thank you for answering that in such detail.

Janet: That's amazing about Jennifer. Well, when I do my story, I'll talk about [Wilcox County, Alabama], but it's amazing. [Crying]

Chude: Okay, I have two questions. One is around the whole question of how we then honored, in the way we spoke. Like it was always "Mrs." Hamer.

Woman: Oh you betcha!

Chude: And I think that's something that young people today, when they read about her, don't understand is that we never were familiar, you know?

And I've come to understand that's also very traditional in the Black community, that elders are respected. And that if you know the person, then you might be Miss Chude rather than, in my case, Mrs. Allen, but there's always that honorific.

And we coming down to the South in '64, of course I was 20 but still, as a white person, we were very clear we were going to be first name, even though we might speak to elders with — I mean, we made a point of saying "Mr." and "Mrs." [to them]. But to break that [violently-enforced pattern where all African-Americans had to address all whites regardless of age as "Mr." "Mrs." or "Miss."].

So the question I have now is that when I go to speak or when you go to speak, we who are white find ourselves still going, 'I'm Chude.' And yet, I'm aware that in many times, it might be more appropriate to say to young children, 'I'm Miss Chude.' And I hadn't really understood that as a question until a conference I'd gone to where a professor at Spelman brought some Spelman students. This was about four years ago. She herself, Gloria Wade-Gayles, had been one of the people who went from Spelman as a professor. She went to Mississippi as a Freedom School teacher. I don't remember if she was voter registration or Freedom School, but she came to this conference, and she brought about six young women with her who were students, and immediately I was "Miss Chude," and it felt really quite wonderful. Because there still was a kind of familiarity about it, but there was also the respect. And so I'm just interested that that seemed like such a positive thing, that respect of elders that was so strong in the Black community.

Linda: That still puts me in a conundrum, that whole thing, because not only were we older [than our Freedom School students], but now we are really the elders. [General laughter]

So I started with five other teachers at a school of social justice in East Oakland, and they asked me to come and be a part of the school because I was a veteran teacher, and they needed somebody on there. They were all African-American, but the kids all called them their first name. And they asked me what I wanted to be called, and I had that thing when I was out at Castlemont that the community wants you to be called "Mr." and "Mrs." That's how you show the respect, right? So when I came in 1970, I thought about saying "Linda", but all the other people on the staff who were African-American, mainly women from the South, they said, 'Unh-uh. You're "Mrs. Wetmore." You're "Mrs. [Archie]".' I had several marriages along the way.

But whatever it was, put that "Miss" and "Mrs." in there, but then when I got to this school in 2004, they asked me what I wanted to be called, and I said "Mrs. Halpern." And they looked at me as if I had committed a sin, you know? No, we're all going first name. I said, I know, but when they call me "Miss Linda," it reminds me of "Miss Anne." I'm not a plantation wife. I'm not on a plantation. I don't like that "Miss Anne." I don't want to go there.' So it still messes me up a little bit.

Daphne: I feel the conundrum. I used to go to the South a lot. I haven't been back — well, Jennifer and I were there in 2016, but I still call people "Mr." and "Ms." I did not know the first name of any of my teachers until after I finished high school. I couldn't tell you what their first names were. I didn't know the first names of any of my parents' friends. You know, I didn't call my mom's good friend, 'Hey Thelma, how you doing?' I wouldn't have had any teeth in my head. No, no, no.

So I think in different social situations, you can call me "Daphne." In other kinds of situations, I am "Ms. Muse." And it feels a little schizophrenic, but I think that's how I'm choosing to roll. But the reverence of referring to someone as "Mr." or "Ms." although this gets very complicated now because of pronouns. I am having a challenge. I am trying to honor gender. I really am. Young people, please bear with me. [General laughter]

Please bear with me. Because this gender conflation is really challenging, and as I tell young people, it's not about being disrespectful. But when you've spent 74 years saying "him" and "her," "she" and "he," and then you have to make this shift, it doesn't come automatically. So it's not disrespect; it really isn't disrespect. It's you're trying to hold on to the molecular structure in your brain that is now shifting, at the same time be respectful of what people, how people choose to identify. And I'm ready to get a T-shirt with all the pronouns, so I can just look at the T-shirt and say, "Oh, OK."

Linda: I'm in the same quandary you have, but as an English teacher, which you are, I mean it's also the grammatical structure — 

Daphne: Yes.

Linda:  — not just the molecular structure. You say, 'I'm they.' And it's like, 'You and who else?' You know? Where are you? But my challenge to the pronoun issue is if you are "they" or "we," would you please create another pronoun? Be creative in this. Give us something to work with that can put another pronoun in our brains, because the singular/plural thing is just too confusing.

Chude: I just want to comment that "Ms." M-S, to replace "Miss" and "Mrs." comes from Sheila Michaels who was a veteran of the Southern Freedom Movement. It's "Ms." So that's a nice one.

Woman: So "Ms. Allen," can we take a break?

Chude: I was going to suggest the same thing.


Randi: Hi. And to real quick get a clarifying question. What do you exactly mean about — 

Man: Why don't you give what school you go to? How you came to the project? And maybe, if you would, some first impressions of what you heard.

Randi: Okay. So I am part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center which is a leadership organization housed at Merritt College in Oakland. And we are at the event today because we got connected with Ms. Reinhart about the event for the oral history, and we're actually doing an oral history project ourselves. So we're kind of using this as a training in trying to understand really what oral history is and how it really goes into, you know get pointers to improve our own work so that it can be efficient. And I am a student at Sojourner Truth Independent Study in Oakland.

In terms of first impressions, I mean, this is mind blowing, really. [General laughter]

Randi: I knew that it was going to be elders here talking about the work that they've done, and I don't think I took into context the depth, the real history that it's alive in this environment and in this moment. And I'm just completely honored to be in your presence and to be listening your stories and experiences, and I'm taking as many notes as I can! And really just admiring this moment for what it is, and I really appreciate all of you sharing your experiences and talking.

Man: What year are you?

Randi: I'm a junior.

Woman: And where are you from?

Randi: Well, I was born and raised in Pleasanton [CA], and then I moved to Oakland two years ago. So I'm currently living in Oakland, in East Oakland.

Woman: [Eees] Oakland. [General laughter]

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