A BRIEF WORD AT THE BEGINNING
My sincere appreciation is expressed, first of all, to the Session of College View Presbyterian Church, without whose knowledge I would not have gone. The Session, believing that freedom of the pulpit also implies the freedom for a minister to act where conscience compels him, did not hinder my going. I am grateful to members of the congregation who contributed toward the expenses of the trip and the family which was willing to go bond for me in the event of arrest. I am grateful to all those who sustained me in prayer the week of February 9-15, 1964, and especially to my loyal wife, who had some misgivings for my safety's sake. Not the least of my thanks goes to Mrs. William Stevens, patient typist of the final drafts and stencil cutter. Appreciation goes to "The Old Goats," our retired men who specialize in putting things together.
What started as a very simple recapitulation of daily notes has become something very different. Even then, it barely scratches the surface of the facts and the experiences of the trip. I share it with you simply because you could not go, and the trip has meant too much to me to be kept to myself.
Dean Hay, Minister College View Presbyterian Church Lincoln, Nebraska."
A HATTIESBURG DIARY
On Sunday, February 9, at 3:15 p.m., four tense and halfway frightened Nebraska ministers pulled away from 4520 Linden, Lincoln, Nebraska, for a long, long trip that would take them into the heart of the South during a critical time in this country's history, and into a very unpopular work in the eyes of part of the South and part of the North. Their destination was Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Their goal was to give encouragement to a voter registration campaign that was being carried on in behalf of a portion of Mississippi's disenfranchised citizenry — people who were and are living under the promise and the hope of freedom, but without the succor of just state and local governments.
The ministers were from the Lincoln Omaha area: Rev. Simon Simon, Central United Presbyterian Church, Omaha; Rev. Robert Conner, faculty of Doane College, Crete, and a member of the West Wisconsin District of The Methodist Church; Rev. David Anderson, Murray and Cedar Creek Presbyterian Churches, Murray; and Rev. Dean Hay, College View Presbyterian Church, Lincoln. They were following, by two weeks, another group of Nebraskans, all from Lincoln, who had flown down for the same work, under the leadership of Dr. Alan Pickering, Presbyterian University Pastor, University of Nebraska, and Dr. Darrell Berg, Trinity Methodist Church and one time pastor of College View Church before it had become Presbyterian. The first major stop was to be Wichita, Kansas, where the four from Lincoln were to be joined by six from the western part of the state: Rev. Donna Jann, First Presbyterian Church Lexin ton; Rev. William Stype, Buffalo Grove United Presbyterian Church', Lexington; Rev. Don Nunnally, The Evangelical United Brethren Church, Aurora; Rev. Herschel Dugan, First Christian Church, Aurora; Rev. Frank Iske, United Presbyterian Church, Minden; and Rev. James Hargleroad; United Presbyterian Church, Cozad.
After a short night of rest in Wichita, the two station wagons, a red Falcon and a white Mercury, continued south toward Dallas and Interstate 80, which would take us across East Texas. Near noon we arrived in Dallas, being impressed by the thriving growth of the city and the construction of many fine new buildings that were visible on the horizon. As we came near the heart of the city, cameras were poked out car windows to capture on film the Texas School Book Depository, now an unhappy historical landmark. We caught a glimpse of fresh flowers in the long, open, curved monument that stands at the top of the grassy slope below which our 34th President was slain.
Moving eastward in early afternoon, without stopping in the city, we increasingly saw the less commendable practices which are a part of the "southern way of life." Rest room signs now made three distinctions, men, women, and "colored," as though this were the land of three sexes. A pair of drinking fountains, three feet apart on a single water pipe, were attached to the wall of a filling station, "separate but equal". But where there was no second fountain, the single fixture was a silent witness to a man's disregard for another's thirst. We saw it, and it hurt, for we thought of One who said, "Whoever gives to these little ones even a cup of cold water ... shall not lose his reward." Matt. 10:42
The fresh plowed cotton fields and greening roadsides contrast to the Nebraska winter we had left behind. A meadowlark bobbed along the shoulder of the road and a schoolyard of Negro children played under a solitary flag bearing the emblem of the "Lone Star State."
We arrived in Louisiana as darkness began to fall. Conversation was guarded as we ate in a motel restaurant and watched the tame fawn which lay beside the swimming pool. It was a little pleasure, but one not open to a family unless there was the proper shading to its skin.
Later that night we stopped opposite a bus station to check our maps. The red neon and white incandescent bulbs illuminated the glaringly white sign with foot high black letters above the cafe door, "WHITE ONLY". "And the King will answer them, 'Depart from me, ye cursed ... for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me...." Since when has the Gospel not been a "social" as well as a "spiritual" Gospel?
At 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, we arrived in Hattiesburg.
Why were we there? We were there because Negro citizens in Hattiesburg wanted us there. We were there because the student movement working on voter registration wanted us there. We were there because the Church had encouraged us to come, if our consciences were so moved.
All of the group had prepared statements for the paper or for his congregation.
Most of these were printed in the Lincoln Journal on Tuesday, February 11:
"The Rev. Frank L. Iske of the First Presbyterian Church of Minden voiced this view: 'I am going so that the Negro will not get discouraged with the Church and rightly turn to other revolutionary groups in the world who will promise to help them.'
The Rev. Simon A. Simon, minister of Christian Education and youth work at the Central United Church in Omaha said he tried not to go: 'The Hand of God was upon me; I tried to refuse the challenge to be here, but I could not. I therefore came as a servant of God, at personal sacrifice, prone to and subjected to criticism, yet unable to refuse the Master's call.'
The Rev. Robert Conner of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Crete (and Doane College) explained: 'Because I am an American, I believe in democracy and the American way of life in which every qualified citizen is entitled to the right to vote. When any man is denied this right, my own right is also diminished!'
The Rev. David Anderson of Vic United Presbyterian Church of Murray declared: 'We go to Hattiesburg on a journey of peace, in an attitude of love, with a message of reconciliation we go also with the firm resolution to see justice for all.'
The Rev. James Hargleroad of the First Presbyterian Church of Cozad explained: 'The people of Hattiesburg are fully capable of giving to all their citizens equal rights. This they are not doing. Their inaction has been a summons to us who are now going for the sole purpose of bringing Negroes into the Courthouse in Hattiesburg to register. Only by lifting the veil of fear can these deprived voters stand beside their brothers. We go to lift that veil.'
The Rev. Herschel Dugan of the First Christian Church of Aurora said: 'The reasons for my going to Hattiesburg come out of both my Christian faith that all persons are God's children and belong to one great family and our American heritage of freedom and equality of opportunity.'
The Rev. Donald J. Nunnally of the Evangelical United Brethren Church of Aurora declared: 'Far too long we have talked about the racial problem. This is a positive attempt to try to do something about it.'
'Unless the racial revolution is successful at the registration desk, in the polling booth, in the public school districts, and in housing areas, we must expect it to take place with violence in the streets.' That, the Rev. L. Dean Hay of the College View United Presbyterian Church of Lincoln, said, is the reason why he went with nine other Nebraska ministers to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. 'The registration campaign is one using orderly processes and nonviolent tactics. The South will be bathed in blood if the Negro community, in discouragement, decides to look for reform outside of such lawful means."
Weeks later, the daily papers were to indicate that this discouragement was a real and potent threat — that death had begun to stalk the streets.
These statements, somewhat stilted, so inadequate, could not begin to convey the depth of commitment that had moved us to venture south. We were in Hattiesburg that early February morning because we felt a burden on our conscience. We were there to affirm that Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Father to all men, is a God of righteousness and the Judge of injustice. We were there to affirm the basic tenets of American democracy, among which is the proposition that every man is a created being, a living soul, and that each is politically equal to his neighbor. We were there by invitation and by response. We had been invited by citizens in Hattiesburg — not all the citizens of Hattiesburg, to be sure but by citizens, nevertheless.
By 2:15 a.m. we were across the tracks. The scattered lights of Mobile Street revealed the vacant lots and concrete brick buildings of the Negro business district. Here the families whose average income was 1/2 that of the average on the other side of the tracks lived out their off duty lives. Here were the $3 a day people, the dusky folk, descendants of slaves and the whites who had used them .... By birth, Americans; by blood, a mixture of races; by law and Southern custom, "niggers". I believe that it was James Baldwin who remarked caustically when someone asked him about intermarriage that the Southern white is not upset about his daughter marrying a Negro; it is only his wife's daughter that he doesn't want to marry a Negro!" When I made a remark to the student workers about intermarriage, one day, he replied "Well, I don't know much about that problem. All I know is that my grandmammy looked awful good to a white man." It would take a lot of whitewash to deal with some Southern consciences, if that would do the trick.
The small cardboard sign in the window of 522 Mobile Street told us that we had arrived at the Minister's Mississippi Project Headquarters. We were soon inside the office, and rolling out our blankets in the dormitory style room at its rear. There was not room for us all, so part of the men went to the shanty behind the SNCC Headquarters building. The number of ministers was up to 19. Two rabbis would be arriving later, and an attorney.
Even after prayer, it was a restless night, and morning came early. Breakfast was being served down the street at the Whirley Bird Bar. The proprietor, Mrs. Harelson, had been arrested after she started feeding the ministers (which was against the law, since she was operating a Negro establishment) for illegal possession of intoxicating beverages. The police had found a bottle of gin on the premises, but when the charges were filed, it was identified in there as whisky. After some time in jail and a $75 fine she was freed. (The planting of liquor in order to file charges is apparently a common occurrence. That morning, one of the men found a bottle in our quarters. We were careful thereafter to keep the building carefully locked or guarded. This would have been a very profitable kind of smear for the authorities to have been able to use.)
The breakfast was hearty, and cheap: two large sausage patties, red pepper hot, two eggs, a large helping of grits with a pool of butter in the center, three slices of buttered toast, and hot chicory coffee, all for 62".
After breakfast, we were off to COFO Headquarters. "COFO" stands for Council of Federated Organizations. These organizations include the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee known as SNCC ("snick"), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, "Slick"), headed by Martin Luther King, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and the NAACP. Each, to some degree, specializes in some area of civil rights. Most of the work in Hattiesburg was being done by SNCC, which is especially concerned with voter registration, though it works in other areas, also. Its workers are recruited from college and university campuses and are on a living allowance of $9.67 perweek.
The COFO-SNCC Headquarters is in 1/4 of a hotel rooming house owned by Mrs. L. E. Woods. Mr. Woods, now deceased, was the Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party (Negro) and delivered one of the seconding speeches for Alf Landon at the Republican Convention in 1936. His home was dynamited shortly thereafter. His widow, Mrs. Woods, is a gracious, fragile, elderly lady, a retired school teacher whose heart and soul is with youth and with the Southern Freedom movement. Knowing all the risks, she has tied up her real estate as bonds for harassed student workers.
We climbed the stairs into the lounge of her rooming house, with its dark red wainscoted walls. Clean as a pin, we found large, old fashioned, comfortable chairs that would take care of the 20 of us, still leaving room for a black piano, a television, a couple of chiffoniers, and 16 arrangements of artificial flowers.
The Rev. Theodore Romig, Regional Secretary for South Asia, Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, led us in prayer: "Almighty God, who has made of one blood all nations of men.... " I do not know what others were thinking, but my mind turned in his prayer back to the creation of man and his uniqueness, expressed in Genesis as the "image of God." In those moments I knew myself, by my presence in Hattiesburg, to be confirming a relationship established on the day of creation between all men. There it was that we believe we began, and even until today we share with all men the same blood and the same image, though its exact nature remains forever a holy mystery.
Who was there? Presbyterians, a Methodist, an EUD, a Disciple of Christ. Later there would be rabbis. No Episcopalians were on hand for this particular week. Sponsorship of the project was being shared by the Commission on Religion and Race of the United Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, the Rabbinical Society of America, and the Presbyterian Inter-Racial Fellowship. The national Council of Churches had lent lawyers as has CORE.
Rev. Robert Stone of the Presbyterian Commission on Religion and Race briefed the group concerning the events of the past weeks. He described the impasse which the voter registration drive had finally met, and the clear cut issue which lay before us. The involvement of the church was explained, as well as our relationship to both SNCC and the Justice Department, whose lawyers were grateful for our presence — and our assistance. We would by reporting to them during the week.
What were the activities ahead of us? A number of things are part of the SNCC program in Hattiesburg: a picket line, canvassing of Negro neighborhoods to encourage registration, mass meetings in churches in the evenings, and "tea parties." The briefing session did not deal with each as fully as they are set down: much was left for us to experience as we did the work. In addition, the ministers, would work with the Justice Department, securing — affidavits from persons who reported threats or acts of intimidation as a result of their involvement in voter registration or civil rights protests.
The picket line, it was explained, was to encourage the Negro community. The peaceful parade of Negroes and whites around the Courthouse had become the most eloquent way of saying to the Negroes that nothing would happen to them when they came to register. A second important purpose of the picket line was to check the number of applicants and interview them after they had applied. Without a picket line, vote registration workers could be charged with loitering, but pickets were protected by the law. It was important to know whether applicants had been told if they had passed or failed, since Federal court orders had cited Theron Lynd, the Registrar, for not having done so in the past. The results of the interviews were transmitted by the SNCC workers to the Justice Department.
It was important to keep the peace. Arrests at the picket line would only further intimidate the Negro community. It was agreed that if it appeared that we would either have to yield ground or violate the law, we would retreat, talk the matter over as a group and with our attorney, and then make a decision. There would be no rash acts. If we were arrested, it would be "at the right place, for the right reason, at the right time."
The canvassing from door to door was extremely important. The most courageous in the community had already been to the Courthouse of Forrest County. In fact, forty three of them had fought all the way to the Supreme Court of the United State5..01 America in order to force Theron Lynd, the Registrar, to place their names on the voting rolls. Though Negro seminary professors, school teachers and professional people, the Registrar would not certify them as literate and eligible. He had repeatedly appealed findings of the Courts against him, along with citations for contempt His only real success had been in achieving delay. From a more rational point of view, this was a very hollow victory. The delays were causing some Negroes in the community to disavow what little confidence they had left in the law. While the white community basked in its psychological success of creating fear and encouraging apathy, these Negroes were developing a deep hostility toward whites and beginning to talk of what they would do when the tables were turned. Canvassing by the SNCC workers and the ministers was to encourage confidence in the slow legal processes, including the ballot box, and by a personal witness to encourage the fearful and to win the apathetic.
Many stories were related by canvassers. One of our ministers reported that a man he interviewed told of going down to the Courthouse to pay his taxes before the registration drive began. He was refused admittance to the County Clerk's Office. When home, he called the Courthouse and explained what he had come down to do and that he had been turned away. The party on the other end of the line told him that probably they had thought he was there to register. If he would come down again and tell anyone that asked that he just wanted to pay his taxes, he, wouldn't have any trouble!
There was a time in America when aggrieved citizens coined a slogan "Taxation without representation is tyranny." Some of them boarded a ship, risking life and limb in Boston Harbor, and had a "Tea Party." Why are we so surprised today at a fellow American's passion for full freedom?
"Tea Parties" are a part of the program in the voter registration campaign, so named because tea is the only refreshment. The neighbors and relatives are invited into a home to talk about the registration form, the sections of the Mississippi Constitution which must be interpreted by applicants, the importance of the laws of the state and federal governments, and the rights every American has guaranteed to him by the Constitution. Several of the ministers, who are guests in the home along, with the student worker, share their convictions about freedom. The meetings are often closed with prayer.
The mass meetings are pep rallies of a sort. Last November at one rally, three fire engines and a police car parked outside the church and ran their sirens full blast during the whole meeting.
The rallies begin with song and prayer. Guests are introduced, usually by the pastor. A sermon or "freedom talk" is given; sometimes it is very long. The meeting closes with a Friendship Circle, a freedom song, such as "We Will Overcome," and prayer. Youth sit in the front; adults sit in the rear. Occasionally a few members of the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens' Council stand in the rear and observe. They do not extend invitations in return.
When the briefing session led by Bob Stone was over the group of ministers was organized for the day's work. Some men went to the picket line. A committee was appointed to prepare a statement or the Hattiesburg American and another was appointed to work on affidavits from a list of purported intimidations.
Before the group disbanded, however, Bob had another request. Did anyone know anything about mimeographs? No one spoke. Did anyone use a Gestetner? The machine was out of kilter and if taken downtown, would be tied up indefinitely. It began to dawn how totally hostile our environment was to be. Even the matter of getting a mimeograph repaired could be a major project. I spent part of the first day in Hattiesburg putting a mimeograph machine back into working condition.
This task was not without its rewards, however. An office supply salesman came in with a delivery and we visited for a few minutes. He had formerly been an organist in a Presbyterian Church, U.S. In spite of the fact that the local U.S. pastors had disassociated themselves from us in a press release, he understood both churches to be about the same. I agreed, noting that they even had about the same position on civil rights, except in Mississippi. The Fellowship of the Concerned, a Southern Church movement, has picked up a large number of memberships from every state in the old Confederacy except in Mississippi. The requirements are simple: the member allows his name to be printed and contributes $25 per year for the use of Presbyterian pastors and elders that get into difficulty for their stand on race relations in their communities. He was surprised. Right after I casually mentioned that I had been reared in Texas, he left.
During the morning I had the opportunity of an informal visit with Sanford "Sandy" Leigh, Communications Director for the FCC Office and a key man. Sandy is an intelligent, articulate, somewhat nervous, likable chap in his early twenties. He does most of the writing at present, and the organizational detail work, supervises the mimeographing, and arranges for its distribution. He reads the classical and modern philosophers for fun. Men like Sandy Leigh make ridiculous the myth of so called "Negro inferiority."
That evening, the pastors went to a rally at Bentley Chapel. The speaker was McArthur Cotton. Some of his personal history is to be read in The Nation, October 5, 1963, 'The Battle Scarred Youngsters." He was dressed in pressed jeans and a pressed khaki shirt. His neatness, and the neatness and cleanliness of all the SNCC workers, impressed us. He spoke (too long) in a low, calm, flat voice. He was tired, but his simple directness and his depth made us attentive. It is always difficult to capture a speech, but here are some quotes taken at random with a minimum of editing!
"We are in a war, a nonviolent war. We must fight, sacrifice, and work. [Our society must not] confuse meekness with weakness. Governor Johnson cannot work or act. He can only react to our pressures.
I want to reason with you. People are willing to die for freedom, but not to walk in a picket line.
You really don't know what you are up against. If you move, you lose. You can't go to the cities New York, Detroit, or Chicago. Men are unemployed there, too. We must plan for here, and stay here. We must keep the white man running. When a man is running, he doesn't have time to think. We have to out think him.
Let's make this a Freedom Summer. For the Freedom School we need to lose sleep, do the organization, recruit the workers in the community.
I've been around a long time trying to find that thing called freedom. I'm tired. But I can't stop ... something is inside me, keeps me going.
We need to communicate. He [the white man downtown] has a psychological block. He hears only what he wants to hear.
Why don't we get more from prayer? We ought to ask God for things — tangible like the right to vote. [That's when it makes sense to say] "I will lift mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help."
If we want to win the war, we've got to wear our opponent down in a nonviolent Christian way.
Why don't we have self respect? We can't stand ourselves from lying so long. When someone asks 'Aren't you really pretty satisfied?' Say, "No!' Do you know what killed Christ? Silence! Why don't we read our Bibles more, since we are Christians? Especially since we have been talking about it all the time?
If we want to be free, and want to be free right, we're going to have to take up a cross. We're going to have to protest against all injustice, whether it be for us or for someone else in Cuba, China, Africa, or Indian people here in our own country. We have a lot of American Indians that aren't getting justice either, and Mexicans.
Our silence killed Medgar Evers. We killed Medgar Evers and Herbert Lee.
We have to run this man into a trap. They [the city] put barricades up at the Courthouse because it interfered with Sears Roebuck. This is the reason they moved the cops. They had to get rid of part of them. It was bothering business."
The meeting closed with the freedom song:
"Guide my feet, 0 Lord
While I run this race –
Cause I don't want to run –
This race in vain"
A student worker was arrested that evening for speeding. He was charged with going 37 miles an hour in a 35 mile an hour zone. Witnesses were certain that he was not going even 30. The car was impounded and he was jailed. Though the car belonged to SNCC, the police would not allow any SNCC workers to get the papers out of the glove compartment to prove ownership.
That evening an attorney from New York, Mrs. Eleanor Fischer, arrived. Arrangements were made for her housing with a Negro widow over the phone in the Minister's Project Office. Within 30 minutes, harassment phone calls began to be received by the widow, further confirming that lines were being tapped.
I went on the picket line the next morning with my homemade sign, "YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE. Be a Good Citizen – Register." It was eighty-two steps around the little patch or lawn beside the Courthouse steps. In the center of the lawn was a flag pole, and beside it was a tall pine tree. Behind the flag pole, and across the sidewalk that bordered the small patch of lawn, there was a monument "To the Men and Women of the Confederacy". The monument was dominated by an obelisk with a soldier on the top; a woman stood on one side at the base, and a soldier on the other. He had a black sooty spot on the bridge of his nose and across his left eye. It seemed symbolic.
Twenty two people, white and black, slowly shuffled around the patch of lawn and under the flag, staying inside the rope and sawhorse barricade that divided the front sidewalk. People stood under the metal awning above Sears' main doorway across the street, and the police, always courteous, periodically reported the number of pickets to the woman on the radio desk at police headquarters.
At one point, a Negro man was pulled off the line by a police officer and asked his name, address, and employer. When he told the policeman that he was retired, but had worked for the Hercules Powder Company, the response was a gruff, "Yeah, I know you, nigger, Get back on the line." That evening the police searched his car and drove by his home a number of times into the night with spotlights on the windows. The next morning they stopped to search his car again. He came to Headquarters to find out if "they" could do anything to him. "What do you mean 'they'?" I asked. "The police," he replied. When he was assured that they could not cut off his Social Security or his pension, he went back on the line with his wife.
Don Nunnally, the EUB from Aurora, took some pictures of the line from a vantage point across the street. A white man nearby, thinking him to be a tourist, perhaps, started up a conversation. Don was non committal, and the man finally erupted, "Those G.D. s.o.b.'s. They never had a meal in their lives. All they've done is to eat out of garbage cans." We later laughed. In view of the fact that two of us were 230 pounders, or better, we thought that this was a pretty poor imprecation! But we knew what he meant, poor man.
The harassment phone calls had been disturbing to Mrs. Fischer's hostess the night before, so some of us talked about it in the SNCC Headquarters at midday. One of the women in the little kitchen behind the office, where the chaperones largely spent their time overseeing the students as well as keeping the SNCC workers fed, remarked that certainly the lines were tapped. Several weeks before, she had tried to call her daughter from home and could not get the SNCC phone to answer. After several tries, a woman on the other end of the line answered, "Police Department," (The Hattiesburg police that morning had regularly reported in to a woman dispatcher whose voice could be heard over the radio by those on the picket line.)
The car impounded the previous night was released this day Wednesday, and quit on the way to the Office. Molasses was in the gas tank. The report was that the police were terribly surprised. Their parking lot had been filled, so they had turned it over to someone else to take care of; it really hadn't been in their custody and they couldn't believe that something had happened to it. We also heard that the prisoners at the jail had had pancakes with molasses for breakfast Wednesday morning.
At noon, the Priest Creek Missionary Baptist Church at Palmer's Crossing invited us for dinner. It was delicious: the inevitable fried chicken, black eyed peas with ham hock, green beans with large chunks of sow belly, turnips chopped with the greens and cooked with pork, hot spiced peaches, spiced pears, several kinds of potato salad, several kinds of cake, a plate of fancy club sandwiches, skillet bread, and lots of chicory coffee.
After dinner, Mr. Abiff Merrid, the church custodian, wearing a large Masonic emblem in his overalls, took the framed "Covenant of Membership" outside for us to copy with cameras. We had been impressed by its very adequate statement of our common Christian faith.
A strategy meeting was held in the afternoon back at Mrs. Wood's lounge above the SNCC office. We had begun to realize how deeply Hattiesburg was resisting even the notion that it had a problem. How could we bring the community to recognize the real condition of human relationships between those on one side of town and those on the other? How could we document the threats of retaliation, physical and economic, that were continually being reported? How could we reach brother ministers and others who could not believe that they did not understand the "colored?"
Later that afternoon, in my calls I met Mrs. ______ . She was clearly afraid to go and register. After a long visit, she finally confided that she was certain that she would lose her job, but more important, she was sure that she would also lose her mother's welfare check. If she lost both her job and her mother's welfare check, she would have to send her mother back to the mental hospital.
She and her daughter had taken the older woman out of the State Hospital to care for at home. The State Welfare Department provided a monthly allotment which covered the bill for drugs that were necessary for the mother to have if she were to be kept in a private home. The State sent a letter threatening to withdraw aid, Mrs. ______ said, if she got involved in civil rights, or voter registration, or better schools campaign. A Negro girl from SNCC, the other pastors, and myself were unable to persuade her to let us have the letter to read. She didn't know "whether she could find it". We went back to the Headquarters and visited with Mrs. Fischer, our petite, persuasive, personable attorney, who was getting a great deal of fun out of being a Jewish woman lawyer in company with 19 Protestant ministers. (Our rabbis had not yet arrived.)
Mrs. Fischer and I went back immediately to see Mrs. ______ . In a very few minutes she was persuaded by Mrs. Fischer to produce the letter. It was a newspaper re-print of a "letter to the editor" of a southern paper, purportedly written by a Negro woman who had gone North. It reminded Mississippi Negroes that if they got involved in civil rights, voter registration, or school improvement, they might be physically hurt, their property destroyed, their jobs denied them, and welfare aid withdrawn. It had come in the same envelope as her mother's welfare check for drugs. Mrs. ______ would not sign a statement to the effect that she had received it in the mail, though she was assured that it would be sent to Washington by the Department of Justice officials with whom Ellie Fischer was visiting that evening. She "just wouldn't dare."
That evening we went to another rally. It was held at a large, well kept, Negro church which I believe was Methodist. Frank Smith was the speaker. Again, I realize that I cannot convey the flavor, intensity, or intellectual depth of these SNCC leaders. Nor can I quote in context many of the things that were said. Every minister present expressed regret at not having a tape recorder on which to capture this address. It was light, and then deeply moving; it was somber, then heartily and robustly humorous. He spoke for a very short hour and fifteen minutes, pacing back and forth in front of the first row of pews, a slight, neat, passionate, articulate young Negro man. There was never a momentary note of hate, but a patient kind of fatherly judgment and love that usually is found only in those that have mellowed over many years.
Much of his talk was as though a white man and a black man were standing face to face, in dialogue. His text was from John 9:4: "I must work the works of Him who sent me, while it is day, for the night comes when no one can work." These quotes are from my notes, with no attempt to fill in where I could not transcribe: "A man must live by his mind and his Bible. He has to learn to suffer, then to love."
(Something about Columbus and his borrowed money, from which he moved on to the Sheriff of Lyons County who has two 19 year old armed deputies he is training as "peace officers.")
"Some don't think Negroes are people, and they tell their sons they are better than anyone else. But we're born, breathe, dream, love, marry, live, die... at least those things we have in common. In order to say that they are different, and we aren't people, they've got to lie to little children. Can't do that without it hurting you, man!
The trouble with people downtown is that they don't know that we are born, naked, get cold, hurt! (That's right! That's right! from the congregation) No! That's wrong! They do know! That's the lie! What's happening to a man when he is telling a lie? He's getting sick, man'
A man who throws dynamite into a Sunday School and kills little children — or lets it be done children — he's sick! The man who shot Medgar Evers in the back children — or lets it be done children — he's sick! A man that lets a dog on a leash tear a man that's down children — he's sick!
[Note: Portion of text missing from original document, manuscript pg. 19.]
Talk about a 'Negro problem'. Don't hear about no nigger doing that! Who is the problem? Who is sick? Who is the problem?
When a man can't defend himself with logic, he picks up dynamite ... because way back there his Daddy messed his mind up ...
In Hattiesburg, these two people (referring to white and Negro) are face to face. Because I'm down at the Courthouse he has to see me. He can't change easy. We have to destroy a whole lifetime of his thinking. He can't understand it. 'Who is this new creature?' he asks. 'Why didn't 400 years of slavery break his back?'
We stand here, looking at each other (the speaker's index fingers are almost touching). He goes home (referring to the, white man) stalling time. But I ain't going home this time, baby!
When your kids were in school, I was hoeing your cotton. When my Momma put me in school, you said it still wasn't hoed. Your kids went all the way through high school, but you told me I didn't know enough to vote unless I had a Ph.D.
I know you, Mr. Lynd (addressing an imaginary Registrar). I knew your Momma and your Daddy. I don't have a Ph.D. but I know enough about you so that I'm not going to vote for you, Mr. Lynd. When I see the Sheriff turn dogs loose and four men beat up one man and kick and stomp him on Mobile Street, I know enough not to vote for him either!
'Oh, yes, we'll let you vote someday,' says Mr. Lynd. (Then as though addressing Mr. Lynd. ) 'Before you were born, my Momma held your Momma's head, and washed her feet, and pinned your diapers on before you even knew what color you were ... And he thinks I don't know him! What he really is telling me is that he don't want me to vote!'
'I looked over Jordan and what did I see?
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me ...?'
Now where do you think those angels are coming from? Not there! motioning to the left where the imaginary white man has been standing). Not there! (motioning to the right where the imaginary colored man has been standing). Right there! (stretching out his hand over the heads of the youth in the front pews of the church). Here are your angels! And that chariot? If you're waiting for a chariot, you're not ever gonna get home! It's going to be come and gone! That chariot is here now, and there aren't any wheels on it, man! The only chariot ever gonna carry you home is attached to your ankles, and that's the bottom of your feet! And the place you get on is down at the Courthouse door!
I've never had anything I haven't worked for, and if I don't have to work for it, I don't want it.
What the white man doesn't understand is that if 400 years of slavery isn't going to kill him (the Negro), going to jail isn't going to kill him either. It may break his mother's heart the first time, but it won't kill her. It broke my mother's heart, but it didn't kill her.
(Quoting from a "freedom song")
'I'm gonna eat, live, breath freedom
And for freedom I'll die.'
I ain't going home this time, baby.
'Before I'll be a slave
I'll be in my grave.'
We want old folks on that picket line. They've got to see us. It's part of their education to look us in the eye. That chariot is here –
I know that you are used to having white folks do everything for you: Tell you when to come to work, when to go home, when to go to church, when to send your children to school. Time is here to start making up your own mind."
Frank closed with his text: "I must do the work of Him who sent me by day, for the night cometh when no man shall work." We knew what he meant by it and how deeply he felt called to the work in which we were engaged together.
Thursday dawned gray. I had to get a few things down on paper if I was to phone to Lincoln, as requested. The last call had been on Tuesday, and it had said so little. Now there were so many things in the fire that could not be dealt with, that it was a bit perplexing. By this time I had done a variety of kinds of work — picket, overhaul a mimeograph, canvass in a Negro neighborhood, work on affidavits, and write. But at noon a release was written, revised, cleared through the press committee, and phoned to Earl Dyer of the Star in Lincoln. That afternoon, I walked the line again, this time in the rain, from 1:05 to 4:45 p.m. I walked, and thought, and prayed.
One of the things that came to mind was the recent closing of Bedloe Island's immigration offices in New York Harbor, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. The number of immigrants no longer justifies the mammoth facilities. But there on the base of the Statue, the words of Emma Lazarus are still to be read:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send them, the homeless, tempest tossed, to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
There was a time, presumably, when these words represented the spirit of our nation. I began to wonder if this is still the case. Do we still really believe that a man's potential is more important than his present condition? Dowe have confidence in our nation's ability to impart the best of its past to those on the lowest rung of the social ladder and "redeem them" for a higher level of citizenship? Why do we regard a man in a minority as a threat, instead of commending him for whatever vision and ambition he obtains? Why in a nation founded on the compulsive desire for personal freedom under the law are we so surprised to see men and women willing to work, suffer, and even risk death for liberty's sake? More than one war has been fought and many men, black and white, have died for the word "freedom". Why are we so shocked to see a new generation of its stalwart defenders?
The "wretched refuse," of which Emma Lazarus spoke, left home, families, the land in which they had lived for centuries, and often even their mother tongue. A great number of them, after trials and hardships, became the root stock of our nation's present responsible citizenry. They became as important to America as America was important to them.
Many of our nation's young Negroes have the same dream. They believe their struggle for their birth right is a fulfillment of duty to both race and country. Even in the course of only a few days, it was apparent how, in Hattiesburg, these young citizens were winning their battle in spite of the best efforts of the segregationist die-hards. The war is one of wits, and the old order is being out-witted, for any act of violence, such as the murder of a Negro leader further solidifies support behind the cohorts of the freedom movement; at the same time, it brings into active support of the freedom cause more of those middle-of-the-road Americans who will not lift a finger to help the powerful, but are innately sensitive to the underdog. Every concession in time of crisis made in the name of diplomacy encourages the freedom movement to believe that it is a little nearer the moment it expects, when "We shall overcome, someday." Finally, the freedom movement strategy makes it impossible for the community to stand still. The Negroes in Hattiesburg have been calling the shots. Then, from listening posts in the nurseries and beside the kitchen stoves, the movement's leaders learn responses to their activities family in difficulty, or a day spent with the youth of the church, the fruit by which my participation can be adequately judged will follow a long time from the season of sowing.
I do know that while only 12 Negro persons had been registered beyond the 43 forced by the Supreme Court before we went, 600 had applied near the end of March. I know that the community had still not allowed any violence. I know that people were beginning to face the fact that there was a problem that could no longer be ignored or dealt with simply by making a few arrests. I know that there are rumors in the Negro community that some of the white high school students are upsetting their parents by threatening to march with the ministers around the flag pole and in front of the Confederate Statue on Courthouse square. I know that other ministers are still finding it worthwhile to go to Hattiesburg.
I hope we gave the young Negro leaders, whom we came to know, admire, and respect, encouragement in their work. I hope that we let them know that there are many fellow Christians who believe that "God is on their side," and they "shall overcome, someday". I hope we let them know without question that there are many Americans who will go to great lengths and over considerable distances to express the vitality of brotherly love and to confirm their common dream of that day when, in even greater measure, this shall be.
"The land of the free
and the home of the brave."
Copyright © Rev Dean Hay. 1964
See Freedom Day
in Hattiesburg for background & more information.
See also Hattiesburg MS Movement for web links.
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