Mississippi Summer Project Diary
Hattiesburg MS, August 16-31, 1964
David Bailin

As transcribed by David Bailin, 2017

Sunday, August 16th

A quiet, uneventful drive from New Orleans to Hattiesburg. One cop spotted me at Purvis, but made no attempt to follow or harass me. Torrential rainstorm helped me make the latter half of the journey under complete cover. Found Mobile Street without too much difficulty and was delighted to find Lorne Cross greeting me at the door [of the COFO Office]. She was utterly amazed to see me and I gather that my arrival was unexpected — so much for my call to Jackson [MS] a week earlier and the security system.

I was fortunate to arrive in time for a "special event" at the Community Center in Palmers Crossing, namely a concert given by a touring group of Freedom Singers. The main room at the Center was packed despite the heat and the concert was great. The Freedom Songs carried a drive and a verve which was lacking at Oxford [Ohio]. It was supplied by a large number of keen and lively kids who soon had the place really swinging. Sandwiches and soft drinks were provided afterwards and these were supplied by some women in the neighbourhood. The concert was obviously a complete success (as had been an earlier one by Pete Seeger) and impromptu singing continued long after the main concert was over.

Three of the summer workers running the Center have decided to stay in Miss. indefinitely. These are Lorne Cross, Phyllis Cunningham and Mary Sue Gellatly. I knew the first and third of these at Oxford [Ohio] and the Community Center is indeed fortunate to have them for the next year or so — their presence will ensure that the Community Center becomes a permanent feature of the civil rights project in Hattiesburg.

I met a number of the Hattiesburg workers that evening in the COFO Office downtown, but quite a few were out of town attending a memorial service in Philadelphia [MS] for "The Three" [murdered civil rights workers]. The numbers are gradually dwindling as the Freedom Schools close down this week — at one time this summer there were sixty people working full time in Hattiesburg.

Later that night I was taken to the Grays [Victoria and Tony] where I will be staying for the next three weeks. Mrs Gray ran against [MS Senator] Stennis in the last election I believe (she collected about 4000 votes). She is now committeewoman for FDP [Freedom Democratic Party] (?)

Monday, August 17th

For the first three days this week Lorne, Phyllis and Mary Sue will be in Jackson [MS] at a meeting of people who intend to become permanent SNCC members. So the Community Center is being run by Ginny, Jean and myself. In the morning we are open 8.30am-11.30am and restricted to "little kids" ages 4- 7yo. They have stories, play games, draw and paint. There were seven kids this morning, but in the past, I have been told, there were a lot more, up to thirty. I worked in the library all morning — the basic sorting was done by a librarian who visited for three days. There will eventually be three libraries in Hattiesburg, one at Palmers Crossing, one at Three Line [?], and a reading room at Priests Creek. The policy is to catalogue them all properly with Dewey Decimal, so I shall have to get that under way.

An excellent lunch is provided Monday thru Friday by some kind women at Priests Creek Church Hall. Mostly the Community Center workers and Freedom School teachers go along, but any of the civil rights workers are welcome. The afternoons are (theoretically) for older kids, 1.30pm-3.30pm for 8-13 yos, and 3.30pm-5.30pm for 14-17 yos. Actually, practically all of the kids are here all of the time.

Ginny and Jean were occupied with sewing (we have three electric machines), with typing and with art classes for a few. It's surprising how many want to type. Some can hardly spell and the fascination of typing is more of a fascination with the machine. I was occupied with organizing games and recreation. It was raining most of the time, so the boys played cards (games which I couldn't play, but soon learned), ping-pong and checkers — I could find no takers for chess. The boys were surprisingly inept at ping-pong, and I found myself better than most — I suppose coordination is acquired. It was a "quiet" afternoon, with only about thirty kids along; sixty seems to be the maximum.

We closed down at 5.30pm and I had dinner in downtown Hattiesburg. I talked to Nancy Ellis, who is in charge of the library, about how the library will be catalogued. Two of us opened the Center for two hours until 9.30pm. The attendance was all boys who played cards most of the time. We didn't see one girl all evening.

There was an "incident" today. Four COFO workers were arrested on a vagrancy charge, despite the fact that they had about $250 between the four of them. The real reason was that they were "integrating" the Public Library. A similar attempt last week led to the library being closed down, superficially for an inventory, although it was the second of the week. There was some criticism of the four for not obtaining permission for today's adventure. The bond was raised for them and they were out before nightfall.

Tuesday, August 18th

The day was spent in much the same manner as yesterday. In the evening we had a staff meeting to thrash out the "library incident". Sandy (the boss) laid it on the line. In the first place, they should not have proceeded to test the "public accommodation" section of the Civil Rights Bill without the prior approval of Doug, who was in charge in Sandy's absence. Their action was irresponsible and has produced consequences unforeseen by them. For instance, we heard that ten kids from Mobile St. had been beaten up by the cops. Second, even if they had asked for permission, it would not have been given because their project was inadvisable on two counts: (a) there was no "direct action" planned in Hattiesburg for the Summer Project. Any such action must be initiated and executed by the Hattiesburg people themselves. Only if the people decide to desegregate their library will it be truly desegregated and remain so — cf restaurants in Atlanta, Ga which were "sat in" by outsiders. SNCC and COFO make all their facilities available but do not initiate or execute the project. [We] should note a proposed bus boycott by Hattiesburg people.

After the meeting I was drinking coke outside the COFO office when a cop car drew up and said "Hey boy, come here". I walked over, after a pause to indicate my displeasure. "What's your name?" "David Bailin". "Who do you work for?" "COFO." "How much do they pay you?" "Nothing." "We're gonna have to do something about you guys — you're practically vagrants. Y'know that?" "But I have money." "You gotta have visible means of support." Shaking his head he drove off. My first contact with cops.

[Unattributed] Story: Two COFO workers entered Peel's hardware store. One was wearing a Freedom Now button which provoked the proprietor. "What's that button you're wearing?" "It's a Freedom Now button." "Are you by any chance some of those outside agitators?" After a pause, "Yeah, we are." Leaving, the shop the proprietor kicked the leg of the other COFO worker.

Wednesday, August 19th

Nancy Ellis lent me her Dewey book and I spent the morning writing Dewey numbers in the library books. We went downtown to eat lunch. Played a little basketball with the kids in the afternoon. Don't know how they manage to play it all day in that heat. I was flaked after 15 mins! Was somewhat surprised by complete absence of sweating during the game. Also there was literally no fouling. Maybe this is because they are strictly controlled by their churchgoing and devout parents. Also, they have had virtually no chance to get into the "big wicked world" and learn its evil ways! As a group they struck me as being tremendously relaxed (more so than their city counterparts) and are much more tolerant and friendly towards the younger kids.

After dinner was the weekly dance. We borrowed the Grays' record player and the joint was jumping all evening. There was a distinct shortage of women but a lot of guys seemed only to want to play cards in the corner. The Beatles were not popular. Most kids criticized their shouting.

Thursday, August 20th

Quiet day today. Lorne stopped a couple of white kids on a scooter who were accosting a negro boy from the Community Center. They said that some negroes had thrown rocks at them and that the sheriff had given them a gun to go and get the rock throwers. Other kids claimed to have seen the gun.

The Center was closed in the evening because of a mass meeting at Mount Zion Church to discuss a proposed bus boycott. The people decided that they indeed wanted a boycott and it was to be arranged in the week ahead. Committees for car pools etc. were selected at the meeting. As an emotional outpouring the meeting was a failure. Only the personal experiences of Rose Price were on the right level. The meeting can be summarized as follows: the people voted for a boycott unanimously, but it was an anti-climax.

Friday, August 21st

Starting today, the Centers are to be known as Freedom Centers and are to combine aspects of the Community Centers and Freedom Schools, which have now been closed. The exodus of personnel from Hattiesburg can easily be measured by the fact that I am in sole charge of the Palmers Crossing Freedom Center until September 1st, while Sandy et al. are in Atlantic City [NJ] for the Democratic Party Convention. I have to have a definite program and discuss it with Joyce, who is in charge until then. My chief aim is to get more adults and older folk participating. Will try for a dance next Saturday, I think. Also, tutoring and freedom schools must take place some evenings as soon as school starts on August 31st.

Round about 5pm today a white southerner drove up to the Freedom Center in his truck and after staring at it for some time plucked up courage to come in. Mary Sue showed him around and engaged him for a long time in earnest conversation. So earnest was it that she skipped dinner and he apparently did not leave until 8pm. Needless to say, neither convinced the other, but he is coming back. It's refreshing to find someone who will talk objectively rather than dismissing us as "communist tainted" without any further ado.

Saturday, August 22nd

Open house at the Center this evening. Program of slides, Beatles and freedom songs. I went to collect Phyllis downtown and spotted a road block on the short cut. So we doubled back and came the long way round without any trouble. In my absence Mary Sue had heard of a bomb threat on the Center, although third hand. Nevertheless we closed up promptly as it was gone 10.30pm. Lorne had a ride to Columbus, Ohio leaving the Grays at 5am. She woke me up to say goodbye but I was too sleepy to be at all intelligible.

Sunday, August 23rd

Joyce vetoed projected trip to Kelly's Settlement for church and dinner. Instead I did laundry and returned to Grays' to write letters. We have two extra people this week, Sue Thresher and Diane Burrows. We were "entertained" for an hour by obscene phone calls from a music major at MSU. Her daddy is a Klan member and has "got two niggers this summer already". He is a businessman here and has fired 18 negroes since the Project started. She was pretty pathetic for a college student: "Are you a Nigra? You know what that is, I suppose? It's disgusting." Diane and Sue handled her quite well. They have been working in the white community in Biloxi [MS]. She must have called at least 20 times in an hour.

Monday, August 24th

Went to a Southern Baptist funeral. The mother of two COFO workers died suddenly last Friday of TB. (The hospital refused admission 10mins before she died.) They're really nice kids, Henry & Eddy Stevenson. I was really mad with the preacher. He gave a long, boring sermon and then worked up the tempo until one girl (the daughter of the deceased) burst out sobbing. But he kept slugging away until she was quite hysterical; then he stopped. The girl was carried, almost insensible, panting and screaming to the car.

The MFDP is putting up a great fight in Atlantic City, thanks to Fanny Lou Hamer. They still haven't decided which slate to seat. So tonight both will be on the floor, although neither in an official capacity.

Tuesday, August 25th

Had a folk song concert in the afternoon which was well attended and well received. An evening concert by Pete La Farge was sparsely attended, partly because of rain, but mostly because of the short notice. I slept in the COFO Office overnight. Nothing much happened except a few phone calls and I had plenty of sleep.

The Mississippi Regular Democrats have gone back to Mississippi after refusing to sign a loyalty oath. The MFDP have been offered 2 delegates at large, but the indications are that they will refuse this. On the floor a number of MFDP "delegates" were occupying Mississippi seats!

Friday, August 28th

Mary Sue, Ginny and Phyllis have all left.

Saturday, August 29th

Delegates back from Atlantic City full of convention stories. The story of the Mississippi Regular Democrat, who phoned Aaron Henry [Head of the MS branch of the NAACP] at Atlantic City on the last night of the convention. He said he understood what they had been through and sympathized. He was one of three who signed the loyalty pledge and stayed on at the convention. Since doing this he had received threatening phone calls and threats to his life and those of his family

KKK threats in Knoxville, Tennessee. Temperatures up to 1010F this afternoon. Still no rain.

Sunday, August 30th

Opened Center for the afternoon.

Monday, August 31st

Mrs. ??? running the kindergarten here in the mornings. Some problem over charging $1.50/child/week. Supposedly resolved by Sandy. Chopped grass in the afternoon. Medical team stopped by and insisted on giving me a quick medical and also TB test. Mrs Gray back from the convention this evening. There is a report of KKK burning crosses out on Route 49 three times in the past week.

Copyright © David Bailin.

See Mississippi Summer Project for background & more information.
See also Freedom Summer for web links.

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