Charlie Cobb's Draft Exam
Dennis Roberts

Charlie Cobb was traveling around the Macon area for a while, with the idea of expanding operations across the 3rd Congressional district and the Georgia black belt counties to the South Carolina border. He came back to Albany for a few days and then went up to Washington for a Freedom School conference. While he was here he told us the story of his encounter with the U.S. Army physical exam and why he was found "unacceptable" for military service.

When he got there about three hours late he found that they were rather annoyed. He walked into the room smoking a cigarette. His attention was called to a large NO SMOKING sign on the wall by a sergeant — and he was ready to put it out until he noticed a cigar burning on the sergeant's desk. So Cobb said, "Unless you are prepared to put the cigar out I will have to assume that the sign doesn't really mean what it would seem to say."

The reply was "I got stripes."

The first part of the physical involved filling out a long form with dozens of little in boxes to be checked, and questions to answer. Since he was healthy, he just took his pencil and wrote "HEALTHY" across the form.

So they directed him into an office, and on his way in he noticed that it was the psychiatrist's office. The first question was whether he was a homosexual which netted the psychiatrist a long discourse on love and nonviolence. To the question of whether he was trying to avoid going into the army, Cobb replied that this was really not the case as he really didn't know much about the army and really wanted some information so that he could make an intelligent decision.

He went on to tell the doctor that he understood that Local Draft Board 6 in NY was made up of a group of his neighbors and that they had written him telling him that they wanted him to come into the Army. He now proposed calling a meeting of the people who make up Local Board 6, where they could tell him all about the Army and they he would be able to ask them questions and have a basis for making an intelligent decision as to whether or not it was a good thing.

That concluded the interview and he was sent out to see the two old ladies who asked him his address — he listed all the SNCC projects in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia and told them that he could be reached by writing to any of the addresses and that sooner or later he would get to where the letter was.

He also completed a form for them on which he filled in "Principal Occupation" by writing "keeping alive". The ladies read this, one turned to the to the other and said, "I don't think we should process this," gave him a ticket to get a free lunch, and by the time he got back to Atlanta there was a 4F waiting for him.

[A "4F" classification meant that Selective Service (draft board) considered you "unfit" for military service and therefore exempt from the draft. Most Freedom Movement activists were pleased to receive a 4F classification.]

Copyright © Dennis Roberts

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