How to be SNCCy — Julian Bond
A Mississippi Mosquito — Joann Gavin
Where's That SNCC Office? — Sam Carcione
I'm a Nes Tea Salesman — Howard Romain
"Get on Board" (the right train) — Steve McNichols
A Small Touch of Courtesy — Claire O'Connor
The Reptile Shoes — Sheila Michaels
Southern Hospitality — David Riley
Two Cambridge Stories — Joann Gavin
The information below is intended to serve as a guide for new staff members. It may also aid those old staffers who have difficulty in becoming a part of the band of brothers.
Please remember that the suggestions below are not absolutes, and that a wide range of variation i6 permitted.
To help you understand other SNCCs when they talk and to be understood yourself, we suggest the following definitions:
In addition, there are several body movements you need to committ to memory. Practice them in your room, if you cboose. (or if you live in Atlanta, in your apartment.)
There are several auxiliary habits that one should pick up. One ia dancing — extremely hard for some — and another ia hand-clapping. A note to the wise: when in a mass meeting, watch some Negro staff member and try to make your hands come together at the same time his do. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU WATCH JAMES FORMAN OR JULIAN BOND!
Copyright © Julian Bond,
I thought some of you might get a smile from a memory I had today. Not all of our experiences in Mississippi were horrendous or heroic; some were hillarious...
After working several months at the D.C. SNCC office, I went to Mississippi in response to a call for more Freedom School staff. First I had a couple of days at the COFO office, and then out to the Tougaloo campus. There, kindly faculty member Helen Bass Williams offered me a ride to the village launderette. It was near the post office and Mrs. Moman's "Village Grill." It was a simple concrete block stucture with windows and door open to the elements. I went inside and then back out like a shot. Ms. Williams asked what was wrong.
I said I didn't think I could make it out there in the country and maybe should go back to Jackson, because in the laundry I had seen a mosquito THIIIISSSS big! She laughed and told me it was a crane fly, quite harmless, and there were no mosquitoes anywhere near that size.
This morning, a still somewhat alive crane fly in my kitchen sink brought it all back to me.
Copyright © Joanne Gavin, 2009
I was living in Pittsburgh at the time working with the Pittsburgh Friends of COFO and came to DC, probably to deal with a "Poverty Program" issue. I decided to go to the SNCC office and looked up the address: 10th St and PA Ave. So I went looking for it and what did I find? The Justice Department!!! I was certain that the SNCC office could NOT be in that building but, on the other hand, I was pretty sure the snoops in there would know where it was. So I went in and asked.
The SNCC office WAS at 10th St and PA Ave. SE, not NW, which is where the Justice Dept. is. Never again did I make the mistake of not looking at the quadrant designation of a DC address.
Copyright © Sam Carcione, 2009
As a late comer to the "white Folks project" headed by Ed Hamlett, I had been accepted without the "training" at Ohio, because, I had been "trained" by Jim Lawson in the Memphis NAACP, had been in demonstrations, arrested, jailed, bailed, surveilled, etc.
My parents, on the death of my grandfather, W.I. Spencer, of New Iberia, Louisiana, had given me his little Ford Falcon my senior year in college, '63-'64, and I had found the SNCC office in Jackson on a cross country weekend, and read about SNCC in Harper's and applied for the summer project when Ed came thru Memphis traveling for SNCC...
To shorten this, I was called to pick up another volunteer coming down to Mississippi somewhere, I think Tennessee, and (without revealing his name) we talked about heading south to Mississippi, and, as we were riding along, he casually mentioned that if the State Police stopped us, he was going to tell them he was a "Freedom Fighter" right there on the spot.
Well, I stopped the car, and I got out — this was about 2 weeks after the disappearance of the guys in Meridian, which was all over the papers — and I had been in and out of Mississippi and Arkansas for the last few weeks working as a Nes Tea Salesman, to get money together for the summer (not a "project" my parents would subsidize). I had Louisiana tags, and I said to him, "'Ole boy, let's get this straight. If I get stopped I'm a Nes Tea Salesman."
"And you're my helper, learning the trade. Distributing Nes Tea to small grocers. Got it? I'm willing to die for this project, but I'm not up for committing suicide." AND, then we proceeded onto Mississippi.
Copyright © Howard Romaine, 2009
On August 9, 1961, eleven Freedom Riders left Los Angeles by train for Houston, Texas. The only Freedom Ride to Houston. We arrived at the Santa Fe Railroad station less than two days later only to be greeted by a row of vending machines! The station had replaced its lunch counter to avoid just the kind of confrontation we had in mind. We should have taken a Southern Pacific train to Union Station. After exchanging our return tickets, we sat-in at the Union Station Coffee Shop and were arrested.
Copyright © Steven McNichols
I HAD ONLY A ONE WAY TICKET AND very little MONEY. Needless to say, I rushed out of the bathroom to find that they were all very courteously (cops and all) waiting for me. So I got arrested, piled into the paddy wagon with the others and felt, not fear but security.
Copyright © Claire O'Connor, 2009
Christmas 1963, I was on my way back to St. Louis. My family had sent me a ticket and I had come in [from the field] the night before and was taking the plane from Atlanta. I was dressed in my best (all bought by my mother, of course) — knit 3-piece suit, faux fur coat (the same sit-in coat I'd worn in Bobby Kennedy's office the year before, now in the FIT museum), plastic alligator-like purse and reptile shoes that I'd bought on sale with my own earnings.
The plane wasn't to leave until late in the afternoon, so Sandy Leigh and I went to the Toddle House [in Atlanta] to picket. A bunch of people had been arrested the night before. John Lewis and Sam Shirah were sitting in and I persuaded Sandy to go in to sit-in with me. And the police came. And I was arrested.
Christmas, the ticket, my little brothers, my mother, angry stepfather, none of that had fazed me. But ... My Reptile Shoes! My own pitiful women's-wages salary had bought those shoes. And so, I politely said to the policemen who were going to drag me away: "These are my new shoes. I'd rather not scratch them. I'm going to hold up my feet." And they understood entirely and carried me between them while I was rigid and held my feet up, clear of the pavement. Not a problem.
As I was carried to the wagon people were chanting "Go limp, go limp, go limp," and I was thinking, "Hmmph! Are they going to pay for my shoes? No, sir!"
Copyright © Sheila Michaels, 2009
Not sure if this qualifies as funny, but it has stuck in my mind ever since...
The sister of a friend of my parents — Mrs. M — offered to put me up for several days in Memphis for the training before going into Mississippi in late June '64. I arrived late one evening, was shown to my room by Mrs. M, and after breakfast the next morning on the verandah served by the black maid, Mrs. M took me aside & said she was afraid her husband would have a heart attack if I stayed there for the rest of the training. So much for Southern hospitality...
Copyright © David Riley
One of the worst nights of my life was spent in Cambridge, Maryland, but so was one of the most memorably funny.
Some time before the Big Bad Night in Cambridge, Maryland — that is the night George Wallace was is town and the people marched against him (against SNCC's advice) and we all got sprayed with liquid tear gas from converted flame throwers and Stokely got rifle butt clubbed, as did his comrades to whom he yelled, "Pile on me! Pile on me!" and he and Cleve Sellers were illegally arrested while unconscious in the hospital — Well, some time before that night:
There were demonstrations, going on in Princess Anne, Maryland, and some of us from D.C. were going over to help out. But on the way there we heard on the car radio that there had been a truce in Princess Anne and nothing was happening there at that time. We were at that point closer to Cambridge than to D.C., so we decided to continue on to Cambridge to get a first hand report from our people. We got there before the people arrived back from Princess Anne and found no one home at Gloria Richardson's house. So we went over to her mother's house, where we were graciously recieved and shown into a basement den room to wait. Refreshments were probably sent in as well, and we settled down to entertain ourselves.
Several of us squeezed onto a sofa that faced the door of the room, and Stokely began to "preach." The huge round "Afro" haircut he was sporting at the time didn't do much to make him look like most preachers did then, but he was preaching SNCC, so it worked. He did a real good preacher, and Muriel was playing the "choir", eyes closed, swaying slightly, and softly humming "Amazing Grace." Stokely was in one of those crouches with one knee higher than the other, that long, lean, lithe young men can manage for long stretches of time.
Only those of us on the couch could see the room's door when Gloria and Dick Gregory, who had apparently lurked in the hall for long enough to determine what was going on inside, came creeping into the room, Dick with finger in front of pursed lips, shushing us. Now, Dick is very religious, and probably did not really appreciate what Stokely was doing, but, having long since determined that humor was his best weapon, crept up behind Stokely and, in exaggerated "Suth-run", stage-whispered, "Hey, Boy! Don't you know 'nuf to take you HAT off in chu'ch?"
Stokely crumpled to the floor and rolled around, laughing helplessly.
Well, after a bit, some of us, including Muriel and me, and Dick and his manager, decided we had to get back to D.C. So we left together in 2 cars (standard SNCC procedure wherever possible), with Dick's little red sports car leading. Muriel was driving the other, and I, still a non-driver at that time, was her passenger..
Just across the Choptank River, Dick's car pulled into an all-night filling station-convenience store and stopped at the pumps. Muriel parked and she and I went into the store. She got a "coke" in a small bottle from a machine and drank a bit before we really looked around. We then saw that this was the local equivalent of a country store, where the Good Old Boys hung out at night. There were some three or four of them there and they were staring hard at us. We took in the scene and Muriel, with a meaningful glance, handed me her coke. I took a sip and handed it back and we were repeating that when Dick walked in and began bantering with the guy at the cash register.
The voice was unmistakable, and one of the G.O.B.'s caught on and sauntered up to the front, saying, in widely separated, drawn-out syllables:
"Ai---unt yooou Di--uck Gre---gry?"
Dick, preening in his best "Recognized by Fan" manner, replied: "That's right!"
"Way--ul", the G.O.B. continued, "Ah thaaa--yunk yoou--rurh com---uh---dee ----stay--unnks!"
Ever cool, Dick rejoined, "Well, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Different comics appeal to different audiences. My comedy appeals to an educated, sophisticated, intelligent audience."
The G.O.B. considered, then said, "Yoou cahl - lin' me stoo --- pid?"
At that point Muriel nudged me toward the door with "Get his manager!"
I did and we left without further incident and without any "escort" showing up in our rear view mirrors.
Then, a while later, Dick's car pulled in at an all-night diner. We followed and all got out and all approached the door, upon which we saw a hand-lettered sign that read: "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone."
We halted. Someone said, "Do you want to eat or sit-in?"
By this time Muriel and I were back in SNCC mode and knew that one does not go off half-cocked and have impromptu demonstrations when no one knows where you are and that could result (at best) in taking other people's time and money to get you out of any possibly-resulting consequences.
Anyway, someone said, "I'm hungry. Let's get back to D.C." And that's what we did.
Copyright © Joanne Gavin, 2009
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