Oral History/Interview (Excerpts)
Peter Nemenyi
April, 2000

Childhood in Europe, Fascism, & WWII
The Funeral of Medgar Evers
Tougaloo College
Laurel, MS
Selma & the March to Montgomery
Staying Active
Witness For Peace

Childhood in Europe, Fascism, & WWII

Sheila Michaels: I'm talking to Peter Nemenyi (NEM-in-nee) in Durham, North Carolina. So tell me about your background. You were not born in Hungary, but you — 

Peter Nemenyi: I was born in Germany [and my parents] came from Hungary. My parents were refugees from Hungary in Germany when I was born. I was born in Germany. My parents fled Hungary which was the first fascist state, the cradle of fascism. So, of course, Germany would be just the right place to flee. (laughs) [As] they found out in 1933.

In any case, I was born in Berlin, 1927. But from age about three on, from about 1930, I lived in a school, a progressive school in the country near Kassel. It was called Land-Erziehungsheim Wahlkemuehle. Walkemuehle was the name of the place of the building. Land-Erziehungsheim means rural school, rural education home.

It was founded by the founder of a socialist group. The founder was called LEE-o-nard NEL-son. Which folks over here would say Leonard Nelson. He was a philosophy professor who had certain ideas — a neo-Kantian — and he had certain ideas about how you can scientifically find the truth in both metaphysics and in ethics beginning with the Socratic method, finding some basic truths and then using logic to build from that. And so he had these theories, neo-Kantian theories, about what a just state is like. And also really how the upbringing of the children too, what would be the right upbringing for children and so on.

So he put everything into practice. He didn't believe in doing it in the armchair. And he formed a group, a Socialist group, and they were within the Social Democratic Party first. They didn't see eye-to-eye with the Communists dictating from Moscow and really betraying the working class. He formed a youth group first, in World War I, and they were anti-war then, a pacifist group — I guess you could say pacifist, certainly anti-war — against the imperialist war of the Kaiser and that kind of stuff. And, they did part company with the Social Democratic Party. They felt that there wasn't, it couldn't be effective. They were too — well, they had their beer parties, and [were] kind of too loose. They had to be better organized to be effective. So that was the history of Leonard Nelson, of the background in which I grew up as a kid in that school. So really soaking up living this socialist point of view and vegetarian point of view.

I was three years old, and that's about as young as it got in the school, I guess. And now, still — I talk about them because that's really, basically, my functional family. My father and mother were still in Berlin. At some point or other they broke up. But I wasn't in that close touch with them so that I don't really know their whole history that well. They would visit, or I'd visit them in the summer holidays. In any case, that's the way it was in the school.

So this group — which of course I wasn't aware of at age three, but what I learned later from the history — this group, — the ISK, the Internationale Sozialistische Kampfbund, ~ Militant Socialist International — they did of course have an international point of view and did have some members [in China]. Chinese members. And they were international, as opposed to National Socialists [Nazis]. In fact, in 1930, they concentrated all their political effort on trying to get the big left parties, regardless of differences, the big, flabby Social Democratic party and the big dictatored Communist party, to get them together to unify and say, look, the first thing you must do is stop Hitler. That was the agenda in 1930. And they campaigned, they formed a newspaper, Der Funke, which was dedicated to that. However, it didn't work, as you [know].

Now, my father had college teaching jobs at various places, various times, things like that. He was in math and fluid dynamics. So he'd have more money than — The ISK, this organization, stood for the working class and some of the folks were really from working-class families. It wasn't like some "working-class" movements where everybody is, you know, a professional intellectual in a suit and tie or something. Some of them were real working class and so on.

So, I grew up in this school in Germany. And of course in 1933, after Hitler came to power, about three months later, it was shut down. The school grounds were occupied by the Brownshirts [Nazi party stormtroopers] and the school declared closed. Everybody had to go somewhere. So, in general, most of the kids would go to their parents depending on where the parents were and what their situation was. And in my case — at this time I believe my father was in Sweden then, and my mother perhaps in France.

In any case, a few of the children in the school, a couple of the teachers and a handful of the students got together in Switzerland for a few months or something. And I also lived in Switzerland, although I was in some other home temporarily or something. And then the school restarted small in Denmark. It had always been small, but [now] much smaller. Just, it started first with eight children and two teachers or something, then a little bigger. It grew to about double that, over the years in Denmark.

We lived in Ostrupgaard [Denmark]. Now Ostrupgaard had been the center of a big — had been the castle of the big landlord, you know, 500 years earlier or something like that. And then came the land reform and so all that land — I don't know how much land around there, a lot of land around there, was divided up to little husmfnd[?], house men, who each had their little white house. They each had their piece of land and their house that was built then. And what are you going to do with this old castle, you know, where the lord lived in? Well the school got it.

And we had our courses, you know, socialist education and everything. Our language, we all learned Danish fluently, the children especially, but our language mainly still was German. Everybody was German. There was some effort made to use Danish more, but things were done in German usually. We had some hopes of getting some Danish people in there, some Danish kids and some Danish teachers, but in the time there didn't materialize.

I remember on the door going from one classroom to the other one, was a big picture of Paul Robeson. And it said in German, "Ich hasse dich nicht mein weisser bruder, ich hasse dich nicht [unintelligible]," ~ "I don't hate you my white brother, I don't hate you, but why do you bully me?" So we had that on the wall. So if you ask later what drew [me] to CORE, well, you know, it's obvious — it's home.

Then came 1938 [the final consolidation of total Nazi dictatorship and suppression of all other political parties], and the ISK party, well they were organizing in exile because by 1938 the Gestapo got such tight control, it was impossible to do anything anymore in Germany [even] underground. So the underground work stopped. And now our teachers were constantly — sometimes we had people visiting — in touch with the exiled and underground anti-Nazi movement in Germany. And a couple of the children had a parent in a concentration camp or in prison. [All of] of the adults in the party, [were] either in prison or in exile. But also in '38 it became very clear that the Nazi army was going to be marching in Europe before very long. So they [knew] what was going on and what was coming up. They understood the situation with Nazi Germany and the coming World War. They knew that. They saw that.

Somehow the people in the school had some contact with some people in England, actually in Wales where in 1938 unemployment was enormous. There was the depression of course, lots of unemployed coal miners in these dreary coal valleys in South Wales. In one of them, there was a group of Quakers, [Society of] Friends, who organized a production cooperative for some of these unemployed workers to employ themselves. It was called the "subsistence production society." They bought up an old, dilapidated brewery building which was abandoned. A good-sized factory building. They rehabbed the building and divided it up into lots of different workshops, they had a blacksmith's shop and a carpentry shop, a bakery, a butcher shop, a spinning and weaving [shop to make] the clothes. Almost everything you can imagine they made for themselves and they had a farm where they grew stuff, and they did cattle too, and that kind of stuff. And they paid themselves with tokens, with their own currency with which they bought their products.

Beside the brewery was the "white house." The white house was where the owner had lived. And of course it was dark gray with all the soot in the air around there. The gray white house. And the school moved into the white house. So we were in the lord's castle in Denmark. [Now] here we were in the owner's home, the brewery owner.

And for this very small school, with very small sort of needs, it was perfectly adequate. Now the plan was, the idea was, we were hoping to integrate in with that movement, and that some of the children of those workers might also come. Perhaps not live [with us], they lived with their families at home, but they would come to classes in there. That was the plan. But time ran out because in 1939 came the war.

The teachers, being German, were interned on the Isle of Man in 1940. Because the Nazis, with their spy apparatus, knew the targets for their [bombs] and things in London, and they knew it because of Germans living in England who — somebody could say, well, "I'm a big anti-Nazi and I was fighting against the Nazis and risking my life and so on." But how [could you] know? An English official, they wouldn't know. So just as a safety precaution — it was not like the cruel internment of the Japanese here or anything like that here in the States. There was nothing that you would call anything like a concentration camp. It was [a] perfectly civilized arrangement, but a safety thing. So they were interned on the Isle of Man. The teachers, most of them. And also some of the parents who were German refugees in England. And some of them if they wanted to, they could have their children join them on the Isle of Man. Some of the children were there. And Minna Specht, the principal of the school, she of course organized a school on the Isle of Man and they had a whole thing going. In any case, one of the teachers for some reason was not interned. I don't quite know why that was, but she then went scurrying around looking for places for the kids to stay who didn't have an opportunity to join their parents in whatever country they might be.

By then my mother had died and my father was in the United States of America. In Charlotte. The teacher [went] to all the different authorities and got a visa for me to travel to the States because my father wanted me to come. I didn't want to go to the United States, you know, the land of the rich and capitalism, and so on.

But he wanted me to come. I didn't strenuously object or anything. But in any case, arrangements were made. The ship was booked, the ship on which, you know, a lot of refugee children would travel to the States. And then shortly before, I don't know whether it was two weeks or what, before it was to sail, another ship had sailed and been sunk by the U- boats.

Sheila: With children aboard?

Peter: Yes, yes. So, [my] ship was canceled and I was in England 'till the end of the war. And so I grew up in England in the war, and right at the end of the war, sailed to America. Actually sailed from Greenock, way up in northern Scotland in a remote place because the war wasn't quite over and the U-boats were still active. This was the children's — 

Sheila: Kindertransport.

Peter: Yeah, various children, refugee children from around England, got on the train up to Greenock. In the gray fog up there in Scotland. You know what it's like. On to this ship. You could hardly see in the fog. And then the ship went to Halifax, Canada.

And then we got the train down to New York. And in New York there were a couple of the people from the ISK living, so that for the first, you know, for a couple of interim transition weeks I stayed with them and then got the train to Washington state where my father was at that time. He had a job at Washington State College. He met me in Spokane and we got the train down to Pullman together. And so I was then living with my father from summer and fall 1945.


[After being drafted and serving 15 months in the peace-time army in Italy, I was discharged]. We all got five cents a mile to get home [which] was enough for a round trip, I mean really round. I went through the South to southern California to northern California and back through Chicago and on the way stopped at a lot of colleges and places to look at and so forth, including of course Antioch and Oberlin.

And then I ended up going to Black Mountain College, North Carolina, which was known as the southern suburb of Greenwich Village. And I thought it was the kind of progressive place, you know, that was kind of most like home. And in fact it had been — this was in 1947 — already a desegregated college. It bucked the tide and there had been, I think there'd been six — again, very small college — I think there'd been six black students. The year I was there, I think there was one for the summer and it was actually all white, not by design. But I understand that when it was integrated I think they actually rode the bus together locally, or tried to, perhaps, and were told to, you know — They had a lot of concerts that would really draw people from all around. And the concerts, they refused to segregate those. And if you had to go to the bathroom, you wouldn't find a "white" bathroom or a "colored" bathroom.

There were a lot of German refugees because the school, the college, started in 1933 and German refugee intellectuals were teaching there. And some were really well-known arts people. Architecture. Walter Gropius. And he and his students designed and built many of the buildings in Black Mountain, and so on. And well, it felt somewhat like home from the background I had and so on.

I [studied] math, and after Black Mountain I went to grad school [at] Princeton, and then moved. Actually, before finishing grad school, I moved to New York, got a job there, and lived in New York. And I joined the NAACP. And also in New York there were these various reform Democratic — what do you call them? — in different districts — 

Sheila: Like the Village Independents. Yeah.

Peter: — campaigning with them, campaigning for maverick local officials. In fact, I remember well campaigning in those days — What's the name of the longtime mayor of New York?

Sheila: Ed Koch?

Peter: Yes! Ed Koch. He was the leader of that group. In those days, he was progressive.

Sheila: Yeah, Village Independent Democrat.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Peter: Yes, the Village Independent Democrats. Right. Okay, so naturally, when CORE started up, obviously I wanted to be part of that.

Sheila: How did you hear about it?

Peter: How did I hear about CORE? I don't remember. You know, it didn't have the kind of public exposure that it had later, but it had some. So one would hear about it. And maybe some friend of mine — I don't remember anybody who was in CORE before I went. I didn't get with a particular friend who was in CORE at that time. I went to the CORE national office [at 38 Park Row in lower Manhattan] and asked if they could use some help in the office. A little bit of volunteer work.

Sheila: Yeah, that's where I joined, too, but there was a New York CORE [chapter] by then. Or was there by when you joined? There was the ashram. There were meetings at the ashram on 126th street.

Peter: No, no. There was no New York CORE [chapter] yet. And so when it was formed, of course, I would join it. And so then we sometimes got on the bus [for] CORE, some of these projects, like the Highway 40 [project of 1961].

Sheila: Oh yes, you were in there?

Peter: The sit-ins on Highway 40. I remember that we, the project, at the end of the project, we went to Annapolis to join — CORE was having an all-night vigil at the residence of the governor. You know, asking him for a public accommodations law, that he should take the leadership to get a public accommodations law passed.

Sheila: You were teaching at Downstate Medical Center, then?

Peter: Yeah. Okay, so, I studied statistics — Every now and then I would get a job through a fluke of somebody being away. I'd get a temporary job, that kind of thing, and this is what happened at Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, [part] of the State University of New York, the one at Kings County Hospital. They offered some statistics courses to medical students and also some sort of statistical consulting for people who did research there. This was in the department of environmental medicine and community health. I got a chance to fill in and get that job. So by this fluke I became a temporary assistant professor of environmental medicine and community health. (laughs) That sounded like fun. So that was my start in it.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

In any case, my next contact was with SNCC, because SNCC had been doing sit-ins in Greensboro.

[The students who led the Greensboro sit-ins later took part in forming SNCC.]

It was clearly, you know, really doing something in the South. So I had couple of weeks, I don't remember how long, vacation — 1962 I believe this was. I went to Atlanta where SNCC was setting up an office. They had gotten a large loft, sort of the attic in an old building, perhaps it was a warehouse.

[This was probably the building at 135 Auburn in the Fall of 1962. See A Band of Brothers, A Circle of Trust for more information.]

Peter: So I went up there and everything was dusty and being cleaned up and was empty. I said, "You know, I've got a couple of weeks. I'm from New York and I have a couple weeks. Can you use me for a couple of weeks? Anything I can do to help out with what you're doing?" And so the fellow I talked to said, "Ask Julian." And so Julian [Bond] was back in the next room sweeping the floor.

And so I asked him, and he said well, 'cause SNCC was organizing in Southwest Georgia in the county of — I can't remember the name.

Sheila: Was it Terrell County?

Peter: Could be Terrell County. It sounds like a familiar, and yet I think it was a different one. Let's say it was Terrell County, as I don't remember. If somebody says the name, I'll remember it. I remember a few weeks ago it came to me. But in any case, Julian said, "Well, Terrell County" — or whatever the county is — "it's kind of small. Why don't you call Joan Trumpauer in Jackson [MS], see whether they can use you." So I called Joan Trumpauer, the SNCC [person] in Jackson. And she was going to Tougaloo College at the time.

Sheila: She'd been on the Freedom Rides hadn't she?

Peter: I believe so.

Sheila: And she stayed and went to Tougaloo after the Freedom Rides.

Peter: That's what happened, yes. So you had Dorie Ladner, I think Joyce Ladner was there at the time already, too, Amelita Redman. And I don't remember the names of the others. And Bob Moses was organizing in Mississippi, so he was there some of the time. And so I remember we went to the swimming pool and desegregated the swimming pool. That means, we sort of tried to, you know, until the police told us — 

I also remember when we went to see Medgar Evers. I was very impressed. Such a beautiful human being. Such great warmth. We went to see him a few times in his office because there was very good coordination between the organizations in Jackson, in Mississippi, and between Medgar Evers and the SNCC people and the CORE people — Dave Dennis [of CORE] was there.

And I remember in a restaurant, Medgar Evers saying, "When I come home from a meeting someplace away from Jackson, someplace in the state, when I drive home at night, I never let another car pass mine, if I have to go 70 miles an hour, if I have to go 80 miles an hour, if I have to go 100 miles an hour." And of course the reason being, you know, the usual kind of way of assassins would pass a car and park in front of it to stop it [or open fire as they pass]. And then of course, no car did pass his car. They had, you know, Byron de la Beckwith lay in wait for him and murdered him on his on his own doorstep. So he was aware of course of the risks he was taking.

Sheila: Absolutely.

Peter: I was so touched by him and so much warmth, and his quiet courage.

Sheila: And that was also when James what's-his-name was integrating — 

Peter: Oh, yes Meredith. That was a little later, I think. I wasn't there. So I guess we did perhaps a little voter registration, but I think mostly the project wouldn't be every day doing something memorable — that project, voter registration — because there was a whole lot of setting up and planning and getting organized to start working on things, and so on. So I don't remember very much [of the activities] except for the swimming pool. And I remember the visits to Medgar's office. I guess perhaps we were talking to some people about registering to vote already.

Sheila: Yeah, there were a lot of records of door-to-door canvassing when I was there that I read through.

Peter: Yes, we did some. Now, I got interested in — was it that visit or in the second visit? — I don't remember. But at some point — not as part of the project — I went to the Board of Education and other authorities and got their annual reports. And the shocking statistics. They laid it all out. How much they spent on the Negro schools and the white schools and enrollment, all that stuff. And so I just, you know not on anybody's project or anything, just compiled a little of that and gave it to [Julian] Bond.

Bob Moses was talking to the little group in Jackson and saying to them, "We're going to the Delta." And he outlined a plan to do voter registration in Greenwood. But I was not asked to go along with them. For one thing the time I had in Mississippi was running out, my vacation time. But also I think for the same thing they didn't send me to Terrell County or the rural county in Georgia. The way Julian put it, "It's very small." Meaning, really in these small rural places a white...

Sheila: Yeah.

Peter: [A white person] organizing blacks at that time would only provoke a lot of trouble, a lot of violence and everything else. And especially a white without, you know, without much experience or anything. So perhaps, you know, Joan could have gone there with all of her experience and everything, but — So, I wasn't sent there. It could also have been in addition just that there wasn't time left to do it anyway. And that was that visit.

The Funeral of Medgar Evers

Peter: Anyway, so then I went back to my job, Downstate Medical Center. I had two more visits to Jackson, one on a vacation and one on the way back from some sort of statistics conference in Texas. And on the way back I stopped in Jackson. Anyhow one of those two was the time of Medgar Evers' funeral.

[See Medgar Evers Assassination and Medgar's Funeral & End of Jackson Movement for background.]

There were five thousand people gathered in the church, the church [Masonic Temple] up on that street. You know, it was a central place, organizing place, and then [the] procession going down the street and downtown. And they had the permit and it said, "You don't cross Capitol Street" or, "You don't go onto Capitol Street," or something like that. Capitol Street was cordoned off, with police.

And, so then the procession went on later on to Third Street. But on the way, a little group of kids, students, got together and a law student from Yale, Eleanor Holmes, she led some singing with this little group of students, and they sang, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. All over Southland, I'm going to let it shine. All over Jackson. All over — Capitol Street! I'm going to let it shine." And the group, you know, tried to get to Capitol Street and so, you know, the police just [brutally attacked them]. She organized it. I mean , there were people together wanting to do something. A lot of them felt that,, you know, that it's wrong if all these people to come together because of the murder of Medgar Evers just to — just to have a procession downtown and just dissolve.

[Today, Eleanor Holmes is Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.]

Sheila: She wrote me about it. She wrote me that they were put into a pen, with thousands of people and, you know, no water and outdoors and in the heat, in the broiling sun.

Peter: On that occasion?

Sheila: I think so. It was right after Medgar Evers' funeral. And she said that they were put onto cattle trucks or something like that and taken over there and, and I think that — 

Peter: I remember the paddy wagons and jail and stuff. And John Doar — the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights — went to the jail and interviewed the people about the police brutality to see what case can be made, you know about denial of civil rights and unnecessary force.

Tougaloo College

The contact in Jackson the first time had been Joan Trumpauer and I had been on campus. I went to visit Tougaloo College campus and I decided that's where I want to be. And I applied for a job there teaching students about math and statistics. And so in 1963, the [school] year of 1963-64, I was there.

And so at that time I had more contact again with SNCC and also Jesse Morris with SNCC started up the Freedom Information Center. And I cooperated with him some, gathering this information about the schools and all this kind of stuff. And he was basically keeping a kind of a library of relevant materials, that could be used [by organizers], and that could be also passed to the lawyers doing legal work. And then I should have stayed on, went on teaching at Tougaloo. Instead I went off for the summer [of 1964].

I went off for the summer, which was the Mississippi summer. I was filling in, teaching in some summer program at Oberlin College. And I decided to take that up and I wish afterwards I just stayed, you know. I didn't know what all was coming up.

[See 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer for background.]

In any case, I didn't sign up to go back for the next school year at Tougaloo, but I wished afterwards I had. So anyway I was invited to teach for a year at Oberlin, but didn't take that up. And so between all the non-decisions, I was sort of at loose ends at the end of the summer.

Laurel, MS

Peter: So I joined up then with the SNCC project in Laurel. I got there in the fall of '64. I thought it might have been October by the time I got there. I was sort of drifting around for a while before I — So I was there in Laurel for the project from, I don't know, October, perhaps until about April.

Sheila: That was Gwen Robinson who was [unintelligible]. And Marion Davidson, was she still there?

Peter: I believe so, yes.

Sheila: Okay. And Jimmy Garrett, and I don't know who else was that project.

Peter: I don't remember. Oh, Jimmy Garrett had been there the previous year — because I know that Lynelle was there. And she had been very close friends with Jimmy Garrett. So, anyway, yes Lynelle was there and Ulysses. And he was a very mild guy and very self-effacing. He didn't — 

Sheila: An absolute sweetheart.

Peter: Yes, very sweet and self-effacing. He — Ulysses — he called himself Useless. He was anything but useless. But you know, of course, in jest, in joking, but still. And, of course, voter registration was the main thing on the agenda. We [also] did a couple of sit-ins in restaurants downtown and coffee places.

Sheila: Laurel was hard to organize, I remember.

Peter: Yes, it had a sort of a, I guess — It had a sort of a soft veneer. It had a surface of civility and it was hard underneath.

Sheila: It was, that county — it was the only one that did not join the Confederacy, if I remember.

[Laurel is the largest town in Jones County. In the 1860s, Jones County was mostly white with only a small number of Black slaves. There are various conflicting stories and legends about Jones County, its role in the Civil War, and its relations with the Confederacy. Many people believe that the "Free State of Jones" either never joined — or later seceded — from the Confederacy. Others dispute that interpretation, but acknowledge that there was some form of conflict between the Confederate government and whites in the Jones County area. The novel "Tap Roots," by James Street, and the 1948 feature film of the same name were loosely based on Jones County events.]

Sheila: Oh, who was the great Aida? Starts with an "L." Her mother was the midwife there. She was the first [Black] person to break into the Met [New York Metropolitan Opera] after Marian Anderson.

Peter: Oh, Leontyne Price. Yes, we met Leontyne Price there. I think, no, maybe just her mother. I don't remember. Leontyne Price had been at Black Mountain College. She was there for at least a summer that I was there, doing wonderful concerts.

Sheila: But I thought that she was a great impediment to organizing, that she kept people from joining the movement.

Peter: Oh, I didn't know that. But I knew that they weren't, that her mother was not in the thick of the movement. But I think we had some contact with her once or something. Yes, I didn't see Leontyne Price there. I would have remembered that, having known her from Black Mountain.

And now the thing that strikes me is you don't — and that's something you have to learn in the South, of course — you don't have an agenda where you have to do this, this, this, and this today. You spend a lot of time just — For instance, we stayed with different people in their homes. That is the usual pattern.

But as far as the project goes, the office, organizing center — Well, it was in some temporary sort of a hut, temporary building. Gwen Robinson was doing most of the organization work on that, seeing the authorities, and this and that — getting permits and everything to build a place for the SNCC, for the COFO project, Council of Federated Organizations. But in Laurel it was SNCC. And so she got, of course, a lot of runaround to get the permits. And then afterwards, perhaps one of the local people who worked with us would, you know, have special carpentry skills that he offered and so on. But making all these arrangements and doing all that, those things, those details, took up most of the time I would say. So in these six, seven, eight months, we obviously didn't have six, seven, eight months' worth of organizing by any means.

Anyway, voter registration was the main, the main agenda item, so to speak, for the SNCC project. And — as I say, we went to some coffee shops together and got arrested for ordering apple pie. Yes, so we all went to jail a couple of times, but it was always sort of overnight, or for a few, two or three days. The lawyers would come and bail us out. We didn't, in the time I was there, we didn't do the jail-no-bail thing. We just went along with what our lawyers, our civil rights lawyers — 

Sheila: Were they from the Lawyers Guild, or were they — 

Peter: I believe so, yes. I think so. Oh, and the other thing, though, as far as voter registration goes, it was the [time of preparation for the Freedom Democratic Party Congressional Challenge].

[See MFDP Congressional Challenge for background]

Peter: The basis for, the groundwork for, that attempt was lots and lots of work. Hearings, and I believe that the Civil Rights Commission perhaps held some of those hearings and had us all testify, you know, about the obstacles that had been put in the way of registering and so forth. And so that was part of the job. So all over Mississippi the projects were doing that and the — I believe it was actually the government Civil Rights Commission — went around to all these places and held those hearings and that was the material that went into the really significant effort. And certainly, not completely successful but, wow, a big step forward to achieve what the Freedom Democratic Party did there. And also in terms of, again, that it was nationally known what was happening, raising national consciousness. So perhaps, you know, that can be counted as a significant part of the job.

Sheila: This [interview] is following the SNCC reunion which was [nearby] in Raleigh. And Diane Nash pointed out that there were two Voting Rights Acts, one by John Kennedy and one by Lyndon Johnson, one in '64 and one in 65.

Peter: Yes. Well, there was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It included a clause on voting. But the Voting Rights Act of 1965 went a good deal further, and made possible the challenge subsequently to many of the elections where blacks had been disenfranchised. And some of the elections were held over, I remember in Sunflower County.

I had mentioned that I didn't remember any specific incidents of harassment of black voters even though I knew as a matter of general knowledge that it took place. One reason why I didn't know of specific incidents at first hand has to do with the nature of election day in Mississippi. We're accustomed nowadays that any party can have poll watchers at the polls. And if we're poll watchers, today we may actually sit there beside the election officials and watch the people come in and get checked off and so forth.

Now that wasn't the case in Mississippi in [November of] 1964. Poll watching took the form of watching from across the street, or maybe diagonally across the street, a little bit further, and hoping not to be chased away, then perhaps getting a chance to talk with some of the black voters as they were going towards the polls, the black voters whom we knew well, with whom we'd talked a lot. And as I mentioned before I guess, from time to time, I mean at several hours interval, going in and asking for the count. That would be the total count. And I don't remember whether there was also, whether we would also ask for the party how many for each party. Of course, we couldn't ask for the count of black voters. We wouldn't be given it. But the main function of these periodic sorties into the polling place was simply to assert our right to see what was going on.

Sheila: As a party.

Peter: Yes. On the other hand, if we tried to assert it in the form of being there all the time, we wouldn't have been able to do that.

Sheila: They would have arrested you.

Peter: Yes. So we weren't close up. We couldn't see at first hand how election officials talked to black voters when they came in or what kind of either direct or indirect threats and harassment they'd get.

Sheila: You say indirect.

Peter: Well, yes. In general, we had seen in that year direct and indirect harassment. Direct, actually threatening people. "What are you doing here?" And attacking them physically. And indirect in terms of tone of voice and all kinds of ways to show hostility and show disapproval of a voter trying to exercise her rights.

Sheila: Condescension, too.

Peter: Yes. So we didn't get to see what was going on in that way inside the polling place. And now, of course, there was harassment also of these poll watchers who watched from a distance and so on. And this relates to something I mentioned earlier, that most of the time was not spent, now going back to that whole year, most of the time was not spent in voter registration, rallies, and direct organizing, but in little details that had to be taken care of, just to survive there and function at all and living there and so forth.

I'd mentioned earlier that we were trying to put together a building, and the whole question, the whole rigmarole about building permits and that kind of stuff. Well, on election day we experienced a lot of the same same and some of it in the form of harassment of civil rights workers, of the poll watchers. And so at one point — perhaps it was [unintelligible] who said we need to bring assault charges on one particular incident of that sort, not let this just go as if nothing had happened and so there was a lot of planning of that, and you have to line up all the information you can right away while it's — on that same day and so forth. So a whole lot of time was spent on that, spent I guess pretty much by the whole project. I don't remember who was present and who wasn't you know at the meeting about that and so forth, but — 

Sheila: Jimmy Garrett, Marian Davidson, I'm just trying to think of who else was on the project. Gwen.

Peter: Gwen Robinson.

Sheila: Ulysses.

Peter: Yes. I think we were pretty much all meeting, discussing that and planning that, and not at the polls, not able to see — So then an attempt was made to bring those charges and so on. And of course everything in the way of such court action and so on, we could get it into the record of the obstacles put in the way of black voters exerting their right to vote. This would be relevant to the hearings held in preparation for the Voting Rights Act.

Sheila: You were saying that the voting area in Laurel was in front of, near that plywood or veneer factory.

Peter: I don't remember clearly. It wasn't in the big factory building, but the little building it was in, the smaller building, I think may have been part of — It was certainly close to there. It was in that area.

Sheila: And there were black registered voters in Laurel then?

Peter: Well, yes. That was from — I think there may have been a few even before SNCC got there, even before the civil rights project got there, a few who had bravely just individually gone to vote. It took a lot of courage for them. Perhaps — I'm speculating here — it's possible that it was a little easier for them because there weren't enough [blacks] to be any kind of [political] threat.

Sheila: That's right. Blacks are a minority in Laurel, or were.

[Laurel was roughly one-third Black in 1960]

Peter: Yes. [blacks weren't] a tiny minority [of the population], but I'm sure, a pretty tiny minority [of them] just on their own in the atmosphere that was there [were registered] and would go to vote. That must have been very few. But then there were a few more registered as a result of — It was very slow going, of course, for some of the reasons that I mentioned before and that you hear from others who were there. It was very slow going, but some more did sign up, of course, in these months that we'd been there.

Sheila: One of the things that Hollis Watkins pointed out in one of the workshops was somebody said something about mass meetings and he said, "You have to remember too that mass meetings were sometimes three people."

Peter: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And part of [our work was] to build for the mass meetings as far as we could. To get those three people there, or sometimes perhaps twenty, one of the things we did is, of course, we lived in the community. We lived with black families — which was a big risk for them. And one of the main contacts also, to announce, to let people know about the mass meetings coming up, was at the black churches. And every Sunday morning each of us would go to one of the black churches and at the end of the service we had an arrangement with the minister to announce the meeting about voting that was coming up, about getting registered to vote. And so perhaps it was that, and just person-to-person contact was the main way to try to increase this number, to try to get more people to have the right to vote that they were entitled to. And the same in the encouraging people not only to register but, having registered, actually to go and vote. That's the way it worked. And again, you know on Sunday mornings, we'd be there, but much of the time through the week and so on would also be spent on all the Mickey Mouse details, some of which I mentioned before.

Sheila: Of course, they could always make laws to stall you.

Peter: Yes. Yes. And I mean you're walking along the road, along the street, mostly unpaved streets, [a] police car would come and say, "Do you have any" — What is it? I forget the standard phrase — "Identifiable means of"

Sheila: Support?

Peter: Yes. "Means of support." They wanted to make arrests for vagrancy and so on.

Sheila: They once arrested Sandy Adickes, who was the head of the Freedom School project. She was the person who had done planning with the UFT in Hattiesburg.

Peter: As a vagrant?

Sheila: And they arrested her as a vagrant. Yes, she was a New York City school teacher and officer of, I think it was the American Federation of Teachers. And also, she had lots of money in her wallet.

Peter: Yeah, well, we'd get all kinds of things like that of course.

Sheila: Yeah, but they didn't ask you for permits to walk down the street or anything?

Peter: I didn't at first hand experience that. No, not for a permit to walk down the street.

Sheila: No, I'm kidding. But, you know, processions and — 

Peter: Yes, right. They'd ask, "Where do you live?" And you don't say, you know, "I live with Mr. Williams," or something — they're taking enough risks as it is. So I'd give the address [of a] post office box, address of our project post office box, whatever it was, Laurel, Mississippi. And they said, "You live in the post-office box?" I said, "Yes."

Sheila: (laughs) Very nimble.

Peter: I don't know if I did say that. Maybe that was hindsight, afterthought. But I think I said something to the effect [of], "You can always reach me there," or something. And I guess they could have pursued that further and pressed it further. In this particular case, they didn't.

You know, harassing officials, most of the time, will give you the harassment that they can easily — that comes easy, that comes natural. "Hey, maybe we can arrest him as a vagrant," you know, and they ask that. But, well, they don't have the practice and training of a Gestapo agent or something, to pursue this stuff and press it and make you — I guess some would at some times, they'd press it. And of course, many civil rights workers have been arrested for all kinds of stupid, Mickey Mouse things like that.

Sheila: Just sort of sport in pushing it a little.

Peter: Yes, yeah, kind of a sport. And some of them, you know, might get serious. We've got to get his guy out of the way from here. You know, we can't have him — or her — organizing. Then they might press it. They could find a pretext to arrest people.

Sheila: It might just be that they were bored and wanted to — 

Peter: Well, I don't know. They also had some other things on their mind besides, you know, besides black people trying to vote and us agitators trying to help them. Well, they're interested in that and they're interested in some other things on their minds, too. So the amount of thoroughness varies a lot. So those are the main things. Of course, after you're gone, I'll remember a lot of things that are important, but that's the way it goes. Those are the main things I remember at this point.

Selma & the March to Montgomery

Now, the Voting Rights Act takes me back to something else, the demonstrations in Dallas County, Alabama. That is Selma, Alabama. The county around Selma is called Dallas County. And the sheriff of Dallas County was Jim Clark. He of course was responsible for a lot — he and his deputies that he appointed — a lot of the brutality that the local people in Selma experienced.

SNCC had organizers like Mary — I forget who — in Selma, organizing voters. And then was when they called on Martin Luther King to come and help lead the march to Montgomery, when John Lewis from SNCC and Martin Luther King and other leaders and members, active people in SNCC and in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I guess NAACP marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and then got horribly assaulted by the state police. I don't know at that time if CORE people were in there specifically — 

[While a few CORE activists did participate in Selma and the March to Montgomery, most of CORE's southern field staff at that time were either in Mississippi or concentrated in Louisiana working in places like Bogalusa]

Sheila: Yeah, I don't think King was — I know King wasn't there, but John Lewis was certainly there.

Peter: Yeah, John Lewis certainly was there. That's right! King was not there. They called on him afterwards to organize the bigger one that would draw in people from all over the country.

And I think — I wasn't there, of course — but at the first attempted march to — that was an attempted march into Montgomery, wasn't it, when John Lewis and maybe a couple of hundred demonstrators were stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and brutalized so terribly? And they took horrible beatings, and everything and gassing and the rest of it. I think that was mainly Sheriff Clark and his deputies, perhaps some of the state police.

Sheila: Well, it may have been the state police. I think I heard on that tape that the governor himself had said that they weren't going to proceed.

Peter: Yes, yes, you can be sure that, I feel pretty sure that Jim Clark and his men were there also to get in their licks. I don't know.

Sheila: I knew somebody who was there, Bennet Luchion, who was there when they walked across the Edmund G. Pettus Bridge. He was there as kind of a paramedic. He wasn't a paramedic, but he was — He said that he got gassed from attending the people who were gassed at the bridge. He said when they brought them in, there was so much tear gas on their clothes that he got gassed, too.

Peter: In any case, those black — well, we always say kids — meaning of course high school students, and some younger children — who were active in the months preceding the first attempted march, who were of course really taking the real risks, didn't have any place else to go home to and be safe afterwards. They know the name of Jim Clark very well.

And they said, don't let this be in vain and they mobilized, they called, yes, on Martin Luther King, Jim Bevel, and so on. There was a mobilization of the SCLC, getting Martin Luther King there to lead the [next] march, along with other leaders as well as mobilization of concerned people from all over the country. And there were appeals, I guess, to come and support. So they were all converging on that area.

So the word went out [to] all the SNCC projects, and so we all went on the bus and got to Selma. Okay, the national mobilization included mobilization of the SNCC groups working in Mississippi, so that our group from Laurel got there within a few days of the first march. So, we had a chance to get to know a bunch of these people. And a lot of SNCC people. And then, people gathering from all over the country, just people who were outraged at what happened. And so, and we stayed in the homes of some of the people in the [Carver housing] project right on the side of Brown Chapel. And the whole thing was organized between Brown Chapel and the other church on the other end of that block [First Baptist]. And the whole thing became a huge organizing center.

What we were doing is, well, we were waiting for the way to be cleared. Waiting on, I forget the name of the street, [Sylvan Street, today Martin Luther King Street]. It was between two large black churches, one of them, I believe was Brown Chapel. Well, just beyond Brown chapel, that end of that block, was where the police, sheriffs, and deputy sheriffs were [lined up] across the street blocking the way to, towards the Edmund Pettus Bridge, through the town. Blocking the way for another march to start. Blocking the way into town that would have gone, you know, you'd go through the town of Selma to the Edmund Pettus bridge to get to move on to Montgomery. That went on for many days, this standoff thing. In the interim between the first attempted march and the big march that followed — I don't remember how long it was. It was a few weeks.

Well, they were blocking it right there, just a short way beyond Brown Chapel. And in front of that line of police, we stood day and night. Of course, we weren't all up day and night. We would sleep on benches in the church in between, or sometimes in homes of people. There was a housing project, George Washington Carver Homes, right next to the chapel. But constantly, day and night, there'd be some of us there. And we would be singing. And of course sang some of the old, familiar civil-rights songs.

In front of us, leading the singing often, were some of these young kids — that is, high-school students and a few younger students living in Selma. And I remember this is the favorite song that they led: (sings)

Oh Wallace, you never can jail us all.
Oh Wallace, segregation's bound to fall.
Da-da da da dada dot, da da da dah, da-da da dada dot

Go tell Jim Clark and Al Lingo
I'm sick of this mess.
I'm sick of this jive.
I want my freedom
In sixty-five.

Oh Wallace, you never can jail us all.
Oh Wallace, segregation's bound to fall.

There were more verses that I don't remember.

Sheila: That's very catchy. It's lovely, actually.

Peter: Yes. It's stuck with me. It haunts me. How many years ago was it? 1965? It was thirty-five years ago. It always sticks with me. Well, I wanted to fill in these couple of details because I think they throw some light on that time.

Meanwhile, Jim Bevel was there from the SCLC, and King was there part of the time. And, funny — another major organizer from the SCLC — his name was Al Lingo. Do you know why that's funny?

Sheila: Oh. Isn't that also the name of a very bad police chief?

Peter: Yes, he was the chief of the state troopers. Al Lingo.

Sheila: And this guy was also named Al Lingo?

Peter: Yes, yes. Al Lingo was one of the major organizers in the SCLC. Very nice guy. I repeat this for the context of the next little tidbit which I think is sort of historically important. We always have to remember that it was those local people who took the big risks even though, of course, some of the visiting civil-rights workers who weren't with mass demonstration were taking some risks, too, as we know from the fate of Viola Liuzzo. But in any case, in those weeks, after the first attempted march that was so brutally stopped, from then until the big national march — 

Sheila: Everybody was there, yeah.

Peter: Yes, from all over the country people were gathering. Ready, you know, for the big march. And of course, this was the major event that led to the Voting Rights Act. And so then, in the end, the officials and lawyers and so on got it all together where the march would be legal and protected by the — You know the state troopers were ordered to protect the march, I think, or something like that. And with that kind of friends — (laughs)

Sheila: I know.

Peter: Anyway, it worked. Now, the march was not a march from Selma to Montgomery all the way through [for everyone]. It was, there was a little group that was selected. The people who participated in the whole march all the way through, which would take, two days or something, through Lowndes County.

[A Federal court order forced Alabama to allow the march. The Dallas and Montgomery County portions of the route were on 4-lane highway, and under the terms of the order an unlimited number of people could participate on those legs. But the two-day portion through Lowndes County was on a narrow, two-lane road, and the court limited the number of marchers to 300 on that leg. The 300 were selected by SNCC and SCLC organizers to be a representative sample, weighted towards local Blacks who had been active in the Freedom Movement.]

But, actually, I was glad I didn't get chosen on that list. I don't think I could have taken the hardship very well on the way. You know, it was pretty tough. I think at the time I wasn't especially glad, but I wasn't crestfallen, either. But I would have liked, of course, I would have liked the opportunity to be really, you know, on the whole march. But in retrospect, I'm glad. It seemed awfully hard.

Sheila: Well, I would seriously doubt whether it makes any difference whether everybody went 100 percent of the way. I mean, remember that picture of that crippled man [Jim Leatherer], you know the man with the one leg, walking [with crutches]. I don't [know if] he walked the whole way. I think it was just a very effective picture. [Actually, Jim did march the entire route.]

Peter: On the other hand, the [whole] mass of us marched for a day across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and out of Selma and down the highway some, a day's worth.

Sheila: That's enough.

Peter: Yes, and then [we] went back in vehicles. And then joined the march a day outside of Montgomery and marched to, in front of the capitol in Montgomery where the church — I think it's Martin Luther King's church [Dexter Avenue Baptist Church], it was right by the side of the capitol. Right near the capitol. That's the way I remember it. You go up the hill. You see the capitol in front of you, and on the right — Of course, the public effect, obviously, of the whole event, and this massive organizing that was done, the effect was to get the Voting Rights Act, a very major effect.

Sheila: And you had participated in the — 

Peter: In hanging around in front of the police cordon and singing songs, for days and days and days before that, before the march, yes. And yes, getting the chance to talk to some of the people like Al Lingo — not the police chief, but Al Lingo the SCLC organizer — and Bevel and others, meeting a lot of SNCC people and others, and local people whose hospitality we enjoyed, staying over in their homes. And they of course were the people who in the long run would bear the most brunt of, bear the brunt of, the risks. They were taking the risks. When there were — how many thousands were there? Fifty thousand? I don't know. When there were that many thousand people assembled there, we weren't taking major risks. Now, those who stayed afterwards like Viola Liuzzo, they were taking risks, you know, organizing.

Sheila: You know, she was on the road that night. I was on the same road, a little bit ahead of her.

Peter: That's right. Those who were there together, those who were together confronting the police at that thing and so on, weren't running major risks.

Sheila: Not at that point, no.

Peter: No. But there were people who went out into the counties and so forth the day after and did take risks.

Sheila: Yeah. We were just going to — I was with Sandy Leigh, and we went to, down on the gulf — was it Gulfport or — Starts with a "P," I thought.

Peter: Pascagoula?

Sheila: Pascagoula. Oh I remember it was so beautiful. It was so beautiful. And there were little water lilies growing in the ditches along the side of the road. And the shrimp boats were just about to go out and so people were you know, kind of in a — I mean, they weren't celebrating, because they didn't have the money from the shrimping, but they were about to go shrimping. And so it was very, everybody was feeling pretty good. We stayed with a family that had about eight or nine children. And they were fascinated by me. They were absolutely fascinated by me. They had to study everything I did.

Peter: So after [the Selma March] I suppose we went back to Laurel for a bit more. And, well, I just left. So I don't know what went on in Laurel afterwards. I didn't keep in touch. And I left for a job. I got another in-between job, at Chapel Hill this time.

Staying Active

Sheila: Oh, but you're still here [Durham, NC].

Peter: Not still. Again. We kept in touch with some of the families, mostly in Mississippi and went back a couple of times, a few folks from Chapel Hill, when there were — when an election was canceled because of violations and held again. And one of those was up in the Delta, but not Greenwood. Went back for a couple of elections, went back a couple of times, and got some, contacted some students to go to Chapel Hill for a while in some informal program for learning about computers and things. That was in 1965, '66, and then after that. So I had a year and a half in Chapel Hill. Some of it just part time. And then got a job at Virginia State College, Petersburg. I was teaching there, mostly beginners' courses in math and statistics. And of course we had some contact with some of the things going on.

Sheila: But you stayed in the South teaching. I remember one time writing you, and you urged me to get active in writing my congresspeople about — I forget what it was. And I thought, well, you, at least, are keeping the faith. I mean, you are still — 

Peter: Yeah, well, I've been doing that. You know, I just sent a letter last week about Colombia and the so called anti-drug package, which is really a Gulf of Tonkin thing. A commitment to — It's a live-ammo reenactment of the Vietnam War that Clinton wants there in Colombia. It's a really serious thing. So when something like that comes up I feel I have to write them about that. And also national health care. It's scandalous that we still don't have universal health coverage, things like that, yes.


Peter: I had three-and-a-half years in Nicaragua. What happened is, I'd lived in Germany, Denmark, England, the States. I'd never been, until 1979, never been anywhere in Latin America. I knew a student from Costa Rica in Maryland, who said, "Come see us in San Jose when you get a chance." Well then, here was a chance. I had the money for a fare and it was just when the — I forget the name of the organization — was occupying the cathedral in San Salvador.

I went to a couple of the progressive papers in Madison, alternative papers, and asked them to give me a journalist card (laughs). I went down as a periodista, a journalist, with my little bits of broken Spanish and stuff. And so part of the time it was two lives there. Part of the time I was visiting, this guy doing his research, visiting at their house, and part of the time I was going around, interviewing and going to some of the marches and things like that.

I went to the University of San Salvador, of El Salvador, and heard Archbishop Romero, among others, at a program that they organized at the law school. I had also gone to Costa Rica first, where I had some friends. And in between was Nicaragua. And in Nicaragua the FSLN had taken over Esteli and some of the time taken over Masaya. There was stuff going on in Nicaragua, so I felt I wanted to see some of that. I went to the University, to visit people at the University of Nicaragua, and they had signs all over the place: "Exigimos seis por cientos." We demand six percent. Six percent what? Of the budget. For higher education. Painted all over the place. And I mean, Nicaragua was really in ferment.

I talked to some of those people there in the math department and so on who were very much involved in the movement. I said, "When Somoza falls, I want to take part in — " I figured they'd need people in statistics and stuff like that. This had been three months before Somoza fell. This had been in March or something, and then came July 19th.

And so at the end of July, I was back in Costa Rica and when the new Sandinista embassy opened in Costa Rica, I went there to get my visa to go to Nicaragua. There was a chance to join the math department there. Not immediately. Because immediately, nobody had budgets, everything was being re-organized. But that autumn. And then I had second thoughts about teaching right away. I did go there and gave a couple of lectures in introductory statistics to some biology people or something. But I had second thoughts about joining the math department because I remembered at Virginia State College, when the students shut down the college, one of their first demands was, get rid of those teachers, those professors that can't talk.

Sheila: The Indians?

Peter: Yes, the ones from India, yes. Nobody could understand them. And you know the students they wanted to get their grades, and they didn't get any help there. So that was one of their top demands. So I thought, oh, no. I'm not going to be the counter-revolutionary teacher that stymies the students because I can't communicate.

Sheila: But your Spanish sounds very good to me. I mean, just the way you pronounce the words, the towns and everything. Your ear is good.

Peter: Oh, no. First of all, I had three and a half years there, although I've also had fifteen years to forget. But usually, I'm a very slow learner, but pronunciations, I'm relatively good at learning. So I can learn some little fragments of the language, but also learn how to deliver them convincingly.

Well. My second wife was Velia Torres. And her parents, her family, came from Puerto Rico. So I was exposed to some Spanish. So that's how I came to Nicaragua. I got a job, after a couple months, in their version of the census bureau and then later on for a while in the research section, research office of the ministry of agriculture and agrarian reform. And so I spent a few years there.

Okay, the tail end of the story is that I really had thoughts I wanted to get naturalized. This is where I want to be.

Sheila: In Nicaragua.

Peter: Yeah. But, even though, especially because I really wasn't awfully helpful in those jobs because I had a lot to learn about what it is to be part of, to be working for that government, in that movement,and so on.

Sheila: A revolutionary government.

Peter: Yes. And then, I got very ill. I got all kinds of things in the stomach and intestines. And I had three operations at Manolo Morales hospital in Managua. Of course, Reagan was cutting off access to the best medications and things. And so they couldn't really handle it. But they did some really big-time surgery. And I wasn't supposed to make it. So then my friends went to the embassy and said, "Don't let this American citizen just conk out. If you do, the whole world will know that you didn't care."

So the embassy found a fund, the repatriated American fund, to pay for the ambulance plane. So I went to Miami in the ambulance plane with a German doctor who had been in charge at Manolo Morales who had been doing the urgent care section. And he knew some doctors at this top-notch hospital in Miami. And I had three more operations there. And so since then, I was on disability until I got on regular Social Security because of age. So I haven't done professional work since. A little bit here in statistics, math and that. You know I'm interested in statistics and trying to get some things together. So that's about it.

Witness For Peace

Peter: Of course, Witness for Peace was active here. In fact, you know that Witness for Peace started in this area, in Raleigh and Durham. Yes, the national headquarters was in Durham. And so naturally I would gravitate to that and take some part in that in the eighties. And that's about it. Yeah, I write some letters to the editor.

Sheila: Witness for Peace is about Guatemala.

Peter: Now. Also, it was in Nicaragua. It was Witness for Peace in Nicaragua. These were the religious people who, when Reagan started the Contra war, had some volunteers go stand at the Honduran border, symbolically blocking the way for the U.S.-organized Contras to cross into there. And these volunteers to witness what the United States mercenaries really were doing to people in Nicaragua and report it in the country. So they had local support chapters and so on, and I took part in that.

And then afterwards, yes, they went and organized in Guatemala, did similar things. And did accompaniment sometimes, where people who are marked for assassination, people living there, peasant organizers, union people and so on. That somebody would be with them all the time, somebody with an American or German or some European or other citizenship that they would not be so encouraged to — So Witness for Peace has done that kind of work in Guatemala a lot. And then they were in Haiti, they are still.

But I'm not real active in it anymore, although I'm still, you know, keeping in touch, going to some of their programs. But they have a few very devoted people in Witness for Peace who continue, now, long after the Contra war, being in touch with the communities, the sister communities in Nicaragua, and having exchange, you know, having them visit here, people from there, and having some of the people from here visit there and bring different kinds of help. The local Witness for Peace chapter's still doing that, several of them. Well, now, I'm in touch. I pass along some information and I go to a few of the local programs, but I'm not active.

Copyright © Peter Nemenyi & Sheila Michaels. 2000

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