Recorded & transcribed by Peter de Lissovoy sometime between 2001-2006
[Randy Battle worked for SNCC throughout the 1960s, and worked in the congressional campaign of Attorney C. B. King in 1964.]
SNCC wasn't too hip with Southwest Georgia, they thought we were a rowdy bunch. But every time they had a hot spot somewhere, they're going to call Albany and try to get two or three people to come on — to Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, you know, wherever trouble's brewing. They always liked to get somebody from Southwest Georgia, that's what they called us, the Southwest Georgians, and they always wanted to come get us and get somebody to go, but not everybody wanted to go naturally, a lot of them wouldn't go.
A lot of times they come on and say they want some over here, wherever, Arkansas, Mississippi, and they have a little meeting and they'd choose folks. But most everybody — actually I think they were scared. And I was too dumb to be scared! You know, I hadn't got educated then. Who I was then, I packed up a knapsack and took off! All they had to do was give me enough gas money to get there. When I got there I'd get the rest of it. And I'd take off, it didn't matter where it was. If they called and said come to Washington, DC, be there in the morning, I was going to be there in the morning. But I loved it! I loved the Movement! And I thought it were my duty to go wherever they asked me to go to. Without question, with no question at all. You don't want to sit up there and ask how and why — you just went and did what you could do. You didn't know what you were going to do when you got there. But you went anyway. And whatever you did you did, and if it helped it helped, and if it harmed it harmed, and if it didn't do no good at all, then you didn't do no good. But you went.
I mean it was just like when I was working with C. B. King, when they started hitting on him, messing with his car and putting acid and stuff in his seat, and he wouldn't drive by himself any more, I would drive with him anywhere and all over the place, and that's when I became his bodyguard. You know, if C. B. had sat in that acid on his seat that time he would've been ate up to this day. Course C. B. is gone now. They got that courthouse named after him in Albany. That was in Americus when they poured the acid on his seat while he was in a trial or something and he came out and fortunately him or Dennis must have noticed it. C. B. used to come and get me and I drive around and we be gone all day long, in all these little counties around here, where he had to go to court. He throw me twenty, twenty-five dollars, but the money wasn't important, I think he just gave me that so I could get me a drink or something when we get back. But you see I loved it. I loved the Movement. And I loved to drive. I mean, when I was in the civil rights movement, everything I did, I did it with a passion.
During C. B.'s campaign for Congress, mostly Reverend McKindrick and me, and sometimes Peter de Lissavoy and I, went to all these little towns round here clear to the Florida line, Dawson, Cuthbert, Shelman, everywhere they had a radio station, some little bitty old radio station. We started at the very grass roots, at the beginning, every little radio station, of course there wasn't no television stations and if there was they wouldn't accept it out there. And we went to see all the preachers in the little country areas about setting up meeting places for C. B. to go to and speak at.
A. C. Searles editor of the Southwest Georgian newspaper was C. B.'s campaign manager. The second district was big then, twenty-two counties in the second district then, and I think we must have visited near every one of them. We left Albany and went south, all the way to the Florida line, and then came back up the east side of the district. We made some contacts and found a place to sleep at night. We were gone about three days at that time.
They had the meetings for C. B. in them little churches that was way out in the piney woods, that was the only ones we could get to meet at. At some of them meetings, when fundraising time came, you might raise ten dollars. SNCC supported all of that. We did all of the printing. A. C. Searles set that up. Albany Movement or SNCC did all of the real financing of the campaign. We never did raise no real money out of the community — it was all too new and unheard of. C. B. running for Congress and all, folks weren't used to nothing like that. It was quite enough they even came to a meeting at all and many were still too scared to. And C. B. still came in second place.
We are talking 1964 now, but before that I was SNCC field director over thirteen or fourteen counties in the second district, all the way from Thomasville all the way back round to Dawson, and every week I had to drive to every one of them. I had fourteen counties and I had to meet with each one once a week. Some of them I would meet with in daytime and some of them I'd meet with at night. I'd leave Albany on Monday and sometimes I wouldn't get back till early that next Monday meeting. They bought me a van finally. On Monday I'd get up 'fore day in the morning, and go pick up people, one forty miles over here, another forty miles over the other side. I'd be up 'fore day an get a van full, without no sleep because you know when I got home I would've most likely had me a drink and a little ... But you don't know how many hours I put on the road. That was why they always depended on me, because I could put some hours on that highway. Of course, I was cheap too. It didn't take much to maintain me! ... I was a driving fool.
After they put that acid on C. B.'s seat up there in Americus, and one thing or another ... he wouldn't drive no more, when he had to go out to them country courthouses and things, when he was going to have to be there after dark especially, I don't think it had an effect on his ability to practice law, not hardly, but it had an effect on his desire to be driving around these country places and be out there on the road by himself! Dennis drove him around on certain occasions. But if Dennis had to keep the shop — C. B.'s office — I had to dress up in a suit and I'd bring in his brief case to court too.
And I'd always park the car so I could look out the window of the courthouse and see it. I'd keep a constant eye on it through the courthouse window. That was C. B.'s old black Dodge. He used to say, "Randy, drive her as though she were of ancient vintage." Drive her carefully and treat her right, the way you drink a wine of old vintage, you sip her delicately, you got to be delicate with her. But that sucker used to, you could run, you could run that sucker ninety miles an hour in a little while.
One time I passed a police parked sitting over there. C. B. was looking at me and the police was over there. He says, "Damn, Randy you just got you a ticket!" I went on round that curve and cut off and took another road. We were heading for some little old town northeast, back of ... hell I went through that town before I knew it, like a streak of lightning. C. B. is looking back at that police and I don't believe they even crank up and try to catch me. Cause I went by so fast — they might not have been looking at the road, they might have been having them a little drink, or eating lunch over there — and it was over before they could react or even seen us.
I remember the time when Slater (C. B. King's brother, leader of the Albany Movement) got killed, I was driving C. B. up there where the car was. That old cracker woman was going to pass me. Right between here and Sasser, or between Sasser and Dawson, on 82 here. Damn if she thought she was going to pass me. I had just turned on my signal light, I was just going to pass the car ahead of me and goddam she is going to run up beside me, I whipped her ass clean, she spin around in the road about nine goddam times. I kept on going. But when we got about, I don't know, 500 yards up the road, C. B. says let's go back and see if she is all right. I said, "Hell I hope she's dead." We drove on back down there and she's sitting in the middle of the road, crosswise in the road, pouring her up a drink! I declare! It's true as I'm sitting here.
I told her, "Give me a drink a that too, I'm just as nervous as you!" I got out and walked up and say, "You all right?" She say, "Yeah!" There she sit not trying to get out of the road or nothing, pouring her out a goddam drink! I asked her, don't you have another glass, I'll have a drink with you. And laughing at me too! I swear before God she was laughing at me. She say to me, "Goddamit nobody going to take the road from you will they?" I say, "Hell no!"
So, that time when we went to Arkansas, they called Atlanta, and
Atlanta called Albany, and they talked to Sherrod, and so Sherrod said
to go and gave us gas money, and it was Herman Kitchens and me, and
might have been one or two others that went. We all went together to
Pine Bluff. Hansen [
a white SNCC field secretary] was the
project director in Pine Bluff. At that time it was too late to register
to vote, but you went around to get out the vote. Drove all round the
countryside, all the little districts and stuff. Allen, I don't remember
his last name, was the assistant project director over there or
something, so he had us what we called canvasing the vote. Just
remind the folks it was three or four days till the election, and be
sure to vote when the day come, so we was up all day every day from
early in the morning till late at night, just going from door to door,
country house to country house, reminding folks to get out and vote.
Then came election day, it was November the fourth. So then SNCC put us in every precinct, seven o'clock in the morning, and they were going to stay there, poll watching, was what we called it. Poll watching. And we were going to stay there from seven in the morning until seven at night or whenever the polls closed. So we stayed there and watched, and looked, and if there was any improprieties, we were to make notes of it and then if there was any reason for a lawsuit later on, if anything went on, like not allowing somebody to vote or not allowing somebody who couldn't read or write to be assisted, you know, if you couldn't read or write you had the right to bring an assistant with you to help you vote — so we were to note if anything like that went on.
Stokely and me, we didn't stay at one polling place but went around checking them all. A whole lot of us had converged on Arkansas, on Pine Bluff, see, because it was the hot spot. It was the one most likely to cheat or not allow folks to vote and that. We went over there to help Bill Hansen out because he was in a rough district over there, you see, Stokely Carmichael and everybody else, because Hansen was in a district where they wouldn't even allow black folks to even come into the polling place, they'd tell them they had to wait, it was filled up, or something like that. So me and Stokely just rolled around from precinct to precinct and did spot checks. But the day went pretty smooth.
Late in the day we were way out in the country in that little old place called Garrett Bridge, Arkansas. And we was way out there, and that was where we had Herman Kitchens — we had Herman out there in Garrett Bridge. He was in charge there, he was the poll watcher, Herman Kitchens, and you know how he talked, talked to them crackers, "Hey come over here! I got my Constitution!" You remember he was excitable, "Hey-hey-hey!" he'd go on like that at them crackers. So we had taken him over there to Garrett Bridge and left him. He didn't have no car.
So we let him stay over there until about six:thirty when we were going to leave Pine Bluff and go pick him up, and we had about four cars at that point, and they were going to other outposts and pick up about six or seven at the outposts, each one cover about two of them or so, so me and Stokely were the first one away, and old Bill Hansen, he just had to get in the car and go and see too, and knowed them crackers were going to kill him if they had half a chance, they just hated old Hansen, you know.
So we got him down on the floor of the car, in the back seat and everybody in the back seat got their foot on him like, and how he was going to see something — he wasn't going to see nothing, no he wasn't going to get us killed! When them state troopers came and looked in the car. But what could we do, Hansen was the project director and he was going to come too. Well, we put him on the floor once we got out there and the crackers were looking in every car and you could hear them too, "Where is that goddam Bill Hansen!" And they saw us over there and here they come to every car and they shined their light in the car, and we had a blanket over him and our foots on top of that, I don't know if he could breathe and damn if we cared!
Now the state troopers were just sitting in their cars doing nothing. Just the everyday crackers were coming around to search the cars all round the polling place too. The troopers were sitting in their cars and they were just deaf! The troopers — the minute seven o'clock came them cocksuckers turned around and hauled ass! Three cars of them — just whoooo, hauled ass. And that place got rowdy then! And Herman, Herman Kitchens, he was in the polling place see, and he was yelling at them crackers, "I need to see this! I need to see that!" When I heard that I grabbed Herman and told him you don't need to see a damn thing. Let's get the hell out of here before these folks — these folks out here got a machine gun out here, Herman!
They had a fifty-caliber machine gun mounted on a tripod on the back of a pickup truck. Right beside the polling station. Look here, with the state troopers there, they was there with the goddam machine gun, in Garrett Bridge! There they were with that damn thing, and the state troopers didn't get out and fuck with them crackers. They never did get out their car, and they was just as glad to get out of there as I was if I could get Herman Kitchens out a there!
You couldn't stop Herman! "Hey-hey-hey-yeh-yeh-yeh," Herman was just rattling at them folks about this and that and God knows what he thought he was telling them. Let me see this over here, let me check that over there! Look here I got my Constitution! He had him his little pocket Constitution. One a them pocket-size United States Constitutions. And he snatched that out and read it at them crackers.
But I finally dragged him out of there. Herman wanted to stay and help count the votes, it didn't matter if that wasn't really his job. They were going to stay there and count the votes. You could watch. But I tried to tell Herman we probably did all we could, with that mob of crackers waiting out there in front, all them crackers with them guns and bull whips. One of them — I seen a cracker out there with a bull whip! I wanted to get the hell out of there, I had got scared. I think all of us were scared but Herman, he was in there running his mouth, I don't think he had sense enough to be scared. He snatched out his little Constitution, I told him, "Herman I'm going to knock you on the head if you don't come on!"
Finally about eight:thirty we got him out of there. Polls been closed an hour and a half. We got him out a there and got him in the car and soon as we took off, I don't know, they drove that truck out there after us with that machine gun, I don't know if they was trying to shoot us or just scare the hell out of us because they coulda hit that car with that machine gun. Tat-tat-tat-tat! You know how it sounds. The car didn't get hit or nothing like that. We heard it all right.
But that Corvette, it was a white Corvette, about a '64, mighta been a '65 it was brand new, it was in November so it could've been a '65 — they took off behind us. Goddam Stokely riding 100 miles an hour, about all that Plymouth could do. That Corvette right on our ass. Hit this curve, you know, it was a curve you ought went round it about thirty-five, and right out cross that cotton field we went. And Corvette that was following us did the same thing too, don't know if he was following us or just spin out too. And look here, I swear to God, I swear to God, that car leaned over, and I could've stuck my finger, not my arm, just my finger out the window and touched the goddam grass, I'm standing there looking at the ground and it was that close to my eyes! I thought we were dead as hell.
But some kind of way it just sit back down and we spin on round and hit the highway on the other side of the curve, but that Corvette just kept on going cross that cottonfield there and we run back into Pine Bluff, and we run back over there and looked over there and that FBI and all of them were sitting up in the restaurant drinking coffee and talking shit. We parked and run right in there and sit with them. And ate with them and throwed them the ticket. And one of them say, "Son of a bitch!" But they had to pay it. They was supposed to have been out there with us.
By the way, the whole time we had Bill Hansen lying on the floor, every so often he snuck up and had a peek, and I know he had a rough ride back because everybody had their feet on him, and when we spun out, you know everybody was grabbing everything for dear life and you know they must've stomped the shit out of him. Well he stayed alive. We got back into town, then we let him out. We weren't going to get killed because he wanted to look around, and I suppose, do his job, as he saw it, you know.
Copyright © Randy Battle
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