Freedom Summer, My Parents, and Me
Marcia Moore
May 2013

[As told to the Celebration of Unsung Heroes on the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Movement events of 1963 at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, California.]

Thank you. Well, thank you for the opportunity to be here. This is my first visit. I'm very impressed.

Last time I met with, maybe the nascent group, was in Chude Pam Parker Allen's home many, many years ago. Pam and I were at Carlton [College], and then we were exchange students to Spelman in 1964. It was an exchange program that had been started by Staughton Lynd and Howard Zinn. Howard was no longer at Spelman when we were there, but we heard lots about him. And my roommate at Spelman happened to be the former roommate of Alice Walker. And so people would say, "You should know Alice Walker." And she had gone North to school, but she was already well known around campus as an incredible writer and an incredible person.

But one of the — and I think it was Chude who told me about Staughton Lynd's class, so we were both able to take his class which was the History of Nonviolence in America, which he ran as a graduate program where he gave us documents that we were supposed to research, and then he would use our research — and he told us that he would — in the book that he wrote, the History of Nonviolence in America.

And one of the things — it was not my paper to read, but it was Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail which had been published but had not been widely known. We also had readings from the Albany Movement. Cathy Cade is here and was in jail from that. And so I learned a lot during that wintertime about what was going on in the South.

We did picket downtown Atlanta. We went into some of the white communities to try and persuade people that discrimination was wrong. But once I found out that Staughton was going to be co-leading the Freedom Schools in Mississippi and found out what that was about, partly going down to visit the SNCC office in Atlanta, I knew that that's where I needed to be that summer.

Well, I wasn't quite 21, and those of you who were involved in the selection process may know that if you were white and female and not 21, you had to have your parents' approval. So I had letters which fortunately my parents have saved explaining why I needed to be in Mississippi, and I guess I need to make an editorial comment. This is going to be a little bit different than some of the local people that people are talking about. I figure I might have time for that at some point in the future, but I think you'll come to the conclusion that this is a local person that you wouldn't have expected to hear about.

But anyway, I kept writing my parents, telling them what was going to be going on, sharing with them information that we had from our class, and as I go back and read some of the things that I wrote, I thought: "If that were my child, no way would I let her go!" And some of the things — I mean, I knew that they would understand, but there was one sentence that said, "First of all, the worst thing that might happen is I might go to jail." But going to jail in Mississippi is not like going to jail in Iowa, which is where I was from.

And then I went on to describe what might happen. And then later on, as the summer came close, I actually realized that more than that might happen, and no, I was not going to Mississippi to be a martyr. You know, I wanted word to get out, which is what the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project was about, but I was not expecting — I mean, not wanting to be killed. And still, no response from my parents.

Well, by the time summer came, I would've been 21, but I also remembered what Cathy had told Chude and myself. I think at that point you knew that we were planning to go. And you said, "Whatever you do, make sure your parents understand what you're doing." Because I think it was very, very hard on your family when you were in jail in Albany. So I'm close to my family, and I wanted them to understand.

Well, by chance, my parents — I grew up in the American Baptist Church — which is not the Southern Baptist Church — and my parents were doing something highly unusual for them. Every two years there's a convention of the American Baptist Church, and of course Daddy King's church in Atlanta was American Baptist, so they were going from Iowa to Atlantic City. I met them in Atlantic City for the conference, and then we were gonna drive home. By chance, the American Baptist Convention was giving Martin Luther King their Edwin Dahlberg Peace Prize that year, so he was there to accept it.

Well, being an enterprising young person, after he got all of these accolades — and it was before he got the Nobel Prize — I dragged my parents up onto the stage, told him what I was planning to do, and he said, "Oh yes, that is a very good program." So basically, I had Martin Luther King's blessing to go to Mississippi. What could my parents do?

So then, we had the whole trip back home to talk about Mississippi. We raised about $700 which was a fair amount to send down [equivalent to $5,200 in 2013]. We sent a mimeograph machine down. We sent encyclopedias down to the library. And then by the time I was in the second training session, and of course those of you who were there remember when we were told about the disappearance of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney, and Rita Schwerner saying, "I know they will not be found alive."

So Bob Moses of course wanted us to make sure we called our parents and tell them — and make sure it was still okay for us to go. And of course in those days there were no cell phones, so we were all lined up, waiting for the phone on the wall. And I called my parents, and I said, "But Laurel — which is where I was going — is nothing like Neshoba County." [Audience laughter]

"You know, it's a middle class town. It's the size of Fort Dodge. There's a furniture plant there." Not knowing, as some of you may know, that [KKK leader] Sam Bowers lived in Laurel, and as Jimmy Garrett I think told me a few years ago, the information was passed back and forth from him, and he basically was the one who authorized the killing of the three Civil Rights workers.

My son has said, "Well, you know, maybe it's kind of like where the Mafia is. It's not gonan be as bad." Anyway, I'm gonna try and make this short. So when I was arrested, and it was because as we had talked on a Sunday evening to a small church group about the Freedom School that was starting the next day, we left that small church, and we had an integrated car. The driver, Tom Watts, was from Berkeley, California. Gwen Robinson, who became our director along with Jimmy. And Charlie Boyce Binks — that was what his mother called him — 14 years old, and I.

Well, they stopped us. Tom and I were taken in for questioning. I was held on a charge of vagrancy, because I had left my purse in the home that we were staying with, and we did not want to identify where we were staying. And stayed over night. And the person that I would like to honor is my father, because it turns out, the county attorney, Charles Pickering, another name that may be well known to some of you, called my father and told him if he would ask me to come home, they would not press charges. My father said, "Well, you know, these young people. She's made up her mind. We've talked about it, and she's gonna stay there."

Well, that made the Des Moines papers, the Fort Dodge papers, you know, all over. And there was — of course, I've saved some of those as well as some of the hate mail that came, and some of the encouraging mail. But the last paragraph in a column that was written, "So when you cheer, cheer for the Doctor Moore too. They're at least part of the reason why Marcia is staying in Mississippi." And he was referring to the parents of all of us in that jail.

Copyright © Marcia Moore, 2013

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