Everyone Was a Leader
Hardy Frye

[As told to the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the student-led sit-ins of 1960, the rise of youth-led activism, and the founding of SNCC. Main library, San Francisco, March 27, 2010.]

Good evening. I was asked to talk about three things that I remember about the whole four and a half years I spent in the organization. Well, the first big memory was the night that Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were killed. We were all in Oxford, Ohio at college, and Bob Moses walked out. We were leaving for Mississippi the next day, and he told us that he had something to tell us. We could all see that something was up. And he told us that Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were missing, and they it was likely that they were dead or had been seriously injured. A young lady in the audience, got up and started singing "Freedom is a Constant Struggle." We all stood up, and we all sang, and we all walked out. All of us, except I think one or two people, went to Mississippi the next day.

The second most thing that excited me was the first person I got to register to vote. She is no longer with us now. Her name was Rita Walker. Frank Cieciorka — Frank is not here as well — we went to knock on her door, and we said that we were from the Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Movement, SNCC, and we were here to register you to vote. And she said: "By golly, how long did it take y'all? Where in the hell you been?" [Laughing]

She said: I've been waiting on you and waiting on you and waiting on you Freedom Riders, and you finally get here. And she was the first person that I got registered to vote, and she also joined SNCC. Her, and her husband, Sid Walker.

The third thing I remember was in Jackson, Mississippi, we had some demonstrations, and they literally picked us up in garbage trucks. They backed us up, stopped us, put us in garbage trucks. John Lewis was with us, and they hauled us off to a jail, and they gassed us. What they did was they put us in one of these county fairgrounds, and they backed Jeeps up to the thing, and they turned on the engines. And they were trying to smoke it out.

One of the great things about that experience was everybody in SNCC was a leader, and they didn't understand that. And so therefore, they were trying to figure out who was a leader. And I was one of the first ones they picked to say: "He might be leading something," and so they drug me off to jail; they put me in isolation, and I was in isolation for about two days when I met a young man. He is my friend, and he is in the audience, and I heard him being dragged him down the hallway, and he was raising all kinds of hell. His name is Scott B. Smith, and they put him in the cell with me. And so I had to put up with him for about three or four days, as well as he beat me out of my breakfast every morning in some kind of way. [Laughing]

But also in that jail cell was John Lewis. He was also there. And there was a big argument. Charlie Evers was in jail with us, and Charlie Evers left the next morning. He told us that we could stay in jail, but he was leaving. And the next morning we heard Charlie Evers on the radio in Chicago, making a speech about our being arrested. He was out, and we were still in.

And John Lewis was there. And the other day [March, 2010], when John Lewis was almost spit on and called all kind of names [by right-wing "Tea Party" zealots], I was going crazy. And my wife was asking me why I was going crazy, because I would have hit [that] guy in the mouth, I swear, if I had been there. John Lewis was in [jail] there. That's the second time — I saw John when I got out of jail, and I've seen him one time since then — and the next time I saw him he was on TV being disrespected.

The final thing that I think made everything exciting for me was that a young woman; her name was Pam, but her name is Chude now, but we called her Pam at that time. That was her name. And we went to Oxford, Mississippi where — [today] I look at the University of Mississippi, and all these Black football players and basketball players, and everybody's all excited — [back then] we went to our side of Oxford, Mississippi to a rally. And when we left the rally, some people in the community told us that a mob was waiting on us. There were some white people, the Klansmen, down the road, and there were about maybe 10 or 12 of us, and we had women, men, and the one Asian guy in the whole Movement at that time named Carl from Hawaii.

[The cops] chased us, and they took us into downtown. When they stopped us in downtown Oxford, they had a mob, a little mob standing over to the right jeering at us and calling us all kinds of names. The [cops came] down the line [and] asked everybody their name to identify themselves. Karen Kunstler was there — "What you doin' here, girl? You look like a nice girl." Carl was there — "What you doin' here, man? You should be in a laundry." [The cop] literally said that. Why aren't you working in a laundry, Chinese man?

And then they told us — with this mob out to get to us — they told us we could leave. [Laughing] And we were torn. We were torn, because we had been told in training: Don't leave, because it's dangerous to leave. Just stay around where people can see it. And we decided to leave, and they chased us back to Holly Springs. They didn't go all the way to Holly Springs. They chased us about five miles. And we pulled over a rising, and we saw a car light coming out. Cleve Sellers was driving, and we literally ducked our heads. I don't know what good that would have done, but we ducked our heads and we drove through this thing, and it wasn't the Klan obviously, but it was somebody on the side of the road, a car light. And we thought we might were going to be ambushed. I have many of all those stories, but I think the most important thing about all of my experiences was the people I met.

Thank you.


Copyright © Hardy Frye, 2010

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