Fighting for Freedom in the Mississippi Delta
Wazir Peacock

[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.]

My name is Wazir Peacock. I'm better known as Willie B. Peacock back in the day in Mississippi. Before I tell how things affected me, I just want to add a footnote to what [Linda] was saying. Me — being a person that could have encouraged certain things — there was a group of young men who Silas McGhee grew up with, [after Silas McGhee was shot] they came to the SNCC office, about 24 of them, with high powered rifles. They said: "Do we go to north Greenwood and wipe out as many as we can? Or what you think? We've got to do something."

That really shook me up, you know? Because they were looking for me to lead it, because I had put my little bony chest out there like I was some Black nationalist, you know? [Laughing] And so, I said: "It wouldn't be fair." Through the grapevine, we knew who did it. So I said: "It wouldn't be fair to [kill whites at random]." I said: "If you're going to do anything, you need to go and find the ones who did it. Plus the fact that you would cause the Black community to be bombed."

So there were a lot of things going on in the background when they shot Silas McGhee. He survived, but it could have been much, much worse. We as SNCC people, we were nonviolent, but the local people — we couldn't say to them not to protect their homes and their families. And back there, everybody hunted wild game in Mississippi and the South and all this, so everybody had an old shotgun or better.

The thing of it is, let me begin. I'll tell you a short story. What got me involved is that my parents moved me to a plantation when I was about 12 years old, from the little city of Charleston [Mississippi].

And I got the chance — we had just been studying Black slavery, actually, in the sixth grade, and then I got a chance to feel it and see it in action. Slavery still existed on the plantations when there was sharecropping. There were people I met whose lineage — who had been on that plantation ever since slavery of their families. When the land was sold, they went with the land, that kind of thing. And Charleston was about six miles away, but just six miles away there were people that were totally illiterate, in the dark. I couldn't believe it. So it had an effect on me, and I saw how Black people were treated, up close.

I mean, my parents, especially my father, he had protected us. I had heard about it. I knew about lynchings and stuff, but I had never — I had been protected from it. So it turned me, from that point on, right at that point, I made a decision that I was going to leave the plantation, and I ran away from home when I was about 14 years old. I found that my age — and I really looked like a baby face, I really did — and I kept trying to put my age up to do things. And that kept hitting me in the face.

So finally, I decided that I needed to go back home and finish my high school education. I went back with the determination that if I ever ran into or heard about a group of people, or anybody, that was going to fight to turn this thing around that I was going to join them. So I started a little protesting and stuff right there in high school, to try to turn things — to help things. But immediately after I hit college, I found a slew of people that were ready to move, and about that time — that was in '58, and then we started doing things.

And then 1960 rolled around, February 1960, then we became uncontrollable on that campus, at dear old Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi where many of the Summer Project Freedom persons housed themselves. Right across the street on Rust Avenue, it was a Freedom House. They've memorialized — in other words, it's a part of the memory of Rust College. And some of you here were there, you knew Dr. Ernest Smith. He passed away back in November. I wanted you to know that.

So the way it affected me is I began to see that this thing was deeper than just lynching in the South. That this thing began to get — because in college, I was a science major, and in the science I began to see how things connected and affected each other. And this thing was so deep, it went all — this whole thing of oppression, segregation, and slavery was about economics. Economics. And Black people were a product to be sold and to be kept in a situation education-wise whereby they were still — they would feel like they were less than a human being, as some kind of product.

But we never really felt that way. We acted in certain kinds of ways to survive. But it's so deeply ingrained until we're still feeling the fallout of it right to this day, 2010. So to make a long story short, it kept me — I thought we would get this thing — I got in with SNCC, and I thought that we would get this thing over with in a couple of years and I would go on back and go to medical school and become some kind of sophisticated doctor, you know, accepted in the higher levels, you know? Whatever that aspiration is supposed to be, but first I thought: Well, I can't do that. We've got to clear up a lot of — it's like dirt and brush and stuff that's washed up on the beach, you've got to clear that off before you can have a good time, you know? So I've been trying for the last 50 years to try to clear the beach so I could have a good time. [Laughing]

And it ain't happened yet. So I'm still busy. The struggle definitely continues, and if you — for those young people here today who've gotten too close to us, you've caught the disease. It's contagious. You'll never get over it, because you'll keep seeing things and you'll keep seeing things that must be taken care of.


Copyright © Wazir Peacock, 2010

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