Something started moving and stirring in Mississippi in the early '60s, at least that is when I became aware of that something. It might have started earlier with the murder in Money MS. Because when Emmitt Till was killed, I felt a chilling fear among the grown folks in Pocahontas Mississippi, the small town of my childhood. There were hushed conversations about the killing. And the fear that it could have been one of us. But no one talked directly to us children about it.
For the first fifteen years of my life I grew up in Pocahontas, a town that some say set so far back into the wood that you had to poke yo way in and hunt yo way out. I come from a sharecropping family. Most of my young impressions of that life was hardship, Black folks working hard, just trying to figure out how to stay alive from day to day. I grew up knowing two worlds, one black and one white. The little that I knew about the latter is that it was cruel and mean to the former. Occasionally, the proof of that would rear its ugly face when, we young black children had to pass through the white side of town to get to our church school. From time to time some young white kid would yell out, niggers, niggers, or some evil white woman would let out her dogs on us.
My mother was a domestic, working for pennies in white folks white houses on paved streets; we were only allowed to visit her from the back door. It seemed that the feudal plantation owners were more concerned about their cotton being picked than they were of a black child education. When I started going to the district school, there were many days that the yellow school bus would roll by without me or my siblings on it. Such was the life of a sharecropper daughter. Such were the events of my life that cause my mind to wander and question God about the unfairness of it all. Such were the events that caused me to yearn for freedom a word foreign to my young vocabulary, but familiar to my heart.
So in the early '60s when that something in the air start moving and that something sound like a freedom train rolling, I quickly jumped aboard. May of 1963, young people from all three of the black high schools in Jackson walked out of their respective school and began a long march downtown. At 17, I was one of the organizers for that march and was among the hundreds that were dumped in garbage truck like garbage and hauled off to the state fairground. From that one act of courage, I became fired up by the movement; the movement moved me,and I move with the movement. I became a regular protestor, a regular marcher. Like a soldier in the army, I reported dutifully to the COFO office for my movement assignment for the day, whether it was marching, passing out leaflets, or door to door registration, I was on board the freedom train and loving every bit of it.
I had hope, a reason for my existence. Then, they killed Medgar Evers, the man who had suddenly become the father I never knew, but longed for. It was the first movement killings that touched me in a hurting feeling place. That kind caring man always show concerned for the young people. At the end on every mass meeting he made sure we were safely home even if he had to get us home himself. On the night of his assassination he had just seen to it that I had a ride home. Shortly after, I had arrived home, the telephone rang, it was Pearline Lewis calling to inform me that Medgar had been shot. The cry I let out in that house got the attention of all the other family members that liveed there.
Before that summer was over, I was to witness more brutality than I have in a lifetime. Trigger happy racist policemen, water hoses, the white citizen council with their racist slurs met us head on with blunt resistance. Some of the brutality that we young people experienced that long hot summer got media coverage. But many of the assaults and crimes against us were covered up and went unnoticed.
Such was the back injury I received on one scotching hot July day in 1963. We had been on another march against injustice and were arrested and hauled off to the fairground which has become the usual routine. Once at the fairground, we were made to sit in the steaming hot paddy wagons until they had set up their booking system. It was some kind of hot sitting in an overcrowded paddy wagon. So I sat there fanning with a writing pad I had brought along on the march. Some how the pad fell to the ground. I asked the policeman who stood guard if he would hand me my pad. He simple turned redder and ignored me. So what did I do? I jumped down from that wagon and got it myself.
Before I could get back up in that truck, that red faced man drew back his billy club and went, whack, as hard as he could across my back. Well, instinct, made me forget all that non-violent training for a moment, and I went at that man like a panther gone mad. Thank God for the other freedom riders who were on that truck; some quickly pulled me back up into that truck. That cop had cocked his gun to blow me to kingdom come. I shall always remember that man as being the first man that ever hit me since during my growing up there was no father around to hit me. How ironic, I had fought off my own grandfather who attempt to whip me and here was this red-faced white man hitting me like some mad fool, and I was powerless to do anything about it but suffer peacefully. For hours they let me lie in that hot sun stretched out on a hard stretcher without any medical attention while my back continued to swell. At some point they took me to the hospital. There racist doctors treated me with a flip of the hand and dismissed me with having only incurred a minor bruise to the back. Later on when I moved to New York I was diagnosed with a nerve injury to my back. To this day still suffer with chronic back pains.
In the summer of 1964, I was among a group of students who were selected to attend the pre-freshman program at Tougaloo College. You might say I was plunged smack dead into freedom heaven. It was Feedom Summer 64. It was there that I became SNCC workers, became involved with the freedom schools, and began to do voter registration in other areas outside of Jackson. I was so involved with Freedom Summer activities until the official over the pre-freshman dismissed me from the second session of the program.
Along the way then, my living will not have been in vain.
Since those often turbulence days of the '60s in Mississippi, I feel I have lived a thousands lives. In 1967, I left Mississippi and moved to New York where I, a year later, met the Black Panthers; I became a full fledge member. My sister and I were probably, the first females to start and head up a branch of the party in White Plains, New York. In the party I continued to utilize my community organizing skills that I took with me to the city. Community organizing pretty much consumed my life during the '70s. The eighties took me back to school. I acquired two degree, and became a college professor, taught at various colleges in the city, in particular, City College of CUNY. In the late '90s I move back to Jackson, MS. where I am currently teaching at Jackson State University. Over the years, I have done quite a bit of speaking and writing. One of my writing projects involves, writing a novel/memoir. I am also a poet and fiction writer.
Last but not least, I am a mother of 3 children and I am a loving grandmother.
Today, I serve as the Chair person for the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. In our mission to educate the youth of the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, one of my great concerns is for the unsung heroes, and heroines, those oftentimes forgotten foot soldiers who backs many stand on. I am concerned that their voices be heard and their names shouted out. I am concerned that our parents voices be heard and that their names be shouted out and listed in the pages of history.
In the words of the great Martin Luther Kings, I want the world to know that I tried to help someone along the way, then my living will not have been in vain.