Nicholas (Nick) Allis

COFO, 1964, Mississippi
1805 Michael Lane
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
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I attended the training (second group)in June, 1964 in Oxford, Ohio. At the end of June, we traveled by bus to Hattiesburg Mississippi. I lived with an older black couple, the Knights, for the summer in Palmers Crossing. Another volunteer, Malcolm Zeretsky, lived there also. Our hosts, the Knights, were wonderful people. He was a farmer. She was a fortune teller and every Sunday, cars, some of them with white people, with license plates from as far away as the Florida panhandle, lined up outside our house. We were instructed to stay away, so no white people would see us.

Palmers Crossing was located outside of Hattiesburg and was, as far as I recall, a farming town of mostly blacks. Pretty much every day, I went door to door to see if people were interested in registering to vote. Some said they were too sick, some said they were afraid, and some wanted to do it. For the latter, I offered to review with them the application they would have to fill out.

I'd often return to their homes several times to go over the requirements. Among other things the applicant had to copy a section of the Mississippi Constitution, followed by a requirement to set forth the applicant's understanding of the section they had just written. Next was a space in which the applicant had to write his/her understanding of of the duties and obligations of a citizen. Whether a person passed the test was up to the discretion of the registrar, a man named Theron Lynd, who was determined not to register blacks and already had federal lawsuits filed against him. The applicant had to be of good moral character which was up to the registrar to determine and any failure to dot an 'i' or cross a "t' would disqualify the person.

Every week or two, as I recall, we would get someone to drive a group of applicants and me and another volunteer to the county courthouse (Forrest County) and go through the process of trying to register to vote. Catcalls, swearing and middle fingers were the routine.

We did not get physically attacked. Once, Malcolm Zeretsky, Stuart Rawlings, Martin Mulvane, and Lorne Cress (the only black in the car) — she was a school teacher from Chicago, I think — and one or two other volunteers whose names I cannot remember, were driving from the Hattiesburg office of COFO to Palmers Crossing, when we were stopped by Constable Kitchens, the local law enforcement guy in Palmers Crossing. He hit Malcolm and yelled, "I saw you fucking that dirty nigger; I saw her dress above her head and you nigger lovers lapping her pussy," and on and on. He did not arrest us but folowed us to Virginia Gray's house. She was a local civil rights leader. I heard that Constable Kitchens got shot to death the next year or two and they could not identify the person who did it.

Later in the summer, we all wrote affidavits about the incident for the Justice Dept because they told us it might be of help in a lawsuit they were preparing regarding police brutality. I remember we or a couple of us were asked to appear in federal court before Judge Cox, a judge appointed by Kennedy, but a known racist. I recall him saying "nigger" this and "nigger" that in the courtroom. I don't know what happened to that lawsuit. I'd like to see my affidavit but do not have a copy.

I enjoyed so much getting to know the people who lived in Palmers Crossing. It was an intense and important experience for me. I admired so much the determination and courage of the black residents who risked so much by standing up to a racist system and also to the civil rights workers who spent not just a summer, but months and years fighting for justice.

The next two years I spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria. I taught in a high school in Warri and also taught literacy classes to market women. When I returned to the U.S. in December or January,1966, I taught junior high school in inner city Philadelphia (Stoddard-Fleisher Jr. High) and then went to law school at Georgetown. I worked for the Community Relations Service of the Justice Dept one summer and the legal aid society of Denver another summer. I clerked for a federal court of appeals judge after law school, then was in the federal public defenders office in Los Angeles for four and a half years. Since then I have been representing injured people in a variety of kinds of cases: product liability; auto; wrongful discharge;malpractice;elder abuse;insurance bad faith etc, while serving in a variety of capacities for volunteer organizations.


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