I would like to be included in the Veterans Roll Call for the Freedom movement. My name and address are as included in this letter. I don't have an email address or website, nor can I be reached by carrier pigeon. Confirmed Luddite.
I went south in the same year in which Cheney et al. were killed, which I think was 1963. It was under the auspices of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, which had been created by the ABA. We received one day of training, at Columbia Law School, and some very good forms and other material which had been prepared by the Lawyers 'Guild.
My assignment was to New Orleans, obviously a choice spot. I stayed in th black quarter of the city and dealt almost entirely with that community, which was new to me, since I don't thin I had ever spoken to a black person before, which, in retrospect, seems strange.
The principal hospital in N.O. at the time was Charity Hospital. It was completely segregated, wards, laboratories, everything. My mentors were three lawyers at a black law firm who told me that they wanted to start a suit to desegregate the hospital and wanted me to prepare the complaint and other papers, including backup research.
It was a pretty interesting job. I had to spend a couple of days going through the hospital as secretly as I could in order to get the facts. I also interviewed a number of black doctors, who weren't allowed to practice in the hospital, since I thought that should be part of the suit.
Eventually I prepared the papers, in draft form, and that was the sum total of my contribution to the civil rights movement, at least at that time. I left them with the firm, and I'd like to think that they formed the basis for the desegregation that I heard had occurred some time thereafter. It wasn't very exciting, but it was fun, and I think I contributed. I got to know a lot about black people and their thinking, both through the work I did and the almost- nightly parties that I was included in.
The one exciting part of the assignment was a one-day trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi within a week or so, as I recall, after the Cheney murder. We received a call from Mississippi that a civil rights worker was being held in jail in Hattiesburg and no one was being allowed access to him. A request was made that a couple of lawyers be sent up.
Another one of the ABA group and I were asked to go. He declined, and I said I would go by myself. He relented and showed up at my room about 5:A.M.
In Hattiesburg, we reported to the civil rights headquarters, a sad building in a sad part of town. We picked up an N.Y.U. Law student, who was .acting as legal adviser to the workers, who I assume were trying to register voters.
The three of us proceeded to the jail and made our request. We were told that they had never heard of the person we had asked about. (Because of what follows, I never found out the actual facts of the case.) We were then herded into a small room, where we faced the sheriff (big) and probably five (though it seemed like 50 to me) deputies. The sheriff told us that it was not safe for us to be in Hattiesburg, that he felt no obligation to protect us, and that he advised our leaving as promptly as possible.
My partner and I took him at his word and decided to leave immediately. The law student said he would stay and continue to do his job, which I thought, and still think, was one of the more courageous decisions I've ever seen.
I can't say that the experience has had any great effect on my life. My attitudes had already been formed, and I don't think they've changed much. In retrospect, I do have some feelings of pride, though I didn't think I was doing anything particularly courageous or out- of-the-ordinary.
Hope this has been helpful. It's nice of you to have embarked on the project.