The FBI's Mississippi Myopia
The day after I graduated from high school in June 1964, I traveled to Atlanta to work at the SNCC headquarters at 8 Raymond Street. I spent much of my time as an assistant to Julian Bond, who headed the communications department, and I spent many nights in the basement darkroom, processing the film of the staff photographers who were documenting the movement in the field.
I came into the SNCC office to work my night shift late on Sunday, June 21, 1964, to find that Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner were missing. With instructions from Mary King, we started making calls: Ed Nakawatese and I in Atlanta and Bill Light and Bob Weil in Jackson spent the night calling local jails, police, state police and FBI to no avail. Even calls to John Doar, the head of the U.S. Justice Department s Civil Rights Division, could not convince the FBI to get involved. I wrote an op-ed published by the Washington Post on June 25, 2005, detailing the frustration of that night and debunking the heroic depiction of the FBI in the movie ississippi Burning.
In September 1964, I moved to Starkville, Mississippi, where I worked on the SNCC project led by Ron Bridgeforth. Also on the project were Bill Light and Jimmy Jones and, for a time, Mary Anderson. In January 1965, I moved to the Delta and joined the project working out of Holly Springs. After about a month, it didn t seem to make sense to drive back and forth to the Holly Springs Freedom House every day, so I moved to DeSoto County to live with local people. I was joined there by Eddie Mackey from Starkville, Eve Bartle from Somerville, Mass., and Bob Newell from California.
In DeSoto County we were engaged in voter registration, campaigns to get Black sharecroppers elected to the agricultural boards that allocated acreage for planting cotton, and organizations for high school kids, who were the backbone of the movement there.
One hot evening in July, 1965 I was sitting on the porch of a sharecropper s home, drinking a glass of ice water, listening to stories of his family, work and struggles. I have a crystal-clear memory of that very moment, when I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life as an organizer.
I have done that. I was part of Friends of SNCC at Columbia University, where I also served as the press secretary for the Student Strike Committee in 1968. I helped run the United States Servicemen's Fund in 1969 and 1970 and worked on projects assisting anti-war GIs and WACs at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama.
I worked at an auto parts plant in New Bedford, MA from 1972-1974, then on the staff of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union for the following 13 years. I spent four years as a consultant to labor and environmental groups while I ran an arts project, Public Domain, purchasing the paintings of Ralph Fasanella from private collectors and placing them in museums and public buildings. Following that I worked at the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for 18 years, designing and producing large campaigns against rogue corporations. I now have my own consulting practice, called Campaigns for Social Justice.
I constantly look back to my time in the Southern Civil Rights Movement for inspiration and concrete lessons for building movements that empower communities and counter global corporations running amok.
And I value my time working for Matt Herron. Our time together in the SNCC darkroom inspired my life-long love of photography. I am currently showing my photographs of Mothers and Daughters, and other portraits, in galleries and public spaces in several countries.