I worked as a volunteer with the Delta ministry in Greenville, Mississippi in the spring of 1965 while on a leave of absence from college. I had taken the leave because I felt lost at school, without goals and (I thought) friends, and was performing poorly. I now recognize I was depressed.
My participation in the movement was a great help to me personally, and I hope of some help to the people of Greenville. The most notable projects I participated in were the picketing and legal actions against the Mohasco Carpet Mill, which refused to hire black women, and in the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (MFLU), a short lived effort to organize tractor drivers and day laborers on cotton plantations. I reviewed all the articles on the passage of the bond issue for the carpet mill in the Delta Democrat times for Henry Aronson, of the LDF, who eventually filed suit against the company and got a negotiated settlement that resulted in jobs for black women.
As a fresh faced young and white college kid, I was picked to deliver the subpoenas for the case in the white neighborhoods where the executives for the company lived, which went smoothly. Less smooth was a night driving home to a rural area two women who had come to Greenville for a meeting of the MFLU on a strike of day laborers trying to make more than $3 a day hoeing cotton. After leaving one woman off at her house, we were stopped by two state police cars, one in front and one behind. They came over and shined flash lights into the car and let us go. They were looking for the woman we had left off, who saw what happened and hid in an orchard tree behind her house escaping arrest.
I remember vividly all the songs we sang everyday on the picket line, the sense of purpose we had, and learning that people who had a lot less freedom and opportunity than I did had the same basic aspirations and took joy in life when they had the chance.
My draft board didn't feel fighting for freedom at home was good enough so I had to leave Mississippi because of the draft.
It helped me decide on medicine for a career and continued involvement in social issues including residence in a half way house for the mentally ill back at college, work with the Student Health Organization free clinic in medical school, marching on Washington against the Vietnam War in 1969, finally being recognized as a conscientious objector by the national appeal board in 1972.
I was active with Physicians for Social Responsibility during the cold war years, and working for mental health parity in Indiana with the Indiana Psychiatric Society.
I am currently president of Hoosiers Concerned about Gun Violence. Having retired from psychiatric practice, I have had time to be active as a fellow and neighborhood team leader with the Obama campaign this summer.
As you may be able to tell, the changes in me from participation in the movement did more for me than I did for it.
I see Henry Aronson on this role but wish I saw Laurice Walker, Warren McKenna, Thelma Barnes, David Novick, Vince Farrar, Pat Vail and many of the people of Greenville who risked a lot by their activities in the movement.