Mary Ellen Johnson

SNCC, 1964, Mississippi
Current Residence: Sacramento, CA
Phone: 916.399.1999

Having been raised in rural Northern California in a community comprised primarily by European Americans and schooled in a very small public school, I grew up believing that everyone experienced the same freedoms and privileges! I was so naive then.

At the age of 18 I moved to Sacramento, California and began to experience knowledge and people from many areas awakening my thirst for more information. At age 22, 1963, I found that many people were not being allowed to register to vote in numerous states based solely on their skin color, ability to pay poll tax, ability to read and having ancestors from Africa.

I discovered an organization, Student Non-violating Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was actively involved in trying to assist in registering these individuals to be able to vote in this land of the free! I joined SNCC and shortly thereafter joined two other individuals, Hardy Frye and Eleanor Argon, on a trip to Holly Springs, Mississippi to assist in registering individuals to vote.

The three of us left in a donated Volvo which broke down in Chowchilla, California. The repairs forced us to spend the night. We rented a room at a local motel (not A class) and when Hardy went to inquire about the car the motel manager came and told Eleanor and I that Hardy should not walk around the motel complex as some people would not like it. When Hardy returned we told him what the manager had said and Hardy immediately went out into the courtyard and waited around for at least 20 minutes! This was in CALIFORNIA not MISSISSIPPI!

Since Eleanor could not drive, Hardy and I drove night and day. Hardy said that many people would be watching for civil rights workers and would be watching for inter-racial groups. Hardy said they would use any method, including deadly force, to stop us from our journey. Hardy decided that in order to divert attention, when he drove, I would be in the back seat covered up with a blanket as Eleanor (a Hispanic American) could pass as his light skinned wife and when I drove and he was covered up, she could pass as my maid. I remember once when we stopped for gasoline in the deep south and it was my turn to be in the back seat, I was extremely frightened that my red/blonde hair might give us away. I breathed a sigh of relief as we drove off.

When we reached Holly Springs, Mississippi, we went to a house which was being used as headquarters for all the civil rights organizations. The house was within walking distance of Rust College. It was during this time that many of the "white establishment" had to testify at Rust College.

Most of the females stayed at the headquarters passing out literature, encouraging individuals to attempt to register and cooking meals for everyone. As a European american, Hardy stated that I was NEVER to go out in public with just one African american male as he would be killed and I would be raped and probably killed too. I remember going to a grocery store, in a racially and gender mixed group, being yelled at by "white establishment" types "Nigger lover". I remember the hostile stares when we went to the courthouse in an attempt to register individuals to vote.

I was not in Holly Springs for a lengthy period as I had fallen in love with the man I sold my volkswagon bug to just before leaving Sacramento. He is African American and I have a wonderful son and two grandsons from this man. We are divorced but he continues to be a part of my life.

My experiences and involvement in the civil rights movement changed my life and continues to influence my major life decisions. Thank you to all of the individuals who educated by example, supported with love and sacrificed entirely!

"Copywrite © (Mary Ellen Johnson) Maryellen Crason 2012"


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