James F. Nauen

SNCC, 1964, Mississippi
15 Old Main Street
Carver, MS 02330
Email: jfnauen@gmail.com
Phone: 508-866-5568

I arrived in Jackson without any planning or contact, was gently steered to COFO headquarters, and after very brief interview, was dispatched to the Cleveland, MS office under Morton Thomas.

I took part in various voter education projects, speaking in churches to encourage attempts to register, posting notices in support of the MFDP vote on Monday just before Election Day, and in general tried to encourage the local residents to stand up to the white-dominated local governments.

In Rosedale that Monday, I was walking down the main shopping street, asking people to take a ballot, and fill it out, then put it in the Ballot Box which I was also carrying. I was accosted by a local policeman, told that I was being arrested for littering; I replied that I wasn't littering, officer said, "Well, you re giving papers to people, and some of them are throwing them on the ground." I responded, "Arrest them, then," "Don't get smart with me, kid, if you're not out of here in 15 minutes, I'm arresting you."

He drove away. I continued out handing out what were blank ballots for the MFDP vote, as to how people would vote if they could.

About 10 minutes later I looked back, and saw that the cop was approaching me again. I thought if I could get rid of the evidence, it would be okay! Just ahead of me, getting out of a fairly new car, was a young black man, with hair neatly trimmed and a self-assured posture. I walk up to him, and said, "Friend, can you help me?"

He paused, then asked "What's your problem?"

"I have to get this box and these papers out of sight." He took a quick look, smiled and popped open the huge trunk of his car; I immediately tucked everything in there and we closed the lid of the trunk.

By now the cop is on my butt, and yelling, "I'm arresting you for littering! Get over here." But I took off, running crosslots up to the house where my contact lived, and where I would be picked up. The cop is following, up the parallel streets toward the edge of town. As I come into the back yard of the contact's house, the cop pulls into the driveway, and starts to get out of the cruiser. The older lady, my contact, comes out on the deck of the house and starts yelling at the officer, asking him what the thought he was doing. I thought — well, we are both gonna get shot here. But he slumped down, stopped yelling, and said, "Can we talk?"

What followed was a very satisfying hour and a half discussion of the economics of farming cotton in the Delta. He said, "Look, I'm a poor white, and I m no better off than the black folks around here, only I'm white. In order to rent land to sharecrop cotton on from the wealthier white landowners, I had to agree to take the job of policeman, and keep the black people down. I don t want to do this, but I have to."

I was floored to find that the root of this was economic. He then said, "Now I want you to go back to your group, and not bother me again, and we won t say nothing about this."

And to my contact, he said, "And don t you worry, there won't be no problems with your business neither." It turned out that she was selling bootleg liquor in a legally dry county, but that a portion of the proceeds went to the County Sheriff (of Bolivar County) so everything was okay.

In addition, the white officer had fathered a child by her granddaughter, and if this became publicly known he would lose his job, as 'race-mixing' was a crime in Mississippi.

This was just one of the more memorable incidents in my Mississippi experience.


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