The civil rights movement was a unifying force for all persons in the 1960's. My personal involvement in the civil rights movement has been a defining force in my life.
Even though we, as volunteers, were an important factor in making our democratic system a reality for disenfranchised people, the real heroes are those who lived in the communities we were privileged to serve.
The real tribute should be to those men, women, and children whose commitment to democratic ideals became a reality.
I began active involvement with the movement in 1963 with the March on Washington. I was a participant in the SNCC Chapter at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. In addition to going to the march, we also targeted businesses in Carbondale who were discriminating on the basis of race.
In 1964, I worked for a while in the SNCC New York office. I soon went to Mississippi, going first to Canton. George Raymond was the no nonsense director of the Canton Project. He made it very clear that we were in a war armed only with nonviolent tactics and our Constitution.
I was sent to the Valley View Project in rural Madison County. We operated freedom schools and voter registration projects. But the most important and most successful project involved the farmers of Madison County. 60% of the farmland was owned by black farmers, but they had no say in crop allotments or other farming policies through federal programs. When I left the Valley View Project in December of 1964, black farmers had representation on the governing board. Our focus in Mississippi during the summer and fall of 1964:
Freedom Schools: Remedial education for children and adults was offered at most projects across the state.
Voter Registration: Challenge the State of Mississippi voter registration laws, including literacy tests and poll taxes.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party: The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was organized statewide to give black citizens a platform to challenge candidates in local and statewide elections as well as seeking recognition at the Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1964.
Empowering Farmers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture held elections in each county for representatives to the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), which administered federal programs to farmers. In the fall of 1964, the first black representatives ran for this board and were elected.
In the Spring of 1965, the Selma-Montgomery march was having trouble getting over the bridge from Selma to Montgomery. After national attention was focused on Selma, thousands of citizens descended upon Selma and made preparations for the march. The march was carried off, although Viola Liuzo of the Detroit Womens Garmet Workers Union lost her life.
The atmosphere in Selma was far different from my experiences in Mississippi. The Selma police knew they were outnumbered. Chuck Neblett and I crawled up to several police cruisers and placed bumper stickers on them proclaiming support for the civil rights movement. If they saw us, they never said anything.