Starkville & Oktibbeha
Three Voices on Horror, Defiance and Love
Ron Bridgeforth worked for SNCC in Starkville, Mississippi from the summer of 1964 through the Spring of '65. He was a student at Knoxville College in Tennessee when he was recruited to work in voter registration. His family was terrified, and the college administration made it clear that any student who joined SNCC would not be welcome back. But of course, like so many others, he went anyway. From 1965 through the end of 1966 Ron worked through the San Francisco Friends of SNCC office, educating, fundraising and organizing.
In the beginning there were two of us, myself and Steve Fraser, who were assigned to Starkville, the home of Mississippi State University. We had contact information for one local person, store owner, Sidney Lomax, and a WATS line number to keep us connected to the Jackson COFO office, in case of emergencies. For our first few weeks in Mississippi, we lived in the Columbus Freedom House and we would be dropped off in Starkville in the mornings, where we would spend the day talking to people and looking for a place to live and work. After a few weeks, we were able to establish a place to live and open a COFO office, and I became a SNCC Project Director. I was nineteen.
In some ways, I came to feel that my most important accomplishment as part of the first wave of what the local community folks often call "Freedom Riders," who came to Oktibbeha County and actually stayed there, was that we survived. That was the lesson that we taught that first summer of 1964. You could stand up. You could speak your mind. And you could survive in Mississippi. However, in the end, I have always felt that Mississippi changed me far more than I changed it.