How I came to stay for the summer of 1965 in Bullock County, AL: As the head of the Marquette University group Students United for Racial Equality, I was actively involved in putting a group together for the SCLC-SCOPE project. I was really only going down for the training and orientation. I had no plans to spend the summer in the South. It just seemed to be a great opportunity to see, and hear, and talk with some of the leaders of the civil rights movement.
I remember Hosea Williams had a bunch of us — including Nathaniel Harwell and Mark Lewis — unloading a truck full of folding chairs for some meeting or another. While we were working, they were trying to talk me into staying. At some point, Fr. Jim Groppi drove up. He was leaving to drive back to Milwaukee, and I was expecting to ride back with him. Jim apparently thought it was a good idea for me to stay with the group, so as Nathaniel and Mark held me back from jumping out of the truck, Jim tossed my little duffle bag into the truck bed and drove away. Not having the money to find my way back on my own and, honestly, feeling wanted by my friends, I stayed — not grumpy about it, but resigned.
Several random memories:
Dan Boylan from Pasadena CA became known to us as "California Dan". I was just "Dan." California Dan didn't stay around for the whole summer. At some point he decided he would have more fun with SNCC in Mississippi. That was just as well, because as well as speaking at mass meetings he had a penchant for doing street speaking in Midway or and the county seat of Union Springs, advocating for racial integration, etc. That didn't endear him to the locals; nor to we who would very much rather stay under the radar. I remember hearing at some point that a group of local thugs were driving around looking for some white boy named Dan, who was known to hang around town agitating. I wasn't too happy about that because, by that time, California Dan had flown the coop and I was the only Northerner white boy named Dan in the area.
Nathaniel and I stayed with Ed and Annie Hall somewhere near Midway AL most of the time. I remember a few nights with a man known as a "jack-leg" preacher in town (perhaps Union Springs) and a couple nights with an elderly man whose name I cannot remember. What I do remember was that he didn't sleep much. He stayed up all night listening to gospel music. That meant Nathaniel and I didn't sleep much either. But I became a big fan of the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
Nathaniel and I spent most of our days walking the dusty roads of the county talking to black residents about registering to vote. When we found anyone who was interested, we passed the name on to — I believe — to Peggy Rozga (Groppi) and Barbara McEnaney, who would actually take people to register. I remember it was usually hot, occasionally rainy; but invariably we encountered wonderful hospitality among those we visited. There always seemed to be a glass of homemade lemonade on offer.
A car was not always available to pick us up after our day of canvassing so we would hitch-hike back to the Hall's, if the walk was too far. Nathaniel was black; I am white. That presented something of a challenge, hitch-hiking in rural Alabama at night. We couldn't both stand out on the side of the road with our little interracial thumbs out. If I stood out alone, a local white might stop. That wouldn't work because most whites didn t want these outside agitators in the county and wouldn't be happy to pick me up, let alone Nathaniel. The obvious solution was for Nathaniel to stand out on the side of the road with his thumb out, and with me hiding in the bushes or the ditch. Whites were not likely to stop for him, of course. But, when a local black person stopped, Nathaniel would talk with the person and I would come out of the shrubbery. If that didn't scare the whatever out of them, we had a ride. One young woman I remember, a teacher, was wonderfully accommodating and fearless.