Sandra Watts

CORE COFO 1964-65 Mississippi
Current Residence: Lakeview, OR

I had just graduated from College at the University of Oregon. I left right after that with another student, Mary Ellickson. We were in the second group for training at Oxford. Shortly after we arrived, news came of the disappearance of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. I overheard Bob Moses whispering that he knew something terrible had happened to them.

I was assigned to Canton and went into Mississippi alone on a bus. I had never seen segregated facilities before. I stayed in Canton for awhile, and was then assigned to a Freedom School in the rural area. I lived with an older couple.

I was then asked to move to the Meridian office where I became acquainted with Barbara Chaney. Together we later moved to the Philadelphia Office. While in Meridian I was arrested and spent 6 days in jail for burglary. (It is too long a story to tell here and I was released once my CORE lawyer got to my case by pleading to a misdemeanor of willful trespass. I will say that I had my own little hunger strike for the six days.)

I was present at the arraignments of the nineteen KKK'ers who were charged with federal civil rights violations. I lived with a family in Philadelphia. When they arrested the man of the house, I used to carry his wife up to the jail to visit him. Cecil Price, the infamous Deputy Sheriff would come out of the jail and stare at me while he was patting his gun. I never took my eyes off of him, but it was very intimidating.

I stayed beyond Freedom Summer working in Philadelphia. I was the first white female worker in that area and it caused the whites to go crazy. I remember one night I was in the office and the District Attorney (County Attorney) came to the office, asked for me and told me that I was going to be arrested the next day by Sheriff Rainey and his Deputy Cecil price. It scared me to death, but I went to work the next day, waiting for them to come. I have never been scared in my entire life, but I was not going to back down from these murderers. I was not arrested, and found out later that the Neshoba County authorities called my little hometown in Oregon and talked with the Chief of Police to try to find something on me. He told them to leave me alone.

As every person who participated in this Project, it changed my life. I went home where I had a terrible time for awhile, thinking that every car that went by was a police coming to get me. I did some teaching for a short period of time and then applied to Law School at the University of Oregon. My main motivation was to know enough to keep myself out of jail. My career since then has been working as a private criminal defense lawyer and also working for Indian Tribes. I have worked with California Indian Legal Services, with Navajo Legal Aid and Defender and with the Blackfeet Tribe. I have also been a Federal Indian Probate Judge and for the last six years have been working with the Blackfeet Tribe again as their lead lawyer.

My world view has been shaped by my experience in Mississippi. Even in my older years now, I have never and will never back down from the lessons I learned from CORE. I see that you have included George Raymond on your list of Fallen Heroes. I worked with George and wish that you would have a biography on him.


© Copyright
(Labor donated)