«“I NEVER WILL FORGET” MEMORIES FROM MISSISSIPPI FREEDOM SUMMER For seven years, the University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program ...»
Several campaigns prefaced the launch of Freedom Summer, including the “Freedom Vote,” organized to demonstrate the eagerness of African Americans to vote in Mississippi, and voter registration drives in McComb, Mississippi that were driven out by Klan violence. SNCC organizers appealed to local leaders throughout Mississippi to train and strategize with Freedom Summer volunteers. Their plan was to restore representation to the black majority in the state through voter registration drives, and to supplement the inadequate public education of the Delta with the alternative curriculum of the Freedom Schools. During this period in the Delta's history, less than seven percent of eligible black adults were registered to vote, and the average school year for Mississippi’s black students was less than 100 days.9 These Freedom Summer projects were met with violent retaliation from white supremacists, and cautious determination from the African American community.
Like I keep telling people, the movement just did not start with Freedom Summer in 64. We were winding stuff up in 64. We had organized, you know. We had more help in 64, but we were always active, we were always activists, like SNCC and SCLC and CORE. We were already here at the time they decided to have the 64 Freedom Summer.
Wynn, Neil A. The African American Experience During World War II. 2011. p. 88.
"Freedom Summer". CORE. 2006. http://www.core-online.org/History/freedom_summer.htm “I Never Will Forget” 32
Margaret Block (6A)
My real first awareness—and I can’t think of the year it happened—was when this little [fourteen]-year-old kid came down from the North, Emmet Till. And there are rumors— and I don’t have anything to substantiate the rumors, whether the rumors were true— that this young kind did a wolf whistle or something, and whites of Mississippi killed that little kid. Like, what in the world can a little kid do by whistling at a white woman or a person, period? The little kid may have not known anymore about what he was doing than I would have known at that age.
Elmo Proctor (27) Then in the 60s, in 59 when people began to ride buses into the South—the Greyhound buses—and the beatings and other things, I wanted to come then and I didn’t have the nerve to come to the South. There’s other ways to put that, but that’s the truth of it. I would have gone with someone but I wouldn’t go by myself. I remember talking to a friend... who was African American. He said, are you crazy [laughter]? Meaning, why in the world would I leave my family to go down there? And I realized that it’s not a journey you make with someone, it’s a journey you make by yourself.
Dennis Flannigan (8)
8. Three people work on a community construction project. All three support a beam while the man in the foreground hammers a nail into it. 1964. Wisconsin Historical Society.
I was involved in little marches, little things we did in the Bay area. So, I was, as a teenager in high school, I was looking forward to either going in the Peace Corps or going in the civil rights movement, and I decided the civil rights movement was more appropriate because that was sort of my job. I mean, that was my duty. This was my country, that was where I could make my contribution. I owed it to straighten things out. I thought I could be of more influence, serve more of a purpose in Mississippi. I wanted to go in 64; I was just getting out of high school, then. But I didn't have the money. It wasn't anything else that kept me from going, so I had to save my money, and I did. So, in 65, I came.
My mother gave me Three Lives for Mississippi, hoping I'd change my mind, but I didn't, so I came.
Margaret Kibbee (16) Dr. Martin Luther King’s record in Mississippi is impeccable. He was frightened to death of Mississippi. Andy Young wrote Bob Moses a letter saying, look, we really don’t want King to come to Mississippi, but, if he comes, make sure there are a lot of tall people... we asked him to come to support the Freedom Election. He comes down, he flies into five cities, he gives speeches, and he supports it. We ask him to support the summer project.
He comes into Mississippi, moves across the state, and he vigorously supports it.
Lawrence Guyot (78-A) I suppose when I was in Seattle, Washington, I had planned to go to the Peace Corps, but I was selected out because I was asking too many questions about Vietnam and about class structure in the United States. They said you’ll have servants in Ethiopia as teachers, teachers have servants. I said nuh-uh, I’m not going to have any servants. I don’t believe in having servants. My mother grew up in an orphanage and she was a servant and I won’t have servants. I was arrogant, twenty-three, twenty-four year old, and so they selected me out. They said maybe it’s the way you wear your hair. I had big hair and I played guitar and I walked around barefoot, it was 1962. So I started to question America at that time. I was living in Seattle so I joined Seattle CORE and we were doing sit-ins and demonstrations just like this for the same reasons, so I was active in Seattle. Then I read in a paper called the National Guardian—no longer exists—about a call for white volunteers, northern volunteers to come down.
Liz Fusco Aaronsohn (21)
I had a psychiatric interview with a psychiatrist in Mount Sinai hospital in San Francisco.
They decided I was just crazy enough to come to Mississippi and not worry anybody else.
They asked me a lot of questions about, could I take orders and directions from someone that had less education? They wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to try to come down there to tell everybody what to do, that I could take directions.
Margaret Kibbee (16) When we signed up, SNCC sent us a list of books to read. Souls of the Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois, Black Like Me... to be read. I took the bus to Oxford, Ohio from San Francisco and I read some of them. In Oxford, Ohio, the training—the hands-on training—was being out on the quad and having to assume the fetal position as people beat you; you know, how to protect yourself. Then, while someone is being beaten, to throw your body on that person’s body to protect them, so that was hands-on training.
The rest of the training was, we had speakers—Bayard Rustin, a noted fellow in that day who had been active for years in the North and the South, and he talked to us about his experiences and his philosophy. I remember a lawyer, a Southern lawyer, talked to us, and he said, now, let’s talk about law and order. You may be within the law, but you are against the order Bright Winn (3)
I remember one night, Medgar Evers was in town and I didn’t know nothing about no Medgar Evers... That night, Dr. Bowell had one of his cars parked at his daddy’s house on Roosevelt Street, he had one at his own house out there on Old Inverness Road...
Well, I saw this kind of tall fellow—I guess he seemed tall to me because I was so short myself—and he got in the backseat of the car. He was laying down in the seat. So I asked Dr. Bowell, why is this man here? You told me to take him down to your daddy’s house so he can switch cars, and use the car there now, but why is he laying down on the seat? He said, you don’t know who that is? I said, no. He said, that Medgar Evers. He said, we’re trying to get him back out of town to Jackson, see. So I want you to drive him from my house down to Roosevelt Street and we can change cars there, and I can drive him to Gadsden.
Charles Featherstone (33)
The reason I came to this part, to the Delta, was in that training, Charles McLaurin—who had not been there for the first week—came and spoke about cars passing him and shooting at him and really terrifying and dangerous things up here. And the beatings that he’d had, and Fannie Lou Hamer spoke of her beatings, and the deadly seriousness of Mississippi.
Dennis Flannigan (8)
I think people have a basic need for community and love and tenderness and stuff like that, there’s always this conflict between opposing forces. I think that the movement came out of a wholesale disgust from the old ways of thinking and doing things, the Eisenhower era; frivolous consumerism, bouffant hairdos, just bullshit... I’ve got to tell you that women in the movement—if there were no women, there would never have been a movement. Never, never, never. You get what I’m saying? Never. Women are so under represented and under respected, I don’t care what movement you’re talking about. The American Indian movement, Wounded Knee. The United Farm Workers in California, I worked with them... Every movement I’ve ever had the honor of working with, women have played huge roles and no credit, virtually no credit.
Allen Cooper (1) But my grandmother, I remember always sitting on the stool in the kitchen doing hair and cooking. When the Freedom Riders came in 59, no, 60, because I left in 1961, I was always sending her money because she was always saying, I’m going to make some sweetbread. I’m going to fry some pies. I’m going to make some soup or something for them, but don’t ever tell anybody about it, because I don’t want them to do the same thing they did to Irene’s house—Irene Magruder’s house was burned; you probably know about that.
Lilly Lavallais (47)
know, being in they sororities and stuff. Some of my friends now be sitting around talking about, oh, what did you pledge Margaret? I tell them all the time I pledged SNCC. They don’t know what I’m talking about, they’re Deltas and AKAs, and I tell them I pledged SNCC, okay.
Margaret Block (6A) So I joined the civil rights movement here, joined Charles McLaurin and a lot of other people here, and we started doing a lot of protesting and stuff. That’s where I really started to work, you know, because I saw a positive thing happening. That’s when we decided that voter registration was a thing to change, that the word, vote, means more than people think it means. I went to jail for that: ain’t no telling how many times. I was all over Sunflower County, getting people to register to vote and stuff, and even went up to a little town north of here called Doddsville, not knowing that little town was owned by one of our senators, Senator Eastland. That, up there, I went to jail for that. Then we would go to restaurants; couldn’t never go in and sit down and eat food, you always had to go to the back door. I went to jail for that. So, then it got to where, on the weekends, to make sure I wouldn’t be in protesting places, they would come and pick me up and take me to jail anyway, whether I did anything or not.
McKinley Mack (52)
10. A role-playing activity during a Freedom Summer training session. 1964. Wisconsin Historical Society.
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THE SUNFLOWER COUNTY MOVEMENTSunflower County is celebrated as the birthplace of blues icons B.B. King and Charlie Patton, but it is also the seat of the White Citizens Council, founded by Robert B. Patterson of Indianola in 1952 to enforce segregation and inequality through economic coercion. Fortunately, Sunflower County was also the home of community organizers like Bernice White, Cora Fleming, Alice Giles, and, most famously, Fannie Lou Hamer, a middle-aged sharecropper whose work encompassed the goals of Freedom Summer, and whose actions led her to be fired from the plantation where her family lived and worked for nearly two decades. Hamer became a powerful organizer for the civil rights movement in Sunflower County, and a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Women like Ms. Hamer and Ms. Irene Magruder were some of the first people in Sunflower County to embrace Freedom Summer volunteers like Margaret Kibbee, Bright Winn, & Alan Cooper and provide a safe place for them to sleep, and to carry out the "necessarily slow and patient work," of voter registration. 10 SNCC was about empowering local leaders... we didn’t create E.W. Steptoe or Hartman Turnbow or Fannie Lou Hamer. We discovered them, enhanced their skills, put them in contact with one another, and started operations that they could grow in. That’s why we build a foundation of—some people go in to organize people. We go in to organize with people, to empower with people. To get people to understand that the greatest asset we had in this state was the people themselves; their churches, their religious institutions, their social institutions: the Elks, the Masons... and that’s what we did.
Lawrence Guyot (78-A) Well, in our case, Mrs. Magruder was the first to let us in, yes. Single woman, elderly. She let people in. Oscar Giles and Mrs. Giles, together, let people in. It probably, if I can ring my memory, was more often a woman head of household that first let us in. There may be a sociological reason for that, and I am not a sociologist, but there may be, in that, the black men of this area were always at threat of being lynched. You know? Women were not at threat of being lynched, that was not the tradition. So if a black woman stood up An expression used by Bob Moses, quoted in Hogan, Wesley C. 2007. Many minds, one heart: SNCC's dream for a new America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. P. 387.
“I Never Will Forget” 41
I think how quickly we were welcomed. We came to church for a meeting and we were found. That, if you think about it, this is Mississippi, where you’ve been subjugated enough to—a man across the street, an older man when I was leaving, came over and cried, and he said he remembered when he’d been fixing his Model T which had a flat tire, and white people drove by and just hit him as he was just—swerved out of the way to hit him. That was the Mississippi of fear and violence and hate. We arrived, and in a sense, with almost a blink of the eye... even more compelled by this, I think about it now, people reached out.
Dennis Flannigan (8)