«“I NEVER WILL FORGET” MEMORIES FROM MISSISSIPPI FREEDOM SUMMER For seven years, the University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program ...»
some of them actually stayed at our house. So, that gave me an opportunity to meet some people that were from other places than Mississippi. At the time, the only place I had gone outside the state of Mississippi was Louisiana, so I met some people from different parts of the United States; youngsters, college age. That really made an impression on me because I was able to talk to them and, basically, understand what goes on in their world.
John Tubbs (10) I got a cup of water out of the fountain said, whites. And I was fired for getting water out of a white fountain. And, on my way home, feeling discouraged because it was, at that time, it was like you were less than human, to me. I was walking home, and I met a very good friend of mine, name of Charles Scattergood. And Charlie Scattergood told me, he said, brother, say, where are you going? I said, I'm going home. I just got fired off a job.
He said, what? I said, for drinking out of the wrong water fountain. He said, well, you come home with me [laughter]. We went down to the Freedom School, which was a Baptist school, and he sat down and he talked to me, and that day, I decided to become a member of SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
McKinley Mack (52) And this particular county was—every place and everyone contributed, but Sunflower County was the seat of the Citizen’s Council, the White Citizen’s Council was started right in this town. The whole area was ripe, white, rife with Klan. This was Senator Eastland’s home county. This was an extremely important and pivotal place. Plus, it was the home of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was nothing more than a humble, honest, hard-working, black plantation worker who had it. Had it. She would have told you, there was nothing special about her, but she sure was special.
Bright Winn (3A) Well, they were moving sharecroppers off the plantations. They would wait, 'cause, you know, sharecroppers would work and never get no money. At the end of the year, they owed the boss man, and after they made all of these cotton crops. So Amzie and Dr.
Howard and Medgar Evers started going late at night, like 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and moving these families out. Dr. Howard even built some little houses for them to move in, in Mound Bayou, when they got them.
Margaret Block (6D) When the civil rights people came, Lord, I remember it was the 60s. By then, they would tell us, y’all get in there and lay down, because some of the people came to our house one night. Man, you talk about somebody who’s scared, because I thought they was going to burn our house down, they had just burned Miss Irene’s house and Ms.
Giles and them’s store on Church Street. Man, I thought, man, those folks up in there fixing to get the white folks out of this house, you know [laughter]. We were scared, because that was in 64, 65, when the movement started.
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Betty Campbell (14)
Well, we basically focused on organizing the young people, because the older people, at that time, they really didn't want to get involved. They were afraid of their livelihood; they were afraid of their jobs. They were afraid of being whipped or beaten. So, we really focused up on trying to organize young people to begin to be more actively involved in the civil rights movement during that time. So, we had individuals from other states to come in and they would teach us how to protect ourselves, how to respond to certain situations, and also, in terms of how to get other people involved and doing the things that we needed to do to try to secure some of the rights that we were fighting for, right.
Wardell Walton (106)
13. Two women stand on the porch of a home. Three men, probably Freedom Summer volunteers, are talking to them.
1964. Wisconsin Historical Society.
They would have these marches through Jackson, around the streets of Jackson during the noon hour, most of the day. I was so amazed about how orderly they were and how orderly they had to be, because we would have marches in San Francisco that used to take over Market Street; go do what you want to do, and everybody's making a lot of noise. Traffic is blocked off for your convenience. At this one, you had to stop for everything. You didn't look sideways. You marched two-by-two; you stopped for every red light and stayed on the sidewalk.
Margaret Kibbee (16)
That way, guys in the dormitory—the athletic dormitory—say, hey, man, what kind of town is Indianola? They just bombed a school last night. They just burned a church. They did this. And I just kept hearing about that, and I was very disturbed about it, but at that time, I didn’t see a role that I could play or wanted to play to address that. I kind of felt like there were a handful of people here who were going to deal with that, as well as the people who had come from the outside; the North, the West, the East, to work with the local people. So, I never saw myself as being involved in that. My main concentration was to get an education, get a job, and try to get myself out of poverty. So, I would come home on weekends and sometimes through the week, and there would be people picketing and marching around the courthouse, the library, and different places. I would just watch it. Never got involved. And it was some time later that I realized that I had finished school here and was in my senior year at Mississippi Valley State and was not able to go to the public library.
Carver Randle (24) Women here in the civil rights movement in Mississippi—and I don't think it was necessarily true all over, but it was true here: women would carry on such an important role and had such leadership positions in the civil rights movement in Mississippi; Mrs.
Hamer, Mrs. Gray, Mrs. Devine, they were very important. But you had women throughout in the movement who were important. I was talking to Lenny and Eunice Jenkins, and I remember how important they were and active they were. Wendy Jenkins and I did a lot of canvassing for many hours together, getting people registered to vote, trying to do things. So, women just always played an important part. They made decisions.
Margaret Kibbee (16A) We had a Sunflower County mimeographed brochure, pamphlet of, maybe, eight and a half by eleven, ten, twelve pages, double-spaced which consisted, primarily, of research that had been done by SNCC’s—what can I say? Exceptional research director at the time, Jack Minnis, who dug up a great deal of information about who really owned the large plantations here in Sunflower County and, also, what little industry existed. And, not unlike other parts of the South, it exposed the kind of colonial relationship between the Southern economy and the larger national economy and even international, if you will.
While Senator James Eastland was a large, one of the largest landowners, in the county, the largest landowner was an English company. They owned, I think—I think I do remember the figure, thirty-eight thousand acres which were, I think, mostly in cotton.
“I Never Will Forget” 45
Hershel Kaminsky (25)
Our menfolks was much more fearful than our ladies. And... I’ve gone places where there would be four or five men and twenty-five or thirty ladies talking about the same thing. But the men, as a whole, was either very young, and I don’t say, necessarily, didn’t mind being hurt—I don’t think anyone wants to get hurt. But there was an urge and a necessity thing going on, whereabouts these things needed to be done. There were other people and of other races that was coming in to help, to try and alleviate this problem that we was having here in Mississippi. Some of these people were being killed. And I says to myself, if other people think enough of my freedom to have some of the things which the constitution guarantees us to have in the state of Mississippi—if they’re willing to come here and sacrifice their family life, risk their lives and being killed—and some were—that the least I could do was lend a helping hand and be supportive.
Elmo Proctor (27A) So I think I got a phone call, I got a phone call from Jim Dann at the jail, and he said, go down to the Freedom School, everything’s wide open, they arrested us down there and the car’s there and the key’s there. So I got ready to go and I walked, and it was the longest walk of my life. In my memory, it just seemed like miles, and I remember because... I had already been told that, every time a car comes you have to turn around and look and see, and if there’s a white person in the car you get way off the road because you could expect that they would try to run you down. Every time a car came, I was terrified. Every time I heard a dog bark, I was terrified. And I walked and I walked and I finally got to the Giles grocery store, and I felt like I was being embraced in a family, because then they called other people and we all went down to the Freedom School together. But that walk, in my memory, for thirty years, was the longest walk of my life.
When I came back here in 1994, I realized that the walk was about four blocks. And in my memory, it was such a significant event and such a terrifying event that it had stretched itself out.
Karen Jo Koonan (30)
Then, when the Freedom Summer stuff started happening, I remember Mama and Daddy calling us in and saying, look, this stuff’s going on; we don’t think it’s going to be a problem, but y’all just stay out of the way. Be nice. We don’t like what they’re doing, but be nice, and if something happens, just get out of the way, which is what we did. You know, we talked politics; we’d hear great-grandma and them talking about politics, “I Never Will Forget” 46
[My brother Sam] said, violence begets violence, and if you could show the world that we were nonviolent and just trying to get human rights, then we would have the whole country on our side, rather than just these people down here. That’s why, when he went to Greenwood and he decided to go national, he called it national, CBS. He called them and showed them how he was nonviolent, but yet still they were attacking them over there, like when they shot Jimmy Travis in the head over there.
Margaret Block (39) And being seventeen and doing this type of work here in this town, that was a no-no. But I had to take that chance, you know? I was willing to accept anything come at me, because I was about change. If you don’t take a stand for something better, they’re going to remain the same. Once I did that, and then, like I was telling you, the guys that were visiting here from other states and stuff, we all got together—black and white kids, you know. We all got together, and that was it. Now we are where we are now, because of that. It was an experience for me, education for me, because being a sharecropper— farmer’s child, I never was in the public that much. But, in high school, I was working, I would go and work at the store for school money, you know, stuff like that. Once that happened, now I say, I got to take a different route. It happened, you know.
McKinley Mack (52)
agitators. When I got in there, Lord knows, they thought I was an outside agitator. I asked them, why do you think I’m an outside agitator? You know, I think to myself, they don’t think we’ve got sense enough to do anything? You know. I see that your address is Chicago, Illinois, on my cumulative record. I said, if you would have looked on it, you would have saw that was my mother’s address. You would have seen that I graduated from H.M. Nailor Elementary School and Eastside High School, here in Cleveland, Mississippi. They couldn’t say anything.
Jennifer Buckner (68)
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MASS MEETINGS AND FREEDOM SONGSFreedom Summer volunteers would spread the word about their cause by organizing mass meetings in churches and community centers. In Sunflower County, Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville hosted mass meetings despite the severe danger that resulted from these gatherings.
During the summer of 1964, 37 churches were bombed by white terrorists as a result of their affiliation with the civil rights movement.11 Freedom Songs were a powerful tool that drew reluctant local people to these meetings. Organizers like Hollis Watkins and Margaret Block would alter a few words in a traditional church hymn to make it relevant to the civil rights struggle, and the resulting harmony served as a critical bonding opportunity for a community under siege.
We talked a lot about what was the purpose of the march, and why were they marching, and why were they singing these Freedom Songs. We sung a lot of Freedom Songs in our house at that time, also, while the movement was going on. I also remember one night, when Mama was going to a mass meeting, she took me and Dr. King was there, and he spoke at a church in Cleveland, Mississippi. I’ll never forget that night that he really spoke, it just inspired me so much to see him talking about people fighting for their rights and doing it in nonviolent ways and let justice roll down to everybody.
Gloria Carter Dickerson (12) McAdam, Doug (1988). Freedom Summer. Oxford University Press.
“I Never Will Forget” 49 Brother Christian, who is a member here—or was—his wife is still one of my historians of the church. She keeps me posted on the history. She’s the one that helped us get the plaque put out front. She taught history and was a big part of that movement. She talked about how well-guarded [Martin Luther] King was the day he came and how the corner was blocked off; they were watching who came in and who went out. But St. Paul is a church where we’re trying to live the history, also tell it, so the next generation will know the things that have come down. Very few of our young people are aware that the church and the parsons was shot up in 67, bombed in 68.
Tanya Evans (59) There was a big thrust to organize people for a huge... a large demonstration to attempt to register to vote at the time the Congress was going to open in January of