Miss. Freedom Summer Project Part 12

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Wednesday.
We said good-bye to Doug Marr who was returning to Conn. Wish we’d had more time together. Doug graduated from seminary the same year I did. (1963) He’s a person you really enjoy sitting down & exchanging with.

Later in the morning Roger & I drove Lisa over to the Gulf station where she was to catch a bus for home. She’s thinking seriously of returning to Shaw in September so she decided to leave early to clear up her affairs. This would mean giving up a teaching position at Radcliffe should she decide to return. (Shaw – or rather the Negroes here really get in your blood.)

While we were waiting for her bus, Roger went over to take a picture of the Laundromat next door. This is divided into 2 sections with WHITE and COLORED in large letters on the windows. A woman was driving by & saw Roger. She stopped & went into the gas station. A moment later the owner, a short little Italian of 50ish came over to the car. “What do you mean taking that picture?” “I didn’t take it.” “Who did?” “This man did,” pointing to Roger. “What do you people do, going up & down the highway taking pictures of people’s businesses?” “We aren’t going up & down – we took one of yours.” “You shouldn’t take pictures of my place.” “Why not? It’s a free country, isn’t it?” this from Roger. “Sure it is, but you can’t take a picture of my place without asking me.” “Well, we did. There’s no law against it.” “Well I you should ask me first. You shouldn’t take any pictures of my place. I own it.” “Why shouldn’t we?” I asked. “Are you ashamed of it?” This seemed to stop him for a moment. He replied, “Since you people have come down here from the North you’ve made me feel ashamed!”

Don’t know how much his words expressed his deeper feelings – I only hope that they do. If so there is hope for the white Southern generation so full of hatred & violence now.

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I wrote about this to my wife Sandra, and she replied, “Ed, you & Roger are men & don’t now much about laundry. Those signs don’t mean “people,” but “clothing.”

The bus pulled in, Lisa bid us good-bye, and we started to drive away. Our “friend,” his name was Bilbo Sabbatini, was talking with a police officer, pointing to us & taking down our license number.

Friday afternoon, Judy, Roger & I went to Ruleville at the invitation of Mrs. Hamer to a celebration of the 2nd Anniversary of the Freedom Movement there. A large crowd had gathered & the meeting soon began with the singing of freedom songs: again we were led by Mrs. Hamer. What a marvelous voice.

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The “Freedom Meeting Church” in Ruleville. Note the smudge from the firebomb recently hurled against it. This was meant more to warn & scare the people–the local firemen, apparently ready nearby, actually came & put out the flames. This was unheard of–more than 30 black churches were burnt to the ground that summer!

The day was dedicated to Charles McClaren, the Project Director in Ruleville, who as a SNCC staff man had come there two years before all alone to organize the Movement. Mrs. Hamer and another lady gave brief talks, and then the food was taken out. There were no tables to place it on; the Negro churches are so inadequately equipped in comparison to ours up North. There was a lot of confusion, but everyone was fed. Our plates were heaped with chicken, meat loaf, potatoes, salad, & cake & pie. The ladies of Ruleville had lived up to their reputations.

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Judy & I, both with the Shaw Freedom Project, talk with Mrs. Hamer during the celebration.

During the festivities the Sheriff drove up & asked for Fannie Lou. She came out & was served an injunction, (We had heard that morning that a court at the request of the states at tourney general had issued an injunction against the FDP. When we asked her if this were the injunction, she replied, “Yes. It’s just a scrap of paper. It don’t mean anything. I’ll be in Atlantic City even if I have to go by myself!”

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The man in the hate behind the car is the Sheriff, & you can see Mrs. Hamer & Charles McClaren as well.

Several of us had an interesting conversation with Charles McClaren. He said that the sheriff was one of the better ones of Miss., that he could go in & talk with him. He was a politician first & a segregationist 2nd. He discussed the situation with him, & Charles told him that he should think about hiring Negro deputies & prepare for the time when Negroes would gain their rights. Surprisingly, the sheriff claimed that he had thought about it & discussed it – that one day he would.

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During dinner the papers are passed around for all who want to read them.

After everyone had eaten, the children gathered outside in a large circle & began to play games. I’ve never seen children join in so quickly & orderly. They really enjoyed what they were doing & needed no supervision. They played a wide variety – some, such as Drop the Handkerchief, I knew, most I didn’t. Many required singing & words in a kind of chanting. We watched for a while & then drove back.

That evening Joe Carter & his wife (I’d gone out earlier in the day to see them but they were gone) came over to the Center. We’d prepared affidavits for them to sign concerning their treatment at the registrar’s office and, in Joe’s case, by Officer Jenkins. I can’t help but like Joe – so quiet & unassuming. He doesn’t seek any pity though his condition might warrant it – 8 children a wife, & no job. They do have a garden, but this will not help them in the winter. The winters here can be very hard on the Negro in Miss. Often dropping below freezing, the cold is scarcely held back by the wood fires built in rusty stoves & crumbling fireplaces. There is almost no work, as everything is dependant upon cotton. Some federal surplus food is available, but this means standing in long lines for a pittance. When you talk with Joe & so many others like him, you get to feel pretty depressed & helpless. No education, no money nothing but his two hands & strong body. But it’s a body covered with a dark skin, & this makes his plight all the worse.

Next time we drive out to see where the local Klan is meeting, and on the way back experience what could have been a dangerous encounter at a ags station.

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