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Sep 15

Mississippi Newsletter February 19, 1965

Viki with one of the books in our library that wasn't in the nearby college library (DuBois' Black Reconstruction)

1208 Trinity
Jackson, Miss
Feb. 19, 1965

Dear Friends,

We enclose this time a flyer which we wrote for distribution to Jackson students, but which we thought you would find interesting.  Last Tuesday we travelled to Issaquena county to get first-hand information — the press has blacked it out completely — and came away very impressed by the importance of these events.  We plan to spend more time in the weeks to come in close contact with Issaquena, and will be able to give more first-hand accounts.

The past few weeks have been busy.  For a while during late January, Martin was out of commission with an infected, impacted, unerupted wisdom tooth, which had to be pulled.  When we returned to our duties, we were most pleased to find that during out absence the Freedom Schools and the Freedom Library had carried on in fine style.

As white northerners, and as teachers, we know that our greatest triumphs occur in our absence.  There was no one to “teach” Freedom School but the students themselves. There was no one to keep the library functioning but the members and the librarian.  We are most proud to report that our “students” hardly need us any more, that the library can pretty well function without us!  We brag about it.  It is one of the sure signs of success and progress.

The library is a source of special hope.  Although, unfortunately, no one has yet committed himself or his group to send the Jackson Project five or ten dollars every week for our librarian’s subsistence, she can be found every afternoon at 2:30 in the midst of a maelstrom of little kids eagerly checking out and returning books.  Half an hour later, the older students are let out of school and arrive in their turn; the Freedom Shelf is of interest to them.

Most importantly, Wednesday a couple of Jackson State Teachers’ College (for Negroes) students came to us in search of books documenting racial inequality in education — and we were able to help with no less than eleven titles.

These two were fascinated by the Freedom Shelf.  Of course, they said, Jackson State has a library, and the library has books about Negro history, but not these!  They gave the impression that their library censored everything except Booker T. Washington & George Washington Carver.  They promised to bring their friends.

More than 130 people have joined the library in the barely two months since we opened the door on half-bare shelves.  Many of you, our friends, deserve the credit for this progress.  A score of publishers generously sent free copies of their books.  In some cases, when house policy forbid sending free books, individual editors have paid for the titles we requested out of their own pockets.  Friends have robbed their own shelves to help us.  Others gave money to buy new paperbacks, and for records of Freedom sonmgs (we now have a record player).

We wish everyone could be with us as we drive through the neighborhood some afternoon: all the myriads of little kids know us and our car, and waving & shouting & laughing they escort us along the street.  Now even their parents, many of them frightened of all contact with COFO workers, remembering uncountable incidents, slowly soften up, wave at us, stop to talk politics with us.  Through the children we shall reach the parents.

There has been plenty of other activity.  Last Sunday we attended the first Freedom Radio Assembly at Tougaloo College nearby.  Delegates — all Negro, most of them farmers — from more than 20 counties sat and discussed ways and means of setting up a radio station which would broadcast the truth, and let the voice of Freedom be heard on the air, instead of the standard commercial and racist garbage which holds the monopoly here. How many places in the USA, besides New York and San Francisco, can boast of such a station?

The FDP office at 852 Short Street

At its coming State Convention this Sunday, the Freedom Democratic Party will probably discuss, among other things, the American intervention in the Vietnamese civil war.  Quite possibly, the convention will adopt a resolution criticizing American foreign policy in this area.

Every Mississippi Negro to whom we’ve talked about Vietnam asks the same question:  how come America can send troops to Vietnam, and not to Mississippi?  How can the government go about pretending to defend “freedom” in Vietnam and yet not lift a finger to stop freedom from being trampled underfoot in Mississippi?  No, the war is not popular here.

Among the whites it is another question.  It is crystal-clear that the newspapers have succeeded in making most whites think that the so-called Vietcong is nothing more than an especially uppity brand of “Nigrahs.”  The editorial cartoons always depict the “enemy” with curly hair, broad, flat noses, etc.

Mrs. Hazel T. Palmer

In this regard, it would be a valuable contribution if some of our friends who are especially interested in this question could send whatever informative material they can spare to the following address:  Mrs. Hazel T. Palmer, 852 Short St., Jackson; perhaps together with a personal note.

These days, every time one sees two or three people together, it’s likely to be some kind of public hearing on the civil rights question.  The Freedom Democratic Party has just completed its 40 days of taking public depositions dealing with the denial of the right to vote, and now attorneys for the racist congressmen whom we are challenging are beginning their 40 days.

At the same time the US Civil Rights Commission has paraded into town, with unparalleled fanfare and falderah.  We heard FDP attorneys grill ex-governor Barnett for eight hours — a fantastic experience.

The man who barred the door at Oxford, Mississippi, to James Meredith’s entrance, steadfastly denied that he had ever had any knowledge of any Negro who was dissatisfied with the condition of the state!  Question after question he refused to answer.  Had he been accused of “subversive” idea (or indeed of any kind of ideas), his refusal to answer would have cost him dearly!

During the FDP hearings, neither cameras nor tape recorders were permitted.  The US CRC hearings, by contrast, were a real circus, complete with live TV coverage.

Who among us can match the courage of these poor farmers and laborers from the Black Belt who stood before the Commission to accuse their oppressors?

A man from Carroll County remembered that his father had been wounded and his uncle killed for trying to vote in 1880, and that his father received another wound for the same offense twelve years later, and so on, brutality after brutality, decade after decade, to this day.  And yet he spoke!

It is slowly becoming more obvious that the 1964 Summer Project left a deep gash in the racist power structure of the state. Inadvertently, a well-kept secret is leaking out: the state’s economy has been seriously hurt by its reputation for terrorism and violence.  Investors (remember, the state from one point of view, is no more than a cheap-labor colony at the service of the North) are scared off by racial unrest.

And so Mississippi is changing its tune.  It has decided to spend some 30 million dollars for public relations to improve its “Image.”  Now Governor Johnson, Mayor Thompson, Senator Eastland publicly denounce violence, counsel acceptance of the civil rights bill, ask for “The same harmony between the races which has always characterized the state of Mississippi.”  No one is taken in by these protestations; still, there are now forces at work which may compel the governor to keep his word.

For example:  this week, all-white, privately-endowed Millsaps College in Jackson created banner headlines by announcing that it was voluntarily desegregating.  The week before, we received a call from three Millsaps students who wanted to talk to us.  We invited them to the Project, together with a number of Freedom School students.

They came:  three whites born in the Deep South (one in Jackson, visiting us without the knowledge of his parents) sat across the table from all of us and talked about the need for finding out more about one another.  We invited them to Freedom School.  They came again.

Awkwardly at first, a dialogue between eleven Negro high school students and three white college students began.  That was a week ago.

Already next week, these Millsaps students are sponsoring an organizational workshop of SSOC, the Southern Students Organizing Committee, an offspring of SNCC.  And so it goes.

If all of us do not give up the struggle, if we don’t let the cold, long winters discourage us and the hot, long summers frighten us, we will live to see a different America.

Yours for Freedom,
Viki and Martin Nicolaus

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