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Sep 15

Mississippi Newsletter January 10, 1965

Viki's mother Bobbye Ortiz came to visit and made herself useful

January 10, 1965

Dear friends:

We went into the center of town the other day with Mrs Bell, our landlady:  tax paying time had rolled around again, and we drove her to City Hall and then to the County Court House.  Both coming and going our ride was uneventful; upon our arrival at 1208 Trinity, Mrs. Bell said quietly to Bobbye:  “Well, we weren’t arrested.”  Mississippi 1965 …..

There are more policemen in this city, in this state, than we have ever seen elsewhere.  Or maybe we just keep our eyes more peeled here.  Nowhere are there such vulgar, hateful, slit-eyed, slack-mouthed faces, dangling cigars or emptying bulging cheeks of red-brown tobacco juice.  “Jackson’s finest” certainly speak badly for the city, in terms of looks as well as everything else.  And their brothers, the Highway Patrol, the State troopers, the Sheriff and his boys, even the firemen could all easily join them in the same lynch mob scene, with or without uniforms.  Driving is one of the more unpleasant activities here…

Church going is still a chore.  This morning’s sermon was as contrived and mechanical, as were the “Amen, brother”s, and the “Yes Lord”s, as the previous ones we have heard.  An an interminable length of time seemed to be spent talking about and collecting money.  Such experiences invariably make us ask who our real enemies are.

Freedom School continues, sometimes good, sometimes frustrating.  With the little kids, we have trouble keeping attention fixed on one subject for more than five minutes.  But talking about famous Negroes is always a good topic to start with, and always provides interesting tangents:

Van Palmer (9) asks with a pained and quizzical look on his face why T.V. doesn’t have all programs about Negroes, because “it’s not fair that we always have to watch shows about white families.”

And it is also little Van who offers his mother’s name as that of a famous Negro — no misjudgement at all, though he is her son, for Mrs. Palmer is one of the most vital, militant and articulate women in Jackson, and is likely to be nationally known within the next few years.

Our frustrations arise often because of what the students don’t know, because of what they have not been taught in school. Our request for an essay stating all they knew about Reconstruction yielded from some, page-long writings of pretty well-thought-out information, and from others, something like the following:  “It began after the Civil War when most of the buildings had been destroyed by the Civil War, when they started to rebuild.”

Or like this:  “ … what love the ex-slaves and ex-masters had of each other was also lost.  And hate took the place of love during this period called Reconstruction.”

It is not surprising to any of us that such a gap exists in these young people’s education, nor that they too have been taught the lies that surround the period of Reconstruction.  We have seen the text books used here;  they are not much worse than those used in California, Chicago, or New York public schools.

But nevertheless, when we realize that often we have to begin with such basic things, and must hold up the study of more advanced or different topics, it is frustrating and depressing.

On the other hand, we also have students, who, somehow, have been able to rise above the mire of Mississippi education and acquire some sort of true perspective on such things as Reconstruction.  It is in these few that we place our hopes for achieving anything during the short period of time we will be here.  Maybe when we leave there will be half a dozen or so local Freedom School teachers who will carry on the schools we have started.

Our library expands almost daily, thanks to generous contributions and lucky finds.  We cannot really yet measure the influence of these books, particularly our “Freedom collection,” on the readers.  We do know that many people are borrowing books, and we can only imagine the changes which will eventually be wrought in these young people because they have read about Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, W.E. B. Du Bois, John Brown, Fidel Castro, Ben Bella, Anne Frank; and when they realize what is happening in Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Algeria, Tanzania; or in Viet-Nam, China, Indonesia and Cambodia; or in Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala or Chile — when they realize what is happening there how will this new information change them and help them to change their country?  It is all so tenuous and intangible, and yet that is so much of the excitement of it all.

Anyway, we must close now.  Many thanks to those of you who have responded so promptly to our frantic pleas for letters and “back home” news.  And to those of you who were able to make monetary contributions, our warmest thanks; our stomachs and the gasoline tank will be full for a bit longer.  However, rent on the library building must be paid, as well as gas, electricity, water and phone bills.  Therefore, anyone who still wishes to contribute should not hesitate to do so!

Yours for freedom,
Viki and Martin (Nicolaus)

Personal mail:  ℅ Mrs. M. Bell
1208 Trinity
Jackson, Miss.

Books, office supplies, etc.:  Jackson Freedom Center
852 Short Street
Jackson 3, Miss.

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