Sep 15

Mississippi Newsletter November 10, 1964

Nov. 10, 1964
Well, we’re finally getting to work, in a manner of speaking, and if things continue the way they’ve started out, it should be a terrific year.
So far we have one Freedom School class going — about thirty high school students, all bright and eager to talk.  It’s not a highly organized class, but a discussion ____[1] is good because it lets the kids speak and articulate all the things they’ve been thinking and that one one has, till now, been interested in hearing.We discuss many things, mostly centered around the race question, democracy, freedom, Uncle Toms etc.
It’s incredible how much experience can teach you — what I mean is that the fact these kids have had such a rough time so consistently has taught them not only in the practical sense, but also has led them to make theoretical evaluations in their minds.  If you only ask them you’ll find that they have a very clear picture of the economics of segregation, that they are able to put into abstract concepts all the pain they have been exposed to in their short lives.

The kids are also extremely courageous.  Much more so than their parents, of course.  They’ve gone beyond the stage where it is worth while compromising a principle — take the example of the girl who stated “I would rather die than not be able to talk back to a white man.” She means exactly what she says — even that talking back to a white man may cost her her life.

She went on to illustrate: one day, with a girl friend, she was tearing Confederate flag stickers off cars, and a cop stopped and called her over.

She approached him, holding a partly torn flag and he says, “Girl, what’s that you have in your hand?”

She:  “You can see what it is.” Deliberately tears the flag into small pieces.

Cop:  “Girl, you give me that flag.”

She (dropping pieces of flag slowly to the ground) “if you want it, you can pick it up.”

Cop picks pieces off the sidewalk!!

The point of the girl’s story is that if you have the guts to stand up to the cop or to anyone else like him, quite often he weakens visibly in the light of your strength.  Of course it is also true that often your standing up to him will bring his weight full force down upon you, and that’s that.

We plan now to start Freedom School classes, every night if possible, in the neighborhood where we’re living.  We have the use of a church for a while, but we want most of all to have our own building which will then be usable during the day as a child day-care center, library, etc.  The kids in the neighborhood seem raring to go and if we get really good response we will be able to ________ the help of some of the brighter kids who will teach classes themselves.

We live with an old lady, in a Negro neighborhood of course, who is one of the Movement’s staunchest supporters in Jackson.  She has lent her house on many occasions for meetings, and also has always put up COFO workers.  She’s __?on welfare?__, and lives very poorly, but still manages to show tremendous generosity toward “her children” namely us.  We’ve decided that it would be best to live with her all year, if she doesn’t mind.

Mama Chenks is a registered voter, one of the first in Jackson, and is as militant as a septuagenarian can be.  She is critical of the Negroes who are scared and those who don’t help us in our work because she feels they are betraying their own cause.  She admires youthful militancy, and is not at all afraid for her own safety.  Proud of her cooperation with the Movement, she displays on her front porch posters calling for the election of Aaron Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer, two local Negroes, to state offices.  You may not realize, but in Mississippi such open display of your affiliation is almost asking that your house be bombed.

The mechanics of segregation are intricate and complex — clearly the product of many, many years, and not of many brains.  Beauford, our 8-year old Freedom School pupil, bright, helpful, anxious to learn, real leadership material, cannot stop himself from calling us “Sir” and “Madam.” How confusing for a child, that for _____ the child gets shot if he didn’t use those two words, and for others vice versa.

You drive down the streets of Jackson, and pass a car driven by a white woman.  In the back seat is her “colored girl” — holding the white woman’s child!  No one else is sitting in front.

Segregation here is much more than the “White and Colored Rest Room” sign in front of service stations, it’s much more than the white _____ _____: State’s Rights, Racial Integrity.” It’s what happens to children who are so conditioned that they cannot see a friend in a white person, to people who simply cannot trust us when we approach them, even dogs who only bark at white people.

Talking of dogs, an interesting detail.  After a particularly arduous period of demonstrations, the Jackson Police Department imported somehow a German ex-Nazi (not so ex) who used to train dogs for the Nazi police, and he is now established on a plantation in Vicksburg, where he trains dogs to sic “niggers.”  Happy thought.

It’s really impossible to describe the atmosphere in Mississippi.  It’s the kind of thing that one gets _______ quickly, to keep _______, but that is so abnormal by all decent standards that I’m surprised anyone can survive it.

I wonder if anyone has set about methodically to tally the number of atrocities committed against Negroes — I suppose some one has, and this will give a vague idea of what it feels like to be here.  But it’s so much more than that, and I think the most important part of it is the part we can’t see — it’s what happens to people inside.  ____ and ____ in Mississippi are twisted and tortured inside, and sometimes it makes you despair to the point that you’re ready to give up.

It’s the white population here that really hurts, that really is messed up.  At least the Negroes, for all their suffering, are in the strong position morally.  This may not seem like much, but it is ____ important to be able to say without a doubt “I am right.”

We s________, and two days preceding it in Batesville for orientation.  The most valuable part was the unplanned part — talking to local kids, hearing the spontaneous out ou__ of Negro SNCC field secretaries who have been in the field for two or three years.

Hazel, a 17 year _____ senior ____ ___ showed us a copy of the petition to be circulated at school and then sent to the superintendent.  Composed by the students, with the help of the Freedom School teacher, it includes demands for better teachers, if necessary from out of state; higher wages for teachers; better books; student council organizations; a _____ class; the teaching of three languages (French, German, and Russian) for four years apiece, instead of only one language for only one year.

Her pride in this petition was obvious — for this was the first time she had been able to express these ideas in the form of a demand.  Knowing full well that little, if anything, would come of this, Hazel still felt it was important for her class to make this effort together, because it would teach [them] to work as a group, as a tightly knit unit, and maybe in the future t____  ___ would have to be met.

Martin and I are constantly being reminded of our Caribbean experience — the spirit of the young people in particular is something we haven’t seen anywhere else.  The eagerness to learn, the price in accomplishments, the development of a community spirit, the love of books and all things which will advance the Movement, the resolute determination to protect our ___________, and the great affection for the “outsider”, the “___tes” who have voluntarily risked something in order to join in a fight which is not theirs directly, but which in the long run touches on every man.

Being here gives one hope for America, although Mr. Charlie and his ____________ ___ are never far off, and you are con_________________ ______ ___________ in a position _____________ saw two summers ago.

Not much more for now.  We can be reached at the following address:  ℅ Mrs. Martha Bell, 1208 Trinity, Virden Addition, Jackson, Miss.  Please write — we long for ____________ from the outside.  Care packages are not yet needed, but be prepared to send some in the future!

Lots of love and nostalgia,
yours for freedom:
Viki and Martin

  1. [1]Blanks mark portions of the original that are illegible

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