Miss. Freedom Summer Project Part 14

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August 16

Sunday evening, passed swiftly &, as I remember, uneventfully. We stayed around the Center most of the time writing, reading, or talking, except for a short drive around the town. Wally had left us for Jackson in the morning. We were now reduced to Judy, George, Roger & myself. Grace returned that night from Memphis where she spoke at a church to raise money for the Project.

Monday, August 17

We had a large mailing for George – he was sending a copy of the Report on Violence & Intimidation to the chairmen of all the non-Southern Democratic delegations in the hope of winning their support for the Freedom Democratic Party. The women at the Shaw P.O. claimed each letter would require 3 airmail stamps, a total of $28 for all of them. We were suspicious of this and were worried about the envelopes being opened & the Report falling into local hands, so we drove up to Winstonville. Sure enough, only 2 stamps were required, thus saving over $9 postage. Also, as the employees there were Negroes we were certain that the envelopes would go out unopened.

We left Judy at the laundromat in Cleveland & drove over to talk with the local Presbyterian pastor. He must have been in his 30’s, medium height, good looking; he spoke with a native Mississippian drawl and cordially welcomed us into his office. We explained to him who we were and our purpose of establishing
contact in order to carry on a dialogue between both sides. He explained his position and we ours.

His was that of the typical moderate. He didn’t really want complete integration, but felt that more must be done to help the Negro, both politically & economically. He believes that all – black and white – are children of God and therefore brothers. No one should be prohibited from worshiping in God’s house because of his color.

He felt that from 50-75%  of his people believe as he did but the minority was more vocal and would stir up too much trouble to allow for Negro attendance now. He said he was talking this over with one of his deacons the other day, and she agreed. However, they thought that nothing could be done at the present. He stated that he had done nothing, nor would do anything now, to bring this about. This was a Mississippi problem that would have to be solved by the people here and not by outsiders. (At the time none of us pointed out the absurdity of this latter statement, following right his admission of inaction!)

We tried to show him that we could not solve the problem in our estimation too, but were here more as catalytic agents or gadflies to at, least hold the problem before the reluctant whites and to help the Negroes – both in opening their eyes and in training them. I doubt very much whether he really grasped our purpose, not in the short time we had to spend with him. At least we exposed one another to our viewpoints and carried on a civil conversation.

Roger & I were struck by his sincerity & openness with us. We believed him when he said he loved the Negro. He said that he did not really know the Negro community (which we heartily agree with). Nor, I believe, does he know too much about the network of intimidation erected by the whites to keep the Negro
“in his place.” Rev. Gentry, I believe, is a good example of the well-intentioned Southerner whose eyes have been blinded by the system of white suppression. He also is, I believe, a good example of the hope of a new & better South. He is a Christian, genuinely called by God, even if his eyes have not been fully
opened as yet to all the ramifications of the Gospel. He does want a better life for the Negro, even if he does not completely understand the Negro & his desires. He stated that the Civil Rights Bill & school desegregation are now the Law of the Land and should be obeyed – & will be by most Mississippians , even if grudgingly. Such a person may never be a whole-hearted integrationist, but he can perform a real ministry of reconciliation. As he put it, he will be there after we are gone, living in the situation. Our hope is that he, and others like him, will do more in the future than they have in the past.

During the conversation he attacked the press for presenting Miss. in a bad light. He thought that we should tell the people in the North that things down here aren’t so bad as pictured. Our impulse was to tell him that they were worse than the press had stated, but we didn’t.

He was also very much against the National Council of Churches. He thought they could have done more in the way of personal contact with Southern ministers. He may have been right here, though I didn’t know anything of what had been attempted. We tried to tell him that the NCC saw part of our role as minister counselors , part of that job making just such contacts & interpreting to local clergymen the Program, but this didn’t seem to make much of an impression upon him. On our way out he mentioned the oft-repeated criticism among the whites of the shabbiness & dirtiness of many of the COFO Workers. We readily agreed with this, though we also tried to show him the difficulty of staying clean which many of the workers faced.

It was a valuable meeting, one which all of us wished could be continued. He was quite busy with meetings but gave us generously of his time. He invited us back on Thurs. or Fri., but this, of course, was impossible for us. It seemed strange to be in his study filled with many of the same books which I have, sharing the same Reformed heritage and confessions & standards – & yet be so far apart in some things. However, the very fact that we could wish God’s blessing on the other & promise to pray for one another shows that there is a real bond between us in Jesus Christ.

After lunch Aaron rounded up 4 adults who wanted to go up to the Court House to check on the results of their registration tests. They all failed, we soon learned; one lady had been there 3 times before only to be told she’d failed. She has had 2 years of college & taught school, yet according to the sovereign state of Mississippi she was an illiterate! What a terribly humiliating system this one is! The Negroes have shown such great dignity in carrying on their resistance without malice or violence, at least from their side.

We had great news in the afternoon. Warren McKenna called & asked if we could use 5 ministers and a car. Silly question. They are to leave Jackson Tuesday morning & stay for 2 weeks. Everyone here is relieved to know that the interim period will be well staffed.

The students held a meeting at the church at night. A number of adults showed up also.

Next time I report on the high school students’ integration of the Shaw public library and also tell about the Italian-American who owned the main grocery store in the black section of the town.

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