Mississippi Freedom Summer Project 1964: Part 4

MSFP titl

At he end of Roger’s and my first day in Shaw I describe our Shaw “home” and part of our second day there.

Monday, Aug. 10

I must describe “home.” It is a lovely old white – or once was–a wooden structure. The lumber must have been milled in Reconstruction days judging by the appearance of it. The front porch threatens to cave in at any moment. You have to be very careful where you step or the rotten wooden floor will give way – it already has in many places. The porch is supposedly screened in, but this is in such bad shape that it merely slows down the bugs. Several hundred books are stacked on the porch, adding to the danger of imminent collapse. The lady who owns the house has moved out and is renting it to us for $10 a week  – apiece. Certainly no bargain!  She seems to collect everything & throw out nothing. Every surface is littered with old clothes and junk. There are no closets so her clothing hangs on the back of the door and from nails driven into the walls. George Robbins & I sleep in one room, and Roger and Morris Reuben, when he’s here, sleeps in the other.

Home, sweet home.

Our water comes out of a faucet in the back yard. There is no stove, nor is there a refrigerator, hence all of our washing and shaving water is unheated. There is a slight odor around the place, especially at the rear of the house where we wash. The outhouse serves not only us, but a number of others also. Oh yes, I forgot the other tenant of the house – a non-paying one at that – a rat. We only hear him at night as he gnaws and scratches his way about. We seldom, if ever, see him- I think this morning I spied him out of the corner of my eye as he dashed from beneath the house to the sanctuary of the tall grass and weeds nearby. He has been  feasting  upon an old loaf of bread left by our land-lady, but  so far he has not really bothered us. We seem to have a mutual live-and-let-live pact worked out.

It’s very hot sleeping here. Our bodies, even after we sponge them, are hot & sticky – the sheets soon cling to us & become soiled. Once asleep I slept quite well. The bugs didn’t bother us, as we had feared they might.

Tues., Aug 11

Shaved. Breakfast consisted of going down to the local grocery store – owned by an Italian – purchasing some milk¬ juice, cereal (small packs), &rolls – all of which we ate back at the Freedom House. Though it was early, it was hot already. As soon as you step from the shade into the glare of the sun, the heat rolls over you like a steamroller. You don’t have to do anything but breathe to work up a drenching sweat.

The dust is terrible too. I thought it was bad in N.D., but it is nothing compared to this. It soon covers everything. Your car, your clothes, books, your skin. It is as all-pervasive as the air, filtering into every nook & crevice. Despite efforts to clean it, the floor is always covered with a layer of dust. Dear Gov. Wallace was quoted recently as saying that the COFO workers don’t need Federal protection, but rather a bar of soap and some water. This is very clever for a man who is no doubt sitting every day in an air-conditioned office & can bathe anytime in a nice clean house in a nice clean – & white – part of town.

Keeping clean could be a full time occupation here. Although it is true that some of the Volunteers could keep themselves cleaner, it is absolutely impossible to maintain the same standards of cleanliness here as in the North and do any kind of work outside an air-conditioned office. You finally become resigned to feeling dirty & sweaty most of the time and forget your physical condition as you become involved in your work.

The Negroes & poor whites here have never tried to maintain middle class standards of cleanliness, with a few exceptions. Much of this is due to ignorance, but also much is the result of apathy & sheer exhaustion from working long hours in the fields. They’re just too tired to care!  And so the superior whites after leaving their 8 hour a day jobs in air-conditioned surroundings drive to their lovely homes & take leisurely baths and showers with a minimum of effort (no carrying water or having to heat it up here), spray on their deodorants and cosmetics, and then go out and sneer at the “dirty niggers who stink to high heaven.”

Morris has a theory about Mississippi Retaliation. He maintains that the whole state is in reality an organism. Like any body which is invaded by outside forces it builds up defenses counterattacks. He is convinced that the energy-sapping heat & the extreme filth are part of Miss.’s retaliation against us for invading. He may have something there!

We were to have a staff meeting at 9:30 Friday morning. It seems to be the usual case. It didn’t get started until just before 11. During the waiting period we talked, read, & I took Charles out to his Grandmother’s to get his clothes for a trip.

Our meeting was worthwhile when it finally started. We planned a freedom school & talked about the program in general.   Lunch consisted of a hamburger in a local grocery store-restaurant. As a group of us sat there who should come on  the radio but dear old Carl McIntyre. (He was a right wing Presby. clergyman who broke away from the main branch and set up his own rabidly anti-Communist church.) He wasn’t in top form, though he managed to nauseate us, especially those who hadn’t the “privilege” of hearing him before.

Roger & I went to Cleveland in the afternoon to buy some craft & sports supplies. No problem with the whites. They treated us very courteously, though they may not have known who we are – Cleveland is a fair sized town, the seat of the county government.

My head began to hurt severely & I began to feel nauseous  – old Miss. retaliating already?  – so no supper tonight. Since I didn’t feel very well, I volunteered to stay behind & watch the F-H while the others went to the Mass meeting that night in Shaw. (I should mention my meeting Mr. Hawkins before the meeting. He came to the F-H to talk with George who wasn’t there at the time, so we began to talk about various things. Soon Mr. Hawkins was talking about the condition of the Negroes in Miss. From him I learned that about 700 of the population of Shaw (2000 total) are Negroes. It was a quiet evening – only one phone call – so I was able to relax and work on the Journal & write a few letters. Bed was certainly welcome that night – even the heat didn’t seem too bad.

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