Mississippi Freedom Summer Project 1964 (Part 5)

On Saturday morning I put up the door for the Crafts Closet. One of the sons of Mr. Hawkins was eager to help. In the afternoon Roger and I went out calling on people to gather information on intimidation. News had already come in about two cross burnings during the previous night.

The first house we stopped in was an unusually neat and well kept one. The lady claimed no knowledge of any intimidation. She was a domestic, receiving $15 a week for working from 7:30 AM to 1 or 2 PM 6 days a week! Directly across the street is a row of dirty, run-down houses which, the fading paint reveals, once were painted red.

The corner house is inhabited by a mother, a daughter in high school & an older one with children. The mother was about the fattest woman I’ve ever seen. She, like the others, welcomed us in (only a foolhardy Negro in Miss. would dare refuse a white man), and we began our usual introductory explanation. The teenage daughter gave us another account of the beginning of the school boycott. She also told us that on the Monday night (the day the school boycott began) the principal and teachers were invited to meet with the parents and students. Only one teacher  showed up. This is so often the case – those in authority refusing even to listen to just grievances, and so the lines of  communication, so vital to a peaceful solution, are blocked.

Another daughter who lived two houses down came in and began to talk about what she regarded as a past wrong. On June 12, 1962 the Sheriff picked up her four children and took them across town to her ex-husband, a 72 year old retiree. She was not told or consulted, though she did receive a paper, a signed affidavit charging her with running around all the time & thus unfit to be a mother. She denied this and said that she was never even told  about the hearing in her divorce case. However, she herself has taken little action to get her children back; only talking to her welfare case worker who had told her to see a lawyer.

She probably thought at first we could do something, though we tried as carefully as possible to explain to her that she had not even begun to exhaust the means available to her. She went through the 2nd grade of school, so communicating with her was hard. She’s had two children since her divorce, so the charge about her running around could be true. Her older child has a nasty looking swelling around the navel which, later, someone  stated was a hernia. She also has a 3 1/2 lb. infant in an incubator in her house. She took us over & proudly showed us the tiny girl – now 2 months old. She had scrawny little arms & legs 8, emitted a little squealing sound. The incubator. provided bv the county. seemed almost ludicrous. a shiny. modern looking machine standing in a shack that belongs to the Dark Ages.

We stopped at another neat looking home and visited with several people on the front porch. As always they nodded their heads and said, “Yes sir”, as we spoke about fears and hopes for a better day. We learned that one of them was the father-in-law of Mack Carter, one of the two Negroes who was threatened with a burning cross. He felt that some of the whites might have been jealous of Mr. Carter. Mr. Carter worked as a foreman on a large farm. He had done such a good job that the white owner had moved into town and left everything in Carter’s hands. Carter had not joined the Movement and had not been visited by any COFO Workers, so this might be the reason. It is well known that whenever a Negro gets above a certain level economically many whites do get jealous and desire to knock him back into “his place.”

Later in the afternoon we met George Robbins back at the Center where we decided to go & visit the cross-burning sites. We picked up an elderly woman named Mrs. Miller who acted as guide. Our first stop was at Choctaw. We finally tracked the man down but learned nothing other than the fact that he was scared. He talked smoothly enough but denied any knowledge of why he was being singled out. He claimed no knowledge of any incidents of  intimidation, as did several others whom we talked with. In Miss. this is similar to living in an insane asylum and denying knowing anyone mentally ill.

We then drove west to talk with Mack Carter. We left the highway and drove for several miles over plantation roads – it was a twisting and bumpy ride, but an interesting one. As we drew near the Carter home we heard sounds of firing, a real comforting sound in Miss. We turned the corner in the road and saw him and his son practicing with their rifles.

He told us that he intended to be ready for his next group of midnight visitors with a warm welcome. He had 15 guns in the house and eight people to use them. His 308 made a deafening noise as he fired away at two cans set up next to the spot where the cross had been burned – a point about 200 yards away. He refused to give us any details of the previous night. The FBI had just been there (our office at the Center reports all such events to Jackson COFO right away) and asked him not to talk with anyone about it. He did say that he’d bought $51 worth of ammunition at various stores & had informed the Sheriff and police of his purchases ( a sure way of getting the news to the white community!).

He was evidently reluctant to talk with us – FBI or no FBI – due to the danger of being spotted by a white, so we soon thanked him and left. It was getting dark when we drove back to town & left Mrs. Miller at her home. ‘The stores and streets were thronged with Negroes in from the country. A large crowd was gathered by the railroad tracks as a medicine peddler preached the wonderful healing properties of his concoction. (That morning we heard on the radio an announcement concerning a “Rev. Mother” who, for a fee, could heal, spot lucky and unlucky days, name your enemies who were out to get you & give you new hope & strength. Everyone welcome, colored & white. What irony, that the only religious services fully open to blacks & whites is rendered by a charlatan!)

We picked up some lunch meat & “fixings” & feasted back at the Center. More discussion & then to bed.


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