Miss. Summer Freedom Project (Part 9)

Monday, Aug. 10, 1964

As stated before, the morning passed with no students, leaving a little time for relaxation and writing.

In the evening the parents met to discuss the school boycott. It began like a prayer meeting – prayers, Scripture reading & singing. The meeting itself began with Mr. Flakes presiding. He stated that they were there to draw up a petition to present to Mr. Thorn, the county superintendent of schools. It was soon obvious that the parents were 100 behind their children (many of whom were there and took part in the discussion).

Mr. Flakes stated that they would compose the text that night and that anyone who had anything to say should speak up. Plenty did. This was without doubt the most democratic meeting I’d ever seen for such a large group -(about120). The old New England town meetings must have been something like this. Everyone that wanted to had his say. Some of the impromptu speeches were very effective – and fiery.

Here were a people meeting the issues head-on and determined not to back down an inch. Mr. Thorn is probably quite perplexed about all this – the Negroes of Shaw have never banded together so or arose in such opposition to their deplorable conditions. Many of the parents expressed their disgust with things as they have been and their hopes for their children’s future. They really recognize the value of a good education. Some of them spoke of the coming mechanization of farming and the resultant loss of farm employment – a rather sophisticated subject for a supposedly ignorant group. Others spoke of the dreadful wages and living conditions they were forced to endure. How can anyone say “they don’t want anything better”, that “they’re happy just as they are”? They can be a joyful people in the midst of great
want, but they are also an angry people as they see their white fellow citizens enjoying so much greater prosperity. The almost ritualistic act of denouncing cowardly preachers, teachers, and Toms took place.

In the face of so much democracy it took a while to draft the petition, but this was at last finished. They adopted the four resolutions of the students and added some of their own. They are incensed over the inferior quality of the teaching and of the disregard for their opinions or wishes. We talked with a number of the people after the meeting who came over to shake our hands. Several thanked us for coming and stated that they were so happy to see us and that our presence meant so much to them. They were very anxious about our leaving. Mr. Flakes bought us a coke after which we went home to bed.

Monday night the Student Union of Shaw met and decided upon a further course of action. They wanted to desegregate the movie theater, the public library and to boycott the white merchants. They decided to begin the next day with the library, it being open only on Tuesday afternoons. Thus they gathered at the center and asked if we could go with them.

Tuesday,  August 11

We called John Bradford who asked us to come up right away to discuss it. I drove five or six of the students up to Winstonville. We must have shook up John B. quite a bit. He gave us cake, cokes. ice cream, and those who wanted it, chicken: he also told us that we were invited later on to a chicken dinner at the Marshalls. I don’t know whether he thought that he might not be able to stop the kids & that this would slow them down, or what. We had a good discussion of the pros and cons of the move. John explained COFO’s decision not to engage in noisy demonstrations or picketing, but he pointed out that this was policy for COFO Volunteers, & that he could not order them around.

He was somewhat relieved to learn that they were not intending to make a big production of the desegregation move, just to go in quietly by 2’s or 3’s, asked to be served, & leave. He agreed that it was a good idea which could produce valuable results. He just wanted to make sure that they had prepared. As it turned out they were not as prepared as they’d thought. They hadn’t discussed thoroughly what they would do if arrested nor arranged for bail money. John called Jackson and arranged for a lawyer to come up the next day to meet with us.

John also thought that the movie theater desegregation and store boycott were great ideas. He especially recommended the economic boycott. He suggested that certain stores that had been especially contemptuous of Negroes be selected, and that we appoint a negotiating committee to present our stated objectives to the merchants & deal with them.

The kids were a little chagrined at first at being slowed down in their plans, but they came to see the value in John’s suggestions. It’s really something though – here we were, not having to stir up the youth, but instead finding it necessary to calm and channel their enthusiasm!

After the meeting we left and went to the Marshal Is where we enjoyed the finest meal I’ve had since arriving in Shaw – fried chicken, salad, bread, potato chips, Kool-aid. Was it ever good to eat sitting at a table again!

Next week: Rural canvassing with high school students and a narrow escape from trouble.

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