By the time Roz and I traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1963, SNCC had worked in the state for two years. But the word “work” does not begin to convey the reality. Mississippi was known to black people as a killing state.
Bob Moses gave me a rundown. I had my little tape recorder with me; I had just agreed to write a book on SNCC for Beacon Press in Boston. (They had originally asked me to do one on the NAACP. I said, “No, the real story in the South today is SNCC”) I had begun to understand, back in Albany and Selma, how so much of what is called history omits the reality of ordinary people—their struggles, their hidden power.
Bob was a twenty-nine-year-old college graduate from Harlem who went South to be with SNCC, moved into Mississippi, and started to work with local black people, mostly to help them register to vote. I described him in my book on SNCC as “of medium height and sturdy build, with light brown skin and a few freckles near his nose, who looks at you directly out of large tranquil eyes, who talks slowly, quietly, whose calm as he stands looking down a street in Mississippi is that of a mountain studying the sea.”
The prospect of black people voting made the white power structure of the state very nervous. Blacks were 43 percent of the population, but because only 5 percent were registered to vote they had zero political power, and the establishment wanted to keep it that way. A small number of whites controlled the wealth of the state, using a tiny part of this wealth to pay the salaries of thousands of petty local officials who kept the system as it was, by force if necessary.
So when Bob Moses began to talk to people in Mississippi, starting in the little town of McComb in the southern part of the state, he was at different times jailed, beaten, knifed, and threatened with death. When two eighteen-year-old fellows sat in at the Woolworth lunch counter in McComb—the first such act of defiance in the history of the area—they were arrested and sentenced to thirty days in jail. When six high school students, led by fifteen-year-old Brenda Travis, did the same, they were sentenced to eight months in jail, and she was expelled from school.
Bob had not been in Mississippi long when he was called upon to examine the body of a farmer named Herbert Lee, father of nine children, who had been shot to death by a white man. They had been arguing. The white man had walked up to him and fired a pistol into his head. A coroner’s jury acquitted the killer after a black witness, afraid for his own life, testified that it was self-defense. Weeks later the witness decided to tell the truth, and he was killed in his front yard by three shotgun blasts.
In protest against these incidents, over a hundred high school students in McComb stayed out of school. The jailings and beatings continued, but the black people of McComb had begun to act to change their lives.
After McComb, Bob Moses, joined by other SNCC people, decided to go north into the Mississippi Delta, spreading out into various towns. The city of Greenwood in Leflore County became a special focus of attention. The Delta became a war zone.
Sam Block was one of its unarmed soldiers. He was twenty-three, tall, gaunt, from a small town in Mississippi, son of a construction worker. Sam liked to sing, but not to speak much. Nevertheless, he did start walking through the black section of Greenwood, knocking on doors, talking to people about what their needs were. A police car followed him around as he did this, so folks began to be afraid to open their doors. One day, three white men pounced on him and beat him up; another day he had to jump behind a telephone pole to escape a speeding truck that tried to run him down.
Sam took up the cause of a fourteen-year-old boy who had been picked up by police and charged with burglary. The boy said he was innocent, that he had worked all day in the cotton fields on the day of the burglary, but the police took him to the police station, stripped him, threw him onto a concrete floor, used a bullwhip on his naked body, and beat him with fists, a billy club, and a blackjack. Sam took affidavits from the boy and photos of his wounds, and sent them all to the Justice Department in Washington. It was like dropping them into a bottomless, bucketless well. “From then on,” Bob Moses told me, “it was Sam versus the police.”
Sam Block’s courage was contagious. More people began to show up at the SNCC office in Greenwood, and to go to the county courthouse to register to vote. One night Sam and two other SNCC workers, working late in the office, narrowly escaped a group of intruders armed with guns and chains by climbing through the window and across to a neighboring roof. They returned to the office the next day to find it a shambles.
But Sam kept on. That winter he was mostly busy collecting food for hungry people. There were twenty-two thousand people in the county who had depended on government surplus food, which the county had stopped distributing.
Taking some black people one day to register in Greenwood, Sam Block was stopped by the sheriff and their conversation (overheard by another SNCC worker) went like this:
SHERIFF: Nigger, where you from?
BLOCK: I’m a native of Mississippi.
SHERIFF: I know all the niggers here.
BLOCK: Do you know any colored people? (The sheriff spat at him.)
SHERIFF: I’ll give you till tomorrow to get out of here.
BLOCK: If you don’t want to see me here, you better pack up and leave, because I’ll be here.
The war continued, with shotgun blasts into the homes of black people and into parked cars, with thirteen 45-calibre bullets fired into a car in which Bob Moses was riding with SNCC man Jimmy Travis, who was shot in the shoulder and neck and came close to death. When, after one of the shootings, a hundred black men, women, children, singing and praying, marched toward the Leflore County Courthouse, the police appeared wearing yellow helmets, carrying riot sticks, leading police dogs. One of the dogs attacked Bob Moses, and Marian Wright, who was on the scene, told later of how Bob was afraid of dogs but refused to move away, kept walking toward the dogs.
When Roz and I came to Greenwood in that summer of 1963, fifty-eight people had just been released from jail after a protest march against police brutality; they’d been freed on bond money supplied by the National Council of Churches. That night, SNCC headquarters had the eerie quality of a field hospital after a battle. Youngsters out of jail—sixteen and seventeen years old—were sprawled here and there. Two of them lay on narrow cots while a few of the SNCC girls dabbed their eyes with boric acid solutions; some dietary deficiency in jail had affected their eyes. One boy nursed an infected hand. Another boy’s foot was swollen. He had been in the “hot box” at Parchman Penitentiary. Medical attention had been refused them in prison.
A youngster named Fred Harris told about it: “I spent a hundred and sixty hours in the hole—the hot box, that is.… I’m seventeen. I got involved with the movement back in 1960. I was fourteen then. Sam Block was talking to me about the movement. I told him yes, I’d be glad to help.… At first my mother didn’t want me to be in it. Then she realized it would be best for her and for me.… She told me I could go ahead.”
There was a woman living next door to the SNCC headquarters in Greenwood who, people said, had been wonderfully helpful—Mrs. Ruby Pilcher. Roz and I arranged to see her. We sat in her kitchen and I set up my little recorder while she ironed clothes and talked about her life, her work, her family, her feelings about the movement.
She worked at the country club in Greenwood. “Well, I help the cook and then we waits on the people, you know. Set tables, pick up dishes, you know, just anything.… I had been hearing it talked around, you know [voter registration].… One morning they said, you know, they burned the office up there where the outside agitators had an office.… We didn’t know what to think.…
“Didn’t know what to say about it because it was just something that was happening here that never had happened before. And me, myself, just going along working for the white people, taking what little they put on us, doing just whatever we had to do. I never had given a thought about freedom. And I was wondering what did it mean about freedom, you know.…
“They went to giving out food over here in a church. Polices went over there and arrested them.… I was afraid.… A man named Dick Gregory—was that his name?—he come up here too. So he said that he was going to lead the marches.… Yes, I went to the mass meeting. And he told a lady that night, an old lady who lives right up the street here … to lead the line with him. And he said, ‘Well, you be there at 7:00 A.M.’ She said, ‘I can get there at 6:00.’ ”
She showed us a photo of her two boys and two girls. “My girl is seventeen. She has been just scared out, you know, of the movement.… Now she likes it. She said, ‘Mama, I really like what is going on and I hope it will be one day.’
“I just love the movement, so … anything we could do to help the movement, you know, we thought it is right.… And we would do that, we would neglect things for ourselves, let them have it, you know, do without.… They didn’t have a stove out there, anything to make coffee, you know. And it was so cold that morning … I said, ‘Well, after I finish making you some coffee I will make some biscuits, … lots of them.’ ”
It was always interesting to me how people got involved in the movement. How so often it was some small encounter, the tiniest of experiences, activating a lifetime of stored-up feeling.
Some months after our visit to Greenwood, I was at a SNCC staff meeting in Greenville and spoke to a forty-seven-year-old mother of two who had all her life been a sharecropper in Ruleville, Mississippi. She was short and stocky, her skin like weather-beaten copper, her eyes soft and large. She walked with a limp because she’d had polio as a child. This was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer.
She sang beautifully, and when she told me how she got into the movement she interspersed her conversation with song. She had heard about a meeting at a church in Ruleville. “James Bevel did talk that night, and everything he said, you know, made sense. And also, Jim Forman was there. So when they stopped talking, well, they wanted to know who would go down to register, you see, on this particular Friday, and I held up my hand.
“The thirty-first of August in ’62—the day I went into the courthouse to register—well, after I’d gotten back home this man that I had worked for as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years, he said that I would just have to leave.… So I told him I wasn’t trying to register for him, I was trying to register for myself.… I didn’t have no other choice because for one time I wanted things to be different.”
She was evicted from the plantation and moved in with a friend. Ten days later, a car drove by the house and sixteen bullets were pumped into the bedroom where she slept. That night she happened to be elsewhere, and no one was hurt.
Mrs. Hamer told me that a few months earlier she and five other movement people had been returning to Greenwood from a meeting in South Carolina. The bus stopped briefly in Winona, Mississippi, and some of them went into the “white” waiting room. They were all arrested, taken to jail, separated from one another. Annelle Ponder, a graduate of Clark College in Atlanta (her younger sister was a student of mine at Spelman), was beaten to the point where her face was so swollen she could barely speak. Mrs. Hamer was beaten with blackjacks all over her body.
She reflected, “You know they said outsiders was coming in and beginning to get the people stirred up because they’ve always been satisfied. Well, as long as I can remember, I’ve never been satisfied.” I asked her if she was going to remain with the movement and she responded with the words to a song: “I told them if they ever miss me from the movement and couldn’t find me nowhere, come on over to the graveyard, and I’ll be buried there!”
The next time I saw Mrs. Hamer was January 21, 1964. It was Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, in southern Mississippi. SNCC would try to have hundreds of black Mississippians register to vote, in a county where not one black person was registered.
I sat in on the strategy session for Freedom Day. There would be a mass meeting that night, a picket line around the courthouse the next day. There would be arrests, undoubtedly. A telegram was sent to Attorney General Robert Kennedy: “Tomorrow morning, hundreds of Hattiesburg’s citizens will attempt to register to vote. We request the presence of federal marshals to protect them. We also request that local police interfering with constitutional rights be arrested and prosecuted. Signed, Bob Moses.” We all knew there would be no reply.
Ella Baker and John Lewis arrived by train from Atlanta to speak at the church meeting, where a thousand people gathered, singing, “We shall not, we shall not be moved.…” The other civil rights groups were represented: Annelle Ponder for Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dave Dennis for the Congress of Racial Equality. A rabbi spoke, part of a delegation of fifty clergymen who would join the picket line.
Ella Baker spoke, going beyond the immediate, as she always did, to fundamentals: “Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free, we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, but if people are still hungry, we will not be free.… Singing alone is not enough. We need schools and learning.… Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.”
When the meeting was over we all poured out of the building into the darkness. People were still singing. It was almost midnight. There were cots set up at the Freedom House where we would sleep. Over on a long counter a half-dozen people were lettering the picket signs for the morning.
It was 1:00 in the morning, and some of us didn’t feel like sleeping. I was assigned to share a cot with a white SNCC man named Mendy Samstein. We were friends from Atlanta, where he had taught briefly at Morehouse as a young graduate student at the University of Chicago, then left to work with SNCC. We had been together in a strange sit-in that in later years we would laugh about: the two of us and two black friends, sitting in at Leb’s, a Jewish delicatessen in downtown Atlanta, on Passover.
But we found someone already snoring on our cot. Two more guys joined us: Oscar Chase, a Yale Law School graduate then with SNCC (in later years to become a law professor at New York University), and Avery Williams, who still had scars on his leg from the cattle prods in Selma. Someone handed us a slip of paper with an address. It was 3:00 A.M. when we hesitantly knocked on the door of the house, which was all dark. The man who came to the door was in his pajamas. He smiled broadly. “Come on in!” He shouted through the darkness, back into his bedroom, “Hey, honey, look who’s here!” The lights were on now and his wife came out. “Can I fix something for you fellows?” We said no, and apologized for getting them up. The man waved his hand. “Oh, I was going to get up soon anyway.”
The man dragged out a mattress for us. “Here, two of you can sleep on the mattress, one on the couch, and we have a little cot.” I awoke at dawn, and in the semidarkness I could see my friends near me, still asleep. I became aware of the sound that had awakened me; at first I had thought it part of a dream, but I still heard it now, a woman’s voice, pure and poignant, chanting softly.
At first I thought it came from outside, then I realized it was coming from the bedroom. The man was already gone to work, and his wife was praying, intoning, “Oh, Lord Jesus. Oh, let things go well today, Jesus … Oh, make them see, Jesus … Show your love today, Jesus … Oh, it’s been a long time, oh, Jesus … Oh, Lord. Oh, Jesus.…”
Avery awoke. A radio was turned on with dance music played loud. A light went on in the kitchen. As we dressed I looked through the open doorway into the couple’s bedroom and saw there was no mattress on their bed. They had given us theirs.
The woman made breakfast, a feast—eggs and grits and bacon and hot biscuits and coffee. She told us her husband drove down to the Gulf every morning to work on the fishing docks. She was soon to be picked up in a truck and taken off to work as a maid. As we prepared to leave, Avery Williams looked outside: “It’s raining!”
When we arrived at the county courthouse, a picket line was already formed. Two lines of policemen came down the street; a police car swung to the curb, a loudspeaker on its roof: “This is the Hattiesburg Police Department. We’re asking you to disperse. Clear the sidewalk.” John Lewis and I stood across the street in front of Sears Roebuck, on the sidewalk. None of us made a move to leave. About fifty black youngsters arrived to join the picket line.
People prepared to register were lined up on the steps outside the glass door, which was guarded by a sheriff. The Justice Department had secured a court injunction against discrimination by the registrar. That was as far as they would go. The registrar was complying—minimally. Four people were admitted every hour, the rest having to line up on the steps, exposed to the rain. By noon, twelve people had filled out applications.
At 10:00 the drizzle had become a downpour. Jim Forman stood just outside the glass door of the courthouse, shirt collar open under his raincoat, pipe in his right hand, gesticulating with his left hand, black men and women bunched around him. He was calling to the sheriff to ask him to let these people inside the courthouse, out of the rain.
Someone said that Bob Moses had just been taken off to jail, arrested for standing on the sidewalk opposite the courthouse and refusing to move on.
The picket line continued all afternoon. I could see the familiar form of Mrs. Hamer, moving along with her characteristic limp, holding a sign, her face wet with the rain and turned upwards, crying out her song against the sky: “Which Side Are You On?” After a while I took the picket sign from her and walked the line while she rested on the steps.
Later, in the summer of 1964, Mrs. Hamer went to the Atlantic City Democratic Party Convention with other black Mississippians, to demand of the Democratic big-wigs that blacks be represented in what was an all-white Mississippi delegation. She appeared on television to move the nation—if not the Democratic party—with her indignation: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” (She visited me in Boston some time after that, on her way to an audience with Cardinal Cushing, whom she had been briefed to address as “Your Eminence”; she told me, laughing, that she was afraid she would slip and address him as “Your Enemy.”)
At 5:00 the picket line at the Hattiesburg courthouse ended. It was something of a victory—no mass arrests, no beatings.
There was one more piece of news. Oscar Chase had been arrested. His car had bumped a parked truck, doing no damage, but that didn’t matter; he was taken off to jail for “leaving the scene of an accident.”
I slept that night in the Freedom House. In the morning someone came along to say that Oscar Chase had phoned in to headquarters from the jail. He had been beaten the night before, and wanted to be bonded out. I went with two of the visiting ministers to get him.
As we entered the jailhouse a few minutes before 8:00 A.M., the police dogs were growling and barking in their kennels. We turned over the bond money.
A moment later, Oscar came down the corridor unescorted. A few moments before, the corridor had been full of policemen, but now there was not a soul around. Oscar was still wearing his badly worn corduroy pants, and his old boots, caked with mud. His blue workshirt was splattered with blood, and under it his T-shirt was very bloody. The right side of his face was swollen. His nose looked as if it were broken. Blood was caked over his eye.
He told us what had happened. They had put a prisoner into his cell who was in a state of great agitation, very upset about the demonstration at the courthouse. He had been a paratrooper in World War II and told Oscar he “would rather kill a nigger lover than a Nazi or a Jap.” He pushed a cigarette near Oscar’s face and said he would burn his eyes out. Oscar called for the jailer and asked to be removed from the cell. The ex-paratrooper asked if Oscar was “one of them nigger-lovers.” The jailer nodded. The next thing Oscar knew he was lying on the floor. He had been unconscious. Now he was being kicked. He was bleeding. The police came and took the ex-paratrooper out of the cell. Oscar made his phone call.
We arranged to take him to one of the two black doctors in town, but first I and two lawyers would show him to the FBI. The four of us waited in the FBI office for the interrogating agent to come out and get the facts about the beating. The two attorneys were impeccably dressed: John Pratt, an attorney with the National Council of Churches, tall, blond, slender, in a dark suit with faint stripes; Robert Lunney, of the Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights, dark-haired and clean-cut, attired as befit an attorney with a leading Wall Street firm. I did not come up to their standards (my pants had lost their press from the rain the day before), but I was clean-shaven and not too disreputable-looking.
Oscar sat with us, looking just as he did when I saw him come out of his cell, his face swollen, his clothes bloody. The FBI agent came out from the inner office and closed the door behind him. He surveyed the four of us with a quick professional eye and then asked, “Who was it got the beating?”
At 4:00 that afternoon, the Hattiesburg Municipal Court convened to hear the case of Robert Moses, on trial for obstructing traffic by standing on the sidewalk and refusing to move on when ordered by a policeman. We had decided in advance that we would “integrate” the courtroom, although every previous attempt at that had met with arrests. I sat on the “colored” side with about ten other whites, and an equal number of blacks sat on the “white” side. Nine marshals stood against the wall.
The judge entered the chamber and everyone rose. To our surprise, it was a woman, Judge Mildred W. Norris, a gracious lady who smiled and posed for the photographers as she approached the bench, then nodded for everyone to be seated. She smiled pleasantly at the spectators, paused for a moment, then said sweetly, “Will the marshals please segregate the courtroom?”
Everything was quiet. The marshals moved toward us. The judge said, “I will ask you to please move to the side of the courtroom where you belong, or leave. If you do not, you will be held in contempt of court and placed under arrest.” None of us moved. The marshals came closer.
As one approached me I raised my hand. He stopped and said, rather uncertainly, “Do you wish to make a statement?” “Yes,” I replied. The judge said, “You may make a statement.” I got to my feet and said, “Your honor, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that segregated seating in a courtroom is unconstitutional. Will you please abide by that ruling?” The courtroom buzzed. The judge hesitated. John Pratt, the movement attorney, asked for a recess of a few minutes, and the judge granted it.
During the recess no one changed seats. The judge reconvened the court, and the room was absolutely silent. She surveyed the situation, glanced at the marshals along the wall, and said, “We here in Mississippi have had our way of life for hundreds of years, and I obey the laws of Mississippi. I have asked that you sit segregated or leave or be placed under arrest. We would have appreciated your complying.” She paused. “But since you do not, we will allow you to remain as you are, providing you do not create a disturbance.”
We sat there astonished. The trial began: John Quincy Adams v. Robert Moses (Adams was the arresting officer, and the case came to be called Adams v. Moses). Three policemen took the stand and testified that Moses had obstructed pedestrian traffic by standing on the sidewalk. Cross-examined, John Quincy Adams admitted that no other pedestrians had complained about the sidewalk being obstructed and that he had not seen anyone who did not have free access.
The courtroom was very hot and the judge began fanning herself with a cardboard sign near her. It was one of the exhibits, a picket sign with large letters: “Freedom Now.”
Bob Moses took the stand, to be examined by a bullying prosecutor. He answered in a quiet, even voice, pointing out patiently again and again where the prosecutor had misunderstood his reply, occasionally blinking his eyes under the glare of the lights in the courtroom, but looking steadily, seriously at his questioner.
At the end of the day’s testimony, the judge found Moses guilty, sentenced him to a fine of $200 and sixty days in jail, and Patrolman John Quincy Adams took him back to his cell.
(After the movement quieted, Bob Moses went to Tanzania to teach for some years, with another veteran of the Mississippi struggle, Janet Lamott, and their four children were born in Africa; he then returned to study Eastern philosophy at Harvard and to organize new ways of teaching math to poor kids all over the country.)
Moses was out on bail in a few days, and, with SNCC and other civil rights organizations, set about making plans for the big Freedom Summer in Mississippi, with a thousand students set to arrive to help with voter registration and other matters. And for the first time since Reconstruction, a group of Mississippi blacks announced as candidates for Congress. One of them was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville.
Roz and I went back to Mississippi for that Freedom Summer. She helped out in the Jackson office. I was one of many teachers in the Freedom Schools, where two thousand black youngsters, meeting in church basements all over Mississippi, had a taste of an extraordinary experiment in democratic education. They were given a chance to both read and write poems and stories, to write and perform dramas and musicals, to role-play confrontations with racism, to argue about the Bill of Rights, to spend a whole morning on the word “skeptical.” The Freedom Schools were a momentary glimpse of a whole new way of education, not only for Mississippi, but for the country.
It was a summer of violence. Three civil rights workers, two white, one black, were arrested in the city of Philadelphia, Neshoba County; let out in the night, they were followed and shot to death. Their bodies had not yet been found when a number of us drove up, on a crazy impulse, to the annual Neshoba County Fair. It was, altogether, an eerie experience. At one point we found ourselves a few feet from the sheriff and deputy sheriff who, we were sure, had participated in the disappearance of the three men.
It was a summer after which Mississippi would never be the same, even if some final victory over poverty and racism was still far off, maybe even impossibly far off. It was a summer of great learning for black people, for white people, inside and outside of the movement. So many had their lives changed.
Twenty-five years later, official segregation is finally gone. Unofficial segregation is being challenged on all fronts. But racism, poverty, and police brutality are still the intertwined realities of black life in the United States.
This was clear even in the sixties, when riots exploded in the black ghettos of the country again and again, at the very time civil rights laws were being passed. In the nineties, it was underlined by the police beating of an unarmed, unemployed black man, Rodney King, in Los Angeles, videotaped for the whole country to see. When the black population of the city exploded in anger, it was clear that the deeper cause, beyond police brutality, was pervasive poverty and the nation’s neglect.
What the movement accomplished was historic, but soon it came up against obstacles far more formidable than the signs and badges of racial segregation. First, an economic system that, while lavishly rewarding some people and giving enough to others to gain their loyalty, consigns a substantial part of the population to misery, generation after generation. And along with this, a national ideology so historically soaked in racism that nonwhite people inevitably form the largest part of the permanent poor.
Against these obstacles the civil rights movement, courageous as it was, far-sighted as some of its leaders were (both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X understood the depth of the problem beyond segregation), was unprepared.
What the movement proved, however, is that even if people lack the customary attributes of power—money, political authority, physical force—as did the black people of the Deep South, there is a power that can be created out of pent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration of a common cause, and that if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win. It is a phenomenon recorded again and again in the history of popular movements against injustice all over the world.
There is no sign of such a movement in the early nineties. But the need for it is clear, and the ingredients for it are all around, waiting to be put together. There is a new generation of militant black youth, with enormous energy too often misused or wasted but capable of being mobilized if the right time and conditions appear. There are millions of people, white and nonwhite, increasingly impatient with the system’s failure to give them, however eager they are to work hard, security in jobs, in housing, in health care, in education.
The movement at least began to shake things up. One aspect of national life in particular has been shaken up—culture. People in music, cinema, sports, even while surrounded by racial antagonism, have pioneered in bringing the races together. This cultural change, so at odds with the brooding resentments of the inner city, may well prepare the way for a rainbow coalition that could challenge the political and economic system.
When that might happen is uncertain. If that can happen is also uncertain. But not to believe in the possibility of dramatic change is to forget that things have changed, not enough, of course, but enough to show what is possible. We have been surprised before in history. We can be surprised again. Indeed, we can do the surprising.
The reward for participating in a movement for social justice is not the prospect of future victory. It is the exhilaration of standing together with other people, taking risks together, enjoying small triumphs and enduring disheartening setbacks—together.
These years, when I attend reunions of SNCC people, and we sing and talk, everyone says, in various ways, the same thing: how awful they were, those days in the South, in the movement, and how they were the greatest days of our lives.