On his first full day in Mississippi, Fred Winn tore down an outhouse and turned it into bookshelves.
The outhouse stood behind a two-room shack on a dusty road skirting Ruleville’s cotton fields. The road divided black sections of town whose names—Jerusalem and Sanctified Quarters—spoke of spirit, not scenery. The flatness of the Delta made the shack, the quarters, and the railroad tracks nearby seem like some tabletop model train set. Like many Mississippi shacks, this one looked as if no one had lived there since the birth of the blues. Four sunflowers leaned alongside a sagging porch. When the front door creaked open, cockroaches bigger than pecans scurried for cover. Inside lay musty rooms strewn with broken bottles, splintered furniture, and rusted box springs. Cobwebs draped corners. Walls wept with mildew. And out back stood the outhouse, angled like some ancient sundial in the morning glare.
Twenty volunteers traipsed through the house that Monday morning, in shock or dismay. This was to be Ruleville’s Freedom School? This? But in a scene mirrored throughout Mississippi that week, women tied their hair back, men stripped off shirts, and all began swarming over the house like the insects swarming around them. Bearing brooms, buckets, and bottles of Lysol, they revived the dying shack. Women carried white rags inside, only to emerge holding shredded scraps as black as Delta topsoil. Men slick with sweat brought out armloads of debris. Soon several black women, their heads wrapped in bright bandannas, came with their own cleaning solutions. And sometime that morning, someone delivered boxes of books. Volunteers tore open the cardboard, finding childhood favorites or, to their dismay, college texts. The books were stacked in piles—“History,” “Reference,” “Language,” “Crud”—and the piles were still small when Fred Winn began talking about bookshelves. Local kids roamed the quarters, bringing back two-by-fours but no planks. Finally Winn, a short, burly man with a mustache and horn-rimmed glasses, noticed the outhouse. With the help of several laughing kids, he rocked and rocked until it toppled with a crash. The smell was paralyzing, but the boards were not as old as they looked, not once Winn grabbed a plane from his toolbox and skinned them clean.
By the time a late-afternoon thunderstorm rumbled across the Delta, the Ruleville Freedom School was ready for classes. The rooms were still musty and the floorboards still creaked, but walls were tacky with fresh paint. A crib headboard found in the attic and spray-painted green had become a blackboard, and fully stocked bookshelves lined both classrooms. Walking through their new school, volunteers could hardly believe what they had accomplished, yet similar miracles were taking place in Vicksburg, in Clarksdale, in Hattiesburg . . . Ruleville’s Freedom School was scheduled to open that Friday. In the meantime, volunteers wondered where else they could tackle a century of despair.
Throughout the first week of July, the search for Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney dominated news from Mississippi. More searchers, more helicopters, more rumors. On Tuesday, a mutilated body turned up by the roadside a hundred miles north of Neshoba County. The man was about Mickey Schwerner’s age, wearing blue jeans and sneakers, but fingerprints ended all speculation. A day later, a cop spotted a goateed man in a café near the Tennessee border. Mississippi newspapers plastered the news on front pages—the man looked “exactly” like Schwerner and had given the cop “dirty looks.” Next, COFO headquarters heard that the three bodies, chained together, had been dumped in the Ross Barnett Reservoir off the Natchez Trace Highway. The FBI tracked down each rumor, “running down all leads on the cranks,” Hoover told LBJ. And continuing to question residents, agents slowly pieced together the events of June 21.
One woman told agents what she had seen that Sunday afternoon. A blue station wagon stopped on Route 16, east of Philadelphia, opposite the Dallas Garage. Two whites and a Negro, fixing a flat. A cop and two highway patrolmen looking on. Patrolman Earl Poe confirmed the story. He and his partner had been sweating in the shade along Route 16 when the blue wagon topped the rise and “let off it.” Seconds later, Deputy Cecil Price had raced by in his black-and-white ’56 Chevy, red light flashing. A crackle had come over the radio—Price asking for assistance. The patrolmen followed and found the station wagon pulled over, the pudgy deputy watching the black man change the tire. Then the two “white boys” got in Poe’s patrol car—the one with the goatee handed the cop the gun left in the backseat. The other patrolman rode with the “Negro boy” in the station wagon, and Deputy Price followed both cars to the jail.
What happened in jail was revealed by a man who had been in an adjacent cell. He told of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney being placed in segregated lockups. Schwerner had asked permission to call his wife. The jailer offered to make the call herself, but Schwerner politely declined. The man remembered Schwerner and Goodman as being calm, telling him they expected to be in jail several days. The details gave the FBI a start, but the forty hours between Sunday night and Tuesday’s discovery of the smoldering station wagon remained a blank slate. And while a few locals had talked, most were still enraged by the FBI’s invasion. They knew nothing. They had seen nothing. If the three were dead, several added, they “got what was coming to them.” That week, a hearing on James Chaney’s arrest for speeding was scheduled in the Neshoba County courthouse. Chaney did not show.
While whites talked—or refused to talk—blacks in Philadelphia opened up to the press. Mrs. Junior Cole told the New York Times how a white mob had gathered outside the Mt. Zion Church on the evening before it burned. The elderly woman trembled as she described emerging from a church meeting with her husband. Suddenly, a man with a gun had stepped in front of their car. Seconds later, the road was filled with white men, rifles across their chests. One shone a flashlight in Junior Cole’s face, asking about the church meeting. When Cole replied that it was just a routine gathering, the white man barked, “You a damn liar. You having an N-double-A-CP meeting out here, ain’t you? ” Yanking the old man out of the car, the mob pummeled him to the ground, thrashing and kicking. Mrs. Cole dropped to her knees in the gravel.
“Lord, don’t let them kill my husband.”
“If you think prayer will do any good, you’d better pray.”
As fists and a pistol butt thudded in the darkness, Mrs. Cole lifted both arms to heaven. “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee,” she said. “No other help I know.” The words seemed to calm the men. Leaving Junior Cole in a heap on the ground, they got into cars and pickups and drove off. A few hours later, an orange glow lit the night sky from off toward the church.
While the FBI investigated and the public feasted on rumors, 450 volunteers stifled their fears and settled into Mississippi. Bob Moses had once written to a “Friends of SNCC” chapter, explaining how that was done.
You dig into yourself and the community to wage psychological warfare; you combat your own fears about beatings, shootings, and possible mob violence; you stymie, by your mere physical presence, the anxious fear of the Negro community . . . you organize, pound by pound, small bands of people . . . a small striking force capable of moving out when the time comes, which it must, whether we help it or not.
The time had come. The first week of July 1964 was an American Rubicon. On July 2, President Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act, banning segregation in all public facilities. And all that holiday weekend, blacks would test the waters—ordering breakfast from white waitresses, getting haircuts from white barbers, checking into hotels where just a week before they had been welcome only as maids and kitchen help. But just offstage at this revolution, blacks and whites scattered across Mississippi won smaller victories. They signed papers on porches, learned together in Freedom Schools, played together at picnics, and shared the most integrated Fourth of July in American history.
Deepening its denial, white Mississippi continued to sneer at the invaders. “While professing to believe in ‘equality,’ ” a Jackson Clarion-Ledger columnist wrote, “these self-appointed reformers evidently regard themselves as mentally and morally superior to Mississippians. What the students think of us is not very important . . . because the invaders couldn’t possibly think less of us than the majority here thinks of them and their sponsors.” In his home overlooking his cotton fields, Senator James Eastland echoed the denial that was becoming the common wisdom among Mississippi whites. “I find more resentment on the part of Negroes than white people to this effort in our state,” the bald, bespectacled senator told reporters. But Eastland did not know the 40 percent of his constituents who had never been allowed to vote. “It’s the best thing that’s happened since there ever was a Mississippi,” one black man said. “I just love the students like I love to eat. . . . If more come down here, I’d get out of my bed for them and sleep on a pallet in the tool shed. They’re doing things we couldn’t do for ourselves in years on end. . . . A lot of bad smells are getting out to the outside world that never did before. And we got out-of-state FBI in here, and federal lawsuits. It’s all changing, it is sure enough changing, right this summer.”
Volunteers who had been in Mississippi since the first day of summer were getting used to the place. Now the fresh arrivals struggled with each new annoyance. One woman hated the gnats that swarmed everywhere, even up her skirt. Another couldn’t believe how he took a shower, dried off, and within minutes had damp armpits, a sticky shirt, and a halo of sweat. A third bristled when his host family treated him “as if I was some strange god, and I mean a dangerous one as well as a good one.”
For carpenter Fred Winn, the hardest thing to get used to was midnight. Daytime kept him busy, building bookshelves, reviving rotting shacks, but each midnight he lay awake on the floor of his new home—the Ruleville Freedom School. Two weeks earlier he had been in his native San Francisco, where nights were deliciously cool. Now he lay in the muggy dampness, mulling over how one thing had led to another, leading finally to Mississippi.
Fred had learned of the summer project when SNCC’s spring speaking tour came to his college in Marin County. Many students had given SNCC money, but friends were dumbfounded when Fred Winn decided to give his summer. A gregarious twenty-year-old whose Sausalito apartment was a notorious “party pad” hardly seemed a likely civil rights worker. Only a few friends knew that behind Fred’s firm handshake and salty speech was a family secret. A year earlier, Fred’s father, a respected San Francisco lawyer, told his family he had another child—a black child. Fred’s mother threw her husband out. Siblings wanted nothing to do with the four-year-old girl, but Fred met her and was charmed. Suddenly the color line between the Winns and their black maid had blurred. And all his father’s lectures about never using “that word” to describe Negroes made sense. “Now it wasn’t just these ‘Negroes’ or ‘coloreds’ or whatever everyone was calling them, but people to whom I’m related,” Fred recalled. “That’s a consciousness changing thing.”
Fred’s father, worried that he and his party-loving son had nothing in common, was pleased by “Freddy’s” decision to go to Mississippi. Fred’s mother called the college president and threatened, if anything happened to her son, to sue for allowing SNCC on campus. The president called Fred into his office, but there was nothing an academic or a mother could do—Fred’s father had signed SNCC’s permission form. During the next two months the college “court jester” became insufferable, arguing on the quad about civil rights, signing his letters “We Shall Overcome.” Some friends said Fred was crazy to go, others called him heroic, but he just felt righteous anger, tempered by the first cold feelers of terror. Having heard SNCC’s stories, he knew what might happen to him in Mississippi. He was not sure he could take a beating without fighting back. The idea of rolling into a helpless ball while being kicked and hammered went against his every instinct. And who knew what else Mississippi had in store? Shortly before leaving for Ohio, Fred sat down to write his will. After designating who should have his car, books, and other belongings, he signed, “My spirit lives on. Wherever there is a fight of equality, whenever a person is deprived of something that is his, I will be there. The truth is behind me—We shall overcome.”
Other volunteers brought white-collar expertise to Mississippi, but Fred Winn brought tools. SNCC had asked for handymen, and Fred, though a lawyer’s son, had always felt an affinity for the building trades. So a few days after writing his will, he packed a toolbox, then threw in paper and crayons for Freedom Schools, his father’s Bible, and a first aid kit. Boarding a Greyhound, he crossed the Sierras and rode on toward Ohio. En route, he cracked the books SNCC had recommended to volunteers—Black Like Me, The Mind of the South, The Souls of Black Folk. But three books could scarcely prepare him for the culture clash ahead. Naive and untested—“a young twenty-year-old”—Fred had never been to the Deep South, never slept with a woman, never thought much about black and white in America. He would spend the summer like a boy turning over rocks. On his first night in training, he watched in anger as a black man approached a white woman on a dance floor, pressing closer and closer until she shoved him away. That just wasn’t how a man approached a woman in San Francisco. Yet as the week went on, Fred met SNCCs and other volunteers, “broke the ice and things got better.”
When asked in workshops why he had come, Fred spoke frankly about his father’s interracial affair. And on that Monday morning when Rita Schwerner told volunteers to write their congressmen, Fred wrote his, then fired off letters to the San Francisco Chronicle and to his mother, calling her a racist. Yet as the mood on campus turned funereal, his righteousness was tested. The disappearance had made it clear—“There were people in Mississippi who might murder me.” His roommate, a football player from the Midwest, went home, but Fred was determined to go to Mississippi. For a laugh, he recalled his father’s parting advice—“If the Klan gets a hold of you, yell ‘My father is a Mason!’ ” A Masonic code, he was told, prevents Masons from harming each other’s families. Armed with that and his tools, Fred Winn went to Mississippi, where it was midnight and he still could not sleep.
Fred found nights in Mississippi “scarier than shit.” He had already faced down the food. He took one bite of pigs’ feet, one of pigs’ ear, no more. Okra gagged him—“It’s like eating sandpaper slugs”—but he would learn to like it. Yet he could not get used to the danger. In his first letter from Ruleville, he shared news of the disappearance. “Dad, I hope you realize that I may be in that same position in a few days. Do not worry and for shit’s sake don’t come running down here. We have a very good investigation division of our own.” His father read each letter over and over. Reminded of his own experiences as a green World War II enlistee who rose to the rank of captain, the elder Winn dutifully sent “Freddy” money, signed letters to LBJ, and worried. And each night his faraway son, after hanging screens, fixing toilets, and singing at mass meetings, made a pallet on the Freedom School floor, set his glasses beside it, and struggled to get some sleep. For protection, Fred had covered the school’s windows with corrugated tin, cutting off any breeze, turning his “bedroom” into a sweatbox. A volunteer from New Jersey was stretched out nearby, breathing deeply, but Fred just lay there thinking about his fractured family back home, thinking about his tasks the next day, wondering what he had gotten himself into. The room was pitch-black, and he listened to every car that passed.
On Monday morning, June 29, Rita Schwerner and Bob Zellner were escorted into the Oval Office of the White House. Rita must have looked like a child standing before the president, more than a foot taller and more than twice her weight. LBJ stooped, shook her hand, and said he was glad to meet her. But convinced now that she was a widow—at twenty-two—Rita was brusque. “I’m sorry, Mr. President, this is not a social call,” she said. “We’ve come to talk about three missing people in Mississippi. We’ve come to talk about a search that we don’t think is being done seriously.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Miss,” the president replied.
The conversation was brief. Rita demanded that five thousand federal marshals be sent to Mississippi. The president said everything that could be done was being done. When LBJ abruptly turned and left, press secretary Pierre Salinger chewed out Rita, saying one did not talk to the president of the United States that way.
“We do,” Rita said, and left for a press conference.
Throughout that second week, volunteers went about their business in black Mississippi. They readied Freedom Schools, opened community centers, sat on rickety front porches, shucking peas and getting to know their hosts. And white Mississippi went about its business—repelling the invasion. Perhaps due to the FBI arrests in Itta Bena, or perhaps because all America was watching, violence ebbed that week. Yet the “calm” did not calm anyone. The disappearance of three men had seeded Mississippi with omens. Each passing pickup, each hate stare, each sudden noise in the night, suggested the raw hatred lurking within striking distance. And each car of volunteers late for a scheduled return made another disappearance seem just a matter of time.
To put fear in perspective, SNCCs shared stories of nearby “tough towns” that made their own sites seem tame. In the Delta, the tough town was Drew, where the first canvassers had been chased out by a mob. Batesville volunteers were told never to enter Tallahatchie County, where the mangled body of Emmett Till had washed up in the muddy river. Farther south, a primitive savagery was said to lurk in the broiling farmlands of Amite County, where Herbert Lee had been gunned down, and in Pike County, where mobs had beaten SNCCs outside city hall. But even with “tough towns” still off-limits, the threats, the harassment, the attacks, just kept coming. Check-in calls to the WATS line in Jackson, dutifully typed by the volunteer manning the phone, suggested white Mississippi as a coiled snake:
In Greenwood, a white and a black woman were walking when a car swerved straight toward them. They bolted out of its path. As the car passed, they noted the sign in the rear window: “You Are in Occupied Mississippi: Proceed with Caution.” Listening to such stories, many lived in constant fear. “Violence hangs overhead like dead air . . . ,” a Ruleville volunteer wrote. “Something is in the air, something is going to happen, somewhere, sometime, to someone.” Adding to the fear was white Mississippi’s bare-faced rudeness. One volunteer would never forget—“to walk along the street and have some little old lady who looks for everything like your mother give you the finger.” Clarksdale volunteers watched with disbelief as the sheriff entered a courtroom and sprayed deodorant all around them. Females sometimes found the hostility sugar-coated.
“You’re both purty gals,” a dough-faced man said to two in Canton. “Some of the purtiest I’ve ever seen. But I seen you the other day up at that nigger store talking to the worst nigger slum in the county. Why, that nigger slum can’t even count to ten.”
“Yes, I’ve been talking to Negroes at the store,” one woman said with a smile. The other added, “And we’d be glad to come to your home and talk to your wife and you together.”
“I wouldn’t let the likes of you in my house,” the man replied. “Why don’t you go home where you belong? ”
But more often, no sugar-coating was applied. When a cop pulled over an integrated SNCC car, he eyed the lone white woman and snarled, “Which one of them coons is you fuckin’? ”
Lyndon Johnson had vowed not to send troops “on my people”—if they cooperated. But would anyone in Mississippi cooperate? Despite all the violence, most whites had done their best to ignore the invasion, but throughout June’s Hospitality Month and on into July, only two offered southern hospitality.
In Greenville, Hodding Carter III, editor of the Delta Democrat-Times, “broke bread with, drank whiskey with, and argued with about a dozen of the volunteers.” Long before Freedom Summer, the Carter family’s Democrat-Times had denounced the Klan and the Citizens’ Council, leading to threats, boycotts, and constant harassment. By 1964, Carter, an ex-marine who would later serve in President Jimmy Carter’s State Department, was keeping guns in his car, desk drawer, pocket, and bedside table. But fear did not deter him from meeting summer volunteers and arguing politics. “I was adamantly against much of the SDS-related rhetoric and some of the tactical approaches, which I thought were deliberately designed to spark violence,” he recalled. “They thought I was a young fogy, his mind clouded by knee-jerk anti-communism and simply out of it when it came to the winds of change. I was for LBJ; they thought he was a fascist, etc.” Carter watched in dismay as two of his reporters dated volunteers. And he occasionally allowed volunteers to swim in his pool.
Mississippi’s other island of hospitality lay seventy miles from Greenville. During that first week of July, Holmes County volunteers were hosted by a pale, red-haired woman wearing a string of pearls. Hazel Brannon Smith, the crusading editor fresh from winning the Pulitzer Prize, welcomed volunteers into the white-pillared house she called Hazelwood. Other Mississippi newspapers were blasting these “race mixing invaders,” “leftist hep cat students,” and “nutniks.” And although most volunteers were as clean-cut as the sailors still searching the swamps, other newspapers described them as “unshaven and unwashed trash.” But Smith’s Lexington Advertiser proudly introduced “thirty college students who are interested in human and civil rights.” Calling the summer project a “Peace Corps type undertaking,” Smith profiled volunteers, their colleges, majors, and interests. All over town, she had heard the grumbling, the idea “that if everyone would just leave us alone we would work out all our problems.” In her “Through Hazel Eyes” column, she answered back. “The truth is these young people wouldn’t be here if we had not largely ignored our responsibilities to our Negro citizens.”
Yet Carter and Smith stood alone. Mayors throughout Mississippi, though deciding against protesting in the nation’s capital, condemned volunteers for “doing irreparable damage to the friendly relations that exist among our people.” Police found any excuse to arrest them—for speeding, reckless driving, even “reckless walking.” And rednecks, peckerwoods, “white trash,” used every brand of terror to drive them out. The actual number of homegrown terrorists may have been only a dozen in each town, but the rest, if they disapproved of the relentless violence, said nothing.
By early July, the nerve center of Freedom Summer was run ragged. With its air-conditioning broken, the COFO office in Jackson sweltered. Sweat ran down foreheads, soaked clothes, dripped off chins. Dogs roamed freely through the clutter of old newspapers, boxes of books, and empty RC Cola bottles. A sign on one wall read, “Nobody Would Dare Bomb This Place and End This Confusion.” Each day seemed to pile on the tasks—always more bail to raise, more reports, lists, and letters to type, another volunteer’s hometown press to contact. Then there were visitors in need of couches to sleep on, rides to arrange, calls to raise more money. And now that everyone had settled in, the time had come to harvest democracy, shack by shack.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party waited in the wings. The MFDP’s bold challenge at the Democratic National Convention was still seven weeks away. To unseat Mississippi’s all-white delegation, Freedom Democrats would need as many registration forms as possible for their parallel party. But in early July, both Atlantic City and late August seemed as far off as distant countries. There would be time to sign up Freedom Democrats—later. With so many eager faces suddenly swarming through project offices, SNCC’s immediate goal was getting blacks down to their county courthouses in numbers no one could ignore. Freedom Days, focusing the energy of entire offices on one-day voting drives, were planned for Greenwood, Greenville, Cleveland, Holly Springs . . . To get would-be voters out, volunteers took to the streets.
Like the resurrection of so many decaying buildings, the scene was repeated all over Mississippi that week. A gravel road. A row of cabins. Men and women slumped on porches, numbed by twelve hours of cleaning, cooking, or toiling in the fields. As the western sky reddens, up the road come the “Riders,” clipboards in hand, hair neatly combed, white shirts and pastel blouses spotless and starched. Some in white pairs, others racially mixed, they stride onto each porch, introduce themselves—Len and Bill, Chris and Pam—then talk about the summer project, the registration process, the dream of voting. A few blacks say “Yes, sir” or “Yes’m,” but most just sit and stare. Canvassing is like conversation, volunteers are learning—something of an art. They all know how to converse, but how do you converse with someone too terrified to say “No,” too tired to say much else? Fortunately, volunteers were being taught by masters.
SNCC’s canvassing handbook was explicit. “Know all roads in and out of town.” “If a person talks but shows obvious reluctance, don’t force a long explanation on them. Come back another day to explain more.” Don’t overwhelm people with possibilities—focus on a single hope. A registration class. A mass meeting. A trip to the courthouse. But Mississippi native Lawrence Guyot saw canvassing in simpler terms. Canvassing was “surviving and just walking around talking to people about what they’re interested in. And it didn’t make any difference. If it was fishing, how do you turn that conversation into ‘When are you gonna register to vote?’ If it was religion, that was an easier one to turn into registering.” Guyot’s cardinal rule was common sense. “You don’t alter the basic format that you walk into. Let’s say you’re riding past a picnic and people are cuttin’ watermelons. You don’t immediately go and say, ‘Stop the watermelon cuttin’, and let’s talk about voter registrations.’ You cut some watermelons.”
As summer progressed, canvassers would see doors gently closed and doors swiftly shut. They would have men nod and swear they would “sure enough” show up for registration classes and then never appear. They would hand pamphlets to old black men, only to realize the men could not read a word. And every now and then they would be welcomed inside a sharecropper’s shack. There they would try not to stare, try not to cry. Blinking back waves of heat radiating from tin roofs, they saw walls patched with yellowed newspaper, bare bulbs hanging from frayed cords, barefoot children playing on the floor—with bottle caps. Many homes had a single picture—of Jesus, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King. “The whole scene,” one volunteer wrote, “was from another century.” One in twenty locals might open their homes. The rest stayed on porches, scratching salt-and-pepper whiskers, furrowing washboard brows.
“I just can’t get my mind on all that. I just never voted and I’m too old now.”
“I don’t want to mess with that mess.”
“I can’t sign no paper.”
And if a volunteer said, “Negroes have to do something to—”
“I ain’t no Negro. I’m a nigger. The Boss Man, he don’t say nothing but ‘nigger girl’ to me. I’m just a nigger. I can’t sign no paper.”
On to the next shack. A black snake slithers across the road. A train whistle floats by. The sinking sun serves as both time clock and barometer of their mood. If one in twenty invite them in, only one in a hundred decide that voting is worth risking a job, a home, a life. Registering to vote had always carried grave risks in Mississippi, but Freedom Summer saw those risks stalk the streets. Canvassers were often followed by a police car, inching along, shotgun on display, tires popping the gravel. One look at a cop was enough to send weary bodies scurrying inside. Volunteers loathed the police on their tail, but a cop could ward off other dangers.
Outside Batesville, Jay Shetterly and Geoff Cowan were canvassing along the Tallahatchie River as it flowed past cotton fields. Speaking to field hands with hoes propped on their shoulders, the two wondered why the men just stared. Cowan talked about voting. The men stared. Shetterly talked about the need to unite. Nervous grins. Finally, the two turned around to see a pickup, a tight-lipped white man, a shotgun on the rack behind him, a pistol on the seat.
“Did that nigger invite you in here? ”
Cowan and Shetterly, both articulate Harvard students, said nothing.
“Did you know Mississippi law allows me to shoot trespassers? ”
No, they did not know.
“Are you gonna get off this plantation? ”
The men left without a word. The pickup roared off.
Numbers alone made the canvass worth the frustration. If a dozen teams went out for a dozen days in a dozen towns, even one out of a hundred added up to lines at courthouses. And all that first week of July, shack by shack, canvassers dragged the bottom of Mississippi and came up with just enough hope to keep them going. The lone exception to this harsh law of averages was in Panola County, where Chris Williams was the youngest canvasser in Mississippi.
During his two weeks in the state, Chris had grown confident, even brash. He had spent languid afternoons tracing lines of dirt across his skin. He had sat up nights reading the novels of Richard Wright. And most evenings he had canvassed with “a somewhat neurotic redhead” from the University of Michigan. Older volunteers were amused to hear this mere teenager, when angered by white Mississippi, spout a phrase common in his Massachusetts high school—“Goddamn motherfucker, pissed me right off!” Fellow volunteers found Chris “kind of goofy, kind of crazy—we could always depend on him to be funny.”
Chris and other Batesville canvassers had an advantage in going shack to shack. In 1961, the Panola County Voters League had filed suit, charging racial bias in registration. The case dragged on for two years before a judge ruled in favor of the county, but just a month before Freedom Summer, the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans overturned the decision. The court issued a one-year injunction suspending the requirement that registrants—black registrants, at least—interpret the state constitution. The injunction also voided the onerous poll tax, equal to a sharecropper’s daily wage, that had to be paid up for two years before one could vote. Suddenly, SNCC had twelve months to register as many as possible. Before the injunction, only one Panola County Negro was registered, and he had been on the books since 1892. Then, during the first week of summer, SNCC held nightly registration classes. Assistant Attorney General John Doar came from the Justice Department to check on things. Canvassers went door to door, and fifty blacks went to the courthouse. Forty-seven were registered. It was all changing, sure enough, that summer.
Chris was living with Mrs. Cornelia Robertson and her grown daughter, Pepper, in a two-room shack with no running water and bullet holes in the front screen. But both women rose early to work, so Chris made his own breakfast, showered in the sun beneath buckets of cold water, then hustled to the project office. The office had gotten off to a slow start. The man Chris called “our great leader” had spent most of his time talking to local girls. Then he was replaced by Claude Weaver, a black Harvard student with a serene face and a deft sense of humor. (Weaver also drew cartoons, circulated widely among project offices, featuring a humble black janitor who, when danger threatened, burst out of his overalls to become—ta-daa—Supersnick.)
Come early July, when Chris walked each morning past shacks and juke joints, waving, nodding to locals, he arrived at a frenetic office. Parked outside were a white Plymouth from SNCC’s “Sojourner Motor Fleet,” plus one volunteer’s VW and another’s Pontiac GTO. Inside, posters proclaimed “Freedom Now!” and “There is a street in Itta Bena called Freedom . . .” The radio blared a Memphis soul station. Aretha Franklin. Wilson Pickett. Marvin Gaye. Scurrying around the office were students from Harvard, Radcliffe, and the University of Chicago working on communications, legal affairs, and canvassing. Most days Chris studied canvassing routes or ran errands. Most evenings, after sharecroppers came home from the fields, he met them on their porches. Once a week, he went to the courthouse.
One afternoon, Chris sat in the cool, echoing corridor outside the Panola County registrar’s office. A few days earlier, he had canvassed Mrs. Gladys Toliver, convincing her to take the risk. Now he sat with the old woman and three other would-be voters on a hardwood bench. As the wait dragged on, Mrs. Toliver confided in the nice crew-cut white boy beside her. She didn’t think she could pass the test. All those questions, all those laws. Chris took out a copy of the registration form and was reviewing it with her when footsteps clicked down the hall. Chris looked up to see a short, beer-bellied man with horn-rimmed glasses, a badge on his chest and a gun on his hip. Sheriff Earl Hubbard.
The sheriff began ranting. Volunteers were “agitators . . . come to Mississippi to cause trouble.” Chris sat seething, stifling sarcastic replies. Finally, the sheriff told Chris to get out. A courthouse was no place for voting classes. “Did you hear me, boy? I said ‘Get out.’ ” Muttering “Goddamn motherfucker, pissed me right off!” Chris walked down the corridor past the “Whites Only” drinking fountain and stepped outside. Scalding air slammed him in the face. Alone on the steps, his confidence wavered. SNCC lore was full of attacks in such a setting. Bob Moses beaten at the courthouse in Liberty. Several struck down in Greenwood. Any minute now. . . . Finally, his friends emerged, followed by the sheriff, still ranting. “He said they ought to send me home and let my parents teach me how to behave,” Chris wrote home. “I just looked him in the eye and said nothing. He’s only a stupid old man.” Sheriff Hubbard gave the SNCC car a parking ticket. Back at the Mileses’ house, Chris enjoyed a big meal. “I have developed a real taste for Southern cooking,” he told his parents. That evening, the shotguns again came out as blacks stood guard. Some things were a long way from changing.
On Thursday, July 2, the search for Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney spread to the Alabama border. Afternoon downpours continued to curtail the hunt. Rumors revived with word that a gas station attendant in Kosciusko had seen the three. Back in Philadelphia, agents were growing suspicious about Sheriff Lawrence Rainey. A middle-aged man with an eighth-grade education, standing six-two, weighing 240, Rainey was known as hard-drinking and “hard on the Negroes.” Everyone knew the sheriff had even killed two blacks, both while he was on duty, both unarmed. Mississippi sheriffs had enormous power—each was his county’s tax collector, prohibition agent, and, in some Klan-ridden counties, a proud member of the klavern. But Rainey claimed even more power. Once after pulling over a driver, he asked, “Nigger, do you know who’s running this county? Lawrence A. Rainey is running this county.” When the man mentioned the mayor, Rainey shot back, “Nigger, don’t come talking about no mayor, ’cause I’m the sheriff in this county.” Now the sheriff was becoming a suspect. The FBI had a list of seven names, submitted by a highway patrolman from Meridian. “I have no proof,” the man told agents, “but I bet you every one of these men was involved in this.” Among the names were Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price. The FBI had already learned that Rainey had been in the pack that stormed the Mt. Zion Church meeting and beat Junior Cole unconscious. Reporters were asking Rainey about rumors that a white mob, waiting outside the jail, had abducted Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. He flatly denied them. On July 2, the FBI called the sheriff in for questioning.
Wearing his cowboy hat, his chaw in his cheek, his gun on his hip, the sheriff swaggered into Room 18 of the Delphia Courts Motel. With him was a county attorney, ready to rise to his defense. Rainey was shown pictures—the goateed Schwerner, the kindly Chaney, the doe-eyed Goodman. Never seen the men before, the sheriff said. Then, punctuating his answers by spitting tobacco juice, he detailed his whereabouts on the night of June 21. He had visited his wife in the hospital, then had dinner with relatives. After dropping by his office to pick up clean shirts, he had returned to relatives, watched Candid Camera and Bonanza, then made it back to Philadelphia before midnight. Stopping at the jail, he had learned about the arrest and release of the three. Then he went home. Agents listened. Agents took notes. Then one asked Rainey if he was a Klansman. He denied it, then denied that Neshoba County even had a Klan. Listening to the sheriff, the attorney found his denial strange and incredible. Hadn’t a Klan recruitment flier, earlier that spring, been posted down the hall from Rainey’s office for days on end? The back-and-forth continued until an agent blurted out, “Now come on sheriff and tell us what you did with those people.” The sheriff said nothing and was allowed to leave. Agents began checking his story. Rainey was shocked that the FBI even called his wife in the hospital. Two days later, the attorney, still stunned by what he had heard during the interrogation, told agents that Sheriff Lawrence Rainey should be their “number one suspect.”
Agents were also suspicious about Deputy Price. A high school dropout like his boss, Price hid a dull rage behind a goofy demeanor. When first approached by the FBI, he had shrugged off all accusations, then popped the trunk of his patrol car and offered the agent a swig of moonshine. Agents had since investigated Price’s story about June 21—the arrest, the release, the taillights disappearing. Much of it checked out, but his whereabouts from 10:40 to 11:30 p.m. could not be confirmed. Adding to their suspicions, the Neshoba County jailer said she normally received the car keys of suspects in jail. But Price had given her no keys for the three. Nor were keys ever mentioned. Agents also found it unusual that local cops, like the sheriff, refused to be questioned without an attorney present.
While the FBI questioned Price and Rainey, the first two Freedom Schools opened. In Clarksdale, students listened as a white woman read from James Baldwin’s “Talk to Teachers”: “Now if I were a teacher in this school, or any Negro school, and I was dealing with Negro children, who were in my care only a few hours of every day and would then return to their homes and to the streets . . . I would try to make them know—that those streets, those houses, those dangers, those agonies by which they are surrounded, are criminal. I would try to make each child know that these things are the result of a criminal conspiracy to destroy him.”
As if such frankness were not startling enough, the teacher then encouraged students to talk. Sparked by Baldwin’s fire, they opened up on Mississippi, discussing cops, a recent shooting, and why one student no longer ate watermelon because it was “nigger food.” After a rousing chorus of Freedom Songs, students headed home. It was a start. That same afternoon in Holly Springs, students met under the low, leafy branches of a sweetgum tree to hear a teacher call them the “leaders of tomorrow.” And that evening, tomorrow came early.
Shortly after 7:00 p.m., all network programming was interrupted. In living rooms across the nation, President Johnson urged Americans to “close the springs of racial poison.” Then the president began signing the Civil Rights Act, using seventy-two different pens, handing them to congressmen and to Martin Luther King, standing behind him. The first major civil rights bill since Reconstruction had been introduced by John F. Kennedy just hours before Medgar Evers was killed. The bill had survived massive resistance, including southern senators droning through the longest filibuster in congressional history. LBJ had thrown his enormous powers of persuasion behind the bill, finally twisting enough arms to end the filibuster and win approval. Now came what the president called the “time of testing.” Johnson had barely given away the last pen when a blazing cross lit the sky in central Mississippi. The town’s name—Harmony.
All that holiday weekend, the testing continued. Blacks sat beside whites at lunch counters in Montgomery, Alabama, but were beaten with baseball bats in Bessemer. Blacks integrated hotels and theaters in Birmingham, but three attempting a “wade-in” at Lake Texarkana were shot. “Occupied Mississippi” braced for the worst. The Jackson Chamber of Commerce urged businesses to comply with the law, but the Clarion-Ledger advertised “tear gas pen guns,” and Governor Paul Johnson predicted “civil strife and chaotic conditions.” Across the state, whites swore “Never!,” blacks tried to be hopeful, and volunteers bore witness. “People here in Clarksdale know all about that bill,” one volunteer wrote home, “but tomorrow and Saturday, the 4th of July, they will still be in the cotton fields making three dollars a day. . . . They’ll still be starving and afraid.” SNCCs had decided against testing the law and had to talk locals out of open confrontation. A Greenwood woman kept saying, “Ah’m going swimmin’ in that pool. Ah’ve waited a long time.” Several convinced her to wait a little longer. The long holiday weekend was just beginning.
It was a Fourth like many. A million people jammed the boardwalk at Coney Island. At Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle hit a three-run homer to beat the Twins. The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” went to number one, and fireworks went off everywhere. Yet it was also a Fourth unlike any in memory. In Atlanta, several SNCCs, black and white, entered a rally for George Wallace. A mob descended with fists, chairs, and lead pipes until a white stranger dragged the intruders to safety. Outside Radio City Music Hall, demonstrators carried black-bordered signs in memory of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. At the World’s Fair in New York, SNCCs urged a boycott of the high school band from Greenwood, Mississippi. And in Greenwood, in Vicksburg, in Batesville, volunteers celebrated freedom with those for whom it remained a dream.
So far, most volunteers had met just their host families and a few neighbors. From these few, they had learned that black Mississippi was stronger than its shacks. They noticed how black women always referred to each other with the deference whites denied them—Mrs. or Miss. They learned who in “the quarters” could be trusted and who were the “Judas niggers.” They met practitioners of jobs they thought had vanished—midwife, fortune teller, bootlegger—and they learned about folk remedies, superstitions, and how to survive on three dollars a day. On Sundays in church, they saw how faith and song held lives together. But the Fourth of July introduced volunteers to the local heroes.
Today, when the civil rights movement is mentioned, the same names surface—Rosa Parks and Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Dr. King. . . . The names of everyday people in Mississippi—Bob Moses’ “striking force,” who marched, registered, risked everything in the name of freedom—remain unknown. But volunteers were learning the names and meeting the people they would never forget. “What have I done in my life?” a graying Fred Winn asked, looking back more than forty years. “Well, I’ve done a little of this, a little of that. But I ate at the table of Fannie Lou Hamer, in her home and she called me by my name and we were friends.” Cops called the local heroes “troublemakers” and “uppity niggers.” Most were unknown outside their towns, but legends within, legends passing the potato salad that holiday afternoon.
Shortly after midday, in temperatures one volunteer guessed to be 110, people began pouring onto a farm near Hattiesburg. All afternoon, whites and blacks went on tractor-pulled hayrides, sought shade beneath moss-draped live oaks, and ate mountains of potato salad, watermelon, and catfish fried in huge kettles. Many wondered who was hosting the picnic. A rugged man in a pith helmet seemed in charge, tending the catfish, talking with everyone, but he looked white, and what white Mississippian would host a SNCC gathering? Questioning revealed that this was Vernon Dahmer. A gentle, ruddy-faced farmer white enough to “pass” yet proud of his black ancestry, Dahmer had housed the first SNCCs to work in Hattiesburg. Now he welcomed volunteers, including a group of teachers just arrived from a final training in Memphis. Everyone at the picnic had a great time until a pickup with a rifle rack passed. Dahmer and his son, on leave from the marines, went into the house and came out with rifles. The pickup passed again but drove on. The picnic continued until dusk, when volunteers scurried home before another night fell.
In Cleveland, Mississippi, the man to see—on the Fourth and throughout the summer—was still Amzie Moore. Standing over six feet tall, with a thick neck and bald head, Moore projected power and serenity. A father figure to Bob Moses, Moore now played the same role to volunteers. By early July, his home overflowed with college students sharing the spaghetti dinners he threw together while telling his own story. Moore had picked cotton into the Depression before landing a job as a janitor in a post office. During World War II, he had fought in a segregated unit in the Pacific, then returned to the Delta, hoping to buy land and get rich. But one winter day he visited a destitute woman in her shack and saw her fourteen children dressed in tatters. “I kinda figured it was a sin to think in terms of trying to get rich in view of what I’d seen,” he remembered. Holding on to his post office job and opening a gas station, Moore joined the NAACP and quickly headed the local chapter. In 1961, when Bob Moses showed up at his door, he was ready. Three summers later, volunteers heading north through the Delta used Moore’s home as a sanctuary. Though awed by his courage, some were shocked by his arsenal. Once, as two volunteers lay down to sleep in his living room, Moore set a loaded Luger on the night table “in case of emergency.” When they said they were not likely to use the gun, he removed it. “Just as you say. Good night.”
In Clarksdale, volunteers flocked to the picnic at “Doc” Henry’s place. Aaron Henry had succeeded his friend Medgar Evers as black Mississippi’s leading spokesman. His lengthy boycotts of Clarksdale businesses resulted in the bombing of his home and pharmacy. Arrested on a trumped-up morals charge, he had worked as a garbage collector and on a chain gang at Parchman Farm. Undaunted, Henry finally returned to his Fourth Street Drug Store, where his front window displayed the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. Conservative and cautious, Henry bristled at SNCCs’ overalls and T-shirts and disapproved of many SNCC tactics, but he backed Freedom Summer from the first day. On the Fourth of July, volunteers ate hot dogs and strummed guitars at “Doc’s house.”
Not all local heroes were men. At each holiday picnic, volunteers met strong, inspiring black women. SNCC had always welcomed women, and from its first days in Mississippi, they were marching to courthouses, rallying neighbors, singing at mass meetings that were often two-thirds female. Together, they formed an army of support, but volunteers saw some standing out from the ranks. In Greenwood, proud and defiant Laura McGhee, enraged by the shooting of her brother, had opened her small farm to SNCC in 1962. McGhee became a legend a year later when, knocked down by a cop, she yanked away his nightstick. All that summer, McGhee’s son Silas would lead black Greenwood’s defiance.
At the Dahmer picnic in Hattiesburg, volunteers met Victoria Gray, already a mother of three running a cosmetics business and teaching literacy when she decided to register. “When I raised my hand,” Gray remembered, “I knew the rest of my life would not be the same.” Within a year she was a SNCC field secretary, and within two she was running for Congress on the parallel Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) ticket.
But the most celebrated of all local heroes was the powerhouse who hosted her own Independence Day picnic in Ruleville. The twentieth child of sharecroppers, Fannie Lou Hamer had been working in the cotton fields since the 1920s, unaware she even had the right to vote. All her life she had bristled at how Mississippi treated her. Growing up barefoot, hungry, wishing “so bad” that she was white, she had helped her mother roam the Marlowe plantation “scrapping” cotton shreds to sell. She had watched her father save to buy wagons and farm tools, only to have an envious white man poison his mules. Worn down by field work, Hamer had two stillborn children, then adopted two daughters. In 1961, she entered the hospital with “a knot on my stomach” and came out sterilized without her consent. Something had to change. She attended her first SNCC meeting in the summer of 1962. If enough blacks registered, James Forman announced, they could vote racist politicians and sheriffs out of office. When Forman asked for volunteers, Hamer’s hand went up first. “Had it up as high as I could get it,” she recalled. A few days later she was on a bus heading for the Sunflower County courthouse. The registration test asked her to explain de facto laws. “I knowed as much about a facto law as a horse knows about Christmas Day,” she later said. She failed. When she came home, she heard the “boss man” was “raisin’ Cain.” Mr. Marlowe told Hamer she would have to withdraw her registration because “we’re not ready for that in Mississippi.” If she refused, she would have to leave the plantation where she had worked for eighteen years as a timekeeper.
“I didn’t try to register for you,” Hamer replied. “I tried to register for myself.”
Thrown out of her shack, Hamer moved to a neighbor’s where her bedroom was soon riddled by sixteen shots fired late one night. Yet she dug into herself and into the movement, becoming, as she called it, “a Snicker.” James Forman said of Hamer, “She was SNCC itself.” Hamer sometimes seemed a force of nature. When she threw her head back and sang, it was said you could hear her all over Sunflower County. When she spoke, she lifted audiences off their feet. When she moved, black Mississippi seemed to move with her. She often discounted the risks. “The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that just a little bit at a time since I could remember.” A deeply religious woman, Hamer saw the movement in biblical themes. Bob Moses’ name, she often said, was no coincidence. Beatings and jail were crosses to bear. Summer volunteers were Good Samaritans, and freedom was her own Promised Land.
As Hamer had told volunteers in Ohio, she had been savagely beaten in jail in 1963, yet she refused to hate those who hated her. “The white man’s afraid he’ll be treated like he’s been treating the Negroes, but I couldn’t carry that much hate.” By 1964, her signature phrase—“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”—was widely known among Delta blacks, and her favorite song, “This Little Light of Mine,” kicked off every mass meeting she attended. Throughout Freedom Summer, her home would be a headquarters not just for volunteers but for freedom itself. Reporters looking for stories were told to go to Fannie Lou Hamer’s house. Hungry volunteers always found a pot of beans cooking in her kitchen, while those who needed shade found their way beneath her pecan tree. For decades, she had seen no future beyond Ruleville’s cotton fields. Yet in the spring of 1964, she waged a quixotic run for Congress and was profiled in the Nation and the Washington Post. That August, she would speak on national television. But for all her fire, it was her husband, a huge, hard-drinking stalwart she called “Pap,” who best expressed how the blend of volunteers and local heroes brought the movement in Mississippi to fruition that summer. Asked by a cop how he felt having “white boys” sleep in his house, Pap Hamer replied, “I feel like a man because they treat me like a man.”
At Hamer’s picnic, volunteers ate “special dishes” prepared by women in Jerusalem and Sanctified Quarters. The fare included cornbread, peas in bacon and onion sauce, potato casseroles, “and more and more and more until the pies and the cakes and the ice cream came and we could not refuse.” After the feast, four congressmen touring the Delta, one the father of a Ruleville volunteer, said a few words, but a local black woman said more: “These young white folks who are already free, they come here only to help us. They is proving to us that black and white can do it together, that it ain’t true what we always thought, that all white folks is booger men, ’cause they sure is not.”
Another week had passed in Mississippi, another week of hope and hatred. Prank calls now came to project offices asking, “Can I speak to Andy Goodman? ” But for all the hostility in the air, the second week of Freedom Summer saw half the violence of the first. Not even the most naive volunteer expected the terror had ended, but might Mississippi be getting used to them? Night remained a madhouse, but could one step out during the day?
A few blocks from the Mississippi River in Greenville, Muriel Tillinghast had spent two weeks upstairs. Other volunteers had entered the office early each morning, left late each evening. Their jocularity amazed Muriel, but their confidence was not contagious. No matter how they tried to get her outside, she refused to leave. All her inherited skills, her years of protest and picketing, had been drowned in fear. Her “Sunday call,” Charlie Cobb, had come back from Neshoba County with chilling tales of late-night searches for the three. Now, the affable Cobb, a poet, writer, and educator, was telling Muriel how safe Greenville was. But Muriel, sure that her skin and her natural hair made her a target, remained upstairs. Alone with her fears each night, she had them reinforced by phone threats—“Just wanted to know if you niggers are going to church this morning.”
Much had happened in Greenville to soothe Muriel’s concerns. Volunteers had marched around a federal building, protesting LBJ’s refusal to send marshals to Mississippi. Greenville police watched but made no arrests. A Greenville jury acquitted a black man of rape charges by a white woman. No one could remember that ever happening in Mississippi. Several high school students, having led sit-ins, were in the office working, joking, easing tensions. And each morning, someone brought in the newspaper.
When Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney disappeared, the Delta Democrat-Times preached tolerance. June 24, 1964: “Today would be a good day for prayer in Mississippi, a sincere prayer that the three missing civil rights workers are not dead. If our prayers are not answered, if murder has been committed, then the rest of the summer could well be pure hell.” And to those who said the three “mixers” had been taught a lesson, Hodding Carter III added, “It may well be a lesson. It may be a lesson that there are people living in this state who can see three men disappear without concern simply because they felt the men were unwelcome.” Upstairs, Muriel read the local news and recognized Greenville as different. But she also heard news from the rest of Mississippi and stayed inside. The office had no refrigerator, so she survived on whatever others could bring her. She lost “a lotta weight.” Finally, she had “an epiphany that I couldn’t register people to vote on the second floor of the office. I had to come out.”
Sometime that Fourth of July weekend, Muriel edged her way down the stairs and stepped into the blinding glare, straight into the face of Mississippi. Step by step, she learned to walk beside her fears. Her first journey took her alongside the COFO building, past the dry cleaners, running her hands along the warm bricks. After a few minutes, she went back inside, but she returned to the street the next day. She visited the mom-and-pop store she had seen only from the second-story window and the juke joints farther down Nelson Street. No one drove by, shouting. No one noticed at all. By the time she began her third week in Mississippi, Muriel was herself again—shaken but ready to be the take-charge activist with the degree from Howard and the street credentials from its Non-Violent Action Group. She thought she was prepared for whatever Mississippi could throw at her. She did not know that in two weeks, Charlie Cobb would leave, putting her in charge of the Greenville project.
The week that opened with the revival of dying buildings closed with events equally unimaginable a month before. In June, it would have been easy to foresee the mob scene in Laurel when blacks tried to eat at a Burger Chef, or the brawl in Greenwood when Silas McGhee tried to integrate the Leflore Theater. But who would have predicted what occurred in Jackson on July 5? That Sunday afternoon, NAACP leaders flew to Mississippi to test the Civil Rights Act. Expecting to be arrested or beaten, they were met by police and escorted to the Heidelberg Hotel downtown. Joined by Jackson’s local heroes, the black men walked into the hotel, up to the desk—and checked in. A white bellboy took their bags. They ate lunch in the Green Room. “The food was good, the service was good, and the attitude was good,” said a Jackson minister whose home had been shot into just twelve days earlier. Other tests—at the Sun n’ Sand Motel and the King Edward Hotel—also went off without incident. “I think we can see helpful signs that Mississippi will get in step with the nation,” the minister said. The manager of the Sun n’ Sand summed up the grudging attitude of much of Mississippi: “We are just going to abide by the law.”
As a new week began, NAACP leaders set out to tour Mississippi and make more tests. Caught up in the same spirit, SNCC readied staffers to work in the Klan hotbed of McComb. And volunteers prepared for more canvassing and the opening of Freedom Schools across the state. Neither the NAACP, the volunteers, nor those well schooled in Mississippi violence had any notion that the holiday was over.
I’m standin’ at the crossroads
And I believe I’m sinkin’ down.
—Robert Johnson, “Cross Road Blues”