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LETTERS FROM MISSISSIPPI 

The following letters written between June and August, 1964, provide a brief glimpse of the impressions and emotions of the largely white college students who worked in Mississippi during that "Freedom Summer."                                  

June 15


            Us white kids here are in a position we've never been in before.  The direction of the whole program is under Negro leadership--almost entirely.  And a large part of that leadership is young people from the South--Negroes who've had experience just because they're Negroes and because they've been active in the movement.  And here "we" are, for the most part never experiencing any injustice other than "No, I won't let you see your exam paper..."                                                                                                         

Monday night, June 15

            I turned down a chance to work in the southwest part of the state, the most dangerous area.  I talked to a staff member covering that area for about fifteen minutes and he told me about the five Negroes who have been taken into the woods and shot in the last three months...  I told him that I couldn't go in there because I was just too scared.  I felt so bad I was about ready to forget about going to Mississippi at all.  But I still wanted to go; I just didn't feel like giving up my life.  After thinking about this seeming contradiction, I decided that I have not discovered just how dedicated I am to the civil rights cause and that is the purpose of the trip.... 

Dear Mom and Dad,

            A lot of the meetings have been run by a Negro Mennonite minister from Georgia, a member of the National Council of Churches.  (The NCC is paying for this orientation, and has some excellent staff people here.)  His name is Vincent Harding, plump, bespectacled, and brilliant moderator in discussions because he reacts so honestly and humorously to every question.  Yesterday he gave a long talk about people using each other and where to watch out for this within the movement itself (Negro man accuses white girl of being a racist if she won't go to bed with him, or vice versa; or white girl looking for "my summer Negro"; or Negroes in the community using volunteers as the only available victims of their suppressed hostility to whites in general, etc., etc).  These are examples of the kind of honesty that characterizes the whole training session.  His main point was that people within the movement must not use each other because it is that very exploitation of someone else, which turns him from a human being into an object, that the movement is fighting against.                                                                                

                                                                                                                        Love, Susan

 June 27

Dear Mom and Dad,                                                                                                                

            This letter is hard to write because I would like so much to communicate how I feel and I don't know if I can.  It is very hard to answer to your attitude that if I loved you I wouldn't do this--hard, because the thought is cruel.  I can only hope you have the sensitivity to understand that I can both love you very much and desire to go to Mississippi.  I have no way of demonstrating my love.  It is simply a fact and that is all I can say....

            I hope you will accept my decision even if you do not agree with me.  There comes a time when you have to do things which your parents do not agree with.... Convictions are worthless in themselves.  In fact, if they don't become actions, they are worse than worthless--they become a force of evil in themselves.  You can't run away from a broadened awareness....If you try, it follows you in your conscience, or you become a self-deceiving person who has numbed some of his humanness.  It think you have to live to the fullest extent to which you have gained an awareness or you are less than the human being you are capable of being... This doesn't apply just to civil rights or social consciousness but to all the experiences of life...

                                                                                                Love, Bonnie

                                                         July 30

    Yesterday, July 29, two of us (both white) went to speak in two Sociology classes [at a local white university].  We spoke about our project in Holly Springs and then answered questions.  While some questions were relevant, many were of the nature of:  a "Would you marry a Negro?" "Is your organization Communist?" and "Why are Negroes so immoral?"  Both Alvin and I felt that it was fairly successful.  We were able to answer most of the questions in sociological terms.  The second class which we attended was an advanced class in Urban Sociology.  Their questions were for the most part more sophisticated.  Both classes treated us respectfully and were very attentive to what we had to say... Later, I realized what had been bothering me about those people at [the university].  It was that they were patting themselves on the back for recognizing and admitting that conditions in Mississippi were bad....

            I am beginning to understand why people who work in the Movement come to not really care too much about the kind of thoughts of some "liberal" southern and, for that matter, northern whites.  I try to fight the bitterness... 

Gulfport, August 12

Dear Mother and Father:

            I have learned more about politics here from running my own precinct meetings than I could have from any Government professor...For the first time in my life, I am seeing what it is like to be poor, oppressed, and hated.  And what I see here does not apply only to Gulfport or to Mississippi or even to the South....The people we're killing in Viet Nam are the same people whom we've been killing for years in Mississippi.  True, we didn't tie the knot in Mississippi and we didn't pull the trigger in Viet Nam--that is, we personally--but we've been standing behind the knot-tiers and the trigger-pullers too long.  This summer is only the briefest beginning of this experience, both for myself and for the Negroes of Mississippi.

                                                                                                                        Your daughter, Ellen 



Source:  Elizabeth Sutherland, ed., Letters From Mississippi, (New York, 1965), pp. 3-14, 22-23, 45-72, 145-147, 229-230. 

 

MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI 



During the 1964 Freedom Summer hundreds of black and white civil rights workers from throughout the United States assisted black Mississippians to register to vote and to challenge the racially discriminatory laws of the state.  Three of those workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney, were killed near Philadelphia.  The passage below from William Bradford Huie's Three Lives for Mississippi, describes their deaths. 

            The murder was done in the "cut" on Rock Cut Road, less than a mile from Highway 19, about four miles from where the three were taken from the station wagon.  It was before midnight, and the moon was still high.  Three cars were in the cut.  I was told that the three victims said nothing, but that they were jeered by the murderers.  Several of the murderers chanted in unison, as though they had practiced it:

            "Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust, If you'd stayed where you belonged, You wouldn't be here with us."

            Another said:  "So you wanted to come to Mississippi?  Well, now we're gonna let you stay here.  We're not even gonna run you out.  We're gonna let you stay here with us."

            When Schwerner was pulled from the car and stood up to be shot, I was told that the man with the pistol asked him:  "You still think a nigger's as good as I am?"  No time was allowed for a reply.  He was shot straight through the heart and fell to the ground.

            Goodman was next, with nothing said.  Apparently he stood as still as Schwerner did, facing his executioner, for the shot that killed him was the same precise shot.  I was told that another man fired the shot, using the same pistol, but my opinion remains that one man fired both shots. 

            Chaney was last, and the only difference was that he struggled while the others had not.  He didn't stand still; he tried to pull and duck away from his executioner.  So he wasn't shot with the same precision, and he was shot three times instead of once.

            The three bodies were tossed into the station wagon and driven along dirt roads to a farm about six miles southwest of Philadelphia.  All three bodies were buried in darkness with a bulldozer.  They were also uncovered, forty ­four days later, with a bulldozer.  After the burial the station wagon was driven to a point fifteen miles northeast of Philadelphia, to the edge of the Bogue Chitto swamp.  There it was doused with diesel fuel and burned.  Afterwards the murderers began drinking though none could be called drunk.  They were met by an official of the state of Mississippi.

            "Well, boys," he said, "you've done a good job.  You've struck a blow for the White Man.  Mississippi can be proud of you... Go home now and forget it.  But before you go, I'm looking each one of you in the eye and telling you this: the first man who talks is dead!  If anybody who knows anything about this ever opens his mouth to any outsider about it, then the rest of us are going to kill him just as dead as we killed those three sonsofbitches tonight.  "Does everybody understand what I'm saying?  The man who talks is dead... dead...dead!" 

Source: William Bradford Huie, 3 Lives for Mississippi, (New York, 1968) pp. 118-121. 

 

BERKELEY: THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT 



In the following vignette University of Washington historian William Rorabaugh describes the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley that began in September 1964.  Note the movement's links to civil rights activism then taking place in the South. 

            In the early 1960s Berkeley student activists were particularly drawn to the civil rights cause because of the changing racial composition of the city of Berkeley.  Due to black migration from the South, by 1960 the city was one-fifth black.  Berkeley's blacks lived in a corner of the city remote from the University.  One seldom saw a black on campus, black shoppers were not welcome in downtown Berkeley, and both school segregation and discrimination in employment and housing were common.  In 1963 Berkeley voters rejected an open housing ordinance, 22,750 to 20,456, and in October 1964 the school board was nearly recalled over desegregation.  These votes indicated the city's bitter divisions.  The split was ironic, because liberals had long considered Berkeley to be advanced, and they pointed with pride to the black assemblyman elected from a mostly white district as early as 1948.  In truth, white Berkeley was schizophrenic -many older residents were native Southerners. Berkeley student activists formed the Berkeley Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to protest job discrimination.  Throughout 1964 CORE and its allies sponsored demonstrations at Lucky's stores in Berkeley, at the Sheraton Palace Hotel and along auto row in San Francisco, and at the Oakland Tribune, organ of William F. Knowland, a former U.S. senator. In the summer of 1964, when the Republican national convention met in San Francisco, activists organized anti-Goldwater pickets on the Cal campus.  To some people, it appeared that a handful of agitators systematically used the campus as a staging ground for making trouble.

            In keeping with the...rules banning political activity on campus, activists for several years had solicited donations and sign ups for protests from card tables set up on the city sidewalk at the edge of campus at Bancroft and Telegraph...  Whether pressured from outside or not, Alex C. Sherriffs, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs...became upset by the activists' presence.  Sherriffs, whose office was in Sproul Hall, perhaps worried less about political activity itself than about its visibility and the effect that it had upon visitors to campus.  In 1964 one of the first sights a visitor saw, at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph, was a student, possibly blue jeaned, bearded, and sandaled, manning a card table, jingling a can, and asking for a donation to support civil rights.  To Sherriffs, this scene was appalling because it created an image of the University as a haven for eccentrics and malcontents.  The vice chancellor saw himself as a moral guardian bound to protect the purity of the campus and its clean cut fraternity and sorority kids from unkempt beatniks and wild eyed radicals...

            When the University opened that September, activists looked forward to recruitment and fund raising.  Over the summer...sixty students had worked for civil rights in Mississippi, and they returned to campus with renewed dedication and determination.  These activists, including Mario Savio and Art Goldberg, were dumbfounded in mid September when the University suddenly issued new rules that banned tables...where they had been placed in growing numbers for two or three years.  When the activists sought an explanation for the change, they could get no answers... 

            The activists were better prepared for war than [University President Clark] Kerr.  First, they knew what they wanted.  Although their specific demands changed over time, they  demanded an end to the regulation of political activity on campus.  This was called free speech...  The activists identified the issue as a traditional American right in order to appeal to large numbers of students, who in other circumstances might have sided with Kerr. Second, some of the activist leaders were battle tested veterans of the civil rights movement. "A student who has been chased by the KKK in Mississippi," observed one student,' "is not easily scared by academic bureaucrats..."  They knew when to advance, when to retreat, how to use crowds, how to use the media, how to intimidate, and how to negotiate. The activists understood their ultimate weapon, the sit in, and were prepared to use it. Although the leaders were not close to one another, they spoke a common language gained through a common experience.  Kerr, on the other hand, was as unready to do battle as a southern sheriff facing a civil rights march for the first time.  Again and again, Kerr showed that he understood nothing about his opponents' tactics.  Finally, activist leaders knew how to maintain discipline over their troops.  Mass psychology, song, theater, and other techniques long favored among revivalists and street politicians accompanied innovative mass meetings at which people freely spoke and at which collective decisions were made by, a kind of consensus that came to be called participatory democracy.  Through these techniques and by focusing on the simplicity of the demand for free speech, activists created...an army.  In contrast, Kerr badgered his beleaguered bureaucracy until it could barely function.

            Throughout September 1964 skirmishes continued as defiant activists set up tables and were cited by irritated deans.  The angry students escalated the conflict by moving their tables to Sproul Plaza.  This protest led to a mill in inside Sproul Hall and the summary "indefinite suspension' of eight students [including] Mario Savio [and] Art Goldberg... Finally, on October 1, University police went to the plaza to arrest a former student, Jack Weinberg; who was manning a CORE table.  The police drove a car onto the plaza to take Weinberg to be booked, and as Weinberg got into the car, someone shouted, "Sit down."  Suddenly, several hundred students surrounded the car.  The police did not know what to do, because they had never encountered such massive defiance.  Kerr's bureaucracy became paralyzed.  This event launched the Free Speech Movement.  Participants later recalled the spontaneity of the "sit down," the thrill of power over the police, and the feeling that something important was happening.  For thirty two hours Weinberg sat in the back of the police car. Although students came and went, there were always at least several hundred surrounding the car. Among those who observed the sit down was Jerry Brown; the governor's son, then living in Berkeley, who was hostile to the protest.  During the night students who disapproved of the sit down  many from nearby fraternities  molested the protesters by tossing lighted cigarettes and garbage into the crowd.  The activists responded by singing civil rights songs.  During the sit down the demonstrators used the roof of the police car (with police permission) as a podium to speak to the crowd.  People aired all sorts of views, and the discussion moved from the rules banning political activity to analyses of the University's governance.  Students expressed their powerlessness, which contrasted with the power that they held over the immobilized police car.  So many people stood on the car's roof that it sagged; the FSM later took up a collection and paid the $455.01 damage.  Several times a twenty one year old junior, Mario Savio, removed his shoes to climb atop the car, and when he spoke, his words seemed especially to energize the crowd.  He became a celebrity and was identified by the crowd as the leader of the activists. From then on Savio battled Kerr. It was not a fair match....  



Source: William J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War, The 1960s (New York, 1989), p. 18-19, 20-21. 

 

PRESIDENT JOHNSON PROPOSES THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT 



On March 7, 1965, Martin Luther King led demonstrations at Selma, Alabama, to secure voting rights for black Americans.  One week later President Lyndon Johnson spoke before a joint session of Congress to urge passage of voting rights legislation that would guarantee that right.  Johnson for the first time placed the full support of the Presidency behind Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.  Here is part of his address to Congress: 

            Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress:

            I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.  I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

            Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.  This bill will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections....which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote.  We cannot refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.  We have already waited one hundred years and more, and the time for waiting is gone....

            But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over.  What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America.  It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for them­selves the full blessings of American life.

            Their cause must be our cause too.  Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

            And we shall overcome.

            As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are.  I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.

            But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed.  And he is not fully free tonight.

            The time of justice has now come.  I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back.  It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come.  And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.

            For Negroes are not the only victims.  How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

            So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.

            This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller.  These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease.  They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor.  And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome... 

Source:  Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, (Lexington, Mass., 1984), pp. 872 873. 

 

MARTIN LUTHER KING AND THE FBI 



In 1964 Martin Luther King, shortly after his notification that he was the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, got an anonymous letter suggesting he was a fraud and that he commit suicide.  It was later determined that the letter origi­nated with the FBI which was trying to discredit King and retard the Civil Rights Movement.  The letter is reprinted below. 

            In view of your low grade...  I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr.  And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII...    

            King, look into your heart.  You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes.  White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don't have one at this time anywhere near your equal.  You are no clergyman and you know it.  I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.  You could not believe in God... Clearly you don't believe in any personal moral principles.    

            King, like all frauds your end is approaching.  You could have been our greatest leader.  You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile.  We will now have to depend on our older leaders like Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others like him.  But you are done.  Your "honorary" degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you.  King, I repeat you are done.    

            No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself...  I repeat--no person can argue successfully against facts...  Satan could not do more.  What incredible evilness...  King you are done.  The American public, the church organizations that have been helping--Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are--an evil, abnormal beast.  So will others who have backed you.  You are done.    

            King, there is only one thing left for you to do.  You know what it is.  You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant [sic]).  You are done.  There is but one way out for you.  You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation. 



Source:  David J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York, 1981), pp. 125 126.   

 

THE END OF NON-VIOLENCE: THE WATTS RIOT



The four days of rioting that swept the Watts section of Los Angeles in August, 1965 proved a turning point in the Civil Rights struggle.  The nation's attention, which had previously been focused on the rural South now shifted to the ghettos of the North and West as African Americans demonstrated their anger with the prevailing political and economic status quo.  The passage below describes the death of Charles Patrick Fizer, one of the 34 people killed during the riot.

            Charles Patrick Fizer, born in Shreveport Louisiana, sang because he loved to--and for money.  People paid to hear Charles Fizer sing.  For a brief time, he made it big.  Most of the Fizer family migrated to California during World War II to take jobs in the buzzing Los Angeles area aircraft plants and shipyards.  In 1944, when he was only three, Charles Fizer was taken there by his grandparents.  He lived with them for a time.  Then, when he was seven, he moved to Watts with his mother.

            The Fizer family was a religious one.  Charles attended the Sweet Home Baptist Church and became an enthusiastic choir member.  He had a good voice.  By the time he was fifteen, he was singing in night clubs....He became part of a successful group of entertainers.  He broke in singing second lead with the Olympics, as the group was known....Came the Olympics' recording of "Hully Gully," and Charles Fizer was something to be reckoned with as an entertainer.  The record sold nearly a million copies.  The Olympics won television guest shots.  Charles came up with a snaky dance to fit the "Hully Gully" music.  Other hit songs followed, and it seemed nothing could stop Charles Fizer from reaching the top. [But] Charles became restless.  With his fellow performers, he became impatient.  His testy attitude and souring views cost him his job with the singing group.  He and another entertainer formed a night club duo, but it flopped. The summer of the Los Angeles Riot, he hit bottom.  He served six months at hard labor on a county prison farm after being arrested with illegal barbiturates.

            He was released Thursday, August 12.  The riot already was in progress.  Even as the violence spread in Los Angeles, Charles Fizer wakened early Friday, went job-hunting and found work as a busboy....But there would be no work Saturday─the restaurant manager decided to close until peace was restored in the city... But that night Charles Fizer drove through Watts after the curfew hour.  In the center of the fire-blackened community, he stopped short of a National Guard roadblock at 102nd and Beach Streets.  Inexplicably, he backed the Buick away from the barricade.  Suddenly, he turned on the car's headlights and shifted into forward gear. What compelled him to jam the accelerator to the floor only he could say─and soon he was past explaining.  Too many white faces challenging him?  Perhaps.  A white man giving him an order?  Perhaps. In any event, he pointed the car straight for the roadblock.  Guardsmen cried to him to halt and fired warning shots into the air.  Then came the roar of M-1 carbines.  The Buick spun crazily and rammed a curb. Charles Fizer never realized his resolve to make a new life.  Inside the car he lay dead, a bullet in his left temple.  The time was 9:15 P.M.



Source:  Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy, Burn, Baby, Burn:  The Los Angeles Race Riot August, 1965, (New York, 1966), pp. 211-213.

 

STOKLEY CARMICHAEL ON BLACK LIBERATION 



In the Spring of 1966 Stokely Carmichael became chairman of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee and soon afterwards advanced the concept of Black Power.  In a article published later that year he discussed its ramifications for America. 

            The history of every institution of this society indicates that a major concern...has been the maintaining of the Negro community in its condition of dependence and oppression.  This has not been on the level of individual acts of discrimination between individual whites against individual Negroes, but as total acts by the White community against the Negro community.

            Let me give you an example of the difference between individual racism and institutionalized racism...  When unidentified white terrorists bomb a Negro Church and kill five children, that act is widely deplored by most segments of the society.  But when in that same city, Birmingham, Alabama, not five but 500 Negro babies die each year because of lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities...that is a function of institutionalized racism.   

            We must organize black community power to end these abuses, and to give the Negro community a chance to have its needs expressed. A leadership which is truly "responsible"  not  to the white press and power structure, but to the community  must be developed.  Such leadership will recognize that its power lies in the unified and collective strength of that community. 

            The single aspect of the black power program that has encountered most criticism is this concept of independent organization.  This is presented as third partyism which has never worked, or a withdrawal into black nationalism and isolationism.  If such a program is developed it will not have the effect of isolating the Negro community but the reverse.  When the Negro community is able to control local office, and negotiate with other groups from a position of organized strength, the possibility of meaningful political alliances on specific issues will be increased.  That is a rule of politics and there is no reason why it should not operate here.  The only difference is that we will have the power to define the terms of these alliances.

            The next question usually is, "So  can it work, can the ghettoes in fact be organized?"  The answer is that this organization must be successful, because there are no viable alternatives  not the War on Poverty, which was at its inception limited to dealing with effects rather than causes, and has become simply another source of machine patronage.  And "Integration" is meaningful only to a small chosen class within the community.

            [The] "inner city" in most major urban areas is [sic] already predominately Negro, and with the white rush to suburbia, Negroes will in the next three decades control the heart of our great cities. These areas can become either concentration camps with a bitter and volatile population whose only power is the power to destroy, or organized and powerful communities able to make constructive contributions to the total society.  Without the power to control their lives and their communities, without effective political institutions through which to relate to the total society, these communities will exist in a constant state of insurrection.  This is a choice that the country will have to make. 

Source: Thomas R. Frazier, Afro American History: Primary Sources, (Chicago, 1988), pp. 414, 419 420. 

 

THE UW BLACK STUDENT UNION 



By 1968 Black Student Unions had emerged on virtually every major university campus in the United States including the University of Washington.  The vignettes below provide rare glimpses into the campus mood which generated the UW BSU.  The first vignette describes black student athletes and the second is an interview with UW BSU leaders.  

            In March [1968] the U. of W. Athletic Department was jolted by charges of racism and discrimination made by some 13 black athletes.  Among the 13 was basketball player Dave Carr, who later spoke...about the feelings of Negroes on the campus.  "Except for some talk of 'niggers,' racism is not so noticeable these days," says Carr.  "White students just look at us like, 'What are you doing on our campus.'  Or sometimes we're considered exceptional Negroes.  Hell, I'm not exceptional, I'm just lucky.  So many of us now are hungry to compete and able to compete if we get the chance.

            "There are other aspects," he continued, "like not being able to find a place to live in the U. District.  But you know the single thing that bothers me most?  Nobody will ever talk to me about anything except basketball. 'You keepin' in shape?  You goin' to play pro ball?'  I'm supposed to be the dumb black athlete who can't do anything else.  I like basketball, but I also am taking a degree in business, and ultimately I intend to go into personnel work.  But no one's interested in that."

                                                                     *      *      *

            Hidden away in a far corner in the basement of the UW HUB is Room 92.  Though nothing on the door proclaims it, Room 92 houses the UW Black Students' Union (BSU).  Little more than a cubbyhole, the room is jammed with furnishings, and on one recent afternoon, a half-dozen BSU members.  Among those present are E.J. Brisker, BSU vice-president; Jesse Crowder, the BSU's sole Mexican American; Richard Brown, one of the four young men who had been charged with firebombing; and Larry Gossett, one of those involved in the Franklin High sit-in.  The conversation is a mixed bag of self-kidding, Whitey put-ons and serious discussion; Brown and Gossett do most of the talking.

            "The Black Student Union is for anything that advances the cause of black people," says Gossett.  "For example, we're in full support of the Olympic Games boycott.  This country has been using its black athletes far too long, showing them off in foreign lands to convince the people that racism doesn't exist in America--when we know it does."  Adds Brown, "Yeah, a black athlete is Mister when he's overseas, but he's nothing when he gets home--can't find housing, can't get a job."

            Gossett wears black-frame glasses and a big Afro; he gestures as he speaks, and he has a habit of gnawing his lower lip.  "In general," he explains, "the Black Students' Union is a political organization set up to serve the wants and needs of black students on white campuses.  The educational system is geared for white, middle-class kids, so it's never served black students.  We're educated to fit into some non-existent slot in white society, rather than to be responsible to the needs of our brothers in the ghetto.  To combat this, one thing we want to do is establish courses in Afro-American culture and history."  On Richard Brown's lapel is a button which displays a leaping black panther.  "No black person will be free," he says, ending the conversation, "until all blacks are free." 

Source: Ed Leimbacher, "Voices from the Ghetto," Seattle Magazine, 5:51 (June 1968) pp. 41-44. 

 

A "FISH-IN" ON THE NISQUALLY

In mid-October 1965 a group of Washington State Indians staged one of their first "fish-ins" to protest state conservation prohibitions against traditional fishing.  In jeopardy were rights which Northwest tribes like the Nisqually, Puyallup and others enjoyed since the days of their treaties signed in 1855, to fish and net salmon on the Nisqually and other rivers.  According to the protesters, the white man's dams, pollution and commercial fishing were depleting the salmon, not their smaller operations.  During the controversy there were a number of "battles" around Puget Sound and on the Columbia River, between state officials and Indians who refused to stop fishing.  Janet McCloud, a Tulalip mother of eight was one of the protestors arrested and held in jail.  Her daughter, Laura McCloud, recounts her story at the trial.

    On October 13, 1965, we held a "fish-in" on the Nisqually River to try and bring a focus on our fishing fight with the State of Washington.  The "fish-in" started at 4:00 p.m. and was over at 4:30.  It ended with six Indians in jail and dazed Indian kids wondering "what happened?"  My parents, Don & Janet McCloud; Al and Maiselle Bridges; Suzan Satiacum and Don George Jr. were arrested that day.  They were released after posting bail a few hours later.  The charges against these six Indians was "obstructing the duty of a police officer."  Now, all we could do was wait till the trials started.  There was a seventh Indian who was later arrested for the same charge, Nugent Kautz.  And he had not been a Frank's Landing on that day.

    The trial was to begin on January 15, 1969, at 9:30.  We went into the courthouse that Wednesday certain that we would not receive justice as was proved to us in other trials.  As we walked into the hallways there were many game wardens standing there, some dressed in their uniforms and some in plain clothes, but we recognized all of them.

    Many of us were dressed in our traditional way with headbands, leggings and necklaces.  As we walked the length of the corridor to the courtroom, the game wardens were looking us up and down, laughing at us.  I said to my cousin, "Don't pay any attention to them, they don't know any better."...

    The first witness for the State was a field marshal for the game department--Zimmerman.  He stated that he was directing the game wardens at the Landing on Oct. 13.  Hw was in charge of the reinforcements from all over the State that come down on us like a sea of green.  At the time of the fish-in I thought that there were about a hundred game wardens...

    The next morning the State started off with their last witness, State Fisheries Biologist, Lasseter.  He talked about how we Indians are the ones who depleted the fish in the Puyallup River and if we weren't controlled we would do the same to the Nisqually River.  The Puyallup River is filled with pollution more than it is with water.  And why would we want to wipe out our livelihood?  Our attorney made Lasseter state that could have been the pollution not the Indians who depleted the fish in the Puyallup River.

    Now it was our turn!  The first witness for our defense was Bob Johnson.  At the time of the fish-in he was the editor of the Auburn Citizen newspaper.  He told of the tactics the game wardens use on us.  Mr. Johnson also had evidence with him, pictures of game wardens, showing billie clubs and seven-celled flashlights.  The Prosecuting attorney got real shook up about these.  It seemed like he was saying "I object" every few minutes...

    The next defense witness was Janet McCloud, Tulalip Indian. She told...why the Indians had the fish-in demonstration on that day and what the mood the Indians had before the fish-in... We were not expecting any violence because all my brothers and sisters were there and the youngest was 4 at that time... She told how she felt when she realized that the game wardens were going to ram our boat...and [how] these mean meant business with their...flashlights, billie clubs and brass knuckles.  My two little brothers were in the boat when it was rammed, the youngest was 7 and could not swim.  Besides, once you get tangled in nylon mesh it is very easy to drown.  While she was telling this story, we could tell she was trying very hard to keep from crying but...she started to...

    With all this testimony and evidence, it was plain to see that the game wardens had lied.  We only hoped that the jury would believe our side of the fish-in story.  We also learned the names of the game wardens whose pictures we had, especially the one who had been beating on Alison and Valerie Bridges...

    After the two lawyers gave their summations the jury went into session.  This was at ten o'clock at night.  They were out until midnight.  The foreman came in first and said, " The rest are afraid to come in."  I thought, here comes another guilty [verdict].  When the foreman handed the judge the decision the room became very silent.  Then the judge read, "The jury finds the defendant Nugent Kautz 'not guilty.'"  He read the rest of the names with the same verdict.  I didn't believe it.  I turned to my cousin and said, "Did I hear right?"  She nodded her head, yes.  Everyone was happy, except the State.  The game wardens were very hostile after this...

    So the war goes on--which goes to prove that the history books are wrong when they talk about "the last Indian wars."  They have never stopped!

Source: Peter Nabokov, ed., Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992 (New York, 1991), pp. 362-366.

 

"TIO TACO IS DEAD" 



This title of a 1970 Newsweek article signaled for many in the United States an introduction to the Chicano Movement.  Excerpts of the article appear below.  

            It is impossible to ignore the handwriting on the wall--the enormous, angular jottings that spillover imaginary margins.  Across the peeling faces of neo-Victorian buildings, on littered sidewalks, anywhere where there is a decent-size blank space young chicanos scrawl their names, their slogans, their dreams.... On the ash-gray bricks of one nameless liquor store deep in the heart of the East Los Angeles barrio, someone has written a footnote to American history. "Tio Taco is dead," it says, "Con safos."

            Tio Taco--or Uncle Taco, the stereotype Mexican-American, sapped of energy and ambition, sulking in the shadow of an Anglo culture--is dead.  From the ghettos of Los Angles, through the wastelands of New Mexico and Colorado, into the fertile reaches of the Rio Grande valley in Texas, a new Mexican-American militancy is emerging.  Brown has become aggressively beautiful...

            Their are 5.6 million Mexican-Americans in the United States, divided roughly into two subgroups.  The first is made up of descendants of settlers who arrived in the Southwest before the Mayflower... The forefather of these Spanish Americans, as they prefer to be called, founded California and gave Los Angeles its name... Today, they live in rural communities scattered across New Mexico and Colorado...  The second, and larger, subgroup is made up of more recent immigrants from Mexico and their descendants.  Substantial migration to the U.S. began with the Mexican Revolution and went on through the 1960s with Texas serving as the way station to the great urban ghettos of San Antonio, Los Angeles, Denver, and points farther north...

            Through the Southwest today, were 90% of the Mexican-Americans live, a third of them are below the official poverty line--that is, they make do on less than $3,000 a year.  In some sections of Texas, poverty-stricken Mexican-Americans live in unbelievably primitive conditions.  Countrywide, the unemployment rate among chicanos is twice as high as the unemployment rate among Anglos.  And the vast majority of Mexican-Americans who are employed work at unskilled....jobs.  Mexican-Americans average four years less schooling than Anglos and two years less than Negroes.

            Statistics tell only part of the story.  On top of the poverty, Mexican-Americans have long been subjected to violence by the authorities.  For years, law-enforcement agencies in the Southwest acted as it was open season on muchachos.  "There's a lot to the saying that all Texas Rangers have Mexican blood," one witness told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  "They have it on their boots."  Just as often the Anglo attitude has been more subtle--and more crippling.  Guidance counselors regularly steer students into "realistic" vocational programs, advice that just about locks young chicanos into the poverty cycle.  Overall the insensitivity of Anglos--whether in government, in education or simply on a person-to-person basis--has amounted to psychological oppression of incalculable dimension.  "Why do they persecute us"? asks Bob Castro, a chicano activist in Los Angeles.  "Why do they beat us and throw us into prison?  Why do they insult our language, culture and history?  Why do they call us names?  Why do they hate us.?" 



Source: Newsweek, June 29, 1970, pp. 27-30. 

 

THE BROWN BERETS AND CHICANO LIBERATION

 In the following account historian Rodolfo Acuna describes the Brown Berets who emerged in the East Los Angeles barrio in the late 1960s.

      Most Chicano organizations have had defensive postures and have reacted to crisis situations.  These organizations, for the most part, have worked within the system and have been reform oriented.  The Brown Berets is an exception; it is one of the few Chicano organizations advocating physical measures to defend the Chicano community's rights.  The Brown Berets.... has aroused a fear in Anglo Americans that a Chicano group would counter U.S. oppression with its own violence. Whether or not the threat was real is not at issue.  More important is that law enforcement authorities believed that the Brown Berets were capable of violence or arousing this kind of action in other groups.  In effect, it is an affirmation of the police's increasing awareness of the resentment toward police brutality and the realization that the theme of liberation is becoming more popular among Chicanos.  The Brown Berets, in effect, panicked police officials and exposed their basic undemocratic attitudes toward Mexicans or groups attempting to achieve liberation.  This is especially true in Los Angeles, where the Berets were founded.  The police and sheriff's departments there abandoned reason in harassing, intimidating, and persecuting the Brown Berets in a way that no other Chicano organization has experienced in recent times.  Police and sheriff's deputies raided the Berets, infiltrated them, libeled and slandered them, and even encouraged counter groups to attack the members.  The objective was to destroy the Berets and to invalidate the membership in the eyes of both the Anglo and the Chicano communities.

      The Brown Berets were formed in 1967 in East Los Angeles.  At first they were known as Young Citizens for Community Action (YCCA).  The group was sponsored by an interfaith church organization, and its founding leader was David Sánchez, a teenager from a lower class family.  Four other Chicanos joined Sánchez as charter members.  In time, the group's defensive posture crystallized, with the organization evolving from a community service club into a quasi "alert patrol." Later in the year, the YCCA opened a coffee shop called La Piranya to raise operating expenses.  Events meanwhile forced the organization to become more militant; this is reflected in the change in the group's name to the Young Chicanos for Community Action.  The members began to wear brown berets, and they took on a paramilitary stance.  The YCCA became popularly known as the Brown Berets.  This militant profile attracted a large number of young Chicanos and had considerable impact on the student organizations of the time.  Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department began a vicious "bust the Berets" operation. They raided them, picked up members, and spread rumors that they were Communists.

      Beret chapters spread throughout the Southwest and Midwest.  In Los Angeles, sheriff's deputies harassed the Brown Berets and so disorganized them that they were forced to shut down their coffee shop in March 1968.  That same month, the Berets were escalated into the national limelight by the East Los Angeles school walkouts.  There is little evidence that the organization itself took a leadership role in planning the walkouts, but as one observer stated: "When the crap came down, the Berets were there, offering to serve and taking the brunt of the police brutality.  They were the shock troops." During the walkout, the police and sheriffs departments attempted to make the Brown Berets the scapegoats, branding them as outside agitators, while playing down the legitimate grievances of the Chicano students.  A grand jury later indicted 13 Chicanos on conspiracy charges stemming from the walkout; seven were Brown Berets.  This case was appealed and later declared unconstitutional, but only after three years of legal harassment.  As the police and sheriff's repression increased, the popularity of the group spread. Ironically, the only offensive action during this time was on the part of law enforcement agencies. 

      Meanwhile, obvious parallels between the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers emerged.  Both organizations were paramilitary, and they had a similar organizational structure, e.g., the prime minister, the ministers of defense, education, etc.  There were also very real differences: the Black Panthers evolved from a Poverty Agency, whereas the Berets were much younger and their base was the barrio.  In addition, the Black Panthers attracted many middle class Black intellectuals as well as white radicals (nonmembers); whereas the leadership of the Berets was primarily comprised of high school dropouts who were highly suspicious of educated Chicanos and who almost totally rejected Anglos.  Moreover, the Panthers have received considerable financial support from the Anglo American liberal community; the Berets operated with no budget.  The lack of funds prevented the Berets from building a Panther like network among its own chapters, and they were not able to attract high powered legal assistance to advertise the police harassment of the group, or to obtain editorial help in producing sophisticated literature.

      The Berets inspired a revolutionary fervor in many youth, especially those in their early teens, who not only wanted to defend themselves, but wanted to stand up and fight.  The Battle of Algiers, a film depicting the Algerian struggle against the French, became a model.  These youth were attracted by the physical nature of the Beret defined form of confrontation.  Moreover, the Berets... attracted the street batos (guys) who directly felt the oppression of the police and the street.  At the same time, the batos were alienated from the mainstream of the Chicano community, which did not understand their hybrid culture or, many times, their frustrations.  Unable to articulate their feelings or their grievances, the uniform and the paramilitary nature of the group gave members and nonmembers the feeling that they could strike back in the manner that they felt and understood best--physically.

      The ability to serve and to protect the Chicano barrio by any means necessary provided a link with the Chicano community.  The Berets evolved into a radical group. Imbued with the politics of liberation, they dealt with the immediate needs of the barrio--food, housing, unemployment, education, etc.. Their philosophy has been molded by the conflict and the street....  A basic weakness in the Brown Berets is that it does not have the strong family structure that has heretofore marked survival and success for most Chicano organizations.  It has not been accepted as the "Army of the Brown People." ....Its attempt to operate a free clinic in East Los Angeles, for example, has been frustrated by outside interference such as police harassment and Red baiting.  Nonetheless, despite the failures, the Brown Berets are important, because they are one of the few Chicano groups that have not attempted to work entirely within the civil rights framework of the present reform movement.  They are the bridge between the groups of the past and those of liberation, which shall become more offensive.

Source: Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America: The Chicano's Struggle Toward Liberation (New York, 1972), pp. 231-233.  

THE WHITE BACKLASH, 1967 

Robert Coles, a psychiatrist and noted author on racial attitudes, wrote an article titled "The White Northerner:  Pride and Prejudice," which attempted to explain the "backlash," the growing white resentment of black civil rights gains in the 1960s.  In the part of the article reprinted below Coles allows a Boston housewife to explain her fears following the integration of the nearby public school in 1967. 

            Why do they do it? [Call for integrated schools] I don't understand them at all.  They have their own people, just as we do, but suddenly they're not happy together.  They want to go here and there, and send their children everywhere.  All you hear these days is news about them.  You'd think Negroes were the only people in America that have a tough time.  What about the rest of us?  Who comes here asking us how we get by, or how we feel about what we had to go through? 

            They may be poorer than a lot of white people, but no by very much. Anyway, what they don't get in money they more than gain in popularity these days.  The papers have suddenly decided that the Negro is teacher's pet.  Whatever he does good is wonderful, and we should clap.  But if he does anything bad, it's our fault.  I can't read the papers anymore when they talk about the race thing.  I'm sick of their editorials.  All of a sudden they start giving us a lecture every day on how bad we are.  They never used to care about anything, the Negro or anything else.  Now they're so worried.

            And the same goes with the Church.  I'm as devout a Catholic as you'll find around. My brother is a priest, and I do more than go to Church once a week.  But I just can't take what some of our priests are saying these days.  They're talking as if we did something wrong for being white.  I don't understand it all.  Priests never used to talk about the Negro when I was a child.  Now they talk to my kids about them all the time.  I thought the Church is supposed to stand for religion, and eternal things. 

            I went to school here in Boston, and nobody was talking about Negroes and busing us around.  The Negroes were in Roxbury and we were here.   Everybody can't live with you, can they?  Everybody likes his own.  But now even the school people tell us we have to have our kids with this kind and that kind of person, or else they will be hurt, or something.  Now how am I supposed to believe everything all these people say?  They weren't talking that way a few years ago.  The governor wasn't either. Nor the mayor.  The same with those people out in the suburbs.  Suddenly they're interested in the Negro.  They worked and worked to get away from him, of course, and get away from us, too.  That's why they moved so far, instead of staying here, where they can do something, if they meant so well.  But no.  They moved and now they're all ready to come back  but only to drive a few Negro kids out for a Sunday picnic.  Who has to live with all this, and pay for it in taxes and everything?  Whose kids are pushed around?  And who gets called `prejudiced' and all the other sneery words?  I've had enough of it. It's hypocrisy, right down the line.  And we're the ones who get it; the final buck gets passed to us. 

Source:  Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, (Lexington, Mass, 1984), pp. 997, 999. 

 

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