Modern history


“Another So-Called ‘Freedom Day’”

7:00 a.m.

(2) News; Weather

(4) Today: Hugh Downs

(7) Ann Sothern (re-run)

7:30 a.m.

(5) Meaning of Communism

(7) Gale Storm (re-run)

8:00 a.m.

(2) Captain Kangaroo

(5) Sandy Becker

(7) Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse

On Thursday, July 16, at 9:00 a.m., three black teenagers were joking on their way to summer school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Walking through the posh neighborhood, they passed a building superintendent hosing down the sidewalk. By accident or perhaps by design, the man sprayed the teens. Some would later say he shouted, “I’m going to wash the black off of you.” The teens chased the man inside and came out, laughing. Just then, an off-duty cop stepped out of a TV repair shop. Showing his badge, the cop ordered the boys to disperse. What happened next depends on whom one chooses to believe. The cop swore one teen came at him with a knife. Other onlookers said there was no knife, that the youth in question was not that kind of kid. The cop pulled his gun and fired. James Powell slumped to the pavement, dead. Within minutes, black kids were taunting police.

“Come on, shoot another nigger!”

“This is worse than Mississippi!”

The confrontation continued till noon. That Saturday night, a CORE rally in support of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney erupted in a protest of police brutality. And after simmering for two days, Harlem burned. Before the summer was over, urban riots would scar Rochester, Jersey City, Paterson, Philadelphia . . .

“History never turns a page,” an old saying has it. “Only historians do.” But if one had to find the page where the 1960s began—not the ’60s on the calendar but the raucous, rebellious, world-challenging ’60s—July 16, 1964, would be a good place to turn.

A Thursday. An ordinary midsummer day, a day that seemed likely to change nothing. Since the war, there had been ample talk about change in America. John F. Kennedy had promised a New Frontier, Bob Dylan had sung his anthem, but on July 16, 1964, most Americans still clung to the comforts of the 1950s. Old radio shows transferred to television still aired opposite old movies starring Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, or Edward G. Robinson. The Beatles topped pop charts, but doo-wop and teen love songs were right behind them. The Yankees, heading for their fifth straight pennant, were still the best team in baseball. Each summer night, ’57 Chevys and ’59 Fords drag-raced on the outskirts of towns whose facades had changed little since the Depression. New interstate highways linked some cities, but less than half the system was finished. On that Thursday morning in midsummer, most Americans were satisfied with the status quo, hopeful that any coming changes would be incremental. And then . . .

In Greenwood, SNCC had declared July 16 “Freedom Day,” but a wedding interrupted the preparations. The previous Monday, two volunteers were married in a makeshift chapel beneath the second-floor SNCC office. Bride and groom wore denim. Flowers and Freedom Day leaflets festooned the room. Because the bride was Jewish, the groom Christian, local kids had fashioned a red glitter cross and a Star of David. After the brief ceremony, Freedom Songs burst into the street. Black kids in long, twisting lines laughed and stumbled through their first hora. “Everybody stopped worrying for almost two hours,” one volunteer remembered. Then bride, groom, and guests went back to work. Freedom Day was approaching.

On its front page, the Greenwood Commonwealth warned of “another so-called ‘Freedom Day.’ ” COFO expected five hundred to march to the courthouse. Freedom Day would also bring blacks to courthouses in Greenville and Cleveland, but Greenville and Cleveland, though just across the Delta, were a world away from the “long staple cotton capital of the world.”

Ever since SNCC first entered the Delta, Greenwood had been, as one marcher remembered, “our Gettysburg, our Battle of the Bulge, and our Iwo Jima all wrapped up in one.” With Greenwood’s very existence propped on the stoop labor of sharecroppers, the threat of a black vote put an entire cotton empire at risk. And the slightest push toward full democracy sparked violence. In the summer of 1962, a mob ransacked SNCC’s office, sending staffers fleeing out the back window. Moments later, Bob Moses came in, lay down, and took a nap. The following spring, the office was hit with bullets and firebombs. One night on the flat straightaway that parted the sea of plantations, Moses and two others were driving when a white Buick pulled alongside. Its driver leveled a rifle and fired fifteen shots. Bullets lodged in Jimmie Travis’s shoulder, neck, and head. As the car swerved, Moses grabbed the wheel. After a frantic rush to the hospital, Travis lived to show his scars to volunteers in Ohio.

But by Freedom Day, Greenwood’s homegrown terrorism was backfiring. When SNCC first arrived, blacks had crossed the street to steer clear of “the Riders.” Frightened elders warned teens that the SNCC office displayed photos of black and white men hugging. Then came the hungry winter when whites cut off sharecroppers’ federal food allotments, the ugly spring of fire and bullets, and the marches attacked by dogs and cops. Each assault galvanized another victim. Each bullet brought another family into the movement. “Get up and look out the window,” a high school teacher told her class, “and watch while history is being made.”

By July 1964, mass meetings were drawing hundreds, singing, shouting, chanting “Freedom Now.” With its summer project in full swing, SNCC had just moved its national headquarters from Atlanta to Greenwood. As Freedom Day approached, the SNCC office resembled a high school classroom when the teacher has stepped out. Kids ran in and out, dodging trunks, boxes, and adults more frenzied than usual. Two kittens, one named Freedom, the other Now, slept in corners near guitars no one had time to play. From the ringing of phones to the clacking of typewriters to the meetings around rickety tables, all energy was focused on Freedom Day. Students at the Greenwood Freedom School could talk about little else. Their school newspaper—two mimeographed pages—noted that whatever might happen on Freedom Day, “We will not let it stop us.” Freedom Day signs in storefront windows urged everyone to the courthouse. “Everyone?” Stokely Carmichael shouted to mass meetings. And crowds roared back—“Every-one!” All through the quarters, blacks goaded each other to stand up, to come out, to register. In the SNCC office, volunteers drew lots to see who would test Mississippi’s new antipicketing law. Some were relieved to be spared the honor, others excited to be chosen. “I want to go to jail,” a volunteer from Berkeley said. “I’m honest. I’ve never been.” Finally, Freedom Day arrived.

The morning of July 16 was overcast in the Delta and cooler than usual. The coffee-brown Yazoo River, flowing past cotton fields on one side, the towering cupola of the courthouse on the other, set the pace for another slothful summer day. Then toward 9:00 a.m., battered old cars began parking across the street from the courthouse. Black women in flowered dresses and men in weathered suits and fedoras shuffled toward the courthouse steps. On the sidewalk, volunteers and SNCC staffers took up picket signs. Standing in a rigid row, helmeted cops hefted their nightsticks. Across the street, a bus waited to take the arrested to jail. As picketers began their slow, steady march, a tall stick of a man with pinched eyes addressed the crowd through a bullhorn. “You are free to go and register,” Police Chief Curtis Lary buzzed. “No one will interfere with you if you want to stand here to register but we will not allow any picketing.” The chief gave picketers two minutes to disperse. Then the roundup began.

Cops descended, escorting some, yanking others. Several protesters went limp and were dragged along the pavement, cracked with nightsticks, shoved into the bus. At each window, black and white fingers gripped the wire mesh. The vehicle soon swayed, rocking to the clapping rhythm of a chorus:

Oh, Freedom

Oh, ohhhh, Freedom

Ohhhh, Freedom, over meee . . .

More picketers were arrested, including a pregnant woman yanked and prodded while her sister screamed. Back across the street, blacks waited in line. Inside the courthouse, three at a time patiently filled out forms and endured the “hospitality” of registrar Martha Lamb, whose rudeness was the stuff of local lore. The sun burned through the clouds as a second wave of pickets began to march. Chief Lary lifted his bullhorn. “You are free to go and register. No one will interfere . . .”

Elsewhere in the Delta, Freedom Day was less chaotic. In Greenville, several COFO cars broke down, delaying trips to the courthouse, but by noon, the line outside the registrar’s office stretched to the street. Picketing proceeded without incident. Greenville cops watched but made no arrests. In Cleveland, dozens of volunteers had come from throughout the Delta. Many came from Shaw, where memories of Saturday night’s bomb threat still lingered, where calls were going out to parents of prisoners still sweltering in the black-hole lockup in nearby Drew. Expecting the worst, Shaw volunteers had given nonviolence classes to locals, but the lessons proved unnecessary. At the courthouse, volunteers lined the sidewalk, chanting “Jim Crow . . . Must GO!” Across the street stood three dozen deputies with shotguns—Sheriff Charlie Capps’s “massive firepower”—keeping angry whites at a safe distance. At 11:00 a.m. a crop duster veered from nearby fields to buzz the treetops, but otherwise Bolivar County’s first Freedom Day was off to a peaceful start. When the courthouse closed for lunch, blacks and whites shared sandwiches beneath the trees. Three cars filled with young white men circled the integrated picnic. Volunteers asked deputies to keep them away. The cars were not seen again.

12:00 p.m.

(2) Love of Life

(4) Say When (color)

(7) Father Knows Best (re-run)

(9) News: John Wingate

12:15 p.m.

(9) Republican National Convention Highlights

12:30 p.m.

(2) Search for Tomorrow

(4) Truth or Consequences (color)

(5) Cartoon Playtime

(7) Tennessee Ernie Ford

(9) Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane

At 12:30 p.m., Lyndon Johnson convinced his wife to take a stroll. The president was not just looking for exercise. With the Republican Convention filling the airwaves, he hoped to recapture the nation’s attention. “I think it would look very spontaneous,” Johnson’s press secretary told him. Exiting the White House, Lyndon and Lady Bird walked with reporters and a single Secret Service agent through the gates and onto Pennsylvania Avenue. For the next half hour, the president and first lady strolled hand in hand. Tourists turned in disbelief. “You mean that’s President and Mrs. Johnson? Well, how about that! Look, Bobby it’s the president.” Others rose from park benches to shake the president’s hand. The Johnsons made a loop around the neighborhood before returning to the White House.

By July 16, 1964, another year of violence and marches across the South had widened America’s racial gap. With the Civil Rights Act now law, a “white backlash” was brewing. “They’re always doing something for the niggers,” a Chicago man said. “When are they going to do something for the white people?” A Harris poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of whites feared that Negroes wanted to take their jobs, and a quarter thought black men wanted to take their women. Most whites said they supported integration, yet three of five thought social clubs and neighborhoods should be allowed to exclude blacks. California voters were piling up signatures for a ballot initiative that would soon strike down the state’s Fair Housing Law. Yet racial resentment was just the tip of America’s disquieting mood.

Behind the facade that still looked like the 1950s lurked fears that the times were changing much too quickly. At home, the Kennedy assassination, followed by the string of shocking murders, had shaken the illusion that America was a peaceful nation. The Supreme Court had banned school prayer, “the pill” was loosening sexual mores, and talk of bombing Vietnam, of sending thousands more “advisers,” led to a growing unease. In the July 16 New York Times, James Reston noted “the deep feeling of regret in American life: regret over the loss of religious faith; regret over the loss of simplicity and fidelity; regret over the loss of the frontier spirit of pugnacious individuality; regret, in short, over the loss of America’s innocent and idealistic youth.”

A few names that would stick to the 1960s were already in the public eye. Richard Nixon was in San Francisco that day, preparing to nominate Barry Goldwater for president. Future Easy Rider star Jack Nicholson was making B movies like Back Door to Hell. Gloria Steinem was known not as a feminist but as the freelancer who went undercover to write about Playboy bunnies. Comedian Lenny Bruce was in a Manhattan courtroom, on trial for obscenity. In Flint, Michigan, the first generation of Ford Mustangs was rolling off the assembly line. But most of the upcoming 1960s lay hidden. Jimi Hendrix was backing a rhythm and blues band touring the South. Abbie Hoffman was in Worcester, Massachusetts, working for SNCC and worrying that it was too late to go to Mississippi. (The following summer, Hoffman would teach at the McComb Freedom School.) Truman Capote was at home on Long Island, waiting for two killers in Kansas to be executed so he could finish In Cold Blood. Neil Armstrong was one of several Apollo astronauts in training.

And on this “so-called Freedom Day,” a 1939 International Harvester bus was crossing America. The bus was painted in clashing colors no one had ever seen outside a carnival. Plastered over the paint were labels—“Caution: Weird Load,” “A Vote for Barry is a Vote for Fun,” and, above the windshield, “Furthur.” Just before entering Mississippi, these “Merry Pranksters” had been thrown off a beach at Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain for playing loud music. Now they were heading deeper across the South. No southerner turning to stare would have been shocked to learn that the jocular men on board had taken LSD. No one outside the bus, no one south of Millbrook, New York, where Timothy Leary would soon greet the Pranksters, had any idea what LSD was.

A new Magnavox color TV with a “23-inch rectangular tube” sold for an average month’s wages. Gasoline was 30 cents a gallon, but “price wars” sometimes dropped the price a nickel. A pound of steak sold for 79 cents, and a pound of chicken cost a quarter. A decent used car could be picked up for $300. The cigarettes that, despite the recent surgeon general’s warning, sent smoke curling through every restaurant and meeting room sold for a quarter a pack. Yet there was no price on certain intangibles. No price on the marriages that, made in the hasty matchups that followed the war, were now held together by threads that would soon break and double the divorce rate. No price on the bonds between parent and child that, within a few years, would widen into a “generation gap.” No price on the bedrock faith in America as Lincoln’s “last best hope,” a faith that would be shot down in Vietnam and dragged through the streets of Watts, Newark, and Detroit.

Leery of change and unaware of its coming juggernaut, most Americans had never had it so good. The median family income had risen 53 percent since 1950, inflation was at 1.2 percent, and the gross national product was at an all-time high. With more than ever to buy and more to buy it with, few adults wanted to “crap on the middle class.” A poll showed that two-thirds of Americans opposed the summer project in Mississippi. “It’s too much like taking the law in their own hands,” a Detroit machinist said. The American press, while not as insulting as Mississippi newspapers, was scarcely sympathetic to Freedom Summer:

The denial of voting rights to most Negroes in Mississippi is shameful and indefensible but it is highly doubtful that Northern college students are the best equipped persons to remedy this wrong.

—Chicago Tribune

The President should now use the force of his office to attack the cause of the trouble in Mississippi. That trouble is the unjustified, uncalled for invasion of that sovereign state by a bunch of Northern students schooled in advance in causing trouble under the guise of bringing “freedom” to Mississippi Negroes.

—Dallas Morning News

Without condoning racist attitudes, we think it understandable that the people of Mississippi should resent such an invasion. The outsiders are said to regard themselves as some sort of heroic freedom fighters but in truth, they are asking for trouble.

—Wall Street Journal

Syndicated columnists toed a fine line, praising volunteers’ idealism while casting doubts on the summer project itself. “It is a dreadful thing to say, but it needs saying,” wrote Joseph Alsop. “The organizers who sent these young people into Mississippi must have wanted, even hoped for, martyrs.” William F. Buckley asked whether Mississippi blacks were ready to vote. “Unlike the democratic absolutists,” Buckley wrote, “I am perfectly capable of rejoicing at the number of people who do not exercise their technical right to vote.” Lacking talk radio as a forum, Americans debated Mississippi in letters to editors. An Oklahoma woman was “outraged and disgusted that members of our U.S. Navy are used for the purpose of trying to locate three no-good rabblerousers in the South.” A Louisiana woman asked, “By what stretch of the imagination does anyone consider that these kids have any right in Mississippi in the first place? The whole situation is disgusting.”

Freedom Summer had opened wounds dating to the Civil War. With Mississippi as its most visible exemplar, the South suddenly seemed fair game for open insult. “Lincoln did this country a great disservice when he forced the South back into the Union,” a California man wrote. “Isn’t there a way to ‘secede’ them NOW?” Southerners rose in righteous defense. “Could you possibly bring yourselves to believe the honest opinion of one average Southerner that you are being acidly unfair to the South and its people in many of your comments?” a woman asked Newsweek. “I do not know any Southerners who want to kill Negroes or would condone such a thing.” In the crossfire, only a few Americans praised the volunteers: “I would say that they are courageous young people who are not afraid to stand up for their convictions,” a Connecticut woman argued. More common were suspicions that, in an election year, altruism was being used for politics as usual. An Indiana man found it “clear that the whole scheme is not to help the Negro people but to agitate and create unrest and strife in the hope of more votes for the liberal, left-wing Democrat leadership.”

The sun had topped its long arc in the Delta sky when word of Freedom Day arrests brought volunteers and SNCC staff pouring into Greenwood. Just after lunch, a third wave of picketers hit the sidewalk. Chief Lary took up his bullhorn. Two minutes to disperse. Police arrested dozens more, dragging, manhandling, leaving some with horrors they would never forget. Volunteer Linda Wetmore will always see the agonized face of Stokely Carmichael. “I turned around just as I was getting on the bus,” Wetmore remembered. “And they took a cattle prod and applied it to his penis. I can see him gritting his teeth, wanting to fight back.” Seconds later, Wetmore and Carmichael were on the bus, joining the new chorus:

Ain’t gonna let Chief Lary

turn me around,

turn me around,

turn me around. . . .

Revving its engine and rolling away, the bus made a left turn, another left, and pulled up behind the courthouse alongside the Yazoo River, still idling past. Overhead, thunderheads filled a blue sky.

Inside, picketers arrested for the first or the umpteenth time came face-to-face with the terror of a Mississippi police station. Arrest may have been novel for a few, but most knew the Greenwood station all too well. Here was the same graying desk sergeant, painstakingly writing their names on a yellow pad. And there were the same smirking cops, giddy at having more “nigger lovers” to torment. The station itself seemed to sneer at them. On one wall was a plaque for meritorious police service, given to “Police Dog Tiger,” the German shepherd who had attacked marchers a year earlier. On another was the FBI poster of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, with a mustache drawn on Goodman. Down a dark hallway were the cells where cops could beat blacks, or hand a blackjack to a white inmate to do the job. But Greenwood cops did not always unleash their rage behind bars. A week earlier, a dark-haired officer named Logan had taken out a long knife, then sharpened it while volunteers watched. “Sounds like rubbing up against nigger pussy,” Logan said before poking the blade into one man’s ribs. “Think it’s sharp enough to cut your cock off?” Finally, Logan told another officer, “You’d better get me out of here before I do what I’d like to do.” Before leaving, he aimed his revolver at a black woman and spun the chamber.

And now the time came to be marched into the cells. Another familiar face, the chubby jailer who called volunteers “nigger huggers,” led them through a smelly hallway and up clammy cement stairs. Black women were thrown in one cell, white women in another. Men were segregated downstairs. Crammed into lockups, the prisoners gripped the bars, sang, and called out to each other. An hour later, when Greenwood police rounded up more picketers in a drenching downpour, the day’s arrest total came to 111. But on the courthouse steps, blacks kept filing into the registrar’s office.

Greenwood’s Freedom Day resulted in the summer’s largest number of arrests. Freedom Day in Cleveland, however, was a startling success. Forty Negroes waited in line, and more than two dozen filled out forms. Police protected blacks and whites, arresting no one. Sheriff Charlie Capps had made good on his promise to “keep a lid on things.” “I am proud of the people of Bolivar County for ignoring these agitators,” the sheriff announced. Similar success came in Greenville, where one hundred filled out registration forms. Staffers there even had time to schedule a baseball game that Saturday with volunteers in Greenwood.

Elsewhere in Mississippi, Freedom Day brought problems old and new. Word came to COFO headquarters that two volunteers had been arrested in Canton. Police had confiscated their truck and beaten both men with pistols. The terrified men had to be bailed out as soon as possible. A staffer headed for Canton, while calls for bail money went out to parents in Detroit and central Iowa. Then volunteer Barney Frank, a Harvard grad student and later a Massachusetts congressman, pointed out a bigger concern. The confiscated truck was loaded with registration forms for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The forms included the addresses of hundreds of blacks. Anyone finding them would have a long list of targets. COFO had to claim that truck before cops looked in the back. Making several phone calls, Frank learned that the rented truck could not be picked up without the rental agency’s permission. Where was the truck now? What company had rented it? What was their number? At 3:00 p.m., COFO dispatched Frank to Canton in a frantic race to get to National Rent-a-Car and then to the auto yard before it closed.

Across the state, a more familiar fear gripped the project office in Meridian. That morning, four black staffers had ventured into rural Jasper County to investigate rumors of a murder. They had been ordered to check in by phone at 4:00 p.m. The same volunteer who had waited in vain for Mickey Schwerner’s call was waiting again. The hour passed; no call came. Alarm spread through project offices across the state. At 5:00 p.m., calls went out to sheriffs. Half an hour later, COFO called Bob Moses in Vicksburg. Moses had just invited Martin Luther King to Mississippi and was busy preparing his itinerary, but he dropped everything to make his own calls. At 6:03 p.m. Meridian called the state highway patrol. No word. Moses phoned the new FBI office in Jackson. His wife, Dona, called sheriffs in Lauderdale and Jasper counties. Still no word. The sun would be down in an hour. Where were the four men?

7:00 p.m.

(2, 4, 7) Republican National Convention

(5) Magilla Gorilla Cartoons

(13) Columbia Seminars: Profs. Jacob C. Hurewitz and Amitai W. Etzioni of Columbia University discuss Israel

In Manhattan that evening, theatergoers could see Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl or Robert Redford in Barefoot in the Park. Carol Channing starred in Hello, Dolly! while Paul Newman drew fans to a play few had heard of. Movie lovers could see Peter Sellers in three different films, including Dr. Strangelove and the second Pink Panther movie. Ronald Reagan was featured in his final film, The Killers, but was playing a larger role in San Francisco. As cochair of the California Republicans for Goldwater, Reagan was welcoming GOP convention delegates to a final evening at the Cow Palace.

Eight months after the Kennedy assassination, Americans remained scarred by those split seconds that had sent the decade careening off course. Three best-selling books were about JFK, and a fourth was his Profiles in Courage. Ships, airports, and a new coin bore the Kennedy name. Sharecroppers’ shacks in Mississippi were not the only American homes to have saintly portraits of the fallen president. Sworn to carry on Kennedy’s legacy, LBJ was heavily favored to win the November election, yet all that week in San Francisco, Republicans fought for the chance to oppose him. Few could remember such a bitter convention. Candidates fired off angry letters. Pinkerton detectives guarded rival camps. Hard-line Republicans, bristling at being labeled “extremists,” fought off challenges from moderates. Goldwater refused to take a concession call from “that son-of-a-bitch” Rockefeller and said LBJ’s sudden support for civil rights made him “the biggest faker in the United States.” Former president Eisenhower was one of many GOP stalwarts shaken by the platform’s strident attacks on government. When Nelson Rockefeller denounced “extremists . . . who have nothing in common with Americanism,” delegates booed, and when another speaker attacked the liberal media, delegates shook fists at broadcasting booths. In the parking lot outside, CORE protested Republicans’ rejection of civil rights. One group marched behind the banner “Parents of the Mississippi Summer Project,” but inside, delegates refused to back the new civil rights law that Goldwater had opposed. “The nigger issue,” a Republican aide told a reporter, was sure to put Goldwater in the White House.

Toward 9:00 p.m., California time, the crisp, white-haired candidate stepped to the podium. When Goldwater declared that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” applause shook the Cow Palace for nearly a minute. Back in Mississippi, Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers was watching. Taken by Goldwater’s signature phrase, Bowers added it to his Klan Konstitution. When Goldwater finished, red, white, and blue balloons drifted from the ceiling to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Goldwater would lose badly that November, but the conservative revolt he started on that so-called Freedom Day would grow throughout the decade.

Republicans in San Francisco had not yet begun to celebrate when the fear of another disappearance in Mississippi ended with a phone call. At 6:30 p.m., one of the missing in Jasper County got through to the Meridian office. He had called several times, but the phone had been busy. All four men were safe and on their way back.

In Canton, Barney Frank was at an auto yard, struggling to claim the confiscated truck and its dangerous cargo of Freedom Democrat forms. The Harvard grad student was assisted by a movie star. Richard Beymer, handsome leading man of West Side Story and The Longest Day, had taken a summer away from Hollywood to volunteer. “I was always complaining about America,” Beymer remembered, “and my agent finally said, ‘Look, why don’t you either do something or shut up.’ ” So Beymer had put his career on hold to spend a summer in Mississippi. Along with canvassing in Canton, he was filming a documentary about the summer project. When he arrived at the auto yard that Thursday, Beymer found Barney Frank arguing with the owner. They would need $35 to claim the vehicle, Frank said. The two scrounged the money, and by the time an enormous orange sun silhouetted plantation shacks on the Delta, the future congressman and the movie star were driving the truck north to Greenwood. “Beymer drove because I couldn’t drive a stick shift,” Frank recalled. “I remember the papers were flying all over the place.” No one had inspected the truck’s contents. No names had been revealed. And back in Canton, the two volunteers had been released.

Freedom Day had been a harbinger of change in America. Across Mississippi, however, it was just another day. Cops harassed volunteers. Threats came into project offices. Cars and pickups roared outside. In McComb, rumor had it that whites would soon blow the Freedom House “off the map.” In Natchez, a white minister was collecting funds to rebuild burned black churches. The fund already topped $1,000. And in Shaw, phone calls were still going out to parents soliciting $4,500 in bail needed for volunteers in Drew’s sweatbox jail. In Greenwood, however, bail was out of the question.

Deep in the bowels of the Leflore County courthouse, 111 people were packed into dank, muggy cells. Facing a long night, the prisoners sang, talked, and refused to eat. The women had started the hunger strike after one spit out her rice and lima beans—laced with pepper. Dusk and the afternoon downpour had brought little relief from the heat. Sweat shone on faces and darkened mattresses already reeking with vomit. Did jail seem like a novelty now? In their cells, men discussed freedom and women, women and freedom, while women upstairs passed the hours pitching pennies and playing hopscotch on a grid drawn with a bar of Ivory soap. When would they hear from their lawyers? Would others join their hunger strike? When would SNCC get them out?

Late that evening, a tap came on the wall of the white women’s cell. A small, flat panel opened, and a face appeared. A black face. Identifying himself as a “trusty,” the man passed in candy bars and a note from the black women. “We are not going to eat,” the note said. “Send us cigs. We don’t have light.” For the next hour, the women talked through the face-sized opening, talking with the trusty. His name was Patterson, and he was doing eighteen months for a crime he said he had not committed. The women gave him a dollar for cigarettes. They were thrilled to learn how many had been arrested that day. Then Patterson closed the panel and went to visit other prisoners. Toward midnight on the first day of the 1960s, the door opened for one final note. It came from the black men. “We won’t eat tomorrow,” it read. “We will sing loud about daybreak. Freedom.”

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