The South’s First Sit-In

Freedom.”  “Freedom.”  “Freedom.”  “Freedom.”  “Freeeeeeeeedom, now, now.”  “Freedom now.”  “Freedom now.”  “Oh freedom.”  “Oh freedom over me, over me, and before I’d be a slave I’d be buried in my grave.” ...movement so it’s a composite of songs and sayings from the Civil Rights Movement in the deep South, I guess from a period of what, ’62 to ’64. 

Other than a few people shooting some news events, you know when they start spraying people on the bridge and so on.  You know, and things that were on TV there wasn’t really any documentation to speak of, of what went on in these churches.  About 80% or 90% of what’s on the disk Movement Soul takes place in churches.  These churches were wholly separate from white churches.  People are getting beat up and they can’t vote. 

The church became the place to talk about it and beyond the three famous murders of the civil rights workers that got out on a national basis.  I mean it was because they were white but things were happening all the time on that level to black people and they were just disappearing.  “You know what happened in Poplarville six years ago, Charles Mack Parker got lynched and you had a voter registration worker walking the roads of Poplarville this morning, walking for freedom.”  “And all of a sudden we heard people scream, women crying, cops was coming out all through everywhere, just beating people on sight not asking you are you in the demonstration, just beating you because you’re black.”  “’Give me a gun, I’m going to shoot the nigger now’ pointing it at me.  And then he said ‘if I see you one more time I’m gonna kill you dead, you understand that nigger, you understand that?’”  It’s hard to explain, I mean the only feeling of togetherness and community available to the black community in the South at that time was inside these mass meetings. 

I mean they just, they were just depressed.  You know Fanny Lou Hamer is a classic example of somebody who lost her job on the plantation because she tried to participate.  Thank God the movement saved her in that respect because she was such a great singer.  “Did you see how this 15 year old girl suffered?  How they beat her and put her in that cell and put the light out and she said ‘I got the light of freedom’.”  “These are the things that we are about tired of.  We want to bring the truth to light and let it shine.”  “And that’s when found elated with Ms. Thomas.  She was on her knees and she was praying; you could hear her.  They said ‘move nigger, move’ just like that and they’d be beating on her.  And every time she would get up off her knees one of them would hit her and she didn’t have a chance.”  We did a lot of work; some of it was voter registration drives and interviews out on the highway.  You’d find people who were scared to talk, maybe downtown or you’d been referred to people that were working on different plantations. 

You know, you get knocked up side the head, you have bandages on and maybe all you wanted to do was register to vote, it’s something to talk about, you know.  “They put 14 of us in a six by eight cell and we couldn’t stand up and we couldn’t sit up.  We just almost died in there.  We just went down to register, that’s all.”  “They beat [Mack] unconscious.  They told him they were going to teach him how to respect white state troopers.”  That night, about four or five state troopers, they came into the cell, and they would call us out one by one and they beat us and kicked us and hit us across the head.”  That Tuesday when they had our trial, the same policeman that had participated in the beatings was on the jury.”  “And we sat there during the trial and heard man lie, and heard many other man lie before us we saw justice bastardized before our eyes.”  You got to remember, any and all of these events; state troopers are everywhere, they’re surrounding these churches.  They’re particularly bothered by the small smattering of white folks that we were involved in these meetings and I mean ‘they were obviously outside agitators’. 

It was raining the day that we went to the county courthouse, people were trying to get in to register in Hattiesburg and my umbrella, water just dripped off to a state trooper and he said, “Hey boy, where you from?”  And I said “Atlanta.”  He said, “Well you better get your nigger loving communist ass back over there you know.  “We believe that it is better to love than to hate.  But at the same time we must warn this nation and warn the state of Mississippi that our people are growing tired and they’re growing restless.  “Shoot a nigger and watch him run, that’s what he was saying. 

But this is a new nigger and you tell that old man Hammond down there, that we ain’t running no more.”  “You can send us to the state penitentiary, you can send us to the county farm or your county jails and [inaudible] and let your dogs bite us but we don’t care because we ain’t scared of your jail now because we want our freedom.”  “Ain’t scared of your jail, because I want my freedom.”  We dubbed these things and sent it out to the people in Washington.  So that’s basically how the word got out to congress, people copying tapes of police brutality reports.  But I’m quite sure that by the time the Civil Rights Act was signed, a lot of people had been moved by what they had heard.  “I ain’t scared of your jails, because I want my freedom, I want my freedom now.”