From School in New Jersey Into the Heat of the Struggle in Jim Crow South

March 2, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | recently interviewed a revolutionary woman who was in school in New Jersey in the early 1960s when she became involved in the struggle against Jim Crow, including traveling to Selma after Bloody Sunday in 1965.


Revolution: The documentaries about the struggle against Jim Crow in the early 1960s, what most people call the civil rights movement, show how white college students came from around the country to join the struggle that was unfolding in the South. You were in high school in 1963 in an area near Princeton University in New Jersey at that time. How did you end up getting involved and what were things like, where you were at that time?

Jackie: I got involved because a number of things that had happened already in my life made me very, very aware of what was unfolding at what became like a major point for me which was when the youth in Birmingham went into the streets and faced down the dogs and the hoses. That had a huge impact on me. When I was very young I had followed the whole Little Rock, Arkansas 9 and tried to imagine then and again about Birmingham; how could those youths be so courageous and so determined? What did they understand and what was in them that made them able to do that? And I wanted to do the same against what I saw as injustice. I was in a college town and there were many people around, including high school teachers that really encouraged the interests and challenged me ideologically. I had just thought about this the other day. This English teacher. We were reading Shakespeare and there was some point when somebody says in the thing that they were going to go back and do something but would it make any difference if they did and I made the argument that it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t have any effect. And she said, “Is that the attitude you’re going to take if you’re going to be part of the civil rights movement? You have to fight for everything; you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.” And this was my English teacher with whom I had no political discussion but who just knew that we had started a high school friends of SNCC and we were thinking about….

Revolution: Would you explain what SNCC is?

Jackie: SNCC was the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and they were the youth movement that separated off very early from SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was Martin Luther King, more the ministers and the traditional leaders, if you want to put it that way. And these were the students who did the sit-ins and then took up the Freedom Rides after the first bus was surrounded and stopped. They ended up in Jackson, Mississippi and a great number of the people ended up in Parchman Prison because they had a “jail, no bail” policy.

Revolution: Can you explain how you got attracted to SNCC in particular in the first place and then as a high school student how were you able to participate in SNCC and in the movement?

Jackie: That was part of the wild and wonderful part of it all. I went to the march on Washington in '63. My high school history teacher mobilized a bunch of people, including a bunch of people from the high school and I listened to the speeches from the stage and I could tell that John Lewis’ speech was different from the others. There was an edge to his speech. John Lewis was president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee there was a determination to transform people’s lives as opposed to just get some laws passed. It came through to me and that very much appealed to me and so when I filled out my little card at the end of the march; everybody got a card to fill out. We had to make a pledge; we raised our hands and made a pledge and then we filled out these little cards about who we wanted to work with and so somebody from the SNCC office in Atlanta gave me a call and said, “You should form a Friends of SNCC committee there in your high school,” and so we did (laughs) and did several things that relied more on the high school students, like testing barbershops all the white-owned barbershops and beauty shops—somebody Black would call first to try to make an appointment and get refused and then somebody white would call a half hour later and they would get the appointment and we put together a whole report on that and the local news picked it up so those were important but then very soon after school started there was the bombing that killed the four girls in the church in Birmingham. This is fall of '63 now, and very shortly after that Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi came to Princeton University to speak and the Princeton University students worked with us to mobilize people to oppose Ross Barnett even being given the stage which turned into—the whole town turned out. Three thousand people came out including virtually the entire Black neighborhood in Princeton which is the site of the former slave quarters of the slaves owned by students who came to Princeton so that was mobilized by the high school students. They got their parents out there so it was huge. University students and the community in a way that was not ordinary and people were very excited and exhilarated and started to feel that there was something happening here and that could build.

Revolution: So after high school did you get more directly involved in the struggle that was taking place in the South?

Jackie: We were on the edge of our seats about just about everything that was happening in the South and by the time the call went out summer of 1964, I wanted to be there. A friend of mine that I became friends with in the course of that year, a young Black woman who was a year younger than I was who became very involved; we were both determined that we were going to at least Atlanta. We understood that we couldn’t go to Mississippi because we were too young and we would be the excuse for the authorities in Mississippi, for instance, to charge somebody with contributing to the delinquency of a minor just because we were 17 and 16 so that was spelled out that we couldn’t go to Mississippi but we could help in Atlanta, so we went to work in an ice cream parlor to earn the money and everybody in that ice cream parlor knew why we were working and helped contribute.

We had to be there; to be “in” that because that was the forefront of everything that was going to push things forward and we had to be there so she (her name was Sheila), and the process of even becoming friends with her was something that was quite new because I was on that track that they had in high schools then to go to college and then there was another track that a lot of the Black kids were in that was leading them to “wherever” but it wasn’t to college. And so she came to my house and looked around and it was a pretty normal middle-class house and she thought it was like House and Beautiful and I went to her house once and her grandmother was raising a bunch of kids. They had a kitchen table which was a card table and some chairs and a green sofa that seated two people and that was it in their house. So we both had our eyes opened but we became close, real close.

Revolution: Let me ask you this because by that point everybody knew that the South was an incredibly dangerous place for people to go work so for a young Black woman and a young white woman who were under age 18, what did both of your sets of parents or relatives or friends say about the fact that you were determined to go?

Jackie: Well, my mother had a routine that never worked, and I think a lot of other people’s mothers said the same thing,Why does it have to be you that goes? This is very important but why you? Couldn’t you not have to be on the front lines?” And I would say, “If everyone’s mother said that and every kid believed that, it wouldn’t happen so all the ‘you’s’ have to go.” And she was secretly proud and she sent me money and she wrote me every week and all of that but she agonized and I don’t blame her because when you step back from it and you don’t know what’s really going on, it’s agonizing and my dad would be in the grocery store bragging to people that I was in Mississippi or something but he was agonizing too. And I’m not sure what her (Sheila’s) struggle with her grandmother was but she managed to work it out and we arrived in the airport.

Revolution: What about the two of you? Were you guys afraid? You had a sense of how vicious the repression was; how ugly the white citizenry was down there?

Jackie: Maybe I had the sense to be afraid at midnight or something but overwhelmingly it was “I have got to be there. I have got to be in the middle of it.” I have to do whatever I can do and I want to be a part of the people who are pushing things forward. Now it might have helped that when I grew up the upstairs neighbors had been in the French Resistance and I grew up on all the stories they told or whatever but it just didn’t fact when we got to the airport and we had some how managed to trick our parents into thinking we had everything taken care of when we got to the airport but the two of us arrived TOTAL babes in the woods; we really did not know the world at all, at the Atlanta airport, after midnight sometime and she had an aunt in the area that was supposed to come pick us up but she also had a job at 3 in the morning and she was sound asleep and didn’t come pick us up. And these 2 Black guys who was wandering the Atlanta airport at 2 and 3 in the morning came up to us and in hindsight I suspect they were guys who looked for young women to pimp. In this case they found out (a) we were babes in the woods, and (b) we were coming to work with SNCC and they drove us to her aunt’s with all the care in the world as if they were our uncles, and that was the spirit that was in the land at that point and so in many ways we didn’t know enough to be really afraid and then lots of people stepped forward to make sure the worst didn’t happen.

Revolution: Can you talk about what you learned that summer and also the culmination of that summer in certain ways was a Freedom Summer which was itself a very big deal which you weren’t a part of that but you were assisting by helping run the Atlanta office so the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, with the efforts that they were undertaking in Mississippi where people were teaching, doing voter registration drives, but in general the feel you get from that whole period is that they were doing a huge challenge to the whole structure of Jim Crow and of course keeping African Americans in a very second-class and terrorized status and that was beginning to break down but there was, for every step that was on the people’s side there was very heavy handed terrorizing move that would often take place coming back. So, while hundreds were being arrested or beaten, what effect did that have because it was not a light thing to be arrested in the South, particularly if you were Black during that period. People said it was very, very scary. In rural areas you could disappear and nobody would know what happened to you. And then at the end of the summer, you were coming up to Mississippi, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation to the Democratic Convention. So can you talk about the arc of that summer—what you were learning and then what happened at the Mississippi Freedom Party’s attempt to unseat the Mississippi delegation to the Democratic Party and get itself seated instead.

Jackie: Everything you said about confronting the “powers that be” in Mississippi. The whole thinking behind it was to go up against the “worst of the worst” and turn it out for everyone to see so the people who were in Mississippi, all the volunteers were really acting in a huge and courageous manner and trying to bring the attention of the whole world on what Mississippi and my main job was to answer what they called the Watts line, it was like a 1-800 number these days but people would call in and say, “so and so got arrested; 23 hours ago; we’ve called the jail; they say he’s not there; we don’t know where he is; you need to get some people to call down there to make sure; we don’t know if he’s “in” or “out,” if he’s alive or in jail or whatever.” I did a 12-hour shift at night which was when there was a lot of this and you didn’t literally know these people but their lives and the intensity of this battle was unfolding right there and then you and other people who were there were trying to figure out how DO we make sure they don’t kill this person, disappear this person, let this person end up in the Mississippi river and I was sitting in an office which was decorated with the postcards of the hangings, the way BA talks about. They had these posters on the walls that were very clear what had happened.

Revolution: When you say postcards of the hangings, you mean postcards of lynchings that took place in the South and then were made into postcards by white people….

Jackie: Who celebrated those events. Exactly. But I was also meeting people. There was one young woman who had been a 14-year-old in Mobile, AL, who had gone to jail for so long that they decided she was a juvenile delinquent so she had come to Atlanta so there were people who had come from the front lines and then also people who were a little bit more on the organizational end, but there was this mix of people who had given their lives essentially to this and so there was this intense discussion - what’s going on. People were learning what each other’s lives were like. We went swimming at midnight and did crazy things but everyone felt better after you did that. I learned so much about people that I had only read about, because I had done a lot of reading, Black people, their lives and their struggles sort of came alive to me in a way that I had never imagined and in the course of that summer I essentially went from being somebody who thought what I had wanted to be with my life was to be a professor or some kind of academic and to someone who wanted to be in the struggle.

I was already an atheist at that point but there wasn’t a lot of religious discussion and I think it’s partly because some of the key people who were there—when we were in Atlanta, Atlanta was a city with five Black universities so some of the volunteers who were helping run the office came from there and from that background. So it was more the question of, the various forms of trying to make this system work and they came out in different ways and there were people who were dedicated to non-violence as a way of life and a way of thinking. John Lewis would be in and out and you would hear that, and there were people who really thought elections were really important and I wouldn’t say my thinking was really sharp at that point but.

Jackie: I was in the process of changing because I had been somebody who had knocked on doors for JFK when I was 14. I sort of grew up in the Democratic Party machinery but it wasn’t smelling so good so there was a whole process, so there were questions, more like a debate over what does this mean and how do you do this and then you get to the Freedom Democratic Party challenge to the Mississippi all-white democratic party and we really thought that we were going to win and the delegation that was headed by Fannie Lou Hamer and Ed King who was a white Mississippian who was a progressive professor who was part of that delegation that they and the rest of the delegation, and there had been meetings in each precinct, all according to the Democratic Party rules and regulations and the exact opposite of what happened in the white-run party where they just picked their people and did their thing. And we knew how people had suffered and all the changes they had gone through, the jobs they’d lost, the beatings they had taken, to go there. We thought that because we were right we were going to win and we go to Atlantic City and ….

Revolution: What was in Atlantic City?

Jackie: The Democratic Convention was in Atlantic City that year and what became much clearer afterwards and even somewhat clearer at that point was that Lyndon Johnson and some of the people who we thought were our lawyers and friends but were more Democratic Party hacks were working on some kind of compromise to make sure the last thing in the world to happen was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was seated in place of the white Democratic Party in Mississippi which had come through for them and was part of the structure of how the whole system worked. So at the end of 3 days and sitting on the Boardwalk and having Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony, that’s really worth going and finding a YouTube or whatever. You could see it now. She had been kicked off the plantation because of registering to vote and had become a leader of the people and tremendous courage and vision and people tremendously respected her but she was testifying about what it was like and why they should be seated and Johnson got into it and gave some speech that was nationally televised to try to keep that from reaching people. The end result was the system was….

Revolution: How did that affect your thinking having come from a background where you expected the Democratic Party at the national level to fight for the and embrace the interests of Black people and the end of segregation. So how did that affect your thinking about that and as you mentioned earlier that they didn’t go along with it because they didn’t want to break with the southern Democrats essentially, even though they were segregationists, how did that affect yours and others’ thinking at the time, how did that affect you? In other words what lessons did you draw from that?

Jackie: It was a huge clash of what we’ve been taught to think in traditional thinking, and reality, and for me I was like: voting is not the way forward for the people. I never thought of registering to vote from that day forward, never have voted. I don’t even know what a voting booth looks like and that tore it and was partly the intensity of the whole experience that made that abrupt a break possible and I think a lot of people went through that same process because there was definitely a lot of struggle within SNCC that I wasn’t privy to because I wasn’t a staff person but I do understand that that’s when some of the more radical thinking started to really solidify and people started moving. I definitely would include Stokley Carmichael and other people and they moved to Lowndes County and they used the Black Panther as a symbol of their voting campaign so it was still around that question, but people were really starting to question the whole system in a lot of different kinds of ways but certainly voting. Voting was not a way to express your opinion and they were going to do what they were going to do anyhow but they were going to dress it up however they could to make you think that you were a part of something.

Revolution: So then after that experience with the Democratic Party, this was all in the summer after high school. Then what did you do after that?

Jackie: I went to college and I was a totally different person, maybe not totally, but a whole lot different from the person even in May who was determined to go to Atlanta because I didn’t consider myself a student anymore. There were a number of people I ended up in college with, who had been (in the South that summer).

Revolution: So now we get to the end of your summer, summer after high school, so you then ended up going to college at that point and what was that like after having been so deeply into the struggle and among people for whom college and any formal education was actually denied.

Jackie: It was a very challenging mixed experience. I kept finding myself thinking about things in different ways and having to figure out how I got there. It was sort of a battle of ideas in myself as to what was real in the world and what mattered and what I was responsible for. At the college I was at there was also a number of people who had been volunteers in Mississippi. A lot of them were older and these were questions that they were struggling with too and I remember one conversation where somebody was saying, “I consider myself a student who works with SNCC”and I said “I think I consider myself a SNCC person who is a student,”and that was part of that process that I was going through as far as priorities. I also wanted to be in the streets. I went to demonstrations and skipped class. I took off for 3 weeks and went to Vicksburg, Mississippi for some voter registration stuff so I did get to Mississippi right after I turned 18 and that was the first time I was shot at so you have these nodal points as you go along. It was a very intense year because that February Malcolm X was killed and my heart broke. It was a horrible, rainy, gloomy February day and that was an expression of what it meant that Malcolm X had been killed. I was determined to get to Mississippi and to try to be part of what people were still doing because it was still

Revolution: Do you remember where you were when Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama happened when people were viciously beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge?

Jackie: I was in my dorm and I started going up and down the hallway basically shouting to people “come out, come out, do you know what just happened”We mobilized a bunch of people and we went to the Federal Building and took it over. We went in and had a sit-in; and we brought our books and stuff with us but mainly we were just talking and singing and figuring out what all this meant and we were there for maybe 48 hours before they decided they were going to close the building down and they were going to kick us out, and then they did that.

Revolution: Was this happening in other cities in response?

Jackie: It was happening everywhere. We were hearing that it was happening everywhere. Overwhelmingly it was students. It was all in major cities and a lot of college towns where this was happening but it was part of the furor. There was a huge furor throughout the country because it was so vicious and so unrepentant and so “we are white and we are superior and we will beat you down until you say that that’s the truth”They were just stone cold and it just sharpened the whole thing up in a really dramatic—you had to take a side and you couldn’t just say I’m on the side of right; you had to act.

Revolution: There were a number of people who answered the call from SCLC to go down there to march in the immediate response so when that’s happening you’re occupying of the Federal Building with other students, did the students at any point try to go down en masse down to be part of Selma? Were you able to be part of it?

Jackie: We were organizing buses, cars and all of that stuff while we were there. The police took us out of the building and we walked out of the building and into the street and got into cars and started driving south to Selma. We were trying to hook up with the demonstrations. We knew people were marching and we were trying everything we could do to get there. I was in a station wagon with 10 people so we got an elbow in somebody else’s ear but off we went and it was a real mix of people. There were people known as movement people but every time these things happened all kinds of people who hadn’t really understood it before felt they had to be a part of it. It made the conversations in the car really exciting and interesting but there were a bunch of cars that went from my college and a bunch of people and students basically headed there.

Revolution: Was there ever any question about your being a woman? Did you ever question your part of it, or any barrier to be part of this for being a woman?

Jackie: I didn’t feel it and maybe I ignored signals or something (laughs) but there were a number of very strong women in SNCC and in the SNCC office and in CORE. The women who organized the Friends of SNCC, their names are many, they were just dynamos and those were the main people that I was talking to and they were always on the phone. Like I would say: what can I do now? Or something’s happened; what can I do now and they were calling on me to do things that I never thought or never done before but there wasn’t any “oh, you’re a woman”. If it was in there I didn’t hear it so I kept blasting.

Revolution: So then how did you end up hooking up with the marchers? The march went from Selma to Montgomery which is 50-some miles and Montgomery was the capital of Alabama and that’s where Governor Wallace was sitting in his office and he was the one infamous for saying, “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Jackie: Yes. We drove through the night and got to as close to the marchers as we could get and basically parked out car and jumped in and walked that last stretch to Montgomery but that was a few miles. We didn’t ever ….

Revolution: At that point, how large were the marches?

Jackie: Tens of thousands. I think they got up to 50,000 by the time they actually got to the capitol. It had both struck the conscience of a lot of people broadly in the country but also there were a lot of basic Black people who walked, took their aprons off and walked out the door and joined the march. There was something very profoundly wrong and people felt that there was something… they could see that something was happening. It was a real mix. There were a lot of students but it wasn’t only students by any means. Then we had to turn around. It was one of those things where the rallies were an anti-climax. There were a few speeches and whatever and then we ended up getting back in the car and we were driving back and later we found by listening to the radio that Viola Liuzzo had been killed. She was the woman they kept calling the housewife from Detroit but she was actually a very active member of the civil rights organization in Detroit and I think her husband was an auto worker and she was a part of the progressive wing of that and she had come down there to be part of the movement and was driving after the march, bringing supplies and a bunch of stuff back to the office and driving with a young Black man, and somebody drove right up to them and shot her dead and wounded him very seriously. We realized we had traveled that road about an hour earlier on that same main highway when we were heading back north. So it was one of those times when you felt it made all the difference in the world what you did and that something was going to change as a result of people standing up to that kind of outrage.

Revolution: So then you finally got to go to Mississippi which you had been striving to do since you were 17 so can you talk a little bit about that experience and what you learned and including you’re a field worker out among people in a way that you couldn’t be in Atlanta. What was that like and what did you learn, what changes did you go through in your own thinking, but also what did you learn from the people you were interacting with in Mississippi?

Jackie: The first thing that happened when I got there I came to Jackson, Mississippi. I didn’t know where I was going to be, but people said to go to Jackson because there was going to be a huge march. It turned out to be a huge march that went on day after day after day. They kept on arresting everybody that marched and then thousands more would come from all over the state but I was arrested the first day and we went to the fairgrounds. That’s where they took everybody that was arrested and I was looking around at the people who were there and I was realizing, I was seeing some women for instance and I said,“those are some very tough people and their lives have been very different from mine” and I have got to learn what it is their lives have been like, and what they have concluded from it, because there’s some strong, BAD women... There was one woman who was agitating about people not being able to get into the bathrooms. They had a thousand people and 2 stalls for the women and you had to raise your hand and have to go two by two. She was raising holy hell. Then I met this one young woman. She was a young Black woman from the county that I ended up going to. She and I held hands. We were both 18 years old and we were like: Oh, my god, what are we going to do? She was just 18 herself and then they separated all the white people; I think there were 16 of us who got transferred to county jail. All the rest of the people were Black and were kept in the fairgrounds. At one point we went on a hunger strike, did a lot of singing and drove the guards crazy so there’s one plus of going to jail. At one point they brought in a woman who had been really badly beaten. I realized this was the woman who was raising hell about the restrooms. She had little tiny pieces of her pink slip still stuck to her body by sweat but they had beat every shred of clothes off of that woman I don’t know what happened to her. They put her in solitary and we screamed and yelled but we never could get a result. We were yelling for a doctor for her, for help for her. To the day we got out I never found out what happened to her, but that was the introduction, that was the beginning (laughter)—welcome to Mississippi. Among the white folks there was another young woman who had been in Clay County, the county I ended up in, which is in the northeast of Mississippi. The delta if you picture it, wasn’t delta territory but we were two counties north of Neshoba County which is where the three young men who were killed in the summer of 64 were found—they were killed and found in the river there, in their car. So that gives you some picture of where we were but anyhow because of meeting those two women when I got out of jail I went to Clay County with them.

It was almost like '64 again but was slightly smaller numbers in the sense that there were a number of volunteers there that summer and there were Freedom Houses. The county had five areas and there was Freedom House, and the main town which is called West Point and there were in other farming…

Revolution: What was Freedom House?

Jackie: It was a place where the volunteers lived and it depended on the community what that existence meant. For most people it meant you slept on the floor so when the Klan or whoever shot through the windows they didn’t get you but the community had people’s backs in a lot of ways. They fed them; they came to the Freedom School.

Revolution: You weren’t staying in people’s homes. You were together in the Freedom House and relating to the community surrounding it.

Jackie: Right. As time went on there were fewer and fewer as more people were living with different families. By this point, summer of '65, there was something of a mass movement and a lot of people felt that this was their movement and something was going to change and they were part of it and in many cases were really in charge of it together with volunteers and there were SNCC people who had stayed over through this whole time and had real organized connections with the community, but I came into something the summer of '64 where it was a whole process where everybody was new, but by this time there had been some real advances so there was some struggles that were going on—one in particular was the school schedule and what it meant to go to Black schools, the Black schools schedules were set up so Black people were available to chop cotton – Black children were available to chop cotton. So, they went to school in the summer time while the cotton was growing when it could get up to 110 degrees and there was no such thing as an air conditioner, and they were reading 50-year-old beat-up old science books or something so the science was disproved and every book they had had the name of some white kid in it who had had it before and then come Fall when white kids started going to school they went to the field to chop cotton and they didn’t want to do that anymore so there was a boycott and a lot of demonstrations and in one area where it was a really concentrated battle they did actually change it and I think in some other places there were some changes but…

Revolution: The main way in counties like that people were still living was under the sharecropping system, right? Was that true where you were and what were the implications for people being involved in this?

Jackie: Sharecropping that was a ferociously difficult life that never got to any new place. A couple of people come to mind. One is this man named John Thomas who had 11 children, sharecropped, he’d been in the army in Korea. Every demonstration he, his wife and his 11 children marched and the jailers had a cell for the Thomas family because they knew they were coming and all 13 of them would be in that one cell until people got bailed out, and I don’t know how he survived, and how they lived. I know they all worked, ALL the time and including….

Revolution: Were people like that threatened for their involvement?

Jackie: He had somehow gotten something going so that his boss didn’t mess with him on one level at least on the day-to-day. Now part of the very tragic tale is that in 1970 he was killed by a Klansman behind a grocery store and an all-white jury found the guy not guilty although everyone and their mother knew who it was but it was another Klansman; it wasn’t his boss or whatever you call it. But then almost towards the end of the time that I was there, I met this woman named Sally who really sort of summed up the whole system. We had traveled back on these roads and twists and turns and gotten totally lost, and stumbled up on her place, and I was with another woman, another white woman, the two of us, and this woman Sally came out of the house and she just hugged us and she said, “you must be the Freedoms” and she spent the whole day—just gettin’ ready, get the lunch ready, you’re going with me to meet the neighbors. We had a day of it. She was so unleashed but she also explained in brutal detail what sharecropping meant including that if you made a better crop one year and got a little more cotton grown or a little more vegetables grown or whatever they would change the amount that they said you had bought at the store. Every one of these guys who ran a plantation or sharecropping, they owned a store, like a company store like you hear around the coal mines, and coal mining communities. They kept the books and you never did and you were always behind and you always owed and you never could get out of it and that’s what she told us. She said “no matter what you do, you cannot get out of this trap.”

Revolution: So when she saw you, what was she hoping would come of this? What was she so enthusiastic for, to say “The Freedoms are here!”

Jackie: It was that their lives could be profoundly different. She had a high-school age daughter who wanted to be a doctor who had this old raggedy-assed copy of Grey’s Anatomy and every page was rolled over cuz she was studying it. I don’t know where she got it but they had dreams; they wanted a life, they wanted to do things in the world and they did not want to just live this slavery, which is essentially what it was.

Slavery by another name and they were determined to find a way out of it and determined that their friends would too. She didn’t want to just sit down, she grabbed me by the hand, “Let’s go talk to so-and-so,” she wanted to mobilize everybody. We were going to change the way people lived. That’s why reducing the civil rights movement to voting rights or something like that, there was a whole trend like that, and now the way it’s talked about these days, it’s all about getting the right to vote, and the need to vote for Black mayors and sheriffs and whatever, that wasn’t what she was looking for and it wasn’t what a lot of people were looking for. They were looking for a profound change in how they lived their lives.

Revolution: Let me ask you a question: the violent reaction and suppression of these people, what they had to go up against, and anybody who took up their side, what they had to endure to stand up for what was right—it’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder, why ARE we “turning the other cheek,” why is it that the people,,, you know it was called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC—why is non-violence the way that the people who were actually doing the right thing have to do, whereas the racists, the police forces, and the Ku Klux Klan, all of whom were intertwined, were violent and brutal? One guy from Birmingham called them Mr. Policeman Kukluxklanner. (laughter). So were people, were you, starting to question that?

Jackie: For a lot of people it was just a tactic. The name came when they were first formed in '60/'61 with the SCLC, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And there were some people, who were leading people, who profoundly believed non-violence was the way to go, and John Lewis was one of them. I think in a lot of public demonstrations and that kind of thing, where the armed might of the other side was so ferocious, that was the tactic through which you could march, and live—maybe—to tell the tale, and a lot of people saw that as that tactic. But outside of every mass meeting I was at, there were men from the community who were standing outside with their trucks, and just about everybody… It was rural country, and everyone had a rifle on the back of their truck, you know? It was just part of the way people lived and there was a basic understanding that people might well defend themselves if they were attacked, so that chilled some of the stuff out. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, when I first got shot at? – we were in a church, and everybody was singing and there was one light up at the top and the Klan or whoever was shooting through several windows and there were a hundred people there, and somebody, as fast as you could say boo took a shoe off and threw it to knock that light out so that the people who were shooting couldn’t see us. Now there was a hornet’s nest around that, so that led to some other difficulties! (laughs)

But you know, it (the response) was that fast, and there were people outside who had the view that basically this must be defended—people have a right to meet in a church and talk, so… I’ll give you one example of the “tit for tat” that goes on in a rural community that has been so organized to suppress, and oppress, the Black people. At one point in a struggle that was intense, and we were out a midnight going around seeing people, and there were three or four of us in a car in this one rural area, and we slid off into the ditch – which is very easy to do, there’s no lights, it’s pitch black. You can hear everything that’s going on, and I learned this by being there, you can be sitting in somebody’s house and they’ll say, oh so-and-so’s going to see his mother, and you could hear their car a mile away, that had a certain sound, and it was so still, and so dark…but you knew those noises! (laughs)

Revolution: Why were you doing this at midnight?!

Jackie: Because it was very intense struggle at that particular point. And to go to farmers who get up at 3 or 4 in the morning, to knock at midnight, was because it was so intense. So—we slid off into the ditch. So, the closest place was a family called the Washingtons, who were stalwarts in the struggle and the Freedom House was right on their property, and across from them lived the leader of the Klan—and his place was dirt all in front, he had three or four dogs, and if the dogs smelled you or heard you and started barking, then all the lights came on, and you were visible to people who had no problem shooting you. So we have to make sure that we don’t alert the dogs, we get to the Washingtons, and go across this little bridge they had. And we thought, now the Washingtons don’t know who the hell we are, so we could be in trouble coming across this bridge, so we started singing freedom songs – but then we were on their property and we were safe. (laughs) But it was always that kind of tit-for-tat, you had to think on your feet all the time, and other people were doing the same.

There was a struggle that went on there and went on in several counties at that time, to really attack some of the economic stranglehold that the white power structure had on Black farmers. It focused on the cotton allotments that people got. Cotton was still being grown in some magnitude at the time.

Revolution: What is an “allotment”?

Jackie: There is a board in every county, and it’s always just white men who were on it, but there’s a whole process by which farmers in Mississippi (and more broadly) are told how much cotton they can grow on their land. And somebody like Senator Eastland from Mississippi, who had almost 6,000 acres, grew 5,800 acres of cotton. If you were a Black farmer who had, say, 100 acres, you might do good if you got an allotment of maybe a quarter of one acre, it was that kind of crap. And that’s how people lived, it was people with total power over them, telling them that they couldn’t even make a living. If they weren’t sharecropping, then this was what they faced. If they owned their own land then they couldn’t plant cotton, which was the biggest crop, and the most money-making crop.

So the whole county became embroiled in a battle around this, and we were trying to change who would make the decisions about cotton allotments. It was according to six different districts in the county, and there was one that had 90 percent Black people. There was a meeting, 100 people came, we ran Black candidates and they filled out their ballots right then and there. All these people had to be landowners, so we had a list of all the Black people who owned land and then we went house to house to anyone who wasn’t at the meeting. We knew every single ballot and what was happening. They came to count the votes, and I and another woman were watching the counting. And they said, oh this is an X, not a checkmark, this is smudged, this has a…

Revolution: A hanging chad! (laughter)

Jackie: The modern version, hanging chads, yes! And they threw all those ballots away! We sat right there, and people had gone through all kinds of hell to get there, faced down threats by the Klan, etc. I know myself I had gone 30 days straight—we counted it—that somebody threatened my life, or tried to shoot at me—I got pretty good at dealing with it. But they just threw all the shit away, they were not gonna let anybody…

Revolution: So what was the response?

Jackie: There was no way that the system was going to adjust to meet the needs of the people. The system itself, from top to bottom, was totally corrupt, and did all of that in the name of democracy, and come vote, and all of that. I mean, we really went through some changes, thinking of tactics and all of that—but the question is, what do you do if the whole system is against you? I think that’s what drove the Black Power movement. With the end of that election, it was starting to grow more and more. More and more people were thinking there’s just no way Black people are going to get justice, or a life under this system, so something profoundly different has to happen. And then that question of what’s the profoundly different thing and how do you get there?

And one of the things I was thinking about this is that there’s a process by which…I don’t know when I started to actually use the word revolutionary, but I remember when I got arrested in June of 1965 when I first came there, there was a book I was reading about Trotsky and Stalin, and it was a paperback book, and I tore it into about four different parts and put it into my underwear so they wouldn’t it when I went in (to jail)—so we all shared it and read it—so I was already trying to figure out something. But part of what made me think revolution—I was more and more thinking it was necessary, but I came out of Mississippi thinking it was possible, too, because I had seen the tremendous courage and determination and creativity and love and humor, and everything, that came from the people on the bottom who saw there was a crack here. that there were people who saw what was happening and were coming to their aid, if you want to say it that way—with the students and staff people that came in. There was a profound movement, and people’s lives changed and they thought differently. And all of the things people can do, when they’re not being pounded into the earth with every breath they take, started to flower. And it was a beautiful thing!

Revolution: OK, so after that really life-changing experience, then you go back to college, and how do you continue to make that transition. And there’s obviously much more that was going on in the world at that time that was influencing how people were responding to stuff without necessarily even being aware that revolution was happening in the world in countries like China, national liberation struggles were going on in places like Vietnam, anti-colonial struggles in places like Africa. That was in the air even if you weren’t actually that conscious of it. So then, how did that take shape for you? Did you become more conscious of it? Did you begin to see the connections with the oppression you had experienced in Mississippi?

Jackie: Well I was really trying to figure out what the road forward was, how would we do this? And the Vietnam War? There was both the movement here which was quite dynamic and bold, and increasingly so on the campuses, and also there was the struggle of the Vietnamese people, you were starting to get a sense of what people were doing there. And I forget at which point you were really rooting for the Vietnamese people to win, but it was happening during that whole process. And as you said, the anti-colonial struggles in Africa: I had a friend, a Nigerian who was telling me all about the struggle there, and at a certain point Biafra jumped off and he was explaining some of those things to me. There was a revolution within Nigeria and real contention over the road forward. So these questions of how DO you break out of what we called imperialism and capitalism at that point…and we knew that in a lot of anti-colonial and post-colonial struggles but now where—there were struggles around all of that. The Middle East—Israel and Palestine that started to get very sharp. My time at school, I was using everything I could to learn, I took classes on Marx—it was a class in what was wrong with Marx, which wasn’t what I was looking for, but that’s what you get sometimes! But the big question on my mind was how do we make a revolution in this country.

Well what I did was I became part of the GI movement. And that turned into a huge struggle.

Revolution: The GI movement was soldiers and inductees (draftees?) who were fighting against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam?

Jackie: Exactly. There started to be a movement in the summer of ’68. We were opening up coffeehouses near the different bases, in towns right close to the different Forts. And what happened in a lot of them was that people who had already been in that war and were really not in support at all—there were a lot of GI’s who were supporting the Vietnamese and were hoping they would win at that point. So it was in that context that we read the Red Papers 1 through 4. They were put out by the Revolutionary Union, the forerunner of the Revolutionary Communist Party. They were theoretical documents where people were wrestling on a high level with these questions. So staff people but also a big number of GI’s were reading these pieces that were at a very high level—on the fundamental nature of what’s going on and what’s wrong, and what then would be a solution, what would be a way forward. That was the level of the debate among a lot of the people on the bases, but these were mainly people who were not college people, they were GI’s. There was a high level of debate coming from the high level of the documents, with the Red Papers really standing out. That started to be the standard by which we were judging everything else. It was a process that came from just reading the documents, because it was the questions that were on our minds too.

Revolution: Looking back on all this and thinking about it, aren’t there lessons that you would sum up for youth (today), from that time? Including, it strikes me, that in high school it was often you and one other person who went off to do something, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage. It may be foolhardy and I’m sure you missed the comfort of the peer group doing something, but are there lessons for people that you could point to?

Jackie: Well, you make a good point about a small number of people. And in the summer of ’66 in Mississippi there were 800 people there! But it went up against a huge system that did not want to budge an inch, and they were in ones and twos, and twenty in one county was a drop in the bucket. I remember time after time when we would go out, and this was including in the GI movement, when you would think, we’re going out today, and there’s a big chance that somebody’s going to get shot and die, that somebody will kill one of us, but there’s no way in hell that we’re gonna let one of these blank-blank-blanks back us up, that we’re going to go back from where we’ve fought to get to here?! No way! And it did happen that some people got killed. But there was no way that we were backing up. It just becomes the main thing you’re thinking about is what has to happen and what has to change, and not about the courage to do this. I think you’re angrier or more determined, than brave. But the other thing that strikes me about this is this thing about, no outsiders allowed. I was an outsider through all of that. The volunteers, all the people were outsiders. There’s a view these days (about outsiders) but there’s no outsiders in the fight against oppression! Everybody who wants to be part of that fight needs to be welcomed and brought into it. Wherever they’re coming from, as long as they have the same goals, generally speaking, that they want to really end this, they need to step up and come, be part of it and learn, and we’ll all learn.

And be willing to go wherever that takes you! Because I definitely didn’t know, when I got on the plane to go to Atlanta in ’64, where I was going to end up. I think my mother had a clue! (laughs) That I wasn’t going to be the same person! But anyhow, I never regretted a moment of it—we talked about the sacrifices, but I always considered this just a joy, to be able to be part of this, and with good people, doing the same thing, what’s not to love?!

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