Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi

Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi

Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi

Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi

Excerpt

My experience in Holmes County gave me my identity as a white, middleclass outside agitator who was transformed by the black people I worked with. From the first day my husband Henry and I entered Holmes County, Mississippi, in 1964, I scribbled notes into my journal. I kept carbons of my letters sent north and copies of the newsletters I wrote for our supporters, to preserve a record of our sixteen-to-twenty-hour days working in the movement. When the intensity of the struggle lessened slightly in 1966, I allotted some of my civil rights work time to my own writing, capturing scenes, and listening to the people. Later, I was given a new, top-of-the-line, reel-to-reel recorder that I used mainly for documenting meetings, although I also taped thirty or so personal interviews.

After my conversations with local people, I wrote down their words whenever I could, sometimes within an hour after the session, reproducing the best I could their phrasing, style, and diction. These words are important. Pure and relatively raw, they speak volumes about authentic movement people. Excerpts from those detailed observations of individuals, as well as other “snapshots” of life in the movement—all written from 1967 to 1969—appear as sections titled “Their Stories” at the ends of chapters. I also shot hundreds of black-and-white film images of the local people I was interviewing.

The local leaders encouraged me. They asked me to read something of their history to an early Holmes County Freedom Democratic Party organizing meeting for the 1967 election campaign, the first in which blacks had a chance of winning. I read parts of it aloud for them. Entitled “The Some People of That Place,” it was written using no names or places, yet all knew it was about the Holmes County movement people. This book is based on the story I read that night.

In 1969, Henry and I sorted and copied our work papers, docu-

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