En route to Mississippi, where the prevailing civic and cultural activity seemed to be the lynching of blacks and sympathetic outsiders like myself I felt a twinge of madness. Kennedy airport, on August 15, 1965, waiting for a flight South to serve a three-week stint as a volunteer civil rights lawyer, I was proud . The world of the black sharecropper, invisible to voter registrars and census takers, materialized for me in the form of families with as many as 18 children, living in wooden, dirt-floored shacks, the walls with gaping holes covered by newspapers and pictures of Jesus Christ, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.Freezing winters were relieved, if at all, by a pot-belly stove, the only source of heat as well as the sole implement for cooking. Medical care was virtually non-existent from birth to death, from no prenatal care to unattended demise.To achieve even the semblance of communication, veteran civil rights workers were, at times, pressed into service as interpreters. Since few black sharecroppers used clocks or calendars, time was told by the sun (a few hours before sunrise, stop at midsun) or events (the day the candyman came, cotton choppin' week, the Sunday the Preacher came to town); directions depended upon nature (turn left at the big oak, then down a piece to the three cows and there would be three cows!); and appointments were made by the week (Will you be in your office next week? Culture-shocked while adjusting to the sharecropper, the Northern newcomer simultaneously encountered the world of the civil rights worker, a separate society with its own culture and rules for every moment of the day. " I said, "Really." Remembering this great respect for lawyers, I say, "I guarantee it. They are witnesses." The Troopers have a conference and decide it's okay.Even the savage Klan, the Movement believed, found it difficult to kill in cold blood. provocation; the Movement's avoidance of that provocation was credited with the relatively few civil rights deaths in a society where whites could kill with virtual impunity. To remain alive in communities where the mere presence of the civil rights worker was a provocation, one had to follow the rules of survival: KEEP THE DRIVER'S DOOR AJAR WHEN TURNING ON THE IGNITION (so if there is a bomb in the hood, it will blow the driver out the door, instead of against the door and to certain death. and took a shortcut to save time, driving Movement-style saved my life. The sharecropper who listened, who gave a civil rights worker a bed to sleep in and/or food to eat, would be known to the merchant, the police chief and the Klan. A civil rights worker spotted me at the airport and said, "Are you Jelinek? And then a case came my way: a young civil rights woman with a community group picketing "Piggly Wiggly" a grocery chain. Then there was the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, known as the "President's Committee? But the ACLU lawyers are really annoyed, in part because ACLU doesn't have that much space in their offices, plus the noise, but mostly it was what they called "the silliness of it, since you can't win anyhow." They are really heckling me though I keep on doing the interviews but they are annoying me so much that I stop working out of the office. The judge looks at the size of the group and he says, "Are they all going to testify to the same thing this girl did? So my witnesses leave and do the civil rights troubadour thing, telling everyone what happened. And they are all excited to see me because I am a lawyer. I haven't got the time." And mostly I want to get out of there. Don: So I go to his place and he is the first sharecropper I've met. Then I see the children and hold back tears: open scabs and sores, flies sucking at the wounds, the children too listless to interfere, with distended stomachs I had only seen in newsreels of the starving youth of underdeveloped nations. Just talking about me, life in New York, and what not.To avoid provocation, there were the rules of nonviolence (If cursed, do not curse back; if pushed, do not push back; if struck, do not strike back) and the rules of behavior and dress (Avoid bizarre or controversial behavior. This I never believed until it actually happened; the civil rights worker was barely scratched after he was propelled from the car.) --and many more rules. Within moments of driving my vehicle through the off-limits community, I was spotted by three whites who immediately jumped into a pickup truck, with rifles in racks across the rear window. The price was high and those who crossed that line could never return. Finally boarding a Delta flight to the capital city of Jackson, I remember my image that I would step off the plane into swamp. While some white guys were hassling them, one pushed her and she lost her balance and brushed against him with a sign. " Formed by President Kennedy because of embarrassment about Southern racism, seen by the emerging African nations. SNCC has a place and we work there and get it down nice and pat, until we are ready. " I say, "Yes, your honor." The Judge grunts, "Very well, Not Guilty. Next case." In hindsight, I believe he did it because the case was going to take so long or perhaps to reward the naive lawyer who took his court seriously enough to bring 20 witnesses to a Southern civil rights trial. As they go to trumpet the result, while the client goes with me to the ACLU office. So, I say goodbye to the SNCC people, figuring I won't be seeing them again. " I said, "Sure." A guy named Peter came by the next morning and we drove up, having a grand time talking. And they say, we never get lawyers up here, because and they name my Boss and then they stop in the middle of the sentence. They say, "Well, at least you should meet him [the leader]." A trick I now know but didn't know then. I shake hands with the local leader, he invites me in and feeds me. And then I say, "I'll represent you." He never even asked.
She and Sid made sure I was introduced to everybody. And a few of them, particularly leader Henry Reeves, had something to lose. But under Mississippi law and many other places in order to appeal you have to first move for a new trial. And one of the kids asks me to pick cotton with them.
And how was one to deal with the exasperatingly endless acronyms of civil rights organizations: COFO, CORE, MFDP, NAACP, SNCC? Don: Well, it is a really massive, beautiful, beautiful, courthouse. Bruce: They were probably from the North Jackson NAACP youth group. My client frantically whispered to me that this had never before happened on the way to court. He says, "You can go, sir, but we don't want these demonstrators . If there was a United States flag, I didn't see it.
Many a prosecutor regretted asking my clients, merely attempting to establish the outsider as a civil rights worker: "Aren't you with the N double A CP? I loved Steven's Kitchen across the street, where civil rights workers ate, related their experiences and relaxed together. So while the lawyers would hang out together, I would hang out with SNCC and attracted negative notice among the lawyers, who started telling me that "You really don't want to spend too much time with them. Mustering my deepest voice to mask my fear, the state trooper now a mere five paces ahead of me, I demanded to know why he was blocking a lawyer entering a courthouse in the United States of America. They call our case and the "victim-thug" testifies about how he was struck by her.
Bruce: You know, to this day I still disable the dome light on every car I drive so it doesn't light up when I open the door. Also, in those days I was suffering from back problems and I wore a back girdle. A high prestige group, they primarily represent civil rights leaders, Ministers, and other higher ups. Its formal name was the Lawyer's Constitutional Defense Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawyers start to heckle me immediately, which is really getting on my nerves. Somebody says we got somebody going up in that area. Finally he says, "Alright, turn off here." That day I learned "Colored Geography." When the pavement ends, the colored man's dirt road and world begin. " He says, "I know where it is but I always get the name wrong: 'Okahola' or 'Okalona,' one of those Indian names." The names sounded familiar. I said, "I'll come back on the way from Holly Springs." I found out when the case is and I say the Boss must never find out. I double back to the highway, then head north, then west a short way. Resisting the temptation to sightsee, I continue due north to my destination: Holly Springs, a sleepy Southern community where blacks work the Man's place on shares, and maybe earn a bit off season in nearby Memphis, Tennessee.
Don: The death toll was kept low by following these rules. Then there is us, the Lawyer Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC) of the ACLU. Bruce: And the LCRC, the Lawyer's Constitutional Right's Committee, was the one Kennedy set up. And they say, "Well, congratulations, nice to see she is not in jail." I get really annoyed and I say, "Oh, yes, she's free," as I pull out the bail money in 's and 's, thumbing through them like a Las Vegas teller and ask innocently, "What do I do with the bail money? As my car hit the soil for the first time, the red dust splattered over everything from shoes to nostrils. I am driving through Oxford, home of writer William Faulkner and the seat of the University of Mississippi, which a few years earlier had been integrated by a black student, James Meredith, with the assistance of the federalized National Guard and the U. Holly Springs is also headquarters for the North Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.
And medical care was desperately needed for nutritionally-starved adults and lethargic, malnourished children, the product of a diet of greens, cornbread, occasional pork parts drowned in thick gravy, Kool-Aid and coffee. Isn't it horrible that another one was shot to death?