Interview with Ivanhoe Donaldson



Ivanhoe Donaldson:

No, fear was always a, a major reality that you had to live with and you know you learned how to live with it, how to function with it almost every organizer in the deep South constantly was faced with harassment,they'd been beaten, they'd been shot at. Some were shot. I remember Charlie Cobb and I who were active organizers along the river for a long time in Mississippi and the delta counties. Charlie is a very happy, sophisticated poet who is always in an upward, kind of, ah, attitude. Always smiling. One of the few times I think in 4 or 5 years I ever saw Charlie stop smiling; we were coming out of Myersville, Mississippi, we were trying to make a telephone call in the Jackson—we were having trouble. In fact, we were in serious trouble. And they had party lines and I was on the phone with Jackson trying to tell 'em that I was having this trouble and we were going to be late getting in. And Charlie came and whispered in my ear that ah, this is a party line, the police are listening, let's get out of here. So we left the store, jumped in the car and were heading down the road and a pick up came up behind us and I think they popped off a couple of shots and I looked at Charlie and he was deadly serious. There was no smile on Charlie's face; he was sitting tensely in his seat ready for us to roll. And I mean for us, thinking about it and dealing with that night in Jackson in the office, we laughed about it but I mean it was an everyday kind of occurrence that just somehow—but every once in a while they catch up with you and you had to figure out a way to gird it into your system and move on. If you showed fear, it affected the community around you so you had to show this was just a regular part of life. And people, if they saw you had confidence, they developed confidence and it was important for an organizer never to transmit fear to anybody even though there was and we all knew about it.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

The Billup's gas station—well, I think there were—we took Bob to the airport, he had to make a trip to New York and we left the airport coming back and I think I don't know whether we stopped at the gas station or were pulled over by police into the gas station and this is a fill up at Billup's, you know, very popular in Mississippi. And I was driving the car and police came over, they asked me to get out of the car,they looked at the ID, they searched us and stuff. There were I think three or four of us—Charlie Cobb was with me, I think Jesse Jackson, and there may have been somebody else, and they told the others to get back into the car, you know, after a little needling and heckling and some profanity and jabbing them and stuff. I got back into the back seat of the police car and their, guy in the front seat, a big fat every stereotype you can imagine of a southern, redneck sheriff was epitomized in this guy and that's what I saw. I looked at him and he called me every kind of nigger he could think of and then finally he said, nigger, I'm going to kill you here tonight and he, you know, you kind of say well, sure, you mean—it's all rhetoric. They all go through it and you just figure out, you know, it'll be a half hour of amusement on their part and then they'll probably take you off and throw you in Hines Country Jail or Brandon County Jail but he didn't do that. He pulled out his gun, he cocked it and he put it in my mouth and for a moment I mean I was absolutely para—I said this guy in my head I said this guy is cracked—shoot me here in the middle of the night, what am I doing here with, was what I said to myself. And the other cop came in, stuck his head in the window and said you can't kill that nigger here, not right now. And the guy pulled the gun out of my face and put the hammer back down and in the process whacked me across my right arm, I mean my right hand, you know, really gave me, told me to get my black so and so out of the car and you know I went back to where the other guys were and you know I mean I think I cranked it up and for one of the few times for me you know I mean I think I felt really shaken by the experience and I put my hand on the driver's—I mean I couldn't do anything. I mean I was shaking; I just kind of sat there. I think everyone kind of empathized with me fora few minutes that I got myself back together and then we went on back in and you know, and like everything else became another tale. But for those few short seconds I mean I actually thought this guy was going to blow me away. And I said he can't be serious you know but he was and you know I had no doubt I mean you could see his finger tightening around the trigger, you know and this guy came in and said you know just casually well you can't blow that nigger away here. You like, it'd been OK if it had been off the side of the road someplace but it was in the gas station, it was inconveniencing, you know, and messy. Because if he had pulled the trigger, literally he would have blown my head off because he had the gun right up on my lips. You know, a nice big fat 45 which looks bigger than it is when it's right in front of you but then you see the bullets you know going around. I mean your mind focuses on strange things too at that point in time. But I mean there was a lot of that that went on you know and basically you learned how to tolerate it in so many ways and you learned how to absorb it. That's one of the few times I think that it ever really bothered me. By and large you weren't even conscious of the danger until later on. You thought about it but you never allowed your mind to focus on it; you had so much to do, to be involved with that you just didn't focus on fear because it could get the better of you. So the people who survived the best kept their mind to work, and to struggle, and to the task at hand and allow the moments that were threatening and fearful to go by. The most difficult time probably is when you didn't have the option, like when you were in jail; if you were in jail with a group, you could survive anything. They could beat you up all day long, it didn't make any difference you know, in fact there was a pride in not letting them break your will when you were by yourself it was tougher but also I remember I was in that it became a point of will to me to never let a trustee, a jailer, you know ever see fear in my eyes—just wasn't going to do it, you know, it was just important they couldn't intimidate me no matter how intimidating I felt I was—it was a mess. Charlie can tell you a couple stories of how they were shot