Interview with Tom Hayden
QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

UM, I WANT TO JUMP AHEAD A LITTLE BIT AND GET INTO MISSISSIPPI AND UH, I'D LIKE YOU TO, YOU WERE IN MISSISSIPPI AS AN OBSERVER, YOU OBSERVED WHAT WAS GOING ON AND WRITING BACK. UH, DESCRIBE FOR ME WHAT YOU, UH, WHAT YOU SAW IN MISSISSIPPI, WHAT YOU THOUGHT MISSISSIPPI REPRESENTED IN TERMS OF THE MOVEMENT AT THAT TIME, WHAT YOU SAW.

Tom Hayden:

Well, the, the places that I, I thought were the most foreboding, and that America knew the least about were the rural areas, uh, southern Georgia I spent a lot of time and uh, southern Mississippi, and uh, these were the heartland of segregation, this was the, this was the black belt, this is where the arm of the United States government didn't seem to reach, and uh, to take uh, responsibility for going into these areas to knock on doors, to set up an office, to call yourself a civil rights worker was tantamount to signing uh, a suicide note. There was just no protection. Uh, and I found the people who went into those areas uh, to be exceptionally brave, uh, to, to be uh, certainly the moral equivalent of uh, of, of veterans uh, in any of our wars. Uh, and if it was not for them, uh, uh, what we called the iceberg of the Deep South would never have been broken open; the country never would have seen anything. Uh, I went to Mississippi once in 1961 uh, with another white student, Paul Potter uh, and we followed Bob Moses uh, uh, into Jackson and rented cars and followed him down to Macomb, uh, a drive of several hours. We had been up all night, and we checked into a motel. And, uh, Bob went on to their, to their office headquarters and we met later. And I'll tell you how we met to give you an example of how tough it was. We met in the middle of the night by driving into the black community with the lights off, uh, into the gas station parking lot and then lying down on, on the uh, floor of the car waiting for another car to come and pick us up to take us to a meeting uh, which was in a home where there were just a couple of dim lights on and blankets pulled up over all the windows of the house so the house looked dark. This was merely uh, to have a discussion of what we were going to see the following day. There was gonna be a march of 16 and 17 year old high school students one mile, uh, asking for uh, uh, some students who had been expelled from school for civil rights work to be returned to school. That was in the United States in Mississippi in 1961. Now when we went uh, down to the, to the demonstration, uh, it was clear that the police already knew that these two northern whites were in town up to no good. Uh, we even went around to, in our innocence and introduced ourselves to the newspaper editor, to the chief of police, Mr. Emerick, Mr. Guy, and told them our business. And, and the chief of police had photographs of everybody who was a member of SNCC right on his desk, uh, the way a general does wi—uh, with his opponents. And when we went to the demonstration, uh, we were sitting in the car uh, thinking the doors were locked, and all of a sudden, bang, the doors were ripped open and a, a mob of people uh, tore us out of the car, one at a time and just uh, beat us and kicked us in, in the streets. And uh, it happened that a photographer was there, and he hid the photographs, he was a brave fellow, and uh, he said that they knew where we were staying, what motel, and that we, we were going to be killed that night if we didn't get out of town. We were then taken to the police station and interviewed by a gentleman from something called The Sovereignty Commission who wanted to know why we were harming the image of the state of Mississippi. And he encouraged us in no uncertain terms to leave, which uh, we said we would, uh, and we then went uh, uh, on to Atlanta and Washington. Talking to the FBI, asking them to do something, and we were told in Washington by the Assistant Attorney General, a good man, Burke Marshall, that uh, probably nothing could be done and he advised us never to go to Mississippi again and to use our powers if we could to persuade the SNCC workers to leave, because it was just too dangerous to their lives. Uh, we didn't take his advice, uh, because if the SNCC workers had left, I was thinking well what would have happened to all the people uh, who wanted to vote there, who would have, who would have stood for them?