Interview with Peter Orris


Peter Orris:

Go back, I'll take it. I was 18 years old and I was in Mississippi and it was a very different environment to the environment that I grew up in in New York City and I found it uh, very attractive. Uh, as I said, we felt safe and at home in the, in the black community, in black farming communities… but there was uh, the rural lifestyle uh, of the white community as well, was a very uh, uh, attractive kind of an environment and uh, many of us I think, uh, fell in love with the state in many aspects during that summer. And uh, one of the ways that, that I sort of expressed that at the time I guess was – we all wore jeans uh, I had… jeans and a large belt buckle uh, I had my uh, uh, T-shirt, and I rolled it up at the, at the shoulders, and I wore my cowboy hat. And uh, I thought I looked like uh, most of the other uh, young guys in Mississippi at the time. I'm, I suppose uh, I may not have. I had no beard. But I, that was uh, I suppose that was my way of identifying uh, with uh, people in Mississippi - both black and white. Uh, even then I thought it was very important if we could, that we had to try to relate to the white community uh, that we had to try to uh, begin the process of breaking the monolith of the white community and uh, fighting for uh, fighting, breaking the monolith of the white community and trying to attract a section of the white community - especially the youth, uh, toward the struggle against racism. Uh, SNCC uh, had uh, leadership from the south uh, white leadership from the south uh, a minority of uh, whites of course, uh but who had been in the leadership of SNCC for years and uh, uh, the, the courage of, of uh, those SNCC organizers who had left the white community uh, and, but were still attempting uh, to organize uh, to develop movements against racism in the white community uh, was also very impressive to me. And it was clear that we were not going to make headway in Mississippi just uh, from organizing in the black community and demanding um, the attention and support of the north. It was clear that we had to be able to relate to the white community and that we had to be able to make it clear to elements within the white community, that it was in their best interest uh, to end this racism… that the reason they were dirt poor was because they couldn't get along with the uh, uh, the blacks down the block that were also dirt poor, and that somebody was making a buck out of it and it was clear to us then that they were making a buck out of it, off both the black and whites in Mississippi, and we wanted to try to find a way to relate to the whites on the same kind of basis.