Interview with Arlie Schardt
QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Were they saying anything to you that was very specific as to what their goals were?

ARLIE SCHARDT:

At first, ah, nobody was saying anything specific because I think they, they, they, there was a certain amount of organizational competitiveness, ah, at that point. I think, I think everybody was looking for, as I say, for a way to regenerate activism around the country and, and support and dedication and so on. And so, there was a lot of jockeying for a position, ah, in terms of who was going to lead it, what it, what form it was going to take, and, ah, how they were going to go about putting something together on the spur of the moment. This was very different from the Selma situation where weeks and weeks of planning had, ah, had gone into it. Even though there was the, that terrible day at the, of the, practically massacre at the, at the Pettis Bridge in Selma. Nevertheless, there had been weeks of planning and when the march, ah, go ahead was given by the federal courts later on in Selma, ah, a lot of planning had been done and a lot of, ah, of support systems were in place, everything from food services to bathroom facilities and so on and places to stay and all that. Here there was nothing because Meredith had wanted to do this by himself and had just set off with, ah, three or four other friends of his alone. And that was the whole point that he wanted to make. Meredith was not happy about the idea of all these leaders coming in to, ah, to, in effect, take over the march. Ah, in fact he was very much opposed to it and said so publicly within a day or so after he had, ah, ah, started his recovery from his wounds. Ah, he said that he had wanted to make the point that a, that a, ah, a man, a male, ah, Negro, we, everybody used the word Negro at that time, but, ah, a, a Negro man could walk unassisted and alone safely through Mississippi. He wanted to, he wanted to, ah, to instill courage in the Black male was one of his, ah, specific goals.

INTERVIEWER:

Stop right there, I just want to make sure all the systems are going.

INTERVIEWER:

Yea, I want to cut.



ARLIE SCHARDT:

Probably the most dramatic difference was the fact that, ah, it was obvious that Governor Paul Johnson of Mississippi had made up his mind that there wasn't going to be the kind of incident, the kind of dramatic incident that had focused national attention on an area where, ah, White resistance took the form of, of violence and police brutality and so on. And so he had put out the word via his top officials in the State Highway Patrol, ah, to go throughout the towns and villages along the route of the march and talk to local leaders and so on and tell them to cool it, that, that they were to accommodate the marchers to the greatest extent possible so that, so that incidents would be avoided. The South was really, the White South was really realizing by this time that, that, ah, ah, it was very bad for business, ah, to be, ah, as brutally, ah, resistant to civil rights progress as, for example, Alabama had, had demonstrated the year before. And, ah, and local communities were finding that same thing. They wanted, they wanted peace and quiet. They wanted it on their terms, in terms of the White power structure, but nevertheless, they were trying to avoid violence if they, if they possibly could. So that was quite different. Ah, at, at points in the early days and first couple weeks of the march, ah, it even reached the degree where these big orange trucks were going out a mile or two ahead of the march and mowing the grass along the road, along the shoulders of the road so that the marchers could move along more easily and more smoothly. Ah, and, and then as we would get into the towns, ah, in the early days and really for most of the first two weeks of the march, there were, there were very few incidents and there were, the incidents were all ones of surprising, ah, moments of, of accommodation on the part of the White power structure on the part of the city officials, in terms of making it possible for the marchers to find some place to set up their tents and to camp for the night and to make sure that they had food. And, and then in some of the communities, ah, that had been, ah, terrible centers of, of violence in, in the past, ah, Blacks were enabled, were allowed to go to the courthouse very peacefully and, and register and a lot of them allowed them, took advantage of that opportunity. There were a lot of concessions made in places like Granada and Greenwood where, for example, negotiations with, with local officials on the part of, ah, Dr. King and Floyd McKissick of CORE and some of the other leaders resulted in, ah, longer registration hours so that workers could come in the evening and register, which was unheard of. Ah, there were opportunities for, ah, Blacks out in the county to register without having to come into the county seat, which was always a more fearsome experience, ah.