Interview with Arlie Schardt
QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

Tell me about your camera.

ARLIE SCHARDT:

I was taking pictures of all this all the time. I had just a little, a little camera with 35 millimeter camera and I had strapped it around my wrist because there was so much turmoil going on and I was, often holding it up to shoot down over the crowd and stuff like that. I had shot pictures of Williams in the, in the truck and things like that. And some guys, somebody hit me with a, with a stick in the ribs or something like that and somebody else grabbed for the camera and there was a lot of wrestling going on. And then I, I broke away from them and started running up the street and somebody else hit me from behind. They were really, they really wanted the camera, there was no question. The crowd had already flipped over one of the television cameraman, a guy who had just gotten back from Vietnam, survived that. And he was knocked down and his camera was smashed and everything. And so I ran again and, and, ah, several more people tried to tear it loose but I, I had this leather strap around my wrist and that, that, ah, kept the camera in place so that I was able to get away. Eventually we got away from the center of town and, and the turmoil began to subside a little bit. And I was walking with King and he was talking with, ah, Andy Young. I've never seen Dr. King so shaken, all the, all the dozens or hundreds of times that I had been with him in, ah, in, in public situations. Ah, ah, and he said to Andy that this is the most, this is the most terrible place we have ever been and this is, and then he said, "We've got to, we've got to find a way to protect these people." One of the local ministers had been grabbed out of the march on the way back and arrested by, by some of Price's Deputies and had been, ah, taken off to jail. He was one of the local Black leaders and, ah, King was really frightened. This was the same jail where they had taken Schwerner and Goodman and Chaney before they murdered them. And, ah, King was terrified that the same thing was going to happen to this minister. And, ah, so we got back to the church and, ah, ah, he was, he was still just absolutely shaken. And he, I remember he kept just wiping his head and, and forehead and, and saying to, ah, ah, the people around him that, ah, we've got to go back and, ah, ah, ah, I'm trying to remember the name of the minister. I could do that if you want to stop for a moment.



ARLIE SCHARDT:

That night in Canton was the single, most unbelievable and awful moment that I saw or experienced in all the seven or eight years that I covered the Civil Rights Movement. Of all the other things that you've ever heard about happening there, the horror of that and the brutality of that and the madness of it was, was simply unforgettable. And it was without any warning that suddenly the troopers donned their gas masks and started lobbing tear gas into this crowd of women, children, elderly people, ah, chaos ensued. People were choking and gasping. It was just at dusk so it was getting dark as they, as they started lobbing the stuff in on everybody. There had been picnic tables set up under these kind of canvas coverings, canvas tops and everything. Ah, in the bedlam those started falling down on everybody, ah, the, ah, the troopers would spot people who were kind of squirming and crawling away, getting over toward the school building or something like that to protect themselves, and they would go over and fire tear gas on those people. After, after a few minutes, ah, of, God knows what was happening, people might, might have been trapped under there and suffocating under the canvas parts that had fallen down. Ah, I went in to start trying to take some pictures again, ah, and, and, was hit this time by one of the, one of the troopers who knocked the camera loose from me for a minute but I got it back and started trying to shoot some more pictures but the, the thing that was the most notable was that as you would move through this, it was like a scene of hell, ah, with the smoke rising and people vomiting and crawling around and choking and crying, ah, and, and, then there was a kind of an eerie silence and the one thing you could hear over and over again was the thud, thud, thud sound and what it was was the Mississippi troopers kicking people on the ground or hitting them with their rifle butts**. One, one young man I remember seeing him crawl out and he was obviously already in terrible shape and a trooper came up and just bashed him three times in the head with his rifle butt. And a, I remember that, uh, at that point, ah, a White man who turned out to have been a, a, minister, a White minister from Mississippi, of all things, ah, came over and, and pleaded with the trooper to stop it and said, "My God, why are doing this?" And the trooper just said, "Shut up or I'll give you the same thing," or something like that. And that went on for five or ten minutes of, a, of just constant, wherever they saw people starting to, ah, to move away or form other clusters, they would lob some more tear gas on them. And then the, the beatings just continued for, as I say, I suppose about five or ten minutes of just solidly pounding people who were already helpless and sick. It was, it was just horrible. It was just unbelievable.

INTERVIEWER:

Okay, that's good, let's stop down now.



INTERVIEWER:

Take it.

ARLIE SCHARDT:

At first, I really wasn't sure what to think, ah, ah, the, the Black Power, ah, the Black Power theme was being, was being put forward by Stokely and Willie Ricks and other, ah, SNCC leaders whom I had known for along time. I wasn't quite sure how seriously to take them, if, in terms of my personal working relationship with them. I had known them for a long time. We had had a good relationship. I knew that they needed the media. They knew that they needed the media. Ah, so at first when, ah, when this, when this kind of thin veneer of hostility began coming from them toward myself and toward other White reporters, ah, I really wasn't quite sure how seriously to take it or whether Stokely was saying this for effect. There were a lot of new reporters coming down there and I knew he wanted to make an impact on, on them as well as ones who had known him and known his thinking for along time. Ah, and at the same time there were plenty of Black leaders who were dead set against that theme because they knew that it was going to be interpreted nationally as an anti-White, ah, approach and they didn't want that. They felt that integration was still the way the country had to go if there was going to be any justice at all. Ah, so I, I felt that hostility but, ah, I, and I, I want to say, I was never physically afraid. I didn't expect that anybody was going to hurt me. Ah, but I wondered if we really were going to be cut off from, ah, further contact about what was going on behind the scenes and it was going to impair our ability to report. And I could certainly see, ah, that a lot of people were, a lot of Whites were interpreting this, some because they wanted to, others because they just saw it that way, as the beginning of an anti-White effort on the part of the Civil Rights Movement.