The Children Bob Moses Led: A Novel

The Children Bob Moses Led: A Novel

by William Heath
The Children Bob Moses Led: A Novel

The Children Bob Moses Led: A Novel

by William Heath


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Winner of the Hackney Literary Award and selected in 2002 by Time as one of the eleven best novels on the African American experience, The Children Bob Moses Led is a compelling, powerful chronicle of the events of Freedom Summer. The novel is narrated in alternating sections by Tom Morton, a white college student who joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for the summer, and Bob Moses, the charismatic leader of the Mississippi Summer Project. With clarity and honesty, Heath’s novel recalls the bittersweet spirit of the 1960s and conveys the hopeful idealism of the young students as they begin to understand both the harsh reality faced by those they try to help and the enormity of the oppression they must overcome.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603063357
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Pages: 364
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

WILLIAM HEATH has a PhD in American studies from Case Western Reserve University and has taught at Kenyon, Transylvania, Vassar, and the University of Seville. In 2007 he retired as a professor emeritus at Mount Saint Mary’s University, where The William Heath Award in creative writing is given annually. The Children Bob Moses Led (Milkweed Editions 1995) won the Hackney Literary Award for best novel, was nominated by the publisher for the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize, and nominated by Joyce Carol Oates for the Ainsfield-Wolf Award. In 2002 Time magazine online judged it one of the eleven best novels of the African American experience. Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells (Heritage Books, 2008) was a History Book Club selection. Devil Dancer (Somondoco Press 2013) is a neo-noir novel set in Lexington, Kentucky. A work of history, William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2015. The Walking Man (Icarcus Books 1994) is a selection of his poems. He has published essays on Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, William Styron, and Thomas Berger, among others. He and his wife Roser Caminals-Heath, a Catalan novelist, have lived in Frederick, Maryland since 1981. A study guide for The Children Bob Moses Led is available at

Read an Excerpt


Tom Morton

Summer 1963

In those days I believed that America could be made safe fordemocracy, from the grassroots up, with just a little help from meand my friends. And so I served as a summer soldier to fight forcivil rights. We were neophytes who thought that we couldredeem our nation by holding hands and singing freedom songs.But when you toe the asphalt, stick out your thumb, and becomea hitchhiker of history, currents beyond your control sweep youto destinations not of your devising. By the time I left theMovement, the world had not changed much, but at least I hadnot sat on the sidelines with the lip-service liberals; rather I hadbecome my own contemporary and acted on my ideals. I had gonein search of America, and myself. What I found was Mississippi.

During the summer of 1963 I worked at a tennis camp in theAdirondacks for Jewish kids from Long Island. "We're fromGreat Neck," they used to chant, "couldn't be prouder. If youdon't believe us, we'll buy you out!" Each cabin counselor was acollege tennis player, and we spent long afternoons shouting"Racquet back; eye on the ball!" to our awkward pupils. Theypracticed hard, whether to satisfy their own dreams of athleticprowess or to please their parents, but only a few displayed theskills to excel.

The boy I remember best was a manic perfectionist who sometimesflipped out when he failed. Mostly he was quiet and kept tohimself, speaking in soft monosyllables and rarely smiling. Askedto make his bed or to police the grounds for inspection, he did itimpeccably: a dime bounced on his taut sheets and all thegumwrappers were gone. He used to sit on the front steps of the cabinstrumming the same folk tune by the hour, until some web-footeddemon in his fingers slipped up. I found his guitar, back broken, leftfor dead in the weeds. Once, during a softball game, when a pitchcaught the inside corner of the plate and I called him out onstrikes, he whirled, white-eyed, and swung for my skull.

Palm Sunday (our name for parents' weekend) came in mid-Julythat year. The moms and dads pontooned up to the dock intheir own seaplanes or parked swank machines on the outfieldgrass. The rule was no tipping. (Ten spots changed hands on thesly, a small offering to redeem a boy's second serve or forgive hisfaults.) That evening at the intracamp basketball game, the parentsprotected themselves from the splinters in the bleachers by sittingon foxes and mink, on Scottish tweed, ready to praise the least signof grace in their ungainly offspring. As referee, my job was to spotinfractions. "Two shots," I shouted, "in the act," raising two fingersand pointing out the culprit, my camper. When I turnedtoward the foul line, he suddenly pounced on my back andclamped my throat with a merciless grip, which I unpried, smiling,while the parents smiled back: boys will be boys. At the bench hewept and pleaded, "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" He left the nextday. I said good-bye to the family: his mother, face salvaged byplastic surgery, her bouffant living a peroxide life of its own; thefather, pudgy and puzzled; and the son, grinning. I watched themwalk down to the dock; their plane skimmed the lake, gatheringspeed, and ascended into heaven.

I couldn't help identifying with that boy who wanted to be perfect.I didn't have his fits of violence, but I fell into moody broodingand self-pity when life didn't meet my expectations. I wanted to bea top tennis player, but I had only made the Hiram team as asophomore, and the moves I brought to the game were better suitedto basketball: I had quick hands, covered a lot of court, and mybest stroke was a kind of walk-on-air leaping lunge that resembleda fallaway jump shot more than an overhead smash. At CampIdylwold I soon realized that I was out of my league. Most of theother counselors beat me decisively, and the camp pro, JoeFishback, demolished me. No matter how hard I hit the ball, hereturned it with ease, and the wonder of it was, I never saw himrun. He seemed to be waiting at the exact spot long before even mymost sharply angled shots arrived. At the end of the match Islammed my racquet to the ground, and to make my humiliationcomplete, it bounced back up and smacked me in the face.

Nothing had gone the way I wanted that summer. My tennisgame improved, but not as much as I had wished. When my girlfriend,Michelle, arrived unexpectedly, and the whole camp stoodon the hillside cheering as I shouldered my sleeping bag andwalked toward her car, I learned that she had come not because shewanted my body but because she had decided to go to Africa withthe Peace Corps and was bound for Dartmouth to study Swahili.I'd been jilted before, but never by a continent.

Two weeks later I received letters from both my parents, bearingdifferent addresses. "Your mother and I have decided to separate,"my dad wrote, and he added with characteristic elusiveness, "Ican't tell you how much I loved that house. Don't think for aminute I didn't hate to leave, but it got to a point where I couldn'tstand it any more." I knew that was an he'd ever say, and fora moment I saw the stone fireplace and oak bookcases he hadconstructed with his own hands, and I wondered if he loved thosebetter than he loved me. After years of listening to Mom's monologuesand Dad's silences, I was not surprised. I thought of thephotos of them when they were my age. He was a six-foot-two,well-muscled track star, and she a bright and patrician lawyer'sdaughter: an all-American couple walking arm-in-arm across theOberlin campus with the world before them.

I had planned to drive straight back to Ohio as soon as campclosed, but I felt bitter and betrayed, as if they had staged all thisjust to hurt my feelings. I have no home, I thought, I'm on my own. Icalled my friend Lenny Swift in Washington. I admired his unflappablecool, his smart remarks at the passing scene; he could alwaysmake me laugh. Lenny had a heart, but he never wore it on hissleeve, and I found comfort in his caustic wit. He urged me tocome to D.C. and join him for the March on Washington. Thatsounded like fun to me, especially after Lenny told me that BobDylan and Joan Baez would be singing. On the way, I decided tostop off in New York to scout out a suitable garret in GreenwichVillage. Like most people my age I was auditioning identities: Isaw myself at the time as something of a dandy, an aristocratic Qflaunting his foppish tail at the monotonous world of Os. Ratherthan go to graduate school as my favorite history professor hadurged, I resolved to become a famous writer. I had read enoughJack Kerouac to assume that the place to find Real Life was with thehoboes huddled around flaming trash cans and the dark-skinnedfolk who worked the fields and sang the blues. I would write aboutthem, the down-and-out and dispossessed, and when I returned tomy hometown with a best-seller to my credit, a sheaf of ravereviews in my pocket, and an exotic beauty on my arm, the localyokels would go slackjawed with desire and Michelle would biteher lip in envy. That was my American Dream, the I-told-you-sofantasy of a callow know-it-all who was a stranger to himself.

That was before I met Bob Moses.

Bob Moses

McComb and Liberty, Mississippi

August-September 1961

I am Bob Moses. I first came to McComb in August of 1961 with asimple purpose: to break the Solid South by applying pressure at itsstrongest point. I sought out the worst part of the most intransigentstate, placed myself on the charity of the black community, locateda few brave souls who would support civil rights workers, and setup a voter registration school. If enough people could find thecourage to go down to the courthouse, confronting the systemdesigned to oppress them, then blacks all over the South wouldtake heart, the country would take notice, and maybe, one hundredyears too late, the federal government would take action. Was myeffort a success? I would be reluctant to say that. When I startedout, I hoped that no one would be killed.

A few years earlier I was headed down a different path. With anM.A. in philosophy from Harvard and a job teaching mathematicsat the prestigious Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, Iwas a part of what W. E. B. DuBois termed "the talented tenth"—ablack man who could succeed in the white world playing bywhite rules. I had had an elitist education since I was eleven, passinga citywide competitive exam to attend Stuyvesant High Schoolin downtown Manhattan. President of my senior class, I receivedan academic scholarship to Hamilton, where I was one of threeblack students at the college.

It was at Hamilton, thanks to my French professor, that I discoveredCamus. I read The Rebel and The Plague and began askinghard political questions: "Can revolution be humane?" "Can the'victim' overthrow the 'executioner' without assuming his office?"For a time I believed that the only change worth working for was achange of heart, and so I joined a group of campus Pentecostalswho traveled on weekends to Times Square to testify to the comingof the Kingdom. I considered becoming a preacher like my grandfather,but my father had his doubts. "That's not just any job," hesaid. "You've got to be called." The pacifism of the Society ofFriends also impressed me. One summer I attended an AmericanFriends Service Committee international work camp in France,where I met people who had been part of the Resistance during theNazi occupation. The following summer I went to Japan, where Ihelped build wooden steps up a slippery hillside for the children ofa nearby mental hospital. Before I flew home, a Zen Buddhistmonk invited me to spend a week at his home. Through my travelsand study I learned to think before I spoke and to mean what Isaid, but I wasn't the serious brooder people took me for. What Iloved best about the Quakers was their folk dancing and hootenannies.Back in my room I listened to Odetta, and out on a date Iwould strut down Amsterdam Avenue whistling show tunes.

In the fall of 1956 I began graduate work in philosophy atHarvard. I was convinced that the analytic method, with its insistenceon clarity and precision, represented a significant advance inthought. Previous philosophers had relied on metaphor andrhetoric to make muddy water appear deep. I sat in the back of theclass during Paul Tillich's lectures, shaking my head and muttering,"It's all poetry." More to my taste was Wittgenstein's axiom:"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." If philosophycould streamline its language and define its terms, then itcould attain the accuracy of mathematics with its postulates andproofs. Before long, however, I tired of thinking about thinkingand the meaning of meaning. In that remote realm of tautologies,indexes, and surds, I was in danger of forgetting that the meaningof life was no abstract speculation but my immediate and concreteconcern. I returned to Camus's dictum "I rebel, therefore we exist"and to Lao-tse, who taught that the way to wisdom consists in livingone life well—starting small, a step at a time, with what is near,with what is at hand.

Then in the spring of 1958 my forty-three-year-old mother diedof cancer; my father was so distraught he had to be hospitalized atBellevue for several months. I dropped out of Harvard, accepted ajob teaching math at Horace Mann High School, and moved backto Harlem to look after him. My father and I had always beenclose; we used to have long talks about what America denied andoffered. Like many of his generation, he had been hamstrung bythe depression. Intelligent, articulate, and handsome, he sacrificedhis talents for the sake of his family, accepting a low-paying job asa security guard at Harlem's 369th Division Armory. He and mymother scrimped and saved to ensure that my brothers and I wouldget ahead. The stress and strain took their toll: my mother once suffereda minor breakdown, and my father would sometimes slipinto fantasies that his name was not Gregory Moses but GaryCooper—a man brave enough, in spite of his cowardly town, tostand up for what was right.

My only civil rights activity at that time was to participate in theYouth March for Integrated Schools that Bayard Rustin sponsoredin Washington. Then, one day in February 1960, I saw a picture inthe New York Times of the sit-ins that had just begun in Greensboro,North Carolina: a row of neatly dressed black students sat at aWoolworth's lunch counter, while a crowd of white toughs in duck-tailsand sleeveless T-shirts waved a Confederate flag and shouted attheir backs. Some of the students tried to read books, others staredcalmly at the camera. I was struck to the core by the determinationon their faces. They weren't cowed, and they weren't apathetic—theymeant to finish what they had begun. Here was something thatcould be done. I simply had to get involved.

Over spring break, I visited my father's brother, a teacher atHampton Institute in Virginia. One day I saw some studentspicketing stores in Newport News. I slipped into the line of marchand suddenly felt a great release. All my life I had repressed myresentments and played it cool. Now the sense of affirmation andthe surge of energy that came from this mere gesture at protestingwere exhilarating. I had had a taste of action and wanted more.That evening I went to a mass meeting where Reverend Wyatt TeeWalker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference spoke.He talked about the need to collect money to defend the ReverendMartin Luther King from legal harassment, mentioning thatBayard Rustin was directing a fund drive in New York.

When I got back to Harlem, I volunteered my services tothe Committee to Defend Martin Luther King, and so every dayafter school, I devoted time to organizing a Harry Belafonte fundraisingrally at the armory where my father worked. But I didn'tfeel right licking envelopes while others were putting their lives onthe line. I confided my discontent to Bayard Rustin, whose adviceI respected.

"Go down to Atlanta, Bob," he told me. "I'll write to Ella Bakerto tell her you're coming. She and Martin will find something foryou to do."

As soon as my teaching duties were over for the summer, Ipacked my bags and took a bus headed south.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference office wasn'tmuch: a small room, three women, three desks, three telephones.They were in the midst of a voter registration project and wantedme to do the same boring tasks I had done in New York. I soonfound myself talking a lot to Jane Stembridge, a short, peppy blondwith piercing blue eyes, a fiery spirit, and a crazy haystack ofunruly hair. She was a southern girl, a minister's daughter, whohad left Union Theological Seminary to become the Student Non-ViolentCoordinating Committee's first executive secretary, ajob she carried out with dispatch from her desk stuck in a corner ofthe SCLC office. We spent animated afternoons discussing Kant'scategorical imperative, Tillich's ultimate concern, Sartre's terriblefreedom, and Camus's authentic versus inauthentic existence.More pressing were our debates about the civil rights tactics ofMartin Luther King and the SCLC, which we called "Slick." Theywere in the process of replacing Ella Baker with Wyatt TeeWalker—part of a larger plan to promote Dr. King as the leaderand spokesman of the black revolt. Jane and I thought the wholeapproach was too hero-worshipping, media-centered, preacher-dominated,and authoritarian. We agreed with Ella Baker, themidwife of SNCC, which we called "Snick," who had very definiteideas about organizing. She believed that the Movement ought toseek out the small farmers, sharecroppers, and plantation workersand start building at the grassroots instead of posturing in front ofcameras. Jane suggested that I should make a field trip to the DeepSouth to recruit students for an upcoming SNCC conference inOctober. I would pay my own way and see for myself what conditionswere like.

At this time I wasn't even on the SNCC staff. In fact, several ofthe SNCC people in Atlanta eyed me with suspicion. Who was thissoft-spoken guy in horn-rimmed glasses with a Harvard degree?Why would someone so well educated (and with that name!) justhappen to show up from New York? Was he an FBI spy? ACommunist agent provocateur? Although I never tried to imposemy views, from the start I made it clear that I thought theMovement in America was part of a larger world picture. EllaBaker, whose impact on all of us was enormous, argued that whatwe were after was much more than equal access to greasy burgersat the five-and-dime. That didn't stop me, however, from joiningany picket line I saw. I marched for hours with Julian Bond and theother Atlanta University students in front of a local A&P thatserved mostly blacks but refused to hire even one. Another time Iwas arrested while picketing for the Southern ConferenceEducational Fund.

"How did you get involved with the SCEF?" Julian asked.

"I heard about it at a lecture."

"On what?"

"Ramifications of Goedel's Theorem."

"Oh," he said, raising one eyebrow.

As a result of my arrest, Martin Luther King summoned me tohis study at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I knew that some people inSNCC had been expressing doubts about me to King; he wanted tosee for himself. Face to face, I felt less in the presence of a nationalsymbol than of a troubled man a few inches shorter than I was anda few years older. After some painful silences and a smattering ofsmall talk, King finally said, "We have to be careful. The FBIthinks the whole Civil Rights Movement is a Communist plot. I'dadvise against picketing with the SCEF."

I didn't like his advice, but I took it. Then I changed the subject.Could I move my operations for the SCLC over to the Butler StreetYMCA where I was staying?

"Of course, of course," King answered, and we parted on thatcordial note of agreement.

When Ella Baker heard about my visit to Ebenezer, she wasupset.

"Why, Martin himself is friends with Anne and Carl Bradenand several of the other SCEF people. What right does he have totell you to stay away from them?"

"It doesn't matter," I said. "I'm heading south in a few daysanyway."

"Well, I wish I could join you. Wyatt Walker just evicted Janefrom the SCLC office, and I'm being sent to New York. When youget to Mississippi, make sure you talk to Amzie Moore. Before Ileave I'll give you his address, and I'm going to give those snootyAtlanta students a piece of my mind about the dangers of red-baiting.I won't have that. When I've finished with them, theywon't say another word against you, Robert."

The next day Julian came by and apologized. I told him aboutmy plan to tour the South.

"So 'Moses' is finally going to Mississippi," he said, inspectingmy face for signs of insanity. "I wish you luck."One day in late August I knocked on the door to Amzie Moore'shouse in Cleveland, Mississippi. He was an NAACP organizerwho had been working to change things in the Delta ever since hecame home from World War II. The floodlights that radiated outfrom his brick house and the rifle he held on his lap as we talkedtestified to how precarious his position was. But he was dug in likea tree by the water and determined to defend himself. A strong,broad-shouldered man who looked like he could handle himself ina fight, Amzie made me welcome immediately, and for a week, wereconnoitered the area and discussed strategy. We went from shackto shack, and he showed me scenes that I'll never forget: childrenwith swollen ankles, bloated bellies, and suppurating sores; childrenwhose one meal a day was grits and gravy; children whodidn't know the taste of milk, meat, fruits, or vegetables; childrenwho drank contaminated water from a distant well, slept five in abed, and didn't have the energy to brush the flies from their faces.We were in the Delta, but it might as well have been Haiti.

"What can be done?" he asked me simply.

I mentioned the sit-ins and demonstrations going on elsewhere.

"No. No. That won't work here. They'd squash that like a bugand nothin' more would be heard. It's the politicians who controlthings in this state. If you can hurt them, things will change. Thekey is the vote."

Amzie convinced me that the best tactic was not to attack segregationhead-on, but to focus exclusively on voter registration.Unlike the other NAACP leaders I had met, he was enthusiasticabout bringing in SNCC workers and recruiting local students tohelp.

"It's the young people who are gonna carry this thing through,"he said. "The adults are too afraid. But if the students showenough courage and commitment, they'll back them up."

Amzie showed me a booklet put out by the Southern RegionalCouncil that outlined the voting situation. Mississippi, as usual,was the worst: although 40 percent of the state was black, only 5percent of those eligible were registered, and most didn't dare vote.We taped a map of Mississippi on the wall and hauled out Amzie'sold Underwood. He extemporized on life in the Delta while Ityped up a rough draft of a voter registration project to present toSNCC. A few years earlier, Amzie and a Catholic priest in MoundBayou—Father John Lebouvre—had set up a voting school in hischurch. That would be our model. We would run off copies ofthe state constitution, and SNCC workers would teach the localpeople how to register. We knew we faced a tough, dangerous job,but my eyes gleamed with the vision of thousands of black peopledescending on local courthouses and gaining control of the Delta. "Don't get starry-eyed," Amzie would caution. "Things aregonna get real ugly round here before they get pretty. I've seen howmean these whites folks can be."

At the conference in October, Amzie Moore outlined our voterregistration proposal. SNCC, which could never resist a dare or achallenge, was impressed with Amzie's presentation and decidedto go ahead. I was named director of a voter registration project tostart the following summer.

I taught one more year at Horace Mann, saving as much moneyas I could for what was ahead. Each night I read up on the South,studied the Mississippi constitution and maps of the state,planned, meditated, and then, before going to bed, listened toOdetta sing "I'm Going Back to the Red Clay Country."

When summer came, I returned to Mississippi, but it lookedlike the project wouldn't get off the ground. SNCC was in disarrayover the question of whether voter registration wasn't a diversionfrom "direct action" demonstrations against segregation; Amziewas swamped with personal problems. Then a letter came fromCurtis Bryant in McComb. He had read about SNCC's voter registrationplans in Jet and wanted us to set up a project in PikeCounty.

"White folks around here are really upset about these FreedomRiders," Amzie said. "Maybe things down there won't be so tight."

So one day in early August I moved my base of operations toMcComb, a tough railroad town in the southwestern part ofthe state.

Bryant, a brusque, energetic man with a high-pitched voice anda warm handshake, was one of the stalwarts of the Movement. Heran a barbershop in front of his house in Baertown, a small blackcommunity the city fathers had deliberately zoned outside thetown limits. He also operated a loading crane for the IllinoisCentral, whose tracks, along with the Gulf, Western & Ohio, cutright through the heart of McComb. On the west side of town werepaved streets; a few blocks of retail stores, and the white suburbs,spread out under a canopy of shade trees and embroidered withflowers. On the east, Burgland, the all-black town with its shabbystores, ramshackle houses, and dirt roads. The general air of grindingpoverty was broken by the occasional brick house of somebodywho worked for the railroad.

Bryant took me in and introduced me to as many people as hecould. "This is my friend, Bob Moses," he'd say. "He's here to helpus, so I want you to help him." Ernest Nobles, who ran the locallaundry, said he'd keep me looking good; Aylene Quin promisedfood at her restaurant; Mama Cotton provided housing; and WebbOwens, "Supercool Daddy," volunteered to go door-to-door withme to raise money for the Freedom School.

At first, children stopped playing hopscotch and huddledtogether as I walked by "He's a Freedom Rider," they whispered.Their wary parents would pass me on the road without meeting myeyes, but I could feel their stares and questions jabbing into myback. Many were frightened; I meant nothing but trouble. I wouldtell them, "Get ready, the Movement is coming your way," but thatwasn't anything they wanted to hear. One man stooped downbehind the tomato plants in his garden to avoid me. Another time, alittle girl came to the front door and said, "Mama say she not here."

It was hard work, but a few listened. I would take out a registrationform and ask, "Have you ever filled one of these out?" Theywould shake their heads and look uneasy. Voting was white folks'business. "Would you like to sit down now and try?" I wouldencourage them to imagine themselves at the county courthouse inMagnolia actually answering the twenty-one questions, interpretinga section of the Mississippi Constitution, and stating in a paragraphthe duties and obligations of citizenship. Whether theypassed or not was at the discretion of the registrar, whose job wasto see that they didn't.

People listened and gave what they could—a nickle, a dime, aquarter—to support a handful of SNCC workers. Soon I wasjoined by John Hardy, Reggie Robinson, Travis Britt, and a fewothers who had been in jail in Jackson for taking part in theFreedom Rides. Also, several of the local students got involved.One in particular, Brenda Travis, always bright-eyed and brimmingwith questions, would sit on a family's porch talking to them forhours if necessary until they were convinced of the need to register.Thanks to Curtis Bryant, who, in addition to being head of thelocal NAACP, a deacon in his church, a Sunday school teacher,and a scoutmaster, was also a high official in the Freemasons, wewere able to set up a Freedom School in the Masonic Hall over theBurgland grocery store. Saint Paul's Methodist Church, across thestreet, agreed to let us hold meetings there too.

One day in early August I was at the Freedom School preparingfor class when a slim, serious-faced young man, who was abouttwenty, came in. He scrutinized me with wide-eyed intensity.

"Are you Martin Luther King?"

"No. I'm Bob Moses. Why did you think I was King?"

"I heard talk about some big secret thing goin' on, so I come tosee for myself "

"Where are you from?"


"What's your name?"

"Hollis Watkins."

"Are you in school?"

"No. But I got plans.

"I've got plans too. "

I told him about the voter registration project, and even thoughI wasn't Martin Luther King, he wanted to help. His friend CurtisHayes would help too. They began to recruit. People relate tothem as the sons of local farmers who dressed and acted in down-homeways. I soon learned to scrap my suit and tie for boots, biboveralls, and a chambray shirt; the other SNCC workers did thesame. Those of us from the North learned to slow down to therhythms of the South.

The people flocked to our school. When we explained thepower of the vote, they squirmed in their chairs and glanced ateach other. One heavyset woman up front fanned herself harderevery time I mentioned the word freedom. Within a few days wesent several students to the Pike County courthouse in Magnolia.When they learned that they had passed, we held a party thatlasted long into the night. It seemed for the moment as if everythingwould be easy. Then the local paper, the Enterprise-Journal,ran an article on what we were trying to do. Whites becamealarmed. The next day, the registrar rejected our students, and thatevening one of them, in an incident apparently unrelated to voterregistration, was shot at. As the news spread, I noted the panic inpeople's eyes; they saw a connection. Fewer and fewer came to theFreedom School.

Meanwhile, farmers in nearby Amite and Walthall countiesheard about SNCC and asked if we could help them, too. As dangerousas McComb was, the surrounding areas, with long historiesof violence, were much worse. In Amite only one black was registered;in Walthall, none. If we had serious difficulties in McComb,what chance did we have in those places? But I knew that if weturned down the farmers, we would lose the trust and destroy thehope of the people. If we shied away from the toughest areas,everyone would know we could be intimidated, and the fragile projectwould fall apart. We decided that John Hardy should take onWalthall while I went into Amite, a name that meant "friendship"in French and "trouble" to me.

Shedding Life
Disease, Politics, and Other Human Conditions

Translated by David Young


Copyright © 1997 Miroslav Holub.All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

The Children Bob Moses Led
Tom Morton
Summer 19631
Bob Moses
McComb and Liberty, Mississippi: August-September 19615
Oxford, Ohio: June 21-27, 196427
Bob Moses
Liberty and McComb, Mississippi: September-November 196161
Freedom School
Tallahatchie, Mississippi: June 29-July 24, 196477
Bob Moses
Ruleville and Greenwood, Mississippi: January 1962-June 1963151
Voter Registration
McComb, Mississippi: July 24-August 20, 1964171
Bob Moses
Greenwood and Liberty, Mississippi: July 1963-May 1964247
The Convention
Atlantic City: August 22-27, 1964271
Afterword: 1972309
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