ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Walter C. Schuiling
C. Schuiling was born May 4, 1919 in Minnesota.
His son, Ty Schuiling, is Director of SANBAG.
After his wife of many years, Erna, died, he married Caroline, April, 2004.
Caroline read this paper posthumously..
B.Ed, Bomidji State U.
M.A. U. of Minnesota, Ph.D. in
Russian History, U. of Minnhesota
Army Air Corps Weather School and
Tropical Weather School.
Professional or occupational activities
Teaching history, Am. Gov.
Pacific High School
Fulbright Teaching Fellowship,
U. Cal Riverside; SB Valley
Crafton Hills College, Dean of
Civic Activities & Community Affiliations
San Bernardino Grand Jury 1965
Planning Commission & Parks
& Recreation Commission
Cal. State U. Board of Governors
San Bernardino County Museum
SB Co. Museum Assoc. 1952-2002
(President 3 terms, Editor Newsletter, writes monthly column for Museum News Letter}
Published American Government.
American history, Archeology. Has visited 55 countries on 5 continents.
MISSISSIPPI SUMMER - 1963
Those of us
over 50 years of age have been witness to the Civil-Rights Movement - one A the great
social and political transitions in American history. Although the final aims of the
movement may not yet be entirely realized, and the complete equality of the races
achieved, there has been tremendous progress -especially during the 1950s and `60s.
It began with
the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves in those states where slavery had been
legal. But it was only a partial emancipation in the Deep South where full citizenship and
equality were still not recognized. The so-called "Separate but Equal Doctrine"
of the Supreme Court in 1896 actually legalized this situation, since without enforcement
there was little equality involved in the segregation of the races.
that situation was a slow process. One of the first steps taken was the integration of the
armed forces by the Truman administration after World War II. Another step was the
decision of the Supreme Court in 1954 that the "Separate but Equal" doctrine was
unconstitutional as it applied to public school segregation. A year later (1955) came the
Montgomery bus boycott, and another court decision that bus segregation, too, violated the
Constitution. 1957 saw the Little Rock High School desegregated - but only after President
Eisenhower had sent 1,000 paratroopers and 10,000 National Guardsman to Little Rock. This
was followed in 1960 by the first "sit-ins" to desegregate restaurants and lunch
counters. A year later the "Freedom Rides" began to end the segregation of bus
terminals in the South. In 1962 James Meredith, escorted by federal marshals, was admitted
to the University of Mississippi at Oxford, but only after a riot where two people were
1963 was an
especially interesting and active year. It was the year of many "sit-ins" where
violence often erupted, with police dogs and fire hoses breaking up demonstrations. It was
the year when Medgar Evers, an NAACP official in Mississippi, was assassinated - as was
President Kennedy a few months later. Four little girls were killed in the bombing of a
negro church in Birmingham. 1963 was the year when Martin Luther King delivered his
"I Have a Dream" speech in Washington where 200,000 civil rights workers and
sympathizers had gathered. And for reasons which I did not fully understand at the time,
1963 was the year that I spent the summer teaching at an all-negro college in Holly
How did I get
involved in teaching in a segregated negro college in the heart of the deep South? It all
came about quite naturally, and without any special thought or desire on my part to become
identified with the Civil Rights Movement.
Christmas holidays of 19621 was introduced to the mother-in-law of the San Bernardino High
School principal. She was then teaching at Tougaloo College, a well-kmown black college
near Jackson, Mississippi. During the previous year she had taught at Rust College, a
smaller and less-known school in the Delta region of northwestern Mississippi. She
described the abvsmal condition of negro higher education in the Smith and stressed the
need for qualified and experienced teachers, pointing out the difficulty of getting
college faculty with advanced degrees. I asked her whether she thought Rust College might
be interested in my teaching there for the following summer as a volunteer, asking nothing
more than room and board for me and my family while there. She reacted enthusiastically,
indicating that she would act as an intermediary with the president of the college, and
suggested that I write to him, outlining my basic qualifications and experience, and
offering to teach a couple classes under the conditions I had suggested.
were soon underway and were quickly concluded. I looked forward to the summer of 1963
teaching negroes in the heart of Dixie. I did not realize at the time that we were the
ones that would have the greater educational experience.
arriving on the Rust College campus in early July, we were welcomed by one of the top
administrators who showed us our living quarters for the summer. Our residence was an old
dormitory, now emptied of its winter student occupants. The dormitory lobby was our living
room It had linoleum on the floor and was equipped with a few pieces of furniture -
several chairs and a plastic-covered sofa. A black and white televison set was a prominent
feature. Our little family occupied only one large bedroom - with three single beds. The
bathroom was a bit dilapidated but functional. There were a few gaps in the flooring which
sagged considerably on the tub side of the room. We had maid service in that house
cleaning and the change of linen was taken care of by college service employees. We ate
all of our meals at the college cafeteria, usually in the company of other faculty or
staff members. We were the only "whites" on the campus, and we quickly
determined that while in Holly Springs we would not venture out of the "black"
community. But the fact that we were spending the summer at Rust College was apparently
soon noted and well discussed in the "white" community." It was a bit difficult to hide the fact that we were
"outsiders" - we were driving an Opel station wagon with a California license.
had dinner one evening, shortly after our arrival, with the president of the college. He
was a remarkable man, well-educated in the North. He was very much in demand as a speaker,
apparently spending more time off campus than on. The following day he was off to
Minnesota and Iowa. Then, upon his return, he was off again to Florida, Atlanta, and South
Dakota. Rust College was depending more and more on financial support from Methodist
congregations in the North -- especially those in Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota.
was scheduled to teach two classes - American Government and Modern European History. My
wife had not planned to teach, but when the Dean learned that she was an English teacher,
she, too, was signed up to teach a class. Our teaching schedules were staggered so that we
were not in class at the same time, and therefore could more easily fulfill our parental responsibilities.
That summer was a real educational
experience for our nine-year-old son. Going to an elementary school in north San
Bernardino had not provided him with much opportunity to meet children of other ethnic
backgrounds. Here all of his companions and playmates were children of black faculty
members or staff. At first the children acted quite subservient to him - a situation to
which he took full advantage. We noticed him riding their bicycles, while the owners sat
it out or ran alongside. But when we heard some children addressing him as "Mr.
Schuiling", we realized that it was time for us to exercise a little parental
authority and set the record straight. From that time on he was just one of the group. I
know that summer was a high point in our son's social development.
In order to know the students better,
we suggested to the Director of Student Activities that we would like to host an informal
weekly gathering of students in our living quarters. We would meet for about an hour at
7:00 o'clock in the evening to discuss any items of interest, to ask questions and
exchange ideas. So that they might appear to have some educational value, we decided to
call them "Twilight Seminars" He was very amenable to the idea and provided the
necessary campus publicity.
At our first meeting about ten students
showed up, a number that grew with succeeding meetings. We quickly got to discussing the
students' most obvious concern - the racial situation in the South. A few of the group -
students well into their twenties - had been active in the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committees (SNCC) in Alabama and Mississippi, working on voter registration
or even participating in some demonstrations. The drive for equal rights was referred to
be all as "The Movement". Comments regularly included such phrases as
"before I joined the Movement" or "my mother didn't want me to join the
The older students shared their
experiences with the younger. One told of his friendship with Medgar Evers, the NAACP
leader who had been killed only a couple of weeks earlier. Another told of his
participation in some lunch counter demonstrations in Jackson, Mississippi. Another
student, an older Air Force veteran who lived in Oxford, the university town about thirty
miles south, told of his daily harassment by the Highway Patrol as he drove to Rust each
day. They stopped him every day to question him, to see his auto registration and driver's
license, and to search his car for liquor - which he never had. Another student. from
Montgomery, Alabama, was very familiar with the early phases of the Movement there, where
Martin Luther King had first organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference - the
original non-violent movement in the South. He had been involved in the bus boycott, and
he also told of his experiences in Birmingham where "Bull" Connor was the police
These accounts opened it up to others
to tell of their experiences. What had been planned for an hour session lasted much
longer. The first "Twilight Seminar" probably meant more to us than it did to
the students. We felt that we had been accepted by them and taken into their confidence.
During our test days at Rust we were
also able to go to the University at Oxford to meet with Dr. James Silver, a Professor of
History, who was on the scene of the riots the previous fall brought on by the admission
of James Meredith to the University. Silver was not teaching at"Ol Miss" that
summer, but had returned for a couple days to testify as a witness in the trial of one of
the Oxford rioters. Although he testified that he had seen the man distributing guns and
carrying gasoline, the accused rioter had been acquitted by the all-white jury. Silver
said that the defense had made his case with the jury by talking against President Kennedy
and the federal government.
Silver described the "Battle of
Oxford" as being "really messy", and said that it was a miracle that no
federal marshals were killed. There was much shooting, and there still were bullet holes
around the door area of the Lyceum. Silver was the first faculty member to
"socialize" with Meredith by having lunch with him. He said that Meredith was
almost completely ostracized by the other students, but he also indicated that Meredith
was somewhat difficult to get along with that he was aggressive and not about to kow-tow
A second student, Cleve McDowell, had
just entered the University that summer. He was very diplomatic, non-aggressive, always
saying the right thing. The University administration was now saying that if McDowell,
rather than Meredith, had been the first black student, there would have been no Oxford
incident. But Silver said this was obvious rationalization since the riots occurred before
the students had even seen Meredith. Meredith, himself, was not present at the riots.
At the time I talked with Dr. Silver I
did not know that we would soon have a closer relationship with James Meredith. A couple
hours before our second Twilight Seminar" we learned that Meredith was on the Rust
campus. He, accompanied by two federal marshals, had driven up to Holly Springs to visit
with a cousin who was a student at Rust. He found him and invited him to meet with our
student group that evening. He willingly consented to come after he and the marshals had a
bite to eat at the college cafeteria. He was on hand when the students arrived at 7:00
When I asked Meredith about the
relationship of Cleve McDowell, the other black student at the University, with the rest
of the student body, as compared with their reaction to him, he answered that "he
gets along pretty well - he's a negro!" The point being made was that Meredith was
the ":nigger" - the symbol of integration. Meredith had accepted his position as
a race leader, willing to make unpopular statements when hounded by the press. McDowell,
on the other hand, kept out of the way, was not identified with civil rights groups, and
did nothing to antagonize. The wrath of the white supremacists was taken out on Meredith.
(But the following fall, after Meredith had graduated and McDowell was the only black
student at the University, he was expelled for possessing a firearm. McDowell, of course,
claimed it was a frame-up - that the gun had been planted in his room.)
In speaking of Mississippi justice,
Meredith said that since the Reconstruction no white man had been severely punished for
killing a negro. So far as he could research the issue, the maximum penalty ever received
was seven years - and that person didn't serve all that time. He went so far as to say
that "any white man could kill himself a "nigger" in Mississippi and know
that his punishment, if any, would not be severe. Such crimes might not even be seriously
investigated unless the case aroused out-of-state interest. It was obvious from the
student reaction to his remarks that this inequality of justice was acknowledged by all.
While Meredith was visiting, I found
the activities of the two federal marshals interesting. One of them stayed with us in the
living room but every so often he asked Meredith to move from one chair to another. There
were no curtains on the windows, and the occupants of the lighted room could be easily
seen from outside. The second marshal stayed outside and continually walked back and forth
in front of the dormitory.
Meredith did most of the talking and
seemed to be enjoying himself. Upon leaving, he invited us to come down to Oxford to visit
him. After learning how to contact him by telephone to make final arrangements, we
indicated that we would look forward to doing so sometime later in the summer.
One evening, shortly after the Meredith
visit, we heard singing coming from one of the nearby buildings. The song was "We
Shall Overcome." We learned that it came from a meeting of the campus chapter of the
NAACP. We had not known of such activity on the campus, and we hoped that the group would
gain enough confidence in us to eventually share their thoughts and plans with us. We did
not have long to wait. A couple days later the president of the campus chapter invited us
to attend their meetings. Of course we were plased with the unsolicited invitation. Much
as we wanted to be invited, we did not want to push ourselves into such a situation until
we were sure that we would be welcomed.
Membership at that first meeting
included about twenty Rust students and a few more from the Mississippi Industrial
College, a technical school also located in Holly Springs. The program began with the
singing of some songs associated with the Civil Rights Movement. Then the president of the
group reported on his meeting the previous evening with the downtown chapter of the NAACP
- which we didn't even know existed. Discussed at that downtown meeting were a number of
items: 1) segregated facilities in public buildings; 2) need for more and newer books for
the negro schools; 3) need for paving on the road to the negro high school; 4) need for a
slow or caution sign where negro school children must cross the street; 5) a request for a
negro on the public school board; and 6) the hope expressed that the negro teachers would
not be intimidated by the threat of losing their jobs if they should register to vote.
Then there was some planning for action by the campus group. Two
programs ere outlined. One was to increase negro voter registration in Marshall County of
which Holly Springs was the county seat. The other was to test segregated facilities in
the local public buildings. Members were selected to go to the public library, the county
court house, and to a local drug store to see
if they could buy cokes. They finally decided not to test the restrooms in the court house
since the segregated signs were still posted, and they did not want to tempt the law to
When I was asked if I had any
comments or suggestions for them, I mentioned that in a few days a gubernatorial candidate
was scheduled for a speech at a political rally in the courthouse square, and it might be
interesting if as many negroes as possible would attend it. It would be one way of making
a visible statement for the cause - and a reasonably safe one. They seemed to like the
idea and indicated that they would mention this when they canvassed for voter registration
in the negro community.
At the close of the meeting we all
joined hands and sang "We Shall Overcome." When one verse was hummed the
president offered a prayer. Then the last stanza was sung - "God Is On Out
Side". It was very moving!
At the next meeting reports were
given by those who had participated in the "testing" of the facilities as had
been planned at the previous meeting. The teams had been made up of two
"testers" and two "floaters". The "testers" were the ones
asking for service, and the "floaters" were observers from a distance, who if
the "testers" experienced trouble or were detained, would hurry back to the
campus to give the story to the NAACP secretary. She, in turn, could contact higher
authorities by telephone to receive instructions for further action.
The "testers" who had gone
to the local restaurants and drug stores had a mixed reception. Most places served them
soft drinks without any problem. But by this time the drug stores and soda fountains had
removed all stools and booths so that although they served anyone, the patrons, whether
white or black, were denied a place to sit. (This was referred to by some at the time as
One team of "testers" did get
into a bit of trouble. They went to a number of restaurants only asking if they could be
served, but not sitting down or ordering. At one restaurant the woman manager called the
police, at which time the couple immediately left. The police picked them up on the street
and took them to the police station for questioning, apparently trying to find out what
adults, if any, might be urging them on. (To my knowledge, my name did not come up
-although a local minister was apparently suspect.) The interrogation was probably also an
exercise to frighten the boys. They were released and no charges were filed. But as a
result of the incident the Public Relations Officer at the college received a telephone
call from a city official who told him that if Rust College couldn't teach these fellows
to get along in Mississippi, the police would!
Another team of testers had gone to the
public library and asked for a specific book on Mississippi history. The library attendant
said she didn't know anything about it. The couple then went to the card catalogue, asking
if they could use it. They were told that the library had no card catalog, even though
they were using it. The couple then thanked her and left.
A second concern of the campus chapter
was voter registration - to get more negroes registered to vote, and to get those few
already registered to participate in the upcoming Democratic primary election. I told them
of some of the ways we, in California, used to get-outthe-vote: - personal contact on
election day; reminders by telephone, offers of transportation to the polls, volunteer for
baby-sitting, etc. These simple ideas were apparently new to them.
Although the students had no planned
programs beyond testing public facilities and encouraging voter registration, rumors of
larger student demonstrations regularly excited the white community. On one occasion that
summer a group of Rust students made plans for a picnic off campus - using a bus for
transportation to the picnic ground. The rumor developed that a demonstration was planned
and highway patrolmen and extra policemen gathered downtown. Of course nothing happened -
the students had their picnic and that was all. The college president later told me that
he suspected many of the rumors were deliberately planted by the students just to watch
the reaction in the community. He said that during the previous spring quarter, extra
deputies and police dogs were brought into Holly Springs on three separate occasions.
We attended several more NAACP meetings
while we were on campus and always felt that we were accepted as members of the group. We
were especially impressed by the religious overtones expressed by this group of young
people. Although some southern political leaders, such as the Wallaces and the Barnetts,
were hinting that there was Communist leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, we were
witnessing what I would call a true Christian movement.
In 1963 negro voter registration in
Mississippi had produced no effective results in the Civil Rights Movement. In
interviewing the chairman of the black voter registration committee in Marshall County, I
learned that only about 100 negroes were registered - out of a total population of 23,000.
At this time registration procedure in the state was still somewhat complicated. The
registration form contained 21 questions to be answered - including some interpretations
of the law - the correct answers of which were themselves subject to interpretation by the
examining official. The students trying to increase the negro registration would inform
the potential registrants of the questions that would be asked, and would suggest
acceptable answers to those questions subject to iriterpretation. And the point would be
made again and again to keep trying to register even though one was not successful on the
first or second time. But the questions alone were not the principal reason that it was
difficult to get the older negroes to register. They were afraid of economic reprisals,
,loss of their job, afraid of their children getting into trouble. The names of all those
who applied for registration was regularly printed in the weekly newspaper. This invited
reprisal by white employers who could scan the list to see if any of "their"
people were getting out of line. Intimidation kept most of them from getting involved in
the political process.
And, of course, there was still the
poll tax. Although small by our standards, it kept many of the poor, whites as well as
blacks, from even considering registering and voting.
All of these conditions changed a couple of years
later with the passage of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We were fortunate to be in Mississippi
during the time of the Democratic Primary Election. At that time the southern states were
still solidly Democratic - before the civil rights activity and Presidents Kennedy and
Johnson converted many of them to Republicanism. In 1963 there were three Democratic
candidates vying for the governorship of the state, and I was able to attend political
rallies for two of them. I heard a major speech by the third candidate on statewide radio
I attended the first political rally in
the Courthouse Square in Oxford, Mississippi, on the same day I had scheduled an interview
with Dr. James Silver. Only whites, perhaps as many as two hundred, were in the square
under the shade of some trees. The audience was made up mostly of older men, a few women,
and some University students. Three blacks took it in by sitting on the curb across the
Several candidates running for lesser
state offices were introduced, and a few made brief derogatory remarks about the federal
government, and some were vitriolic in expressing their hatred of the Kennedys. Then came
the main attraction, Paul Johnson, then the Lt. Governor of the state, and now seeking the
top job. He first spoke about the growth and development of Mississippi. Then he started
in on the Kennedys, the National Democratic Party, the Liberals and the federal
government. He said that things really started "to go to hell" under Roosevelt
who had "visions of equality". He suggested that Mississippi should select
unpledged presidential electors in 1964, so that the South might have a check on the rest
of the nation. The crowd response was generally apathetic. There was no applause during
the speech itself.
A second candidate was Charles Sullivan
- quite young, a former district attorney, but with no statewide experience. He was
scheduled for a late afternoon rally in Holly Springs, but there was evidently. a change
in plans, and he did not show up, following an afternoon of heavy rains and thunderstorms.
Although I did not see Mr. Sullivan in person, I listened to one of his major speeches on
a Memphis TV station on prime time. There was no question of his stand on continued
segregation, with no apology, qualification, or sense of shame. He indicated that unless
the Democrats chose a conservative presidential candidate in 1964, he would support the
Republicans. He stated that he was for the merit system in education - rewarding the
better teachers, and leaving no doubt that the better teachers would be white teachers. He
also promised that he would drastically reduce welfare payments. This would discourage
illegitimacy, and would drive those people out of the state - up North - and
"Mississippi will be a better state for it.
The third candidate, J.P. Coleman, had
a rally in Holly Springs in late July. I had previously suggested at a campus NAACP
meeting that the candidate might find it interesting if a large number of negro students
would attend the rally - not to demonstrate, but just to be there for the psychological
effect it might have on the candidate.
Coleman's speech was a stream of
platitudes and generalities - Mississippi history, the Civil War, family genealogy, love
for southern traditions and institutions - not as much hate being expressed as the other
candidates. Although evading the big issues, he did appear to be the more moderate of the
The rally was attended by upward of
three hundred people - probably a third of them negroes. It was the topic of much
conversation later - the biggest turnout ever of negroes at a Marshall County political
event. The negroes, especially the students, didn't stand meekly at the back, but in small
groups through out the crowd. However there was no indication that the whites were
particularly alarmed or disturbed. We attended the rally with a friend who told us that
she had gone to rally three years earlier when only two negroes had been present. The wife
of the president of the college also went with us - and although well educated, this was
the first political rally she had ever attended. (Incidentally, Paul Johnson was the
winner of the Democratic primary, and the subsequent general election for governor.)
While in Mississippi I made an effort to learn something of the status of public
education for the negro in the state. Marshall County, in which Holly Springs was located,
was essentially an agricultural region with a rural population. Negro schools were
completely controlled by white school boards. Back in the days of the one- room school,
there might have been a negro "trustee" on some rural school boards, but with
the consolidation movement of the 1950's, this degree of autonomy was lost. But lest
consolidation lead to integration, there was more construction of negro schools than of
white schools during the `50's. Up until 1954 thee had been no negro high school in the
county. Although the negro school buildings were newer, the standards within were
invariably lower, and the classroom equipment in many cases almost absent.
In addition to conversations about
public education with faculty friends, I was able to visit four negro schools - three of
them in session. Here I saw the first evidence of unequal educational treatment. The
public negro schools in Marshall County, as in many other rural counties in Mississippi,
had split sessions - beginning in mid-July and continuing until midSeptember. Then a six
weeks "vacation" during cotton picking time. School resumed again in November
and ended in late May - cotton-chopping time. This was a condition only in the Negro
schools, and was obviously set up to insure an adequate supply of cheap labor when most
needed. But it also meant classes meeting in non-air-conditioned rooms during the hottest
time of the year.
I visited the negro high school in
Holly Springs. The building was newer than the other high school, and was not unattractive
from the outside. There was a gymnasium with a stage at one end, but no spectator space
off the floor. The library, also used as a study hall, contained about 400 books,
including five or six sets of old encyclopedias. The science laboratory had no .
facilities for student experiments - only a demonstration desk for the instructor. A small
storeroom had a few pieces of glassware and a few chemicals. It was obvious that the
science courses were taught as "textbook" subjects with a minimum of
demonstration or student experimentation. I got the impression that some of the teachers
had "given up. "
I was also able to visit three other
negro schools - two public and one private. Both public schools seemed an improvement on
the one I had visited in Holly Springs. The same conditions of crowded classrooms with a
minimum of equipment and the stifling heat prevailed. But I got the impression that
learning was taking place. The schools seemed better maintained, and the principals were
obviously aware of the many inadequacies that still existed. One of the problems of the
past was that many people, white as well as black, were not aware of how poor conditions
I also visited a local elementary
parochial school, built only six years earlier and staffed by Catholic sisters. Unlike the
negro public schools, it followed a conventional schedule - late August into May - so
students were not yet in attendance. Although it was an "integrated" school in
theory, no white students had ever been enrolled. The teachers were preparing their
classrooms for the fall opening, and the contrast in room environment with the negro
public schools was - to use an expression not in political favor at the time - the
difference between black and white. It was much more like the schools I knew in the north
and west - well kept up and equipped with the little frills that make all the difference.
It was an eye-opener to the Rust College student who had accompanied me. He had never seen
anything like it.
It was apparent that the negro teachers
in Mississippi, except for those in a few private colleges, were providing no leadership
in the Civil Rights Movement. The teachers were public employees of school districts run
by whites. Most of them were afraid to register for fear of losing their jobs. They had
completely ignored the racial problem in their teaching - no discussion of it in their
classes. Not a student I talked to had ever discussed racial issues in any class during
their entire school career. Of course some students were talking of little else among
their friends - outside of class - but never in any organized classroom.
The summer of `63 was my
"religious summer" in that I attended church with greater regularity than during
any other time in my life. I attended services at three different black churches - all
Methodist - two in town, and one a small chapel in the country. I felt welcome in all of
The Asbury Methodist Church in Holly
Springs was considered to be the "mother church" of Rust College, and it was
here that we gave our primary allegiance. The congregation was made up largely of middle
class or "town" negroes, including several members of the Rust faculty and their
families, as well as some Rust students. The church building was not air conditioned , but
on each seat was a paper fan supplied by a local mortuary. So on the hot sultry summer
mornings the parishioners were constantly fanning themselves -through songs, prayers, and
the sermon. The services were very conventional except for the singing which really had
volume and spirit. At one service the church budget was discussed, disclosing an annual
budget of $10,000 including the minister's salary of $3,300. The collection was a noisy
one - not a lot of folding money.
On one occasion the other town church
had a guest speaker - the brother of one of the Rust faculty. I had the opportunity to
visit with him later. He had been a prominent black businessman in Marshall County - at
one time owning four separate businesses. He became a fairly high official in the National
Council of Churches. Unfortunately his name was mentioned in an article by J.B. Mathews in
the American Mercury Magazine suggesting that there was Communist influence in the
National Council. As a result he was literally driven out of Marshall County. Local banks
and businesses withdrew all credit. He was twice threatened with lynching when crowds
gathered near his home. His home was fired into three different times, including one
barrage of 36 bullets. He was sued for bills he had already paid, and his cancelled checks
were not admitted as evidence in court. His personal analysis of the situation: "
This is what happens when a negro gets too prosperous in a small town in
Attendance at the small rural church
was made up of farm families, many of whom owned their own farms. All were nicely dressed
in their Sunday best - few suits, but the men all in clean white shirts. There was no
Sunday School so children of all ages attended the service and were very well-mannered.
The sermon, although loud, was well organized and thought provoking. The congregation
livened it up a bit with frequent "Amens", "Glory", God Have
Mercy", " Yes Lord", etc. - an audience response I did not hear in the town
As a result of this visit we were
invited to have dinner with one of the farm families a few days later. Except for the
crops grown, that farm environment was not much different from the one in which I had
grown up in northern Minnesota. They did have electricity (which we did not), but no
running water or indoor plumbing. Their home was modestly famished and spotlessly clean.
They were proud of what they had, and it was apparent that we were not vivisting the home
of a poor colored sharecropper. I felt very much at home. The meal that was served as
plentiful and delicious. After dinner we went outside to look over the crops. They had
fairly large fields of cotton and corn, and smaller patches of sweet potatoes, watermelon,
and peanuts, in addition to two garden plots.
Not long afterwards we had the
opportunity to visit with some of the same family again under much different circumstances
at the Holly Springs Hospital. One of their boys had an appendicitis attack and an
emergency operation. Of course he was housed in the negro section, so we entered the
hospital through the appropriate door used by the "Colored".
In addition to going to church and
driving a couple times to the university town of Oxford, we got off campus several times
by walking downtown with some of the students. We made no attempt to cross the color line.
When we purchased hamburgers or cokes with the students , we would order at the "take
out" window at the rear or side which was designated "Colored." Once we
quenched our thirst at a filling station by taking a drink of water from a hose, rather
than using the "Whites Only" drinking fountain.
I'm sure that some of these off-campus
activities were noted by the authorities, but we were not bothered. We were told by
friends that we were probably being followed when we drove out of town, but we were never
aware of it. Perhaps our friends were just a bit overly concerned and were urging us to be
We encountered the law only once
during the six weeks we spent in Holly Springs. Near the end of the summer session as we
were leaving the dormitory for supper one evening, one of the faculty met us at the door,
and in a panicky voice told us that the sheriff was on campus looking for us. We wasted no
time in looking for him, and found him at the campus cafeteria, accompanied by a big
sour-looking henchman. After we introduced ourselves and asked how we could help him, the
sheriff asked us if we knew a Walter Sawyer or an Ann Sawyer. After we responded that they
were unknown to 'us, he seemed satisfied. But he did tell us that he knew that we had left
our car at a local garage for an oil change and a lube job the day before. Then he and his
partner left without any further questioning.
-We ,assumed that the sheriff's visit
might mean the beginning of a little harassment, and we were thankful that it would be
starting this late in our time on campus. We also thought that he might have come only to
satisfy his own curiosity, or to let us know that we were being watched. We may have
misjudged the man, however, because in the next morning's newspaper we read a headline,
"Officers Baffled in Motel Death", and an accompanying article telling of the
apparent suicide or murder of an Ann Sawyer from Arizona in a local motel. Upon
registering she had told the motel owner that her car was being repaired at a local
garage. So the sheriff certainly had good reason to check up on all "foreigners"
in the area.
Shortly before the summer session
ended, we were able to accept the invitation given to us earlier, and we drove down to
Oxford to visit James Meredith. Since we were not well acquainted with the University
campus, we needed some help to find Baxter Hall where he and the federal marshals were
housed. Once on campus we stopped to ask the first "friendly" face where we
should go. It immediately became obvious that we had forgotten where we were. because the
face, "friendly" to us, was a black one - and not knowing us, he indicated that
he had no idea where Baxter Hall was. (He was probably a grounds or maintenance worker who
was doing his bit to protect Meredith.) We next asked a person with a white face who gave
us the necessary directions.
Baxter Hall was a men's dormitory which
had been turned over exclusively to Meredith and the federal marshals who were there to
provide protection for him. (Cleve McDowell, a second negro student who had just
registered that summer was also there) Meredith was expecting me and I was taken to his
room where I spent about 45 minutes with him - visiting, asking questions, and taping the
interview. No great wisdom was exchanged, but I wanted to get some of his comments
recorded for possible future class use. I also met and visited for a short time with Cleve
Although my wife and son had made the
trip to Oxford with me, the federal marshals had not permitted them to go to Meredith's
room, so they remained outside. After the interview, and when Meredith learned that they
had accompanied me, he suggested that we all visit outside. When I asked if there was
someplace on campus where we might visit under more comfortable circumstances, and perhaps
have some refreshments, he indicated that we might go to the campus "Snack
Shop". So he got into our car and we drove to another part of the campus. Two federal
marshals followed us in a second car.
Upon entering the Snack Shop all of the
patrons - I think there were about five or six of them - got up and walked out, leaving
one waitress to serve us. The waitress was very polite and proper in serving us our milk
shakes. The federal marshals settled for coffee.
After returning to Baxter Half we
continued our visit by sitting outside on the steps leading up to the dormitory. We four
sat on the steps with the two federal marshals standing on either side of us. We had
intended to visit Meredith for only about a half hour, but he seemed to be enjoying
himself, and he said he wanted to ask us questions - although as I remember it, he did
most of the talking. We were there for over two hours, well into the darkening evening.
Baxter Hall is on a small rise on the
campus and at the end of a cul-de-sac. Some time after we sat visiting, first one car,
then a second, and then a third, drove in and out of the cul-de-sac. As time passed the
traffc increased. Meredith's comment: "The word's out - the niggers on view
tonight!" After it became so obvious that we were on public view, we thought it best
not to stay any longer. So we took our leave, thanking him for his hospitality, and
wishing him well on his graduation - only about two weeks away. We indicated our concern
that something might still happen to prevent his graduation, but he did not seem overly
After the summer session ended, and
before leaving for California, we made a short tour of the South -more of Mississippi, a
bit of Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. This time we were again traveling as
"whites." We sensed a little loosening of the of the barriers that had been
separating the races for so long. In New Orleans, for example, we learned that the public
parks had been offcially desegregated. But we also learned that all the public swimming
pools had been drained.
To this date I have lived a full and
rewarding life! Growing up on a backwoods pioneer farm in northern Minnesota. Nine years
as a student in colleges and universities. Over three years in the Air Force during World
War II. Thirty years teaching in Southern California, plus six more years teaching in
other states or abroad. I have been able to travel extensively - 6 continents, 66
countries, 44 states. But the summer of `63 stands out by itself No other six weeks in my
life provided me the rich educational experience that I gained at that small negro college
in northwestern Mississippi forty years ago.