Letters from Mississippi

Letter from Mississippi to Friends and Family

August 5, 1964

Dear Friends,

Things are very quiet here this morning. Everyone walks in silence…..knowing glances, but few speak. The ones who have been here all summer feel the tenseness of the moment more than most….for they knew the three…very well. They struggled – worked- laughed with Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, Andy Goodman. And now they know their fate….and everyone is more determined than ever.

Freedom Sam, a very tall, thin, enthusiastic Negro fellow, slowly strolls by – singing softly……”I woke up this mornin’ with my mind……stayed on freedom……” No one will give up.

Perhaps I’d best go back a little. The trip to Mississippi (“the best state in the union” as I read in an editorial) was relatively uneventful, if one doesn’t count the acquaintances made on the bus and the insight given by the comments of the “gracious Southern ladies”……..if one doesn’t count the thought-provoking, still vivid, “White Only”- “Colored” restroom signs…….the two waiting rooms at every bus depot, one filled with Negroes, the other with the “supreme” group………if one doesn’t count the monstrous John Birch Society billboards…..or, if one doesn’t count the mounting fear upon entering the state of Mississippi and one’s cautiousness to not tell anyone your destiny. If one doesn’t count these things, it was an uneventful trip.

Jackson was my destination, but, from there, we traveled to Tougaloo College, an integrated college (mainly Negro students) for a wonderful two and one-half days of orientation for the time to come.

Our days were packed with instructions, role-playing, expectations of, and how to handle ourselves and situations in the weeks to come. It was more than an awesome, thrilling, eventful, and frightening condensation of life in Mississippi………life, that is, if one includes in his definition the dreadful hatred that infests persons’ minds and, thus, their very being………and I guess one must. We began to sense the “danger spots” in the state, and, as our assignments were to be announced, we waited, wondering who would go where.

“Patti Miller……….Community Center……..Meridian, Mississippi.” That was it……my home for the month. Meridian – only a 45 minute drive from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, where three of my fellow-workers died, as we now know. Meridian – where they had worked, just as I would, in the Community Center.

The ride to Meridian from Jackson, alone on the bus, seemed longer than the ride from Des Moines, but, before long, I was meeting my new co-workers and my delightful hostess……and the new life was beginning.

And what is this new life?

……….A community center……………….the upstairs of an old dilapidated building in the middle of a very low-class Negro section of town – dirt……..confusion………two crowded rooms, but a luxury compared to some.

……….Negro children, scores of them…..each one craving attention, love, instruction, understanding, as they reach forward to touch soft, straight hair, or stroke white skin possibly for the first time in their life.

……….the realization that not nearly all can be done by you, that others must be willing, too, this summer……this fall……..next summer.

……..the visits to white churches, my only contact with the white community, to talk with ministers about reconciliation, about prayers and speaking out against violence and hatred and murder..

……the white clergy’s answers –
“God knows the sin of integration. He meant for segregation to exist, and any other way is wrong – sinful.”

“I have enough to do – preaching the gospel to my white people, let alone the Negroes” (the gospel of Jesus Christ and Love?)

……….the horrid consciousness of my white skin, and the realization of being “marked”……..knowing my every move is observed.

………the ever-present fears, but the seeming unimportance and irrelevance of fear in perspective with the task at hand.

……….the wonderful family I’m living with, a young Negro couple and their three little boys, and, (much as I hate to admit it, for it lessens the “suffering”) my air-conditioned bedroom.

……..the joys that stem from seeing the love in a family, and the closeness and determination of the Negro community.

…..seeing Negroes registering to vote and taking an active involvement in politics,

……..observing and getting to know fellow-workers…..no two alike….. no two motivated by identical forces, but all finding an identity in the movement – in the revolution – all believing in one basic truth.

…………the realization that I AM still in the United States, although it becomes unbelievable as I observe the deplorable, dreadfully unjust, UNREAL condition of the sovereign state of Mississippi.

…..glimpses of hope which one clings to, until another light is seen.

……..the over-all atmosphere of active involvement……willingness to serve…….total commitment to that on thing for which we work, live, sing and shout………Freedom.

Knowing and appreciating your prayers, thoughts, and concerns for me, and the movement, I must, in all fairness, remove your anxieties about myself. I need your support to do my share of work even more effectively than I am, but concern must not be for me personally. I am leading a quite normal and comfortable existence. I am questioning, struggling, doubting, fearing, being frustrated and tested……..yes…….but I am quite safe and content (in a very broad sense). Rather, all our concerns must be fore the dreadful injustice in this state and in all America – and in the world, as far as that’s concerned. Our concern must be fore the miserable results of blind hatred……..for human beings who have never known a taste of freedom…….for the Negroes who must be freed from slavery……..and for whites who must be freed from the chains which hatred places on us. Our concerns and prayers must be that we may begin to love……..that we don’t “wait for the other guy”, but that we as individuals “lose our life, that we might find it”.

Mississippi reveals a whole new world of thoughts to me, but not about Mississippi alone. They’re about all of us and our need for renewal and an honest attempt to look at ALL of life.

I wish it were possible to share an experience like this more completely. One accepts the futility of it, but perhaps one new thing can be said. Think not that I don’t appreciate news from home……thoughts and incidents from the North. Your activities are in my thoughts also. My address is 2505 1/2 5th Street, Meridian, Mississippi. No more than that is needed on an envelope (except my name).

Freedomly Yours,

Patti Miller

P.S. One of the most important things being done now is the push for the effectiveness of the Freedom Democratic Party at the National Convention in Atlantic City, August 24-27. My prayer is that the Iowa delegation back the Mississippi Freedom Democratic delegation and vote to seat them. If any more contact can be made with delegates by you, PLEASE do what you can! It’s essential. These people are working so hard and have the best of intentions. Good luck to us.

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