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Letter To a Summer Of ’64 SNNC Alumni

Fifty-six years ago you threw caution to the wind and joined hundreds of college students in the invasion of what was perceived to be the heart of the Beast of American racism…Mississippi. But you knew racism intimately having been birthed in a four-room shack down in a hollow., Suffolk County. NY. Your tiny house provided by the bossman, Charlie Zee was a  part of your father’s meager pay along with all the potatoes his family could eat. You later realized this was sharecropping northern style. One water pump in the kitchen with a white pee pot in your parent’s room..outhouse 40 yards from the house.. right past the smokehouse where the salted pork hung.

It prepared you for Mississippi. Jesmyn Ward wrote in The Atlantic, “Racism is ‘ Built into the Very Bones’ of Mississippi. But you know from first-hand experience that Racism is Built into the Very Bones of America.

Charles Cobb dropped you off in Hollandale, Mississippi with a black Baptist preacher. He offered housing but only for one was too dangerous. Their houses were far better than that shack you grew up in for the first 7 years of your life…at least they had indoor plumbing..toilets and tubs. Far better than those large washtubs you had used for Saturday night bathing.

The very next day you started knocking on those wooden screen doors ….asking for a cool glass of water…telling them why a Freedom Fighter was among them. You were taught by SNCC to dress like a southern colored farmboy… to fit in..say “yes mam’ and “no sir”.. be very polite… go to church on Sunday because no matter what people did Monday through Saturday, everybody went to church Sunday. You were in the Bible Belt.

The black people taught you how to survive..which blacks not to trust… Some pointed out the man who was said to have promised to invite you to dinner and poison your food. They protected you.. even when you drank some white lightning. An older man told you that as a leader you should not do that. and you never did again. They treated you like a son..a member of the family.

You were accepted into the Beloved Community. They shared their very best food,..fried okra, fried apples, and fried pork chops. They shared their homes..some even slept on the floor so that you would have the comfort of a bed. They gave of themselves…from the heart. They were your Beloved Community.

The Beloved Community Is rooted in welcoming acceptance. Hollandale gladly acknowledged you though they knew nothing about you. They loved you unconditionally giving you the best they had knowing you would leave when the summer of ’64 ended.

The Beloved Community is available in the heart of each of us. It’s our choice each moment of the day.


-by Earl Harris-


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