Interview with Ivanhoe Donaldson
Interview with Ivanhoe Donaldson


Production Team: B and C

Interview Date: 1979

Camera Rolls: 15-17
Sound Rolls: 19-20

Interview gathered as part of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965).
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Ivanhoe Donaldson, conducted by Blackside, Inc. in 1979, for Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

INTERVIEW
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

TEAM B: PRODUCER: ORLANDO BAGWELL. ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: PRUDENCE ARNDT. TEAM C: CO-PRODUCERS: JIM DEVINNEY and CALLIE CROSSELY.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

CAMERA ROLL 15 UH, MAYOR'S OFFICE, CONFERENCE ROOM – THIS IS UM, IVANHOE DONALDSON. THIS IS, RIGHT? FIFTEEN? OR IS THIS STILL FOURTEEN?) YOU GOT IT. FIFTEEN, OK.

QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

UM, CAN YOU TELL, YOU USED TO DRIVE FOOD AND CLOTHING BACK AND FORTH? FROM WHERE?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

[laughter] Um, well from all over the South. But I mean principally that started in 19'62, ah when ah I brought food down from ah Michigan and Louisville ah from the state of Michigan and ah say Louisville to Clarksville, Mississippi.

QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT WAS GOING ON IN CLARKSVILLE?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well, that was the dispersing point, was, uh, the…

QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

BETTER START THAT AGAIN, DID YOU MISS THAT IN THE BEGINNING?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Uh, what happened?

QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

HE SLIPPED WITH THE MICROPHONE. [overlap]YES, IF, IT'S ABOUT GIVING ME A, A WHOLE STATEMENT.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

OK. Uh during the ah early ah sixties, ah particularly the period of ‘60, ‘61, ‘‘62 I'm referring to, um the there was a great deal of motion on the major cotton plantations to push people off which was their livelihood and their way of survival for both sharecroppers and some tenant farmers in the black community and ah to delta area of Mississippi. And SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, put out a call for food to help subsidize ah peoples' needs as they were coming into Greenwood and Greenville and Jackson and Bozone and those various cities within delta of, of, of ah Mississippi. And one of the people they called was myself and we raised food in various communities that we knew a lot of people in. And so a guy by the name of Ben Taylor and myself um collected food at East Lansing and at Ann Arbor and we brought it down to Louisville where we collected even larger truckloads and a bigger truck and we took the food to Clarksville which is in Cahoma County where Doc Henry was; he was the head of Mississippi NAACP. And um it was a major disbursing point um in the delta.

QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

DID UH, DID YOU EVER HAVE ANY TROUBLE WITH THE LAW WHILE YOU WERE DOING THAT?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Oh, you're right—trouble with law is a way of life for an organizer in Mississippi particularly one working with SNCC or CORE or the NAACP or COFO as was, which was the umbrella organization during that period of time and we had our share of um, there was a, one night a prior to Christmas I guess of ‘‘62 ah Ben and I were outside of Aaron Henry's drug store. We arrived about 3:00 a.m. in the morning. And the local sheriff came along; we were asleep in the truck - hello, world.

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

SPEED. DO WE START ALL OVER AGAIN? SECOND TAKE. SIXTEEN. UM, YES, THAT WOULD ACTUALLY BE GOOD. WELL, GIVE YOU, HAVE TO GIVE ME A LEAD.

QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

YES, YOU UH, WHAT WERE YOU DOING DURING THE 19'62 DRIVING FOOD TO MISSISSIPPI? WHAT WAS THE SITUATION DOWN THERE?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well in the early sixties there was a, a lot of move, there was a major move by major plantation owners in the delta area of the state to displace, to remove, to ah discourage activities by blacks who were trying to register to vote and one of the ways in which they created antagonisms or was to go to people's livelihoods, the sharecroppers and tenant farmers who worked in the cotton plantations ah in Mississippi and so they moved them off the plantation which took away their ability to survive and ah in the, in that process, SNCC put out a call to try and get people to ah raise food and a guy named Ben Taylor and myself ah raised food in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan and East Lansing and we had a major project in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time, SNCC did and SCEF. And we went there and used it as a base and we got major truckloads of food and we drove it down to Clarksville, Mississippi, in Cahoma county where Aaron Henry, who is the head of the ah, ah NAACP in Mississippi had his base in a drugstore. Everyone called him Doc Henry but he was a pharmacist and um Doc was the statewide coordinator and Cahoma was a major disbursing point for food–meet people's needs.

QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

SO DID YOU, YOU HAVE ANY TROUBLE WITH THE LAW?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well, um, you always have trouble with the law in Mississippi and especially people who work in direct action, and voter registration or blacks who were struggling for ah any sense of justice ah and human rights. Um we had a few adventures. One of them ah was ah um prior to Christmas of ‘‘62 when ah Ben and I arrived in Clarksville with a truckload of food in the wee hours of the morning around 2:00-3:00 a.m. in the morning we got there. And everyone had gone home and gone to be the store was locked, we didn't remember how to get to Doc's house so we simply parked the truck in front of the drugstore and cracked the windows and went to sleep. About two or three hours later, around 5:00 a.m. the police woke us up ah we were harassed and juggled around and thrown in jail. Ah and were locked up there for about five days before anybody even knew that we were locked up and people knew that we disappeared. We had sent a note and ah the county jails in Mississippi they use prisoners to do local labor. And one of the jobs was collect money out of the parking meters. And I met this guy in a bunk beside me who was going to collect money on Fourth Street where Doc's store is; I gave him a little note—saying you know, "Doc, I'm in jail, help, Ivanhoe." And [laughter] about three or four days later ah he was later to get a message back to us. It eventually became a fairly large case down there but ah we were gotten out of jail by a writ of habeas corpus by ah the NAACP Inc. Fund, filed in federal court and we had a $15,000 apiece bail bond and we got beat up a couple of times while we were down there. The charges were based around the concept that we were taking narcotics across state lines but what we had were aspirins and bandages as parts of first aid kits for people who might need, you know some kind of medical help.

QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

UM…

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

The adventures of a SNCC field secretary.

QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

UM HUM. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE UH, ORGANIZATIONAL CONFLICTS UH, BETWEEN SAY THE NAA AND SNCC AND SCLC ON, ON THAT LEVEL? AND, AND HOW IT SEEMED TO WORK UM, HOW IT SEEMED TO WORK ON A STREET LEVEL BUT NOT ON AN OFFICIAL LEVEL.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well it's my position that ah the organizational conflicts, when you say that term people think of two people kind of at um turk with each other in terms of fighting and squabbling. I don't think that existed. You know, there were differences between SNCC and SCLC, philosophically, there were differences between SNCC and SCLC and the NAACP and CORE about how you organize. SCLC was principally an organization built around the personality of Martin Luther King. It was an organization because it was a personality and its public presence tended to mobilize people. SNCC was an organization which was built around its units, its projects, its organizers. There were personalities in SNCC but they weren't centers to the existence of the organization. So there were normal tensions about how you go about doing something; those tensions I think mounted into what the media and other people called conflicts; they were a different approach. SNCC believed in principally organizing, creating institutional bases for people to manipulate for their own self interest while SCLC believed in dramatizing, mobilizing, and not necessarily as concerned about what you left afterwards. Both of them had a public role and both of them served a public purpose. Ahm there were natural rivalries, natural ego games um they all however blended into a complementary struggle of what became what is, or was then the civil rights movement. Um I'm just maybe more sensitized about the issue of conflict because ah Martin King had one position and I think that in many ways ah activists in the social struggle of the sixties postured where they were politically in relationship to where King was. Ahm SNCC tended to be to the left as was CORE; NAACP tended to be to the right. But this was a complementary struggle not orchestrated by the leadership but it's the nature of struggle… [sound fades]

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

THIS IS SIXTEEN. THERE WAS A JAM ON FIFTEEN. SOUND ROLL TEN.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well to put it another way, it seems to me that what you had were creative tensions, conflicts, ah not what I would consider traditional conflicts in the sense that SNCC was one place, SCLC was another, NAA and CORE. In fact in Mississippi these four organizations created a, ah coalition called the Council of Federated Organizations. Now there were politics involved in that. One was that SNCC was a kind of raw edged radical agency, couldn't get certain kinds of funds that the NAACP could get. But they all agreed for mutual benefit to create this umbrella organization which Bob Moore, who was the SNCC director of Mississippi, headed and David Dennis, who was the CORE director of Mississippi, was the co-director of or the associate director of. On the local level, however, um what's always interesting is that local people um they weren't caught up into the problems of the national organizations and their fundraising campaigns in New York and Chicago about what they were doing in the south. They were for the workers, the freedom riders. In fact ah when, during ‘61 and ‘‘62 whenever I went to a new community in Mississippi, people would say, why I just knew the freedom riders would finally get here. I mean you called yourself SNCC or CORE, they called you freedom fighters, freedom riders, everybody was the same to them—there were people who were there to help try and encourage change and I think that's really what was important.

QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

OK. UM, CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT, A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONAL UM, LOGISTICAL STUFF THAT WENT ON IN SELMA AFTER THE FIRST UH – WELL FIRST TELL ME, TELL ME –WHY WAS IT THAT UH, JOHN LEWIS WAS THE ONLY ONE FROM SNCC UM, ON THAT FIRST MARCH? WHAT WAS THAT, WHAT WERE THE ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS AROUND THAT?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

On which first march?

QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

AT . [overlap].

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Oh, uh, well—the Selma-Montgomery march has some history to it. SNCC has was ah, had an organizing project, a literacy project and a voter registration project in Selma starting in late ‘61 but really developed in 19'62. Ah Colely Ladell and Lafayette, uh Bernard Lafayette ah were involved in running that project and then Maria Varella joined them over there at a later point in time and worked on the literacy program. It was in the traditional SNCC mode where you went in and you sought out people and you tried to organize a local base. There also was an SCLC affiliate in Selma run by Mrs. Boynton and um the two groups worked in harmony. And after the Mississippi-Selma project and a number of other actions it became very important to the civil rights movement for major drama. Ah these dramas were usually for the benefit of political leadership, the White House, the Congress, to force ahead the Voting Rights Act and SCLC decided that the drama from their point of view ought to be a Selma-Montgomery march with national personalities coming in from all over the country ah to um join this march, etc., etc. Ah the local organizers, activists within SCLC–-excuse me—wanted to move ahead and do this march right away. Um as you had a tendency in the organization for the activists and the organizers who want to move fast and for the planners and the leadership to wanna maybe take a little bit more time to determine what's the best way to do this. John Lewis, ah, well when SCLC decided to move ahead with the march there was some people in SNCC who felt that the march on Washington as a national drama point was not all it should have been and therefore they were a little bit turned off of any other major marches. There was a cynicism—everybody got their march and SNCC in fact, in some ways the Selma march became identified with me. I was SNCC coordinator on the Selma-Montgomery march. John went over to join the demonstrators and to be SNCC's representative on the scene. Ah that's why he was involved with Hosea Williams—not Hosea Williams—I can't remember who but he was the co-partner in leading the first march to the Petit bridge that got turned around and violence occurred. That same afternoon Jim Forman sent up Courtland Cox, Stokely Carmichael and myself to Selma to join with Silas Norman who was already on the scene and I think John Love ah to ah organize the SNCC outreach capabilities in Selma to create for a bigger and a broader platform for the march which came off the following week. And Willie Ricks and other organizers joined us. [overlap]

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

(Camera Roll 16)

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

So, John Lewis in fact wasn't really the only SNCC person that was in Selma at the time. The whole SNCC project was there involving about 5 or 6 other organizers. John as the chairman ah and as a national personality and the youngest speaker at the March on Washington ah was sort of commentated as a media personality in, in leadership of the march but there were a lot of SNCC people there on the scene.

QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

TELL ME THIS – YOU SAID THAT FOLKS WERE DISILLUSIONED WITH THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON, DIDN'T THINK IT WAS ALL IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN OR COULD HAVE BEEN?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Right.

QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

WHAT, TELL ME ABOUT THAT – WHY, WHY WASN'T IT?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well…

QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

OR WHAT WERE YOUR FELLINGS ABOUT IT?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well…I think the March on Washington, myself, was in fact what it was. Um major demonstrations create a sense of, of ah anticipation that the millennium is forthcoming; that change to going to be imminent. Um I think that there is a tendency by a lot of people ah in demonstrations like the March on Washington to build them into far more than they are. The March on Washington ah by the leadership, the civil rights leadership conference that put it together and the coalition of civil rights organizations was an attempt to put bring a greater pressure on the White House—at the White House's desire in many ways. For a greater punch and support for the civil rights legislation which was on the Hill. That was the reason it was organized, that was the reason it was organized. That was the reason it was pulled off. Um jobs and freedom now and all the sloganeering. I think that a lot of people felt, because of the drama and the ah ah vast greatness of it all that somehow or another we had turned the mystical corner in the struggle and not necessarily the millennium was forthcoming but that a new era of humanity and social consciousness and social justice was now on the table and that didn't happen. I think that frustrated a lot of people. Um there was always a dialogue both among SNCC activists within sectors of this nationalist community and demonstrations like this really did not accomplish much. They created a lot of hoopla, a lot of drama, but didn't accomplish much. There's some truths in what they say: there's also the fact that they do some education, they create some public awareness. Um so that the, the rhetoriticians and the activists are correct when they say there was no major accomplishment because of the march. But at the same time it does represent a continuum, a struggle, and the need from time to time to create exclamation points and question marks and commas so people can define themselves in some time frame which is also important to an organizer—to bring something to a culmination, to take people to a next step. So ah it was a cynicism I think and a frustration more than anything real.

QUESTION 15
INTERVIEWER:

WAS IT UH, I'VE HEARD IT SAID THAT IT WAS, THAT A LOT OF THE CYNICISM AND SO FORTH CAME OUT OF THE FACT THAT FOLKS THOUGHT THAT WHAT IT DID WAS IT SOLD MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AS A LEADER, AND A, AND A PROPHET, AND NOT, AND DIDN'T DO SO MUCH FOR, FOR THE ISSUES THAT WERE INVOLVED.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well, how do you separate one from the other? There's no question that the march on Washington clearly established Martin Luther King as a major personality in the American you know ah ah political scene. But what was that this personality symbolized? You know—this personality was about a social struggle, voter registration, civil rights, jobs, so that I can't separate them. I think that probably where the march may sometimes be historically distorted the fight of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the ah, ah, ah ‘64 Democratic Party convention was more symbolic of a real political rift and a real political shift in the civil rights movement about the capability of traditional structures to change. The March on Washington was an advocacy program, a public rallying, while other things were an attempt for an institutional change and I think there's a big difference. It's hard to be critical of public advocacies and public rallying; it's the only was the public has to demonstrate even in a hypocritical sense that they're prepared to emotionally support something.

QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

DO YOU KNOW ANY…ABOUT ANY OF THE SPECIFIC PRESSURES PUT ON PEOPLE WHO WERE IN ON THE CREDENTIALS COMMITTEE AT THE, AT THAT CONVENTION?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Oh there was ah, I mean, the, the ah, um there was tremendous pressure put on ah, ah members of the Credentials Committee, ah key delegates there put on by the Vice President, ah um excuse me, put on by the Vice President, that's correct. Ah Hubert Humphrey who ah Johnson was threatening possibly to drop from the ticket ah put on by the White House directly from the ticket ah put on by the White House directly from the President ah pressures put on by other elements of the democratic party. Ah namely Jack Pratt who ah was general counsel to the DNC at the same time he was general counsel to the National Council of Churches, representing what we thought were movement issues-at the same time of representing what was a direct conflict, party issues. Ah people were threatened, they had judgeships denied, ah ah other um ah little benefits that perks that go with being public personalities ah denied or provided. Edith Green, who was a very key person in the credentials fight, the congresswoman from Oregon was under tremendous pressures during that period of time by national elements within the party. And of course the delegates themselves from Mississippi, ah the Freedom Democratic delegates who were being carved up by all kinds of forces asking them to accept compromises or to go home and you know let the party take care of these matters. Well it was a tough fight and a symbolic fight and that, in many ways, I think, a turning point in the civil rights movement.

FILM PRODUCTION TEAM:

THIS IS THE MAYOR, THE MAYOR.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

[overlap] No, no, no, no, I have to save those things for uh, uh [overlap]…no, no, no, no, for other who uh, uh, tell um, anecdotes, in a humorous mood. The um ah—I'm not sure there's much, more to add, ah in terms of organizing the march. It was a collective effort between both the SCLC and SNCC with SCLC playing the predominant leadership role and in many ways it was organized very similarly to the March on Washington. The difference primarily was that this was a march in the deep South. There was danger, ah there was hostility, ah there were elements of hostility in the march on Washington but this was in a totally hostile environment in the sense that you're traveling from Selma in Dallas County up to Montgomery ah so there was a great deal of concern about security, ah, about visibility was important in Selma because with visibility as with any demonstration in the South, came a sense of false security in the sense that there was a belief by most people in the movement that if you could be on the front pages of the paper, on the Daily News, have the attention of the federal government, had the attention of the American public in general, the likelihood of hostilities were minimized and in some ways whether myth or not there were hard truths that seemed to work out that way, you know, that there was a tendency of the local sheriffs and militia forces and white citizens groups, clan and what have you, to not be as visceral, and, as physical in their violence on people when things had major personalities involved. But the details of organizing the march, you know, ah, is kind of um routine in a sense. You put out a call, there's phone calling involved, of organizations, locations for people to stay, camps to be located, because this is a major march where people camped out at night ah you know all of the intrigues which were involved with that.

QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

NOW, YOU SAID YOU DIDN'T HAVE ANY PARTICULAR ANECDOTES?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well I leave the anecdotes for humorous uh, like uh, uh – no, I leave the anecdotes for others to tell, they, they, there are entertainers and there are serious uh, students of history. (15 May, 79 – Blackside civil rights, sound roll 12, camera roll 20, interview continues.)

QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU DRIVE THAT ROAD?

[laughter]

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Oh, oh you switched gears on me. Um the ah well I made about ah 30 odd round trips to Louisville, to Detroit, um round trips from Clarksville and Greenwood you know back and forth and also to Chicago during that period. In fact, one of the interesting points of history about the food drive was that a prominent young black comedian named Dick Gregory got involved with the movement and it totally changed his life, and the food drive was what was the turning point in his life. Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier came to Greenwood and Gregory bought all these turkeys down from Chicago and Dick became quite a politicized person from that experience and became quite involved with SNCC, a little side point.

QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

TELL ME ABOUT HARRY BELAFONTE'S GIFT – HOW MUCH DID HE GIVE AND WHEN AND WHAT, WHAT SIGNIFICANCE WAS IT?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well, Belafonte was um at different points in SNCC's history very important to ah the organization. One, Belafonte' played a mediating role often times between frustrations that developed between the leadership personalities of SNCC and the leadership personalities of SCLC. He was very fond of Dr. King, a close personal advisor of King, and a close friend, and he was also fond of Forman, of McDoo…and of other personalities in SNCC and he often brought them together. In 1961 um Belafonte gave I think $20, $25,000 to the organization; it was his first single largest gift and the organization's proud of it because it came from a black, you know, American. And secondly, ah SNCC had been getting a dollar here, a hundred dollars there and it was just a major ah ah significance to the organization he thought enough of it, enough importance about what they were doing ah to make such a donation at that time. And ah I mean there's a whole history, I think in terms of Belafonte's involvement um with SNCC and with SCLC during the period of ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64, ‘65. In fact, Belafonte organized the entertainment for the 1965 Selma—Montgomery march and put together the entire night activity that took place in Montgomery the night the march came into town, or the night before at St. Jude's.

QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

UM…AND SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS MEETING IN GREENVILLE BEFORE THE SUMMER OF ‘64?

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Well there had been a great deal of dialogue within SNCC about the nature of the summer project. Um the SNCC executive committee and the national leadership, ah the Atlanta based national leadership by and large were strong advocates for a summer project and Bob Moses, the director of the Mississippi summer project, was also an, a supporter of this. People felt that it would bring greater visibility, greater resources, and allow for an impact that could not happen ah by any other mode. Ah prior to that summer project, some time I think in the very early spring Bob convened a staff meeting of all the field secretaries, ah um ah no I'm wrong—sometime that winter, the winter of 63, 64, there was a staff meeting held in Greenville. Um I say winter because it was a warm day but I'm pretty sure it was in the winter, ah to talk about the summer project. Now there was a great deal of resistance from the Mississippi staff about the summer project on a lot of scores-some of them historical, some of them concerned about the fundamentals of organizing. Um the SNCC staff in the Mississippi along with staff from other organizations that were there—there were people who really operated within the SNCC aura in many ways in Mississippi-resisted the summer project on a number of accounts. One, a lot of organizers felt that if you had whites in the state, it make it more difficult to organize, and there were principle differences there. People felt if you had sophisticated, young white college kids organizing in the state that that would in some ways take away responsibilities that local community people were doing and doing well. Um that the issue was whether or not you wanted a letter typed efficient, efficient, efficiently or whether you wanted to get people to begin to participate in doing things which affected organizational building, outreach, you know, and all of the intimacies which go on with building community organizations and community institutions. So there was some serious concerns and some people felt it was, you know kind of a pied piper thing—you know it would be sudden, it would be over, it would be glamorous, that that you get these nice middle class kids, white kids, from all over the country coming to Mississippi and the question is how productive ah, that would be. And there was critical concern. People felt that there were areas of Mississippi you couldn't go in with white people and that you know SNCC staff people could get killed, CORE, NAACP people, and there was a lot of concern about it, and a lot of resistance to it. In fact, if, I don't remember if there was a formal vote, but I would say in retrospect, a feeling ah, that if there was not a formal vote, there was a clear consensus within the Mississippi staff of SNCC ah resistance to this program. Um the SNCC executive committee met later on and ah reversed the general direction the Mississippi staff was in. Ah in behalf of going forward, the project. And Bob pretty much led people to accept his decision that that's what we need to do and that was the way to go. But there was clearly concern that this project might be too much, too overwhelming, and maybe not leave enough substance in the kind of work that organizers need to do which is slow and tedious and painful and also quite life threatening, you know, in the Mississippi of 1963.

QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

CUT.

[break]

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

No, fear was always a, a major reality that you had to live with and um you know you learned how to live with it, how to function with it ah almost every organizer in the deep South constantly was faced with harassment, ah they'd been beaten, they'd been shot at. Some were shot. Ah I remember Charlie Cobb and I who were active organizers along the river for a long time in Mississippi and the delta counties. Charlie is a very happy, sophisticated poet ah, um, who is always in an upward, kind of, ah, attitude. Always smiling. One of the few times I think in 4 or 5 years I ever saw Charlie stop smiling; we were coming out of Myersville, Mississippi, ah we were trying to make a telephone call in the Jackson—we were having trouble. In fact, we were in serious trouble. And they had party lines and I was on the phone with Jackson trying to tell 'em that I was having this trouble and we were going to be late getting in. And um Charlie came and whispered in my ear that ah, this is a party line, the police are listening, let's get out of here. So we left the store, jumped in the car and were heading down the road and a pick up came up behind us and I think they popped off a couple of shots and I looked at Charlie and he was deadly serious. There was no smile on Charlie's face; he was sitting tensely in his seat ready for us to roll. And I mean for us, thinking about it and dealing with that night in Jackson in the office, we laughed about it but I mean it was an everyday kind of occurrence that just somehow—but every once in a while they catch up with you and you had to figure out a way to gird it into your system and move on. If you showed fear, it affected the community around you so you had to show this was just a regular part of life. And people, if they saw you had confidence, they developed confidence and it was important for an organizer never to transmit fear to anybody even though there was and we all knew about it.

Ivanhoe Donaldson:

Ah, the Billup's gas station—Well, I think there were ah, um, we took Bob to the airport, he had to make a trip to New York and ah, um we left the airport coming back and I think I don't know whether we stopped at the gas station or were pulled over by police into the gas station and this is a fill up at Billup's, you know, very popular in Mississippi. Ah um and I was driving the car and police came over, they asked me to get out of the car, ah they looked at the ID, they searched us and stuff. There were I think three or four of us—Charlie Cobb was with me, I think Jesse Jackson, and there may have been somebody else, and ah they told the others to get back into the car, you know, after a little needling and heckling and some profanity and jabbing them and stuff. I got back into the back seat of the police car and um their, guy in the front seat, a big fat every stereotype you can imagine of a southern, redneck sheriff was epitomized in this guy and that's what I saw. I looked at him and he called me every kind of nigger he could think of and then finally he said, nigger, I'm going to kill you here tonight and he, you know, you kind of say well, sure, you mean—it's all rhetoric. They all go through it and you just figure out, you know, it'll be a half hour of amusement on their part and then they'll probably take you off and throw you in Hines Country Jail or Brandon County Jail ah um, but he didn't do that. He pulled out his gun, he cocked it and he put it in my mouth and for a moment I mean I was absolutely para—I said this guy in my head I said this guy is cracked—shoot me here in the middle of the night, what am I doing here with, was what I said to myself. And the other cop came in, stuck his head in the window and said you can't kill that nigger here, not right now. And the guy pulled the gun out of my face and ah put the hammer back down and in the process whacked me across my right arm, I mean my right hand, you know, really gave me, told me to get my black so and so out of the car and you know I went back to where the other guys were and you know I mean I think I cranked it up and for one of the few times for me you know I mean I think I felt really shaken by the experience and I put my hand on the driver's—I mean I couldn't do anything. I mean I was shaking; I just kind of sat there. I think everyone kind of empathized with me for ah a few minutes that I got myself back together and then we went on back in and you know, and like everything else became another tale. But for those few short seconds ah I mean I actually thought this guy was going to blow me away. And I said he can't be serious you know but he was and ah you know I had no doubt I mean you could see his finger tightening around the trigger, you know and this guy came in and said you know just casually well you can't blow that nigger away here. You like, it'd been OK if it had been off the side of the road someplace but it was in the gas station, it was inconveniencing, you know, and messy. Because if he had pulled the trigger, literally he would have blown my head off because he had the gun right up on my lips. You know, a nice big fat 45 which looks bigger than it is when it's right in front of you but then you see the bullets you know going around. I mean your mind focuses on strange things too at that point in time. But um, I mean there was a lot of that that went on you know and basically you learned how to tolerate it in so many ways and you learned how to absorb it. That's one of the few times I think that it ever really bothered me. Um by and large you weren't even conscious of the danger until later on. You thought about it but you never allowed your mind to focus on it; you had so much to do, to be involved with that you just didn't focus on fear because it could get the better of you. So the people who survived the best kept their mind to work, and to struggle, and to the task at hand and allow the moments that were threatening and fearful ah to go by. The most difficult time probably is when you didn't have the option, like when you were in jail; if you were in jail with a group, you could survive anything. They could beat you up all day long, it didn't make any difference you know, in fact there was a pride in not letting them break your will when you were by yourself it was tougher but also I remember I was in ah that it became a point of will to me to never let a trustee, a jailer, you know ever see fear in my eyes—just wasn't going to do it, you know, it was just important they couldn't intimidate me no matter how intimidating I felt I was—it was a mess. Charlie can tell you a couple stories of how they were shot