Sharing Stories Inspiring Change


Letter Home from Lew

Oxford, Ohio

Dear Mom and Jo,

The reception at Western College was not warm. I was surprised at how unfriendly and unextending people were. Small groups formed or had been formed and people seemed concerned with “fitting in.” I went to bed. Later that day (today) I went to register. I still felt uncomfortable but attempted to shake a few hands. (It wasn’t too bad.) Some people were friendly and helpful. Tremendous enthusiasm was generated when we all began singing after dinner. It was the spiritual revival type of singing and you know how I love that. We all must have sung for about 2 hours, and the previous in-grouping of Negroes and reservedness of whites seemed to disappear – but not really…Maybe we’ll be able to at the end of the summer, but right now we don’t know what it is to be a Negro and even if we did, the Negroes here would not accept us. It’s the old case of having to prove ourselves. In their eyes we’re rich middle or upperclass whites who have taken off a summer to help the Negro.

Intellectually, I think many of us whites can understand the Negroes’ resentment but emotionally we want to be “accepted” at face value. We want this acceptance because this is part of our reason for going down south, i.e., the basic worth of the individual. I’ve always thought that my relations with Negroes have been fairly honest. I’ve gone to a predominantly Negro high school and participated in athletics with them. I’ve gotten to know Negroes in college… I haven’t gone out of my way to meet them but those I have met I have gotten along well with, if not intimately. What I mean to say is that I never detected a “difference,” or an inability to communicate with one another… But what I am finding here is a different situation and perhaps a more honest one…

Love, Lew

Martinez, Elizabeth Sutherland, ed. Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2002), 5. Permission granted by Zephyr Press.

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Letter describes the experience of a young northern white activist during the first few hours of orientation and training for the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The training program took place at Western College in Oxford, Ohio.

Date / time: 
Martinez, Elizabeth Sutherland
Zephyr Press
Letters from Mississippi: Reports from Civil Rights Volunteers
Date published: 

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