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Voices of Freedom Summer Document Study

Letter to Mom and Dad from Bonnie

June 27

Dear Mom and Dad,
This letter is hard to write because I would like so much to communicate how I feel and I don’t know if I can. It is very hard to answer to your attitude that if I loved you I wouldn’t do this – hard, because the thought is cruel. I can only hope you have the sensitivity to understand that I can both love you very much and desire to go to Mississippi. I have no way of demonstrating my love. It is simply a fact and that is all I can say…

I hope you will accept my decision even if you do not agree with me. There comes a time when you have to do things which your parents do not agree with … Convictions are worthless in themselves. In fact, if they don’t become actions, they are worse than worthless – they become a force of evil in themselves. You can’t run away from a broadened awareness… if you try, it follows you in your conscience, or you become a self-deceiving person who has numbed some of his humanness. I think you have to live to the fullest extent to which you have gained an awareness or you are less than the human being you are capable of being … This doesn’t apply just to civil rights or social consciousness but to all the experiences of life…

Love, Bonnie

Details

Elizabeth Sutherland, ed. Letters from Mississippi, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965), 22.

Letter to Dad from Sylvie

June 24

Dear Dad,
The mood up here [in Oxford, Ohio] is, of course, very strained with those three guys who disappeared Sunday, dead, most likely. Saturday night, I ate dinner with the wife of one of them. She was telling me about all the great things she and her husband were working on. She looks younger than me. What does she do now? Give up the movement? What a terrible rotten life this is! I feel that the only meaningful type of work is the Movement but I don’t want myself or anyone I’ve met to have to die. I’m so shook up that death just doesn’t seem so awful anymore, though. I’m no different from anyone else and if they’re risking their lives, then so must I. But I just can’t comprehend why people must die to achieve something so basic and simple as Freedom…

Love, Sylvie

Details

Elizabeth Sutherland, ed. Letters from Mississippi. (NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965.)

Letter from Hattiesburg

Hattiesburg, July 4

Every time I talk to people, I hear about things which bring tears to my eyes. I have begun, finally, to feel deep inside me this horrible double existence Negroes have to lead in both North and South… the strategies they must learn to survive without either going crazy or being physically maimed – or destroyed. Mr. Reese describes how a Negro must learn to walk through a crowd: weaving, slightly hunched – shuffling helps – in order to be as humbly inconspicuous as possible… Then I hear from men who served in Korea or elsewhere, that they alone had no flag to fight for… I talked with a fellow whose closest buddy [in the Army] had been a white man from Mississippi; when they were homeward bound on the train and they crossed the Mason-Dixon line, the white man left his seat beside the Negro to change seats with another Negro. I could go on and on about all the people I’ve met… Baby, it takes coming down here to grasp all this no matter how many books we’ve read.

Details

Elizabeth Martínez, ed. Letters from Mississippi. (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2002), 63-64.

Letter to Jon from Heather Tobis Booth

Ruleville

To my brother,

…Last night I was a long time before sleeping, although I was extremely tired. Every shadow, every noise—the bark of a dog, the sound of a car—in my fear and exhaustion was turned into a terrorist’s approach…

“We are not afraid. Oh Lord, deep in my heart, I do believe, We Shall Overcome Someday” and then I think I began to truly understand what the words meant. Anyone who comes down here and is not afraid I think must be crazy as well as dangerous to this project where security is quite important. But the type of fear that they mean when they, when we, sing “we are not afraid” is the type that immobilizes…The songs help to dissipate the fear. Some of the words in the songs do not hold real meaning on their own, others become rather monotonous—but when they are sung in unison, or sung silently by oneself, they take on new meaning beyond words or rhythm…There is almost a religious quality about some of these songs, having little to do with the usual concept of a god. It has to do with the miracle that youth has organized to fight hatred and ignorance. It has to do with the holiness of the dignity of man. The god that makes such miracles is the god I do believe in when we sing “God is on our side.” I know I am on that god’s side. And I do hope he is on ours.

Jon, please be considerate to Mom and Dad. The fear I just expressed, I am sure they feel much more intensely without the relief of being here to know exactly how things are. Please don’t go defending me or attacking them if they are critical of the Project…

They said over the phone, “Did you know how much it takes to make a child?” and I thought of how much it took to make a Herbert Lee (or many others whose names I do not know)…I thought of how much it took to be a Negro in Mississippi twelve months a year for a lifetime. How can such a thing as a life be weighed?…

With constant love,
Heather [Tobis Booth]

Details

Elizabeth Martínez, ed. Letters from Mississippi. (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2002), 172-173.

Letter to Mother and Father from Ellen

Gulfport, August 12

Dear Mother and Father:

I have learned more about politics here from running my own precinct meetings that I could have from any Government professor… For the first time in my life, I am seeing what it is like to be poor, oppressed, and hated. And what I see here does not apply only to Gulfport or to Mississippi or even to the South … The people we’re killing in Viet Nam are the same people whom we’ve been killing for years in Mississippi. True, we didn’t tie the knot in Mississippi and we didn’t pull the trigger in Viet Nam – that is, we personally – but we’ve been standing behind the knot-tiers and the trigger-pullers too long.

This summer is only the briefest beginning of this experience, both for myself and for the Negroes of Mississippi.

Your daughter,
Ellen

Details

Elizabeth Martínez, ed. Letters from Mississippi. (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2002), 269.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Voices of Freedom Summer Document Study." (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/documentstudies/voices-of-freedom-summer-document-study>.

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