PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself with Robert Moses. Bob Moses joins us again in the studio. Thanks for joining us.
BOB MOSES, EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Yeah.
JAY: So, one more time, Bob Moses is an educator and civil rights activist. During the 1960s he was a field secretary for SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as one of the main organizers of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project that helped register black voters in the Deep South. He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War. From ’69 to ’75 he worked as a teacher in Tanzania. ‘Ninety-two, he received the MacArthur Fellowship, which he used to develop the Algebra Project, an organization aimed at improving math education in poor communities. He’s the author of Radical Equations: Civil Rights for Mississippi to the Algebra Project.
Thanks for joining us.
JAY: So let’s pick up the story, go back to the Kennedy question, ’cause if you have this legislation that says you’re not allowed to interfere, then clearly the state troopers and a myriad of organizations were interfering in the registration process. Couldn’t the federal government have intervened more–
MOSES: Well, what they did–.
JAY: –far more vigorously?
MOSES: Well, but what happened and what–it was what I came to think of as our legal crawlspace, right? We had this little space, so that every time we got arrested, as long as we disciplined ourselves and only did voter registration, every time we got [incompr.] was arrested seven times Mississippi. But every time I got arrested, the Justice Department would come and turn the jailhouse key. So Mississippi could lock us up, but they didn’t control the jailhouse key, right? So that’s what actually enabled us to organize, right, that we had this space.
They weren’t going to do anything about the violence, right; they weren’t going to send in, you know, marshals. And I don’t see how they could have done it. I mean, I don’t see–I mean, you could station people at the courthouse, maybe, right, but the issue of taking over the police power, right, and becoming a police force when the voter registration workers are moving all over–.
I mean, we filed suit. You know, I put my name on suits suing Kennedy, right, around this issue of police protection. But that wasn’t the real relationship between us and the Justice Department. I mean, there was this kind of media relationship, where you’re filing suit against the attorney general, but the much more productive relationship was the conversations with Burke Marshall and John Doar, right, in terms of the actual strategy.
What the Justice Department actually did was shift their strategy from going after individual registrars to going after the whole state. So they filed suit against the state of Mississippi, and also against the state of Louisiana, right? And it was out of those suits that they got the actual opinions. And you’re dealing here with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
JAY: Right. Now, during this period, you’re organizing locally, you’re looking to develop new leadership, and you come across Fannie Lou Hamer.
MOSES: Yes. So what happens is we get out of jail in November 1961, and we decide that we’re going to run candidates, right? And so R. L. T. Smith is the candidate for the congressional district that includes McComb, Natchez, Vicksburg. And I’m his road manager, right? Dr. Britton is his campaign manager.
JAY: And, just again, you’re going to run candidates knowing that you really haven’t been able to register people, but this is going to be an example of what could be.
MOSES: Right. This is consciousness-raising. Yeah. Look, folks, get ready, right, you’re going to actually be voting for people. Right? And so we go around doing this.
And after this is over, Amzie, who had actually started, you know, this concept and sent me down to McComb because he didn’t have a place, right, to actually start up in the Delta, comes down to Jackson and says, you know, he’s ready now to move in the Delta, right? And so we–people that we’d been working with in the McComb/southwest area and in Jackson, we move and deploy people across different counties in the Delta. And by August 1962, right, we are organized in Sunflower County, and Amzie gets a school bus to take people down to Indianola, the county seat, to register.
So I’m on the bus on our way down, and there’s this lady that starts singing as soon as the bus starts moving, right, and she sings all the way down to Indianola. And she’s sitting in the front, turned towards the back, and–.
JAY: What is she singing?
MOSES: So she’s singing every song that ever had been sung in a black church. It’s like she knows every song, right, that black people had ever sung in their churches, right? And mostly ladies on the bus. Joe McDonald was on there. And they’re in their 40s, 50s, and it’s an older group of ladies, right?
So when we get off, the SNCC field secretaries try to leaflet. We’re all arrested, right? On the way back, well, when she gets back home, she’s working on the Marlowe plantation.
JAY: And this is Fannie Lou Hamer.
MOSES: This is Fannie Lou Hamer. Yes. And Marlowe is there waiting for her. They had called in and asked–you know, demanding that she leave. And she tells the story–she actually tells what happened to her when she got off when she got back at the Democratic convention later, two years later, in 1964. But he, you know, tells her to go down and take her name off, and she tells him she’s not–she’s registering for herself. So she is forced to leave the plantation. And a couple of weeks later, she actually becomes our oldest field secretary; she becomes a field secretary.
JAY: There’s a point not much longer where she gets arrested and beaten terribly.
MOSES: This is 1963, a year later, right?
So if you think about the COFO operation, the citizenship training that Martin Luther King had set up in South Carolina with Septima Clark and Bernice Robinson, they assigned Annelle Ponder to be stationed in Greenwood. And she used our apparatus, right, that we had developed, and used that as a base to reach out, recruit people, take them to South Carolina, do citizenship training. And they came back, and then they would do citizenship training for people in Mississippi, right?
So, coming back from that training, Fannie Lou Hamer, June Johnson, Euvester Simpson, and Annelle, the bus stopped in Winona, and they got off. I’ve forgotten who got off first and tried to go in, but eventually all of them were arrested. And Mrs. Hamer and Annelle and June, Euvester, were horribly beaten, right? And this is another part of her testimony.
JAY: They were almost killed.
MOSES: Yeah–well, I don’t know if they were almost killed, but they were really just brutally beaten, right? Yeah. Right.
JAY: So with the voter registration attempts, the sort of mock elections or running candidates to show what could be, the only party there is that one could imagine you could fight within or vote for is the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party in Mississippi is pretty much as white racist as the Republicans are. And you go to the ’64 convention.
And before that, tell us the story of the creation of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party, ’cause–.
MOSES: Yeah. So here’s the thing to understand about our political party system. We really had three parties, right? And so we had the Dixiecrat, which is purely white party. And this is coming from 1875 on, right, when they overthrew Adelbert Ames and the Republicans, right, Adelbert Ames, who had been elected governor by the black vote. So 1873, blacks are the majority of voters in Mississippi, right? And with troops on the ground, they elect Adelbert Ames governor, right? So the Democrats’ terror and violence, just murder, right, overthrow that, right, and they establish what effectively now, for three-quarters of a century or more, is the Dixiecrat Party, right, which is your all-white party. Right?
So they are operating as a wing within the Democratic Party, right, up until 1964, right, when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party goes up to the Atlantic City convention. Now, Kennedy has been gunned down. This is November 1963. Kennedy is gunned down. Right? Johnson is president but hasn’t been nominated. He is to be nominated in August 1964. Right? So when the Mississippi Freedom Democrats go there and in effect they end the reign in Mississippi of the Dixiecrat Party, right, of the white Democrats, and what–.
My point, however, is that the white Democrats then become the white Republicans, right? So it’s really just this one party, which is the Dixiecrat Party, which has operated for three-quarters of a century within the Democrat Party, and then after 1964, when the in effect MFTP, the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, right, end their reign within the Democratic Party and they switch over to the Republican Party–but it’s the same party. It’s the same Dixiecrat Party. Right? And the country has allowed that to happen, right? They have allowed the camouflage of these two parties, Democrats and Republicans, to camouflage this Dixiecrat white party within the national parties. So for three-quarters of a century, right, they were within the Democratic Party, and now they’re in the Republican Party, right? But the party structures themselves has not said, well, we don’t want these folks in our party, right? I mean, they’ve been able to say, we don’t want black people, right, but they haven’t been able to say, we don’t want white folks.
JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, we’re going to talk more about the relationship of the civil rights movement to the Democratic Party and the whole issue of elections and continue our discussion with Bob Moses on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.