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My Jonah Experience – Freedom Summer 1964


Preface

don neadDon Nead (one of the original members of the LUM dream team and retired Presbyterian campus minister) and his wife, Caryl, were recently invited to an advanced screening of the PBS American Experience new film, Freedom Summer. When Don Nead responded to the invitation he shared that he had been directly involved in the Freedom Ballot work in Mississippi in the spring of 1964. WFYI then asked if Don would be willing to share some of his stories from that work. And of course his response was YES.
As a member of the Presbyterian Church USA staff working in Texas in the early 1960s, Don Nead had an opportunity to travel to Hattiesburg, Mississippi in April of 1964 to participate in the voter registration initiative called the Freedom Ballot. Don’s eyes were soon open to the seriousness of the racial issues in Mississippi at the time and the difficulties faced particularly by African-Americans to simply register and vote — issues that have reappeared in today’s political landscape. It wasn’t until this invitation to attend the preview of the American Experience: Freedom Summer, that Don Nead wrote and spoke about his reflections and experiences of that historic work. Don Nead shared his story last week; and now he invites you — and LUM encourages you — to read his entire story below entitled “My Jonah Experience – Trip to Mississippi to Participate in the Freedom Ballot Voter Registration Campaign in Hattiesburg.”



My Jonah Experience
Trip to Mississippi to Participate in the Freedom Ballot Voter Registration Campaign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi – April 6-10, 1964

by Don Nead


50LogoSquare_new_450The Presbyterian Church, USA, was involved in the Civil Rights Struggle of the early 1960s in several different ways. Through its Social Education and Action program a Commission on Race and Religion was established with a staff of three at the national level. Since I was a member of the Board of Christian Education Field Staff I got to know this staff pretty well and spent time with them at national meetings of the Board. They were involved in recruiting PCUSA clergy to go to Hattiesburg in late 1963 and through the year of 1964. This was also true for a number of other denominations. The clergy involvement was to be as support and witnesses to the work of the “freedom ballot” workers who were attempting to register African-Americans to vote in the 1964 elections. It was a protest against the restrictive voting laws in the state of Mississippi.

I was living in Denton, Texas at the time and was a member of the Synod Staff of the United PCUSA (covering the states of Texas and Louisiana). Early in 1964 at a national meeting Metx Rollins, one of the staff members of the Commission on Religion and Race confronted me with an invitation to go to Hattiesburg and gave me the specific dates. I looked at my calendar and said that I was sorry but I had two commitments that particular week that were stated meetings and could not be moved. So he said OK, but they would call again. It was about three weeks later when I got call from Metx and he had another set of dates, and again I had conflicts and had to say no. Then about a month later he called again and this time I looked at my calendar and the week was without meetings, and so I had no other alternative then to say I would go.

After making the decision to make this journey I informed my boss, the Synod Executive, J. Hoytt Boles, that I was doing it and asked him if he would help me if I was arrested. He said that he could not support the idea of what I was doing, but that if I ran into trouble he would personally step up and help me with financial aid to pay for legal assistance, if I got into trouble.


Freedom Summer volunteers and locals canvass in Mississippi in 1964 to get black people to the polls. Photo by Ted Polumbaum/Newseum
Freedom Summer volunteers and locals canvass in Mississippi in 1964 to get black people to the polls. Photo by Ted Polumbaum/Newseum

So on the morning of April 6, 1964, I headed for Hattiesburg and arrived there in late afternoon. I had good directions and so I made my way to the church where we were to stay and where daily meetings were held to lay out the work of the day. The work to be done was picketing the courthouse for a couple of hours each day, generally in the morning. Then in the afternoon we were paired with a young African-American man to do canvassing in the black communities of Hattiesburg, to get people to register for the Freedom Ballot vote. Each evening in one of the African-American churches of Hattiesburg they held a prayer meeting and worship service. Each evening the service was closed with the singing of We Shall Overcome, and in that context this spiritual took on a new meaning for me, because it was sung not only as a prayer, but also a statement!


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In addition to the evening meetings and prayer services – which were always done with a spirit of hope and celebration, I have remembrances of five other happenings of that week. These encounters are as follows:


Encounter with a Mother and Daughter.

The mother was 92 years old and the daughter was 70. When we asked the mother if she wanted to register to vote – she responded with a strong affirmation, and then she looked at me and said Reverend – I would like to be able to vote at least on time before I die!


Encounter with a Man, who was Native American, Afro-American and Caucasian.

He was very bitter and angry, as he was looked at as a nobody. He had served in the military during WWII, but when he was discharged he came back home and was rejected because he was a mixture of three races. He responded when asked if he wanted to register, and his response was YES – so that he could vote NO!


Encounter with a Mississippi State Trooper.

That day I was paired off with an Afro-American college student who had dropped out of school for the semester to work on the Freedom Ballot Registration project. We had just finished canvassing a small neighborhood off of the state highway on the southeast edge of town and were heading for another pocket of residents about a half mile away. We were walking on the edge of the highway when this trooper pulled up in front of us and stopped. He got out and came back to us and basically ignored the young man with me and addressed me directly. He was very courteous to me, but he made it clear in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome to be in this county and Mississippi and that I should go back to where ever I had come from! And then he made it quite clear to me that while I was still in the state that I had better obey all of the laws.


A Break from the Tension on a Drive out into the County.

On one of the afternoons we had a break from the work to do; and so, another clergy person and I hopped into my car and drove out into the county for about an hour. That part of Mississippi is very pretty with rolling hills and beautiful wooded lands, as well as fields for crops. A lot of cotton but also other crops, but cotton was the high cash crop. It wasn’t until later that year that I realized how dumb we were to take that drive, when I heard the news about the disappearance of three white college students who were in Mississippi to work for the summer on the Freedom Ballot. Later they were discovered buried in an earthen dam in a location not far from Hattiesburg.


A New Mississippi Law Enacted on April 9, 1964.

At the strategy meeting on the last night that I was in Mississippi we planned the strategy for the next day. It had been announced earlier in the day that the State Legislature in Jackson, Mississippi had passed a law making it illegal to have a picket line on public property. We were quite aware that this new law was focused on the voter registration picket lines, and we felt sure that it would be enforced in Hattiesburg the next day. The decision at the strategy meeting that night was that the picket line would be put in place the next morning and stay until confronted by the state authorities. Since I had already made my decision to return to Texas the next morning I did leave before the picket line took its place in front of the courthouse. I have often thought, did I compromise my commitment to racial justice by not staying and confronting the authorities by engaging in an act of civil disobedience? After 50 years I still struggle with that question.


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The occasion that has finally bought me to the point of writing this experience was an invitation by WFYI – Channel 20, our public TV channel from Indianapolis, to attend a preview of the PBS American Experience film, Freedom Summer. In responding to the invitation I shared with them that I had been a participant in the Freedom Ballot work in the spring of 1964. Their response was, would you be willing to share some of your experience? I said YES, and then started doing some reflection and developed the outline for this piece of my work history.


It was one of those life experiences that stay with you throughout your whole life!



PBS American Experience – Freedom Summer

american-experience-freedom-summerAfter viewing the film last week, Don Nead encourages you to watch the PBS American Experience film, Freedom Summer — which premiers June 24, 2014 on PBS from 9-11 p.m. EST (locally on WFYI—Channel 20—Indianapolis).

Here is the PBS description of the film:

Over 10 memorable weeks in 1964 known as Freedom Summer, more than 700 student volunteers from around the country joined organizers and local African Americans in a historic effort to shatter the foundations of white supremacy in what was one of the nation’s most viciously racist, segregated states.

More information about the American Experience: Freedom Summer film may be found on the PBS website — click HERE.



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Action Alert — Indiana HB 1351

LUM Campaign for Hoosier Families—Action Alert

 INDIANA HB 1351 – YOU DO THE NUMBERS!


HB 1351 would require the Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA) to administer a drug-testing program for individuals receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance on behalf of a child.  If the bill goes through, TANF families would lose their benefits if the head of household is determined to be predisposed to substance abuse based on a written test.  According to the Indiana Legislative Agency the cost of the program over two years is estimated to be $1.18 M to $1.38 M while the savings based on the reduction of eligible individuals is estimated to be $521,000.  According to the math, the costs outweigh the benefits almost 3 to 1.


Here are 10 things you need to know about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

  1. In order to qualify for cash assistance a family of four may not receive more than $346.50 a month.
  2. Families may not possess more than $1,000 in assets other than housing.
  3. Beneficiaries must be a United States citizen or a green card holder residing in the US for more than 5 years.
  4. Benefits have a lifetime cap of 60 months.
  5. Heads of household who receive benefits must participate in 20 hours of mandatory job training, job search or work hours weekly.  Failure to complete the “applicant job search” program without good cause will result in the denial of the application for cash assistance.
  6. 11,785 families received TANF cash assistance last year.
  7. In the past year families receiving TANF assistance decreased 20% to 26% depending on type of family.
  8. 26,364 Hoosier receive TANF.  23,128 or 79% are children.
  9. The average monthly benefit was $187.6 for a child-only or one-parent and $210.32 for a two parent household.
  10. In Fiscal Year 2013, the total outlay for TANF cash assistance was $2,227,879 all of which came from federal funds.

Indiana Statehouse 2 - Jim NixThe bill, which was voted out of the House on a party line vote, also includes a provision that SNAP benefits be redeemed exclusively for healthy food and beverages and authorizes the Department of Workforce Development to submit a report to the Legislative Council and the Unemployment Insurance Oversight Committee concerning certain unemployment topics which LUM and its Campaign For Hoosier Families supports.    However, the provisions requiring drug testing of persons receiving assistance from TANF and that the information be shared with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) and any division of the FSSA that implements the Federal SNAP program doesn’t add up and can only be summed up as harassment of low income families, especially when you take into account that only 2% of TANF applicants in Florida tested positive which included those individuals who refused to be tested.  The Center for Disease Control reports that the drug use in the general population is much higher and that almost 1 in 10 persons test positive for controlled substances.   Furthermore, the legislation calls for a written test known as the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI).  SASSI was designed to identify people who warrant more careful evaluation not determines whether someone is a current drug user.  The SASSI Institute recommends that an individual determined to potentially have a substance abuse problem be referred for treatment as part of the services they receive from public assistance agency.   Despite the enormous price tag for drug testing and the premise that it helps families, HB 1351  does not provide funding  assistance for entering and completing a certified treatment program but instead makes TANF eligibility contingent upon doing so.   The proponents of the bill might seem more earnest in their concern for low income families if it was coupled with Medicaid Expansion and didn’t directly penalize the children of ineligible parents.

IU Professor and former ICLU executive Director Sheila Kennedy came to the following conclusion in her blog last week title You thought HJR3 Was Dumb:  “[Given that] we have already made the process so difficult and demeaning that only 2.9% of impoverished Hoosiers participate, it’s hard to escape the suspicion that our legislators not only don’t want to help poor folks–they want to punish them for being poor.”

http://sheilakennedy.net/2014/01/and-you-thought-hjr-3-was-dumb/

The only conclusion you can come to this is that that the math doesn’t add up.  If this is your conclusion as well, please contact your Senator by going to the website and tell him or her that the math doesn’t add up and to vote against the drug testing provision in HR1351.

http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2014/legislators/

As you may recall, drug testing TANF recipients sailed through the Indiana General Assembly last year but died in the Senate because of your emails, phone calls, and letters opposing it.   Time is short!  The 2014 General Assembly ends March 14th.



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Central Catholic Seniors Serve LUM


CC Senior Service Project


2013-05-18 CC Senior Service - Group final


This past Saturday, dozens of seniors from Lafayette Central Catholic Junior Senior High School worked all morning doing a variety of jobs at LUM. Each year the Central Catholic senior class members raise money for and take an annual Senior Trip – this year to St. Louis, Missouri – and participate in a Senior Service Project as a part of their trip.

2013-05-18 CC Senior Service 076 (2)For their Senior Service Project the seniors chose to do their service with LUM. Students worked with the LUM staff to do everything from wash the LUM buses to wash windows in the Emergency Shelter. The students also cut the lawn, trimmed bushes, weeded and raked flower beds, edged the sidewalks, and swept. Inside the students cleaned furniture and offices, dusted, vacuumed, washed doors and baseboards, and stuffed envelopes for a LUM mailing. Mrs. Michelle Hruskovich and Principal Joe Brettnacher from Central Catholic also attended service day and worked alongside the students.

Principal Brettnacher shared with pride that “the Class of 2013 seniors enjoy giving2013-05-18 CC Senior Service 044 (2) back to the community and were delighted to help out LUM – an organization that gives so much to the needy in our community.”

Mrs. Hruskovich – who is the sponsor for the Class of 2013 and has had the unique opportunity to work with these students for years and watch them grow – stated, “This is a magnificent group of young women and men who I am confident will make significant contributions to society.”

After their service day at LUM, the seniors had just one hour to get cleaned up and 2013-05-18 CC Senior Service 102 (2)reassembled at the school. They departed from the high school at noon for St. Louis; and first thing on their Senior Trip agenda — attend Saturday evening Mass once they arrived in St. Louis.

Special thanks to the hard working seniors from Central Catholic Junior Senior High School for including LUM in their Senior Trip and Senior Service Project. LUM hopes the CC seniors had a fabulous trip to St. Louis — and wishes them great success in the future.


To see more Pictures from Central Catholic Senior Service Project at LUM, click HERE.



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