I finished high school in the last "all white" class at Atlanta's Northside High School and then attended Emory University where in 1963 I began to confront whether to join the challenge to segregation or not.
My mother has been raised on a cotton plantation in the Arkansas delta and I was raised a Southern Baptist. Early on in college I rejected my Baptist upbringing but was moved when a white Methodist minister named Rev. Ashton Jones spoke at Emory in the spring of 1963. As best I could tell he drove all across the South in a car with "black and white together" getting beaten up on a regular basis. I thought if someone is going to be a Christian they ought to be trying to live their faith as Jones was trying to do.
That fall when I returned to Atlanta and Emory after a summer job I learned that Rev. Jones had been arrested for trying to attend Atlanta's big First Baptist Church with some black seminary students. He stayed in jail for several months because he refused bail and the church refused to drop charges. I had played basketball in that church and his arrest made me angry enough that on my own I joined a picket line in front of the church and met my first SNCC worker.
In January 1964 I was arrested during a civil rights demonstration in downtown Atlanta in front of a Krystal hamburger stand where robed KKK were inside. I did not mean to get arrested and was only trying to get close enough to see if it was really true, as the SNCC people claimed, that the police mistreated people. That arrest settled any questions I had about becoming involved. I served as the first Chairman of the Southern Student Organizing Committee, and was in Biloxi and McComb during the Freedom Summer.
Copyright © 2012