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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Letter from my father to his parents during the civil rights movement in 1965

                        Tuesday morning, July 12  (1965, Bogalusa, Louisiana)
Dear Mom and Dad,
            As usual, no one in the Civil Rights movement knows what will happen in advance.  You may have heard that the Voter’s League rejected the 30 day moratorium on marches and demonstrations suggested by the Governor.  Therefore we will probably march this afternoon without a permit, probably cross the river to the court house and there may be mass arrests.  I will march at the end as usual in my white coat but I will not get arrested if I can help it.  I’m more useful now out of jail.
            Marching is an amazing experience; one is reminded of the Roman prisoners being paraded back in Rome.  Shouts and curses by the onlookers, there are confederate flags waving everywhere and gangs of teen age boys walk along taunting us.  As a white and as an obviously medical personnel I am often singled out: white trash, they jeer and their favorite epithet: Nigger Ben Casey!
            Along side of us and separating us from the white Bogalusa populace are long lines of blue shirted state troopers carrying pistols, rifles, machine guns, billy clubs.  We are followed by a bevy of police cars, some canine corps filled with barking German shepherds and a school bus (to pick up the demonstrators and take them to jail) flying a confederate flag.  With all the police we are presumably safe.  So far, only one shooting incident has occurred.
            The Medical Committee is housed with a Negro family- the Smiths.  He works in the Crown-Zellerback corporation, is a deacon and carries a gun wherever he goes.  His wife is a deaconess.  When the Klan rides at night, all lights go out in the Negro community and men and women sit up on their rocking chairs talking and cradling their shot guns.
            The spirit here in Bogalusa among the Negros is very high.  Mass meetings are well attended.  Last night I heard Lomax speak: poetry, as well as a gift of $15,000 for the Bogalusa Voter’s league.
            It seems like a very long time that I have been down here in the South!  I suppose this is partly because each moment is made important by the fact that one cannot take anything for granted.  At night we are not supposed to drive except with an armed armed deacon.  Like the front lines of a war, there are things we can do, things we cannot.  We do not know what to expect.  Therefore the present becomes of much greater import.
            Dad—I am looking forward to your description of your trip, especially when you were in Hungary.  Mother, you should be leaving soon and therefore Bon Voyage.  Don’t worry—things are fine.  I’m looking forward to my trip to Iceland.

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