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                  VII - Natchez

 


Freedom Songs, part VIII - Cookie

Jackson, Mississippi 1964 - COFO Office

Since the storefront window was gone, someone had to stay in the office overnight. I told Ed I'd do it. So it was just me, the office, and that big opening up front which was most inviting to my imagination. Before long I heard a car drive up, a door close, footsteps, more imagination, and someone did enter - by the door. I was relieved to see the darkness of his skin. I introduced myself and he himself. His name, or his nickname, was Cookie, the sole staff person in the Southwest of Mississippi where he'd just come from, where I'd just come from. I'd heard of him. We talked for a while about Natchez and good luck to anyone trying to register voters there.

I asked him if I could borrow his car to go to a truckstop and get something to eat. Also just wanted to get out and be somewhere else. He wasn't enthusiastic about loaning his car out but agreed. I said I'd be back within an hour. That turned out not to be the case.

I walked across the street, got in, and sat there for a minute writing in a little notebook. A car drove up behind me. I started Cookie's car. Suddenly there were brights on me, then flashing lights, a brief spurt of siren. A policeman walked up to the car and told me to get out. Then there were two of them, both hefty.

I handed my license over. They didn't ask for insurance. I asked what the problem was. No answer. Finally one of them spoke, asking what I was doing in Jackson.

"Just passing through," I said.

"Yeah, then why you comin' out a there?" he nodded over to the COFO office. I said I'd been walkin down the sidewalk and saw their broken window and got to talkin' to em and they were letting me stay there to keep an eye out.

"You fuckin' any of them little niggah girls?"

I denied that. There were some more questionable questions and then one of them reared back as if struck by something.

"Whoa, do you stink!"

And then the other one joined in and they whooped it up agreeing that I reeked of alcohol. So they arrested me, cuffed me, put me in the back of their police car, and took me to the station. Meanwhile I tried to bond with them in my most white Southern accent, asking polite and innocent questions to which they'd respond, "Shutup."

The moment I'd heard of came - the elevator. That's where they beat you up. I took a deep breath and remembered the encouraging words of Dr. Lohia.

As soon as we got in the elevator I asked another dumb, innocent question. My tone was one of respect. They did not beat me up. But when the elevator door opened, they shoved me into a room filled with other stout uniformed officers of the law.

"We've got another white nigger for you!" one of my captors declared as I stumbled to the floor which prompted him to point out that I was too drunk to stand up.

Then a sort of dozen cats and one mouse game began with them pushing me around, ridiculing me,. laughing, and me getting in an occasional non confrontational comment like, "No sir, I have not been drinking. It's against the law."

They gave me a breathalyzer test, standing around guffawing at the results which were that I was too drunk to take the test. As they booked me for drunk driving I meekly pointed out that not only had I not been drinking, but I wasn't driving either. That gained a, "Shutup white nigger!"

A jailer walked me to the drunk tank, another place I'd heard that was particularly dangerous when as they unlocked the bared door, they announced the purpose of one's being in their state; however, before we got to the door, he leaned over and whispered to me, "Don't let any of them know why you're in here."

"Thank you," I said, as sincerely as any statement of gratitude I'd ever uttered.

The room was something like twenty feet square, a brick wall on two sides and bars on the other two, benches against the wall. It wasn't crowed, maybe a dozen other guys. Once in the cell, my manner changed completely. I said nothing to anyone. I alternated between sitting quietly and being prone, mainly being prone. I didn't eat much. I think I was there till the day after the next. I don't remember what we did about excretion - I suppose there was a toilet and sink in the corner. I think I just went into sleep mode, waking only as much as was necessary. All I can remember from my stay is that a local woman brought a box of cookies for us. I had one and thought it was the best thing I'd ever eaten. That and a ferociously hostile and violent thug in a tee shirt who, like a mad dog, immediately upon entering attacked the first person in front of him viciously. With his first victim on the floor, he lunged at the next screaming profanities. Within a minute the police had dragged him back out and we listened with relief to a few of them cursing and pummeling him till all was quiet. He did not return.

A lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild bailed me out. He said my mother had wired the money. I'd filled out a form when I had first arrived at the COFO office that had a space for whom to contact for emergencies and bail money.

Back in the office, the storefront window had been replaced. Cookie was still there and forgave me for getting his car towed off. People were preparing for the Ohio training camp which was coming up soon. Ed made sure I was signed up for it. I decided to go through Fort Worth on the way. He said it was best that I take a break, that some people didn't want me around. They were suspicious of me because I didn't have any bruises or wounds. I think I was the only male civil rights worker I met back then who was arrested and wasn't beaten up. That might have been because I hadn't gone through any orientation where one is taught how to respond when arrested. I hadn't considered our noble Cause and what was right. I especially hadn't tried to impart to my arresters any hint that I saw them as morally or intellectually inferior. As a result of my pristine condition, Ed said that I, who'd been a spy for them, was now thought by some to be a spy for the other side, like for the White Citizens Councils.


posted 10-16-12

next - part IX - Ohio - not yet


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