I am a Mississippian. I make this statement with neither shame nor excuses, but with the pride of a member of a good society. I recognize that Mississippi has faults as does every group of human individuals. I further realize that Mississippi is misunderstood, unjustly accused, and judged in an uninformed light. In regard to the Mississippi Project, I will not attempt to justify violence or misconduct, from the Philadelphia incident to church bombings, on the part of Mississippians. On the contrary, I condemn such actions, as do do the majority of Mississippi citizens. But rather, I shall try to explnai why most Mississippians are opposed to the Project, why these actions occurred, and why I think the Project has failed.
Mississippi is struggling to main tain a way of life. This way of life is founded on a set of moral principles just as firmly as it is founded on a set of economic and social principles. The majority of Mississipians truly believe that separation of the races is morally right, as the majority of Northerners believe integration is morally right. Because of this, it is obvious why Mississippians oppose COFO and the Project, which advocate integration. Yet the reason for opposition does not stop here. Much of the opposition is a result of the poor manner in which the Project is being conducted rather than merely its objectives.
The Missippi Project was begun with a series of articles stating that Mississippi would be a "bloodbath as a result of a massive, daring assault on the recial barriers of that state." Such articles were released from various sources all over the United States. Mississippians had no cause to expect anything else. So they braced themselves and planned a defense against what they feared might be aggressive measures. Before the members of the Project arrived, Mississippians were strongly opposed to it.
Of all the blunders of the Project, I think this was the most absurd and unnecessary. If the members of the Project really wanted to help the Negroes of Missippi, the most obvious mistake they could make would be to threaten the white Mississippians to force them to be cooperative. Mississippi's race problem will not be solved by pitting the nation against Mississippi with techniques of violence.
When the volunteers arrived, they continued to alienate Mississippians. Their attitude seemed to be one of disrespect toward the white Mississippi way of life. Instead of observing codes of conduct common not only to Mississippi, but to the rest of the United States, they openly flouted these codes, showing their disgust for them. A prime example of this was the shabby appearance of the workers, who appeared in ublic unshaven, unclean, and dressed in a poor manner. This was a common sight during the summer and one which disgusted every Mississippian who saw them. I thought the workers were supposed to create pride in the Mississippi Negroes; but to white Mississippians, they only confirmed the belief that Negroes and their white counterparts in Mississippi are socially unacceptable by white standards.
Still another factor in white Mississippian opposition was that students were sent. Contrary to popular belief, state leaders, familiar with the problem, were and still are working toward a practical solution; Mississippians wondered how northern students could help the situation. Mr. W. S. Cain, a Canton, Mississippi attorney, summed up the typical attitude of Mississippians, saying, "In the first instance, it was recognizable that these young people were uninformed, misinformed, and ignorant to the situation in Mississipi and what needed to be done, and were not equipped to accomplish their goal."
Now that the reasons for white Mississipion opposition have been stated, we can go further to establish the reasons for incidents of violence on the part of Mississippians. I think this can be explained quite simply. It is obvious that the white Mississipian had his back to the wall. His beliefs and the way of life had been challenged and he was forced to take some action. Since the members of the Project had caused such heated opposition against themselves, when action was to be taken, the rational Mississippian was pushed into the background. Under these circumstances, it was surprising that more acts of severe violence did not occur. But all of this could have been avoided--had members of the Project used a less demanding approach, or, better yet, stayed home in the first place.
The Project has not done what it had planned to do. Many of the goals set forth in a pamphlet published by COFO entitled "Operation Freedom--Mississippi 1964" have not been achieved. Voter registration is probably the biggest flop, since very few new Negro voters were registered.
Furthermore, the Project has created worse conditions between whites and Negroes than previously existed. I found this the most pronounced result of the entire Project. Hate and animosity abound now, where good relations once existed between the races. Those relations may not have been ideal by "liberal" standards, but they were a base for building better relations for both races which is gone, perhaps forever. This is not a personal opinion, it is fact. I saw this happen myself.
Above all, this is a Mississippi problem and Mississippians, both white and Negro, must solve it. The longer outsiders remain in the state, the longer it will take to solve the problem. I'm not saying that as soon as the workers leave Mississippians will go along with the integration movement. But Mississipians of both races will be willing to at least try to solve the problem. If the members of the Mississippi Project really want to help they can do so now by leaving.
The opinions expressed in the following article are those of a Harvard student, a resident of Canton, Mississippi. They are not those of the CRIMSON.