VIOLENCE AND MISSISSIPPI
To the Editors of the CRIMSON:
While we have been more than grateful for your coverage of and interest in the civil rights movement, we would like to comment on two recent articles in the CRIMSON which have given rise to certain misconceptions about this summer's Mississippi COFO project.
Some confusion has resulted from an article which appeared a few weeks ago regarding the role of white women in the project. Our policy is not to discourage anyone from applying; however, the number of white women actually accepted may depend on the places where they can work in comparative safety--both for the local residents with whom they will be living and working, and for themselves. This is the only limitation.
But Michael Lerner presents graver misconceptions in his article, 'Our Blood,' April 30.
According to him, there are two alternatives: slaughter and racial clash. But there is another alternative which Mr. Lerner apparently did not consider: the intervention and protection by the Federal Government, which we consider has the duty and the obligation to protect American citizens -- even in Mississippi -- who will be conducting themselves in a constitutional manner to attain rights already guaranteed to them by the same constitution.
Mr. Lerner's analysis of the students going to Mississippi is inaccurate. The fact is that most of the students whom we have interviewed for the project, far from being secret thrill-seekers, are honest and sincere young people who honestly and sincerely believe that their participation in such a program will contribute to American democracy. Perhaps these sentiments are by now so trite and rare that they are mistrusted by Mr. Lerner, who seeks other unconscious drives for their actions.
These students understand the risks involved in such an undertaking, and none look forward to being injured--and certainly not to injuring anyone else.
Naturally we are aware of the potential for "slaughter" and "racial clash," as Mr. Lerner puts it, but if he had asked us, we would have told him what we are doing to avoid these possibilities.
In the first place, we are insisting that the Federal Government of the Uniteed States act to enforce the U.S. Constitution. We are not merely saying this, but working on petitions, planning delegations to President Johnson, and other such actions -- well in advance of the beginning of the Mississippi project.
Secondly, we are safeguarding against the "escalation" of "racial clash" in several ways; we are conducting the most extensive interviews possible to determine emotional maturity, discipline, and non-violent conduct. We will hold one orientation session here for New England applicants in late May, and all applicants for the project will undergo extensive training in Berea, Kentucky in June before departure for Missisippi. None of this indicates either that SNCC will accept young people who cannot act in a disciplined fashion under what will certainly be dangerous circumstances, or that students are looked upon as expendable "cannon fodder" to be put to "tactical advantage."
Of course there is yet one other way of avoiding all conflict in Mississippi this summer, and that is simply not to go. Strangely enough, the proponents of the status quo in Mississippi also use reason of "slaughter" and "racial clash" to justify leaving the state in the hands of the White Citizens Council and the Negro population to its usual state of maleducation, harassment, and deprivation. But we do not intend to take what undoubtedly would be this "safer" course, and leave matters as they are; despite these real risks, we are going ahead with the project in the hopes that the majority of white Americans of whom Mr. Lerner speaks may realize its responsibilities to the subjected minority. Mrs. Dorothy Zeliner Mrs. Peggy Day New England Representatives SNCC
MR. LERNER REPLIES:
According to the above letter, SNCC is doing three things to avoid violence. It is interviewing everyone who goes South under SNCC auspices, it is training them in Kentucky in June, and it is petitioning the U.S. government to intervene in Mississippi.
The training precautions are laudable, although it should be added that armies have discovered men do not always react in the field as they do in training.
But the central argument in the letter is that I have ignored the "alternative" of Federal intervention. I did not ignore the possibility that the President might order troops into Mississippi as a last resort in the event of terrible violence. This is not what Mrs. Zellner and Mrs. Day mean. They mean that I ignored the possibility of Presidential intervention before this violence occurs, "to protect American citizens...who will be conducting themselves in a constitutional manner."
If Mrs. Zellner and Mrs. Day believe that SNCC petitions will convince President Johnson in an election year to intervene before the last possible moment, they are naive. Johnson will not intervene to protect the rights of SNCC workers, but only to suppress violence.
Finally, the parallel implied between my position and that of the White Citizens Council is not fruitful. I detest segregation, although I may not always faithfully follow the SNCC view.