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Voting Drive Starts Despite Violence

Second of three articles.

By Peter Cummings

The Mississippi Summer Project began sending its new volunteers into the state on June 21,1964. But only a couple of experienced workers went into McComb in order to survey the situation.

Nor until early July did the order come that the McComb project would go into operation. Volunteers who has been training for this job, in Holmes Country and other areas, left for the southwest.

Acros the state COFO members left that the movement into McComb was a test of the project and their song, We Shall Never Turn Back.

Jesse Harris, a Mississippi Negro and experienced SNCC staff member, took charge of the area. Mendy Samstein (Brandeis graduate) and Dennis Sweeny (Stanford student) were among the first on the project.

Five Negroes had been murdered in the McComb area during the spring and violence soon greeted the new COFO workers. On July 8 a bomb blast destoyed the front of the Freedom House where ten workers were sleeping. Curtis Hayes was badly cut by flying glass.

Church burnings (ten during the summer) and bombings (four) seemed to become the order of the day for the southwest area.

Even voter registration was considered too dangerous for the time being. And so a Freedom School was begun to organize the McComb community. Ralph Featherstone, a 25-year-old Negro speech teacher from Washington, D.C., arrived on the project and took charge of the school.

Robert, Coles, Research Psychiatrist to the University Health Services, was in McComb working for COFO during this period. Coles, who was often harassed by city police and once chased by a car at night, recounts one incident:

"I went down to the fail to examine Sweeny and one other worker who had been injured. The police told me that the FBI didn't want me to examine the boys. Since the FBI men were right there, I asked them, and they said it was perfectly all right for me to see Sweeny

"Then the police smashed my glasses and threatened to "really do a job" on me. If the FBI hadn't been there I'm pretty sure the "job would have been done. The police said "We'll give you some pyscho-therapy in the basement of the fail."

Finally in mid-August the first groups of people began to take the five-minute walk down to the court house to get on the registration roles. A Harvard senior, Marshall Ganz '65, helped organize the registration. (Ganz will return to McComb this week and will stay there for a' year.)

On August 28 the Summer Project was scheduled to come to a close, but about 200 workers chose to remain in the state and ten stayed on in McComb.

As national attention shifted away from Mississippi and the FBI cut down its force in McComb, a new wave of bombings beatings, and arrests struck the area. There were four bombings last week and right now 16 local Negroes are in jail on charges of criminal syndicalism

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