Why Nonviolence go to audio


skeletal remains
skeletal remains
Skeletal remains found by the Mississippi Highway Patrol in a murder investigation.

From the Paul B. Johnson Collection, McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.

The tactic of nonviolence was essential to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, especially the campaigns waged in Mississippi. Movement organizers had long understood that the defenders of Jim Crow would go to any length to maintain their power and control over blacks. As a result, they sought to take advantage of this reality. They reasoned that if enough people outside the South witnessed the terrible violence to which they had been subjected for decades, change might come. They hoped that T.V. cameras and newspaper photographers and reporters would show the world that the primary reason blacks remained in such a subordinate position in the South's politics and economy was because of the widespread violence directed against them. The violence had grown so bad in some areas that some towns developed nicknames based on the carnage. For example, Obie Clark, a NAACP activist in Meridian, noted that "Kemper County was known as Bloody Kemper because of the violence committed against black folks-lynchings and hangings and all." Mrs. Julia Holmes, a student of the Pascagoula Freedom School, explained that "it was like living in Northern Ireland at certain points" because whites "would throw rocks and other foul matter" from their school buses. They never knew what kind of violence they might encounter and therefore "learned how to walk far enough off the road to avoid" being hit. She noted that "the boys really had it bad" because they'd often "be beaten up" trying to visit their girlfriends who lived across town. Sometimes they'd be walking home from football practice, and they'd be harmed. But, she added, "this was life in segregated Pascagoula."

Johnny Barbour, a minister and former NACCP leader in Meridian, described a typical incident in the life of a civil rights activist in the following terms:

I went to my little church one Sunday and they had thrown a bomb in the window because we were housing things for the civil rights movement. And I can remember one day a guy called and said he was going to burn a cross on my lawn. I had a little son, my wife and all these things. It gives you a certain feeling that you are really not comfortable with, and especially when you have decided to take on this situation and be nonviolent which means that you are kind of vulnerable to a lot of things.

For Barbour and a host of other activists, the only way to stop this violence was to expose it. The best way to expose it was to not fight back. Matt Suarez, before becoming a member of both SNCC and CORE, said that he "thought you were absolutely stupid to let somebody hit on you, spit on you, slap you, or throw anything on you." After he realized the power of nonviolence and the courage it took to practice it, he changed his mind.

These activists reasoned that even the most uninterested person would be appalled at the sight of young children and elderly people being beaten and jailed by white racists. They hoped that in this way, the nation's and the world's conscience would be moved to such an extent that the perpetrators of violence would lose credibility and therefore their positions. While people died adhering to this tactic, it is clear that had the activists responded by marching through the streets with guns, they not only would have been mercilessly mowed down, but they would have also failed in winning the sympathy and support of people interested in bringing about "peaceful" change.

audio Click on the play button to hear the following excerpt.      Total time: 35 seconds

They would catch one of us alone and throw beer cans at us or something like that and you know, full containers of beer. And stuff like that. And they would sic dogs on us. You know. And most of the time this stuff was being taped because we had, it was several news organizations in here. I know ABC was one of them, and they caught a lot of this stuff on tape. Most of the time when we was going to integrate a place, it was going to be a camera crew there somewhere. They knew that. See. That was one thing that saved us.

Henry Peacock, a civil rights activist in Grenada, interviewed for the Civil Rights Documentation Project.


audioClick on the play button to hear the following excerpt.     
Total time: 1 minute, 8 seconds

So I went and I called me about twenty guys to come to the state office. We had a state office over here in Natchez for the Klan, a Klan state office. And they arrived there, and I told them what I wanted. I said, "Now I'm tired of it, and I'm tired of these people pushing off. The law's hands are tied. I want you to go up there and counter picket. I don't want you to touch a soul. I don't want you to smile at nobody or say anything to nobody, but I want you to get in line and counter picket." But I said, "If one of them even just brushes you, I want him put on the ground." Sure enough, I knew what was going to happen. Sure enough, they turned, and one of them touched one of them, and he touched the wrong one, because when he did, he floored him, and it all broke out. And it was about fifty of them, and they were bad Deacons for Defense from Chicago, Illinois. And twenty of those Klansmen done got after about fifty of them, and you ought to have seen them. Just like blackbirds running through the streets. So that broke that up.

-- Edward L. McDaniel is a native of Adams County. He grew up in Natchez, Mississippi. McDaniel joined the Klan in the early 1960s as civil rights activity began to spread throughout the state. He worked for the maintenance of segregation and thought the use of violence was necessary to keep blacks in their place.