Recap: Yonah went to the Freedom School; he was helping men learn the information they needed to be able to vote when a neighbor came in wielding an ax and threatening everyone there.
The next night, Andy came to the Chaneys to visit. I was getting to be a regular. It felt so good to have a real home to go to.
Andy slapped me five. “Last night someone called and threatened to kill Mickey. This place is really crazy!”
“What about that neighbor who came with the ax. It’s not normal!”
“Ya’ll be careful,” Mrs. Chaney said as she served pieces of pie on her best plates. “I don’t want none of you to get hurt.”
She gave me a separately wrapped piece from the Rebbetzin on a paper plate.
“We’re careful,” James said.
“I heard the KKK beat up some people last night at the church.”
“Are they okay?” Andy asked.
“There was one person who had to get his jaw wired. Just a middle-aged man doing nothing but going to church meeting. They had flyers about voting. Guess that set them off.”
I felt sick thinking of people beating someone up like that for no reason but hate.
“I am real proud of you James, and you, too, Yonah and Andy. You all my sons.”
I felt a warm feeling inside.
Andy asked Ben, “Do you have chess? I’m pretty good at it.”
Ben smiled. “I’m pretty good, too. I’ll go get it.”
They played for almost an hour. Ben was giving Andy a good hard time. “Wanna quit?” Ben asked.
”I’ll play the winner,” I said.
The game ended in a draw. So, I got to pick whom I wanted to play. I chose Ben.
James was busy helping his mother in the kitchen.
This was the homey feeling I wanted and craved. If only this night could last forever.
The next day in school, the teacher, Mr. Wilson, handed out the Civil War tests. The questions were easy in the multiple-choice section. He’d taught such a distorted point of view, but I could spit back what he taught. When I got to the essay section, the choices were ridiculous: Tell why the South had a moral reason to fight. Tell why the South should have won the war. Explain why the economics of the South necessitated the plantation system. I felt my cheeks burning with anger. How could he put such biased ridiculous questions? I took the first topic and switched it to the moral imperative of the North. I felt my journalism instincts at work and I composed an essay with very convincing points.
He collected the papers and began grading them. When he got to my paper, his face turned red. He called me up to retrieve my test paper. I saw all my multiple-choice answers were correct, but he’d given me zero points for my essay. He graded my test with a D-.
I brazenly said to him, “I don’t understand how you can teach something in such a biased way and totally exclude slavery?” He removed his reading glasses and stared at me for a moment. Then he went back to grading a pile of papers on his desk. “Look, Mr. Hartstein, I follow the text. The book hasn’t got anything in it about slavery so that’s how it’s being taught here. You’re not in the North here, you know. If you have any more issues, go talk to the principal.”
I decided to do that. I knocked on the principal’s door.
“Come in, “he drawled. He was all warm and friendly until I told him why I had come.
“Look, you’re in Mississippi now. We don’t teach about that here. You got to respect our way of life. You’re staying on the Herrings block, I believe. They won’t look kindly on you fishing for information about slavery and the civil rights things.”
I wanted to object but I saw he was closed-minded, and I would not get anywhere.
“Thank you, sir,” I said. As I walked out the door I added, “I was always taught to believe in the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence that states all men are created equal.”
He didn’t respond, and I strolled away frustrated by this unjust education being handed out in our country.
After school, I headed for the main street in town. I was thinking I’d like to talk to James or Andy. I needed to blow off steam. I was so disturbed by the attitudes here.
I saw Andy walking down the street.
He was heading back to the Schwerners’ apartment. I asked if he’d like to go get a cola with me and he said sure.
We sat down in the Woolworths sipping our colas and I told him what was on my mind. “It’s crazy. They claim they’re teaching about the Civil War and there is not one mention of slavery.”
Andy whistled through his teeth.
“And when I mentioned this to my teacher he told me I’m in the South. That’s their answer. This is Mississippi, and this is our way of life.”
Andy said, “It’s crazy!”
“No,” I said, “It’s evil. The government here keeps people under their thumb. And you’ve seen color town. It’s rundown poverty at its worst. The black people live where the sidewalks and pavements end. I mentioned it to someone at the Freedom School, and he said he grew up so used to it he hadn’t noticed till I pointed it out.”
Andy swirled his cola with his straw. “It’s awful. That’s why I came. I can’t stand the way human beings are being treated here.” Andy shifted in his seat. He ran his hand through his hair.
“I don’t see many blacks walking in the street.”
“They stay on the other side of town. I was curious about where they go to school. Ben told me they have their own separate schools. Everything is separate.”
We paid for the colas and headed outside. Just then, James Chaney approached. He signaled us to meet him behind one of the buildings. He couldn’t be seen talking to whites on the street. He was very upset. “There’s been a cross burning at the Baptist Church,” he said.
Andy inhaled, “That’s a black church?”
“Who did it?” I asked.
James leaned close and whispered, “The KKK.”
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.