Recap: Yonah spent a wonderful Shabbos in Greenwood. It was hard to go back to his relatives and all the prejudice in Neshoba.
A few days later, I felt an air of excitement when I entered the Freedom School. “These men are going to exercise their right to vote,” Mickey shouted. Everyone yelled enthusiastically, “Yes!”
I introduced myself to a man named Mr. Clarence Brown. He was an older man who could barely read. He asked me to read the print to him. I pointed to the words and then asked him to try to read them. He stumbled over the words: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of–– James walked around with a pitcher of lemonade, offering drinks to everyone.
I was working so hard with Mr. Brown, I didn’t realize how late it was.
A few children strolled in with their mother and Mickey turned to Andy Goodman. “I know you have some acting background. Want to read to the kids?”
He explained, “Rita usually reads to the kids, but she is in Ohio training students to come here.”
Andy grabbed Goldilocks and the Three Bears and then he read it like a dramatic script. At first, the kids were shy with him; but gradually they inched closer, and soon they were seated close to him, mesmerized by his reading.
Mickey glanced over and looked pleased.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and a man stood in the doorway brandishing an ax. He snarled at Mickey, “Jew boy.” He spat at Mickey. “We don’t want this on our block.”
Mickey just stood there. He didn’t respond.
The man took the ax and banged it against the wall. He actually made a hole in the wall. “You stop this. You Communist. You get outta here. Go back to where ya’ll come from! I’m gonna bring ya plenty more people to fight ya and we gonna bring weapons. If you keep this goin’ on.” He stomped away.
Everyone was silent. Most of the black men got up like they were planning to leave. Mickey jumped up and said, “Look, there’s a lot of bullies out there but there is no reason we can’t run this school. It’s perfectly legal and it’s your right as American citizens to learn how to vote.”
Mr. Brown, the man I’d been working with, said, “Sorry, Mickey, but I can’t take chances right now. I’ll come back another time.” He walked out.
I felt so bad for Mickey because most of the people left. Mickey didn’t blink an eye or let it get to him. He said to whomever was left, “I’m going to read you something from Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail:
“…Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;”
Mickey shook his head and sighed. “Do you want me to read more?”
“Yes, yes, the men clapped their hands.
“…when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Mickey stopped reading. The two black men who had stayed both clapped and stomped their feet.
I started clapping, too. This was injustice. We had to change it. Hashem didn’t create us to treat each other like this. We are all created in the image of Hashem.
I glanced at my watch. It was so late. I headed home, afraid of what might be waiting for me there.
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.