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"We kind of envisioned ourselves as kind of the last bulwark of resistance," says David Billings, who would later teach classes in racial tolerance in Louisiana but who, as a teenager in McComb, Mississippi in the early 1960s, joined white mobs that attacked civil rights workers. "[We] felt that folk in Alabama and Georgia, for example, had caved in in some ways, but that in Mississippi we weren't going to do it. Was trained to resist what was put forward as a threat to a way of life that was sacred, and that one protected it at the risk of one's own life and even if it meant the taking of other lives."

For several years before Freedom Summer, civil rights workers had asked the federal government for protection from the Ku Klux Klan—with no success. Former SNCC staffer Michael Sayer points out that the FBI under director J. Edgar Hoover was well aware of the attacks on black Mississippians. "But the FBI policy wasn't to intervene and prevent the Klan from doing what it was doing," says Sayer. "It was simply to report back to the FBI, so the FBI could be on top of the knowledge game. But we're talking about J. Edgar Hoover here, who was very hostile to the idea of independent black political activity."

Letters and FBI documents show that Hoover, in fact, viewed civil rights workers as the troublemakers in the South, not segregationists. He directed his agents to do the bare minimum in investigating Klan violence and voting rights violations. During Freedom Summer, under pressure from President Johnson, the FBI opened an office in Jackson. But that didn't stop the terrorism. During the summer of '64, white supremacists burned down 67 black churches and homes, beat up eighty civil rights workers, and fired dozens of shots into the cars and offices of Freedom Summer workers.

"You came to see white faces as something to fear," says Dean Zimmerman, who had been used to seeing nothing but white faces back home in North Dakota. "As you encounter a white face, you immediately, your body takes on a whole different posture, your mind becomes very alert. You are constantly on the lookout for what you may have to do in a big hurry just to survive."

SNCC staff member Dorie Ladner worked in the summer project office in Natchez. She spent sleepless nights taking threatening phone calls from segregationists. She says she was so frightened, she vomited every night after supper.

"I suffered from trying to dodge white men in pickup trucks, worrying about whether or not somebody was going to bomb the house where we were sleeping, whether or not we were going to get killed."

The fear of getting trapped at the mercy of white supremacists came horribly true for George Raymond in Canton, Mississippi.

"We had certain areas where we knew that if a black guy and a white woman were seen together, it was almost certain death. Canton was one of those places," says Matt Suarez, then a staff member with CORE. Despite that knowledge, somebody brought a white woman to an organizing meeting in Canton. Word got out and a mob formed. CORE staff members decided to send out three black men in one car to draw the mob away, then to sneak the white woman out in another car. Suarez rode in the decoy vehicle. His friend, George Raymond, drove.

"And about 50 pickup trucks got behind us with white boys hanging off the running boards with chains and pipes and baseball bats and screaming, 'Kill the niggers,' and all this crap," Suarez says, laughing tensely at the memory. "And a highway patrolman and a sheriff's deputy, they got in both lanes following us and put their bright lights on behind us." Suarez says he urged Raymond to try to outrun the mob. "I said 'George, this is no time to be stopping out here in the middle of nowhere.' George pulled the car on the goddamn side. They took George out, they had him behind the car, right in the headlights, so that all we could see was silhouettes, and they just beat George into the ground. They literally just pulverized him out there on the highway. The highway patrolman came over to us and he says, 'You got 24 hours to get your black asses out of Mississippi. If we ever catch you in here again, we'll kill you.' And that ended that. [They] took off and we went and picked up George off the highway, put him in the car, and drove into Jackson."

Suarez pauses. "But you can't imagine the fear that's gripping you at the time that that's happening, that you know they there, they want to kill you, they can do it, there's nothing to stop them. And that stuff stays with you a long time. A long time."

George Raymond survived that beating, and several others he received in Mississippi jails. But his friends say he changed from a light-hearted young man to a tense, bitter one. He died of a heart attack at the age of 30.


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