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); and appointments were made by the week (Will you be in your office next week? Culture-shocked while adjusting to the sharecropper, the Northern newcomer simultaneously encountered the world of the civil rights worker, a separate society with its own culture and rules for every moment of the day. " I said, "Really." Remembering this great respect for lawyers, I say, "I guarantee it. They are witnesses." The Troopers have a conference and decide it's okay.
Emulating the sharecropper, the civil rights workers dressed in overalls, workshirts and boots, and spoke a bastardized Negro language, saying things like, "The Peoples have a right to reddish to vote." Every black was referred to by the honorific "Mr." or "Mrs.", while civil rights workers, no matter what age, were called by their first names; the Southern white tradition of humiliating a black by calling him "boy" or by his first name (which had the same connotation), led civil rights workers to reverse the tradition in the extreme. Well, I made a big hit with my group, having gotten past this first obstacle.
If Paul Revere had tried to warn black Mississippi, I thought to myself, he would have ridden up, shouted "The British are coming" and would still be at the first house talking about his silverware when the King's Men arrived. The black sharecropper would speak v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, forcing the visitor to grit his teeth to avoid interrupting and finishing the sentence; the words of the Northerner would be in the rhythm of a railroad train, roaring ahead, seemingly out of control the speeded-up abbreviated speech patterns overwhelming to the rural listener.
Adding to the confusion each speaker would add regional accents, drawls, colloquialisms and style the latter a very serious matter since the white Northerner spoke with ironic humor, exaggeration and sarcasm, while the black Southerner, holding a very straightforward view of life, considered hyperbole a lie.
And there was always the dilemma of how to refer to the former slaves: to the local whites the term was "Nigger," or, if they were progressive, "Nigra"; to the subjects themselves it was "Colored"; and to civil rights workers it was "Negro," with "Black" yet to come. I am 31; they are all late teens, or early twenties. We start walking up the steps of the courthouse and we see police with rifles running up the steps ahead of us and one state trooper, his rifle held with military precision across his chest, standing directly in our path. But it appeared the trooper in front of us was frightened also; he is very young, very nervous. And so we go into the courtroom and see the judge already on the bench, seated between flags of the State of Mississippi and the Confederacy.
To achieve even the semblance of communication, veteran civil rights workers were, at times, pressed into service as interpreters. Since few black sharecroppers used clocks or calendars, time was told by the sun (a few hours before sunrise, stop at midsun) or events (the day the candyman came, cotton choppin' week, the Sunday the Preacher came to town); directions depended upon nature (turn left at the big oak, then down a piece to the three cows and there would be three cows!
So, he connected me with ACLU; I called up and made arrangements to go the next summer: 1965. I made up stories about how ACLU had rejected other people to accept me; Yes, I would like to not go but I cannot back out at this late date. Don: Well, I had set it up with ACLU nine months in advance and then, on the eve of the summer, called to confirm it; I started talking about it a few months in advance. But the black rural South I was about to enter was not as I envisioned it that day safely seated in a New York airport.
A lawyer friend from another firm had gone South in '64. I felt embarrassed because as between the two of us, I was supposed to be the "political" one. Once I decided to go, I told a number of my co-workers and the next thing I know, one of the Wall Street partners calls me into his office to tell me how well I am doing, that I was approaching partnership track, but that going South wouldn't sit well with a number of their clients. but the ACLU communist thing, he said, made things "not comfortable." He said, coincidently, that in that same time period that I would be away, they are going to have a partnership meeting, concerning new partners, and I might want to be available. I said that as tempting as all that is, I couldn't possibly not go South after having committed myself to going. " America the Beautiful was united in combat against the evil of racism.
To avoid provocation, there were the rules of nonviolence (If cursed, do not curse back; if pushed, do not push back; if struck, do not strike back) and the rules of behavior and dress (Avoid bizarre or controversial behavior. This I never believed until it actually happened; the civil rights worker was barely scratched after he was propelled from the car.) --and many more rules. Within moments of driving my vehicle through the off-limits community, I was spotted by three whites who immediately jumped into a pickup truck, with rifles in racks across the rear window. The price was high and those who crossed that line could never return. Finally boarding a Delta flight to the capital city of Jackson, I remember my image that I would step off the plane into swamp. While some white guys were hassling them, one pushed her and she lost her balance and brushed against him with a sign. " Formed by President Kennedy because of embarrassment about Southern racism, seen by the emerging African nations. SNCC has a place and we work there and get it down nice and pat, until we are ready. " I say, "Yes, your honor." The Judge grunts, "Very well, Not Guilty. Next case." In hindsight, I believe he did it because the case was going to take so long or perhaps to reward the naive lawyer who took his court seriously enough to bring 20 witnesses to a Southern civil rights trial. As they go to trumpet the result, while the client goes with me to the ACLU office. So, I say goodbye to the SNCC people, figuring I won't be seeing them again. " I said, "Sure." A guy named Peter came by the next morning and we drove up, having a grand time talking. And they say, we never get lawyers up here, because and they name my Boss and then they stop in the middle of the sentence. They say, "Well, at least you should meet him [the leader]." A trick I now know but didn't know then. I shake hands with the local leader, he invites me in and feeds me. And then I say, "I'll represent you." He never even asked.
Bruce: You know, to this day I still disable the dome light on every car I drive so it doesn't light up when I open the door. Also, in those days I was suffering from back problems and I wore a back girdle. A high prestige group, they primarily represent civil rights leaders, Ministers, and other higher ups. Its formal name was the Lawyer's Constitutional Defense Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawyers start to heckle me immediately, which is really getting on my nerves. Somebody says we got somebody going up in that area. Finally he says, "Alright, turn off here." That day I learned "Colored Geography." When the pavement ends, the colored man's dirt road and world begin. " He says, "I know where it is but I always get the name wrong: 'Okahola' or 'Okalona,' one of those Indian names." The names sounded familiar. I said, "I'll come back on the way from Holly Springs." I found out when the case is and I say the Boss must never find out. I double back to the highway, then head north, then west a short way. Resisting the temptation to sightsee, I continue due north to my destination: Holly Springs, a sleepy Southern community where blacks work the Man's place on shares, and maybe earn a bit off season in nearby Memphis, Tennessee.
Bruce Hartford: So how did a nice guy like you get involved in civil rights? Don Jelinek: I was then 31, I came down to Mississippi for my three-week summer vacation and stayed three years. My parents were unhappy that I was jeopardizing my lawyer position to "work for the colored who don't like Jews anyhow." My law school friends all thought I was crazy, and accused me of turning radical. Frightened because the bodies of three civil rights workers had been unearthed the previous summer, because three others had already been slain this year, because a civil rights lawyer had been shot at only a few months ago, but mostly because, to me, Mississippi was Nazi Germany with a Southern accent and I was a Jew voluntarily flying to the crematorium. Yet it was not beautiful in any way easily understood by a citified Northerner.