Long, Hot Summer '64; Episode 11; Two Days in the Life of Ellen Siegel
Long Hot Summer 64: a weekly summary, an in-depth report on the struggle for civil rights in the south. This is Ted Mascott, producer and your host for Long Hot Summer 64. We're coming to a close in this series and tonight we have a very special program. It's the story of a Boston girl in Mississippi, a girl who's been working there all summer in the civil rights movement. We relive just a few days of her Mississippi summer, as her mother, Mrs. Jacob Siegel, reads her daughter's letter interspersed with actual tape recordings made by Ellen Siegel. Here now is the story of two days in the life of Ellen Siegel in Mississippi, the summer of 1964. Mrs. Siegel begins reading the letter. Dear Mom and Dad: Good morning to you. I've been up for about an hour, had a piece of bread and some water, splashed some water on my face and hands, tucked in my shirt and straightened my skirt, put on my sandals, said good morning and exchanged: "How did you sleep?" with the other girls. I
decided it was about time to try and set down some of this on paper, even if it has to be toilet paper. A few words about the jail. It is ugly and filthy with very strong odors. Gretchen, another white project worker, and I are confined in a cell about 6 cubic feet with a tiny entrance and another 6 cubic foot room which is the john. Two nights isn't bad, but I can see what a month or so might do. Anyway, I'm going to try and set down a chronology of events that led to our being here in the first place. Tuesday evening at 6 o'clock we had a mass meeting scheduled in Drew, the next town to Ruleville, where the voter registration people have been canvassing for some time with limited success. It is always difficult to break in a new area that people have been without significant change for a hundred years and when they are suddenly confronted with the idea that they are equal human beings and with the
possibility of voting, a joyful response is not as obvious as a bewildered one. People are threatened with the loss of their jobs; the little thought security that might be theirs. They are threatened economically, and as they have nothing else, the fear is great. The fear of personal injury, bombings, burnings, and midnight murders is there too. And not without good cause. Their fear is not of the unknown. It is fear born of past experience, brought up in certainty and cultivated to a shrill, high pitch of terror. On Wednesday, 15 of us left Ruleville at 4 o'clock and when we got to Drew, we separated, 3 to an area, and went from house to house telling about the meeting and handing out the papers. By 5:15 we all met back at the Holly Grove Church. The police were there by now in full full force and had set up a roadblock at either end of the street so that cars
could not drive through. We had to wait while the rest of the workers returned. During this time I took several pictures of a group of officers standing across the street. As I was about to take one of the Drew chief of police, he yelled "Hey, don't you take that picture!" As I hesitated, he strode over and demanded the camera, at which point I questioned his authority to do so. He then said something inarticulate about not wanting his picture taken and grabbed the camera saying "I'm going to expose that film." Apparently he didn't know the difference between exposing film and winding because he simply wound it forward several revolutions, leaving me only one more film. And with a strong injuction not to do that (take his picture) he shoved it back at me. When he turned around, I did take the last picture. At this point I walked around the corner to where one of the cars was parked in order
to put away the camera and to take out the tape recorder. Five minutes later when I got back, the group was already singing and clapping while perhaps a hundred or more people watched from across the street [Audio recording of people chanting, clapping, and singing - approximately 42 seconds in duration.] Shortly we were told that the deacon of the church had requested that we do not
hold our meeting on church property. Whether or not he was intimidated is speculative. Certainly the other incidents of church bombings, removal of insurance, jobs lost, had something to do with it, even if the mayor or police did not interfere in this case, although it is probable that they did. The meeting then moved to an adjacent yard where some of us had already been standing. There was a house a bit further on and there were people there too. In a few minutes a Negro man, apparently the owner of the house, who was standing and talking with the police, fumbled around a bit and then pointed to his property line. Nothing happened. A few minutes later, however, a car that had driven by several times, had been allowed through the roadblock each time, came back again. The driver was the county clerk, a woman, and this time she had an elderly lady with her. They stopped
and spoke to the police briefly, and then the chief came over and interrupted McLaurin singing. The lady wished to talk to him. The conversation between them was to the effect that we were standing on her property. The grass area was apparently hers and not part of the Negro's whose small yard was adjacent. She didn't want us on her property for any of this kind of thing. The people of Drew were very happy and didn't want us there, and that they were all laughing at us, implying that the negroes thought our being there funny and out of place. Obviously fallacious, as tesitifed by the presence of the several hundred there. McLaurin came back and told us we could no longer stand on the grass. That left no recourse except to hold the meeting in the streets. Having been A.
that if we went into the street we would all be arrested. He offered no alternative meeting place, no compromise. The issue was clearly defined. Either we dissembled [sic] or we go to jail. If we broke up the meeting, we would be complying with the unjustified police dictum, and that would be showing the people of Drew that we didn't mean what we said about "Ain't going to let nobody turn me around." That we would not stand up for freedom. Acquiescence at this point would have been a serious deterrent to future activities in Drew. The people would have lost faith. McLaurin, in a strong voice, set forth this question. "Were we willing to go to jail for freedom?" The cry was a unanimous "Yes. Freedom now." Everyone standing on that now forbidden territory surged into the street singing "Ain't going to let no jailhouse turn me around." [Audio recording of conversation between McLaurin(?) and police officer, crowd cheering, crowd singing, "Which side are you on" - approximately 60 seconds in duration.] Purely by happenstance, I ended up fairly close to the police chief,
[word/name unintelligible, possibly last name of Drew police chief?].Noticing my tape recorder he said roughly, "If you don't turn that thing off, I'm going to break it. Turn it off." I turned it off. He then said, as the street was filling up with singing people, "You are under arrest" to me, tapping my shoulder. I said "What am I charged with, officer?" He got even more red in the face and sputtered for a moment before getting out the words "You are obstructing the street." Then louder, indicating the whole group "You are all under arrest." Then spontaneously, as a whole, we marched down the street still singing, flanked by police and deputies on all sides. When we got to the jail, several blocks away, there were a number of guards already there, clustered around the tiny, one-story white building that was the Drew jail. The high wire fence that surrounds the jail yard had its gate open wide. As we passed through
[freely? -word unintelligible], we were questioned as to name and age by one of the many men who milled about in some official capacity or another. Several minors were detained outside and no one under 18 was allowed to enter. By the time I walked into the dingy little room, 6 or 7 people were already sitting on the two narrow blanket-covered cots or standing against the wall. There were 22 of us inside the cell under the yellow glare of a naked bulb when the heavy metal door was swung shut and locked. Moving restlessly in the almost insufferable heat, we talked among ourselves in an effort to assess our situation, determine what had happened to the others, and to speculate on the possible consequences of our arrest. Conversing briefly with the three minors who were locked outside in the enclosed yard, we were assured that no one had been hurt and told that the rest of the people, who had followed us to jail in the name of freedom,
had been lectured briefly by the police and then dispersed. Someone yelled "Freedom" and we responded "Now." "What do we want?" "Freedom!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" Louder and louder, our cries filled the jail, repeating the chant. In the lull that followed, we introduced ourselves. For most of us this was our first experience in jail. A few had been in on civil rights disturbance charges, and one, Charles McLaurin, had been hauled in 22 times. No one was afraid. Determined not to be intimidated, we sang. Sang for a world of change. Sang that those who opposed change could hear us. Mostly we sang for ourselves. In unison our voices spoke of love and strength and promise. We decried the old Uncle Tom, Mr. Charlie. Segregation must go. Stood firmly, ain't going to
let nobody turn me round. Gave issuance to the future. We shall overcome. [Audio recording of chanting people - circa 50 seconds]. Outside the jail the patrol had been increased. Men in white helmets, men in no helmets, all with pistols carried on the business of the police force outside our door. It seemed as though everyone in town were a deputy. An officer asked us to step forward 4 at a time. The first four were taken to a waiting car. I tried to go with the second group but was told "Only coloreds." Uneasy at our separation from the rest, Gretchen and
I were finally led to a car, directed into the back seat, and were left alone for a few minutes. Some local youths jeered at us, making obscene gestures and comments for our benefit. Shortly the two men got into the front seat and we drove off. By the time we realized [repeated phrase] we realized - by this time we realized that we were being taken to Indianola for the night. Along the highway in Louisville, we stopped at a familiar filling station where the two men got out, put gas in the car and talked with some people there briefly. No money was exchanged. Gretchen and I were denied something to drink because "We do not have time." Along the way the two men talked loudly about the baseball situation. Gretchen and I were mostly silent. As we came to a stop in front of the Indianola County jail, Gretchen pointed out the police station and the courthouse where she had been taking local Negroes to register. Inside we were told to wait in the small hallway.
Two men came out and identified themselves as FBI agents. They prefered to talk with us individually. So while Gretchen went into an office with them, I sat on the floor in the hallway and read Killers of the Dream. After 20 minutes or so, it was my minutes or so it was my turn. I was totally my tape recorder in the corridor. The two men in the, in the office introduced themselves and the three of us sat down. I was told that they would like my account of the arrest in as much detail as possible in order to implement their information on civil rights or something to that effect. I began by stating that I could speak only for myself and would in no way involve any of the others in my narrative. At one point during the questioning, one of the men, having been silent while the other talked, questioned the authenticity of a particular instance in my statement. I had said that I stood
near the chief of police by chance. And he implied that I had done it intentionally. I repeated myself but it was obvious that he did not believe me. When he had finished questioning me about the Drew incident, he began asking more personal questions which did not seem to be relevant to the issue at hand, particularly concerning organizations which I belong to at the University of New Hampshire. After citing the civil rights community, I simply said that I would prefer [stuttering here?], I would rather not give the names of any other groups. By this time I was convinced that this was certainly not applicable to the issue at hand. Again I was asked to indicate the nature of other organizations, and when I declined to do so I was asked if the unmentioned organizations had ever come up before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The presumption here of course was unmistakable. I then refused to comment on grounds that it was
irrelevant. Shortly after this the session terminated. The two men assured me that they were only trying to help. Here, Indianola's officials took over. I was directed to leave my tape recorder in their possession until I was released. Gretchen and I were then taken across the hall and through a doorway. The metal door was locked behind us as the Negro turnkey, or attendant, led us up a rickety staircase to the second floor. In the first cell, we were startled to see other members of our group, the six white boys. Apparently they had been brought in while we were being questioned. They shared a cell with a white youth who had been arrested the previous week for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The Negroes, we learned, had all been taken to the county farm in nearby Moorhead. Gretchen and I were put into a dirty cubicle at the end of the row, together. Although the only light came from the passage outside, it was sufficient to acquaint us with our new surroundings, the
the dimensions and details of which I shall not indulge in at this time. Exhausted, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible and lay down together on the much used mattress. Very early in the morning, I awoke. A radio was blaring in front of the cell next to us, where a Negro woman had been confined for several months on a murder charge awaiting trial. From upstairs, the second stairway being right in the middle of the passage, I could hear voices of the Negro men in their cells. The next few hours went slowly. If necessary we were prepared to accept the idea that we might be there for some length. So we were rather surprised when the turnkey hustled us downstairs at 9:15. My tape recorder was returned to me and we were ushered outside to a green bus with the words Indianola County Farm in white paint on the side. The reunion of the two groups, those from the city jail and those from the farm,
initiated a spontaneous burst of song and a volley of conversation all the way to Drew. The driver, a Negro man in the prison black and white striped uniform, was silent. Separated from us by a metal screen, he looked tense and unhappy. Two official deputies drove in front of the bus to ensure our safe and speedy arrival. At the city hall, a barricade had been constructed at either end of the street. Parked at the curb, we were left to ourselves, sitting in increasing discomfort on the still vehicle for over an hour. At last, Charles McLaurin and Chris Hexter were instructed to get out of the bus. As they disappeared into [the?] homely brick building, we began once again to sing, improvising on the verses to the familiar song "Got the whole world in my hands," coming up with the impromptu lines as "Little old Drew in our hands," "Chief Lloyd in our hands,"
"Mississippi in our hands." It must be understood that these songs are a release. In this way, we are giving ourselves to the swell of feeling that rises within each of us, our only emotional outlet during a tense situation. Abruptly, Chief Lloyd boarded the bus and curtly informed us that if we continued to use his name or the name of the city in our songs, it would be an additional 500 dollar fine for harassing an officer. A few minutes later he returned, this time bringing Charles McLaurin. "I'm warning you and I want you all to hear it. It will be $500 fine. You can sing your religious songs all you want but leave my name out of it." [Audio recording of singing and Chief Lloyd -circa 180 seconds duration.] Presently, the back door of the bus opened, and a burly-looking officer asked for six people to come out. This procedure
was repeated at 20 minute intervals, until we were all standing lined against the walls of a large, nondescript conference room. At one side on a table littered with surplus white police helmets, was a pail of lukewarm drinking water and a single ladle from which we all drank eagerly, having been without water for 18 hours. In turn, we were each directed into a small adjacent chamber, crowded with local officials, seated at a long table covered with legal documents, and briefly questioned. The prosecuting attorney read the charge, posted bond, and directed a trial date to be set for July 23rd. At the completion of this lengthy process, we were herded out to the sidewalk and lined up for group photographers. Before we got back on the bus, our attorney, Mr. Maynard Omerberg, spoke with us. Under no circumstances, were we to leave the jail at night, if requested to do so. He hoped the money for bond,
totaling 4,860 dollars, could be raised and signed over by the next morning. While I had the opportunity, I gave him my tape recorder and tapes so that he could take them to Ruleville. I was reluctant to take them to Indianola again because I was afraid the recordings might be destroyed. Before going back to Indianola, we were taken on the bus over to a public restroom directly across from the Holly Grove Church, where we had been arrested the night before. Two at a time, we used the facilities. Local people who had stood by and watched the arrest now stood by and waved as we drove on. Each of us was given a sandwich for the long ride back to the jail. The night brought a welcome breeze and rest. In the morning for the second day, we smoothed our much wrinkled, not-too-fragrant clothing, patted our hair into place, and splashed a bit of water on our
faces, neck, and arms. We hoped that our bond money would arrive early, but at the same time we knew what kinds of complications could arise. Towards noon, the turnkey appeared and unlocked our cells. With the Negro girls we went downstairs and across the hall. There, Len Edwards and Dale Gronemeier, snik [that is, SNCC] Project workers. were signing releases in exchange for bond receipts. The others had gone to Moorhead to get the boys. The others had gone to Morehead to get the boards. Back in room Drew on Wednesday night. Black and white had stood together, hands crossed in the freedom circle. Black and white had gone to jail, in the name of a free America, in the name of equality, in the name of all citizens. What had actually taken place? In one sense it is simple and obvious. Twenty-five persons, white and Negro, had
chosen to go to jail, rather than to obey the worn out, tired, senseless directives of a Mississippi law officer. In a greater sense, these 25 persons were part of a complex, a unity of individuals who refuse to bow to decadence and immorality any longer. Some are people who want a decent education for their children, who want an equal opportunity to vote, who want to share the full responsibilities and privileges as citizens of the United States. The others are people who cannot be content with a country that shouts "democracy, freedom, and liberty for all," and then arbitrates who that "all" includes. People who know that they themselves are not free until all men are free. Together, these people shall build a new world in which there will be a future for each man, a world in which each man can participate without fear. Yours
in freedom and in love as always, Ellen. [Host] You have been listening to the story of two days in the life of Ellen Siegel in Mississippi, the summer of 1964. Ellen is a 19-year old Boston girl who has worked all summer in the Mississippi summer project. Her mother, Mrs. Jacob Siegel, read her daughter's letter, and the actuality material was recorded during these two days by Ellen Siegel herself. This concludes another edition of Long Hot Summer '64. This program is produced by your host, Ted Mascott, of the WGBH-FM staff in Boston. This is the Educational Radio Network. For daily reports on civil rights developments, we invite you to listen to the New England Scene, Monday through Friday at 6 o'clock. That's the New England Scene, Monday through Friday at 6:00, over WGBH-FM, 89.7
- Long, Hot Summer '64
- Episode Number
- Episode 11
- Producing Organization
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/15-1615f47p).
- In the eleventh and final report in a series of weekly news reports documenting the civil rights movement during the summer of 1964, Mrs. Jacob Siegel reads a letter from her daughter Ellen, a 19-year-old student from Boston, who had worked all summer in the movement in Mississippi. Actuality recordings made by Siegel during confrontations with police are heard. Siegel and other civil rights workers traveled from their headquarters in Ruleville, Mississippi, to the neighboring town of Drew, where voter registration canvassing had not met with success. Twenty-five workers chose to be arrested when the chief of police would not allow them to congregate in the street. Siegel was questioned by FBI agents intent on learning details of the arrest and the names of organizations to which she had belonged at her school, the University of New Hampshire, which she refused to give. After spending two days in jail in Indianola, the group was released on bond and returned to Ruleville, where they discussed the events that had occurred and their meaning. The series was produced for the Educational Radio Network.
- African Americans--Civil rights--History; Drew, Mississippi; Rulesville, Mississippi; Indianola, Mississippi
- Media type
Announcer: Mascott, Ted
Producer: Mascott, Ted
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Production Unit: Radio
Recordist: Siegel, Ellen
Speaker: Siegel, Mrs. Jacob
Writer: Mascott, Ted
Writer: Siegel, Ellen
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 64-0037-08-20-002 (WGBH Item ID)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Long, Hot Summer '64; Episode 11; Two Days in the Life of Ellen Siegel,” 1964-08-20, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 27, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1615f47p.
- MLA: “Long, Hot Summer '64; Episode 11; Two Days in the Life of Ellen Siegel.” 1964-08-20. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 27, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1615f47p>.
- APA: Long, Hot Summer '64; Episode 11; Two Days in the Life of Ellen Siegel. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-1615f47p