restricted access 14. A Siege Mentality
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~ 14 ~ A Siege Mentality One has to search the repressive codes of the most loathsome Communist and Fascist tyrannies to match Louisiana’s latest device for trying to curb the integrationist movement. This is to charge active advocates of civil rights who run afoul of the law with “Criminal anarchy.” —“louisiana lunacy,” editorial, New York Post, march 16, 1962 T he importance of media coverage to the growth of the civil rights movement cannot be overstated. Transmitting the immediate drama of sit-ins, marches, and arrests to millions of readers, viewers, and listeners, it was the fulcrum around which the movement turned. People who had never thought about the hardship and degradation brought on by segregation now had these realities broadcast directly into their homes. The consciousness-raising we had worked to bring to one southerner at a time at the Wisconsin human relations seminar was now being brought to the masses. Once we figured out that this was our movement and we could call the shots, we staged events and confrontations—like our attempt to register for classes—pickets, or boycott rallies in order to be ensured of media coverage. We realized that our only protection, such as it was, against limitless retribution was the whirring and clicking cameras and the scribbling pencils of reporters. On Saturday, January 27, we held another rally from the balcony of the house on Swan Street, just twenty feet from the campus, overlooking what was considered the gateway to Southern University. “We cannot abandon the movement!” I hollered in my most rousing voice to a crowd of about four hundred. “On behalf of the expelled students, for Ronnie Moore and Weldon Rougeau, who are still in jail, and for all of you who have marched and who have gone to jail and who have fought to end segregation in this city, we must not give in! We are calling on you today to a siege mentality 127 boycott classes on Monday. Do not attend any classes or university activities until every student is readmitted. Do not bend to the will of the segregationists . If a boycott means Southern will be closed again, then, hell, let’s close it. Let’s close it rather than give the bigots a victory. We have let people trample on our freedom too long!” Several people spoke on and off throughout the day, trying to summon up the old energy. We were deadly serious and brutally intense in that heated moment. But it wasn’t a self-serving intensity staged for our own aggrandizement . We weren’t trying to be paragons hogging the spotlight; we hardly had time to catch the news or read the papers ourselves. In a moment-tomoment , day-to-day sense, we didn’t see what we were doing as particularly courageous or self-sacrificing. We just did what we did because it was, quite simply and honestly, all we could do. We had no idea if our efforts were having any effect. State police and sheriff’s deputies still owned the campus. Black-clad officers manned security checkpoints as they had since the university had been shut down: The university imposed stringent curfews that were rigidly enforced by uniformed police. Not surprisingly, the student body was afraid, and with good cause. On Monday, January 29, the State Times ran another long story under the headline “Classes Are ‘Normal’ at Southern U”: An attempt to promote general student boycott of classes at Southern University appeared this morning to be a failure. Early morning classes appeared to be well-attended and one university spokesman noted that class attendance seemed to be about normal. Meanwhile, Dr. Felton G. Clark, president of Southern University, was contacted by the State Times today for comment on the signing of a petition by 102 faculty members calling for a “constructive reappraisal of the present policy” in dealing with student demonstrations. But Dr. Clark was reluctant to discuss the issue. He said “anybody had a right to express his opinions.” But the president added when asked if the petition would mean any further discussion of a policy reappraisal that might readmit expelled students, “I really don’t know much about [the petition].” Clark was asked whether he would seek the readmission of the students as a result of the petition, but said he could not answer that question. He said this was a matter of policy established by the State Board of Education and the university. He concluded, “I think I...


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