restricted access 18. Provocateur
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~ 18 ~ Provocateur When the object is to raise the permanent condition of a people, small means do not merely produce small effects; they produce no effect at all. —john stuart mill T he Northern Student Movement (NSM) was led by Peter Countryman, a quiet, determined, white Yale student who earned respect from both whites and blacks. Along with his wife, Joan—a black Philadelphian and niece of the black leader Reverend Leon Sullivan—and another white Yale student, Tom Gilhool, they ran a smoothly efficient operation organizing northern campuses to support the southern movement. Using foundation grant money, they campaigned to educate northern students on racial problems in the North and South, to help them organize protests and boycotts in their own communities, and to recruit volunteers to spend vacation periods in the South working with SNCC and other southern-based groups. I spent several weekends at Yale attending NSM-sponsored conferences that fall of 1962. At the New Haven campus, a utopia away from the tough and dangerous battlefields of southern protest, young and old veterans of the civil rights movement shared information and strategies, fraternized, and sang the movement songs “We Shall Overcome,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Kum Bah Yah,” and “Oh Freedom,” which had by now become as comforting as a favorite blanket. Our gatherings often provided striking contrasts, as dungaree- and denim-clad SNCC volunteers who had traveled up from the South dialogued earnestly while casually draped across the carved oak chairs and benches of Yale’s medieval-style chapel. Fannie Lou Hamer electrified the hall with her stirring songs and moving testimonials of struggle. John Lewis, Jim Forman, Cordell Regan, and the SNCC Freedom Singers blended easily with black strategists from the Northeast like Tim Jenkins and Bill provocateur 157 Strickland. The sense of spiritual communion and uplift I gained from these sessions was invaluable. They served to refocus my thoughts and recharge me with the excitement of moral purpose, of sharing a group vision or dream. I started thinking that perhaps an affiliate student movement group on the Clark campus would help unity and morale there. At least it would help my morale, if no one else’s. So I convinced about a dozen students to join with me and optimistically set about forming the Worcester Student Movement for Civil Rights, later to be known as WSM. Our goals were to support the programs of the NSM and to focus on civil rights problems in Worcester. Before the Christmas holidays, we had drawn up a constitution articulating our purpose as being “to create a greater awareness and understanding of present social problems and to work toward the removal of social inequities.” We laid out the duties of our officers and executive committee, and the rules governing our board of community advisors, our affiliations, membership, and programs. We pledged all monies and property, should WSM be discontinued , to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta. We began making plans to implement a high school tutorial program the following semester and perhaps to start a lecture series, bringing in key spokesmen for different movement factions. Civil rights had come home to Clark. I had become the executive director of my own civil rights organization . Suddenly Worcester was no longer a sleepy northeastern town, but a fertile testing ground for new ideas and new approaches to achieving racial justice. Somehow, while no one was looking, I had metamorphosed from a cute, exotic celebrity into the burr under everyone’s saddle. I was back in my element and thrilled to be there. Generally speaking, the faculty and administration were, at least in the beginning, supportive—that is to say, they did not stand in our way. I think they were sophisticated enough to be pleased to see a new and deeper dimension of student concern and activity emerging at Clark. Given the tenor of the times and the fact that America was coming of age in terms of its social consciousness on the racial front, WSM seemed perfectly timed to pull Clark into a new era. We were the forerunners of real student activism on the Clark campus just as similar offshoots of NSM were the forerunners of activism on other campuses. And throughout the Northeast, this activism was booming. I am sure that, at least at the beginning, the faculty and administration at Clark were pleased to see our concern and our passion. Moreover, they probably did some patting each other on the back for daring...


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