December 17, 2016
..... had to write a paper for class recently on an aspect of the civil rights movement that I had little knowledge of before doing the research....... here it is......
History 444 – History of the American South
David Eric SWG
Professor Robert J. Professor
Freedom Village and Protests in Rural Haywood and Fayette County
The movement to register black voters across the southern United States met with great opposition from whites. Intimidation, violence, and bureaucratic ploys were all used to both deny voter registration for blacks and to terrorize those blacks who were fortunate enough to have navigated the Jim Crow hurdles and successfully registered. The fight for civil rights and the protests took on many forms. Bus boycotts, sit-ins, and marching typified the urban protests. However, political protests in the rural counties were less organized than in the cities. The civil rights protests in Haywood and Fayette Counties took the unfamiliar shape of the black community literally coming to the aid of displaced blacks who had faced eviction by daring to register to vote. Their protest was simply to stay in the county and refuse to be intimidated into leaving. This unique form of political protest that was created out of necessity was a far more effective tool for the rural blacks of Haywood and Fayette Counties than bus boycotts or sit-ins.
In 1960, as southern blacks began to register to vote in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, blacks across Fayette County were forcibly evicted from their white-owned farms in an effort to force them out of the county. This forced eviction resulted in the creation of a tent city springing up on the land owned by a black farmer named Shepard Towles.1 Prior to the forced eviction, whites in Fayette County had placed an oil embargo on black sharecroppers and had refused services at many local stores.2 White citizens of the county who were sympathetic to the
1Jimmy Hart, Jacque Hillman, Tent City, (The Jackson Sun), p. 7.
2Jimmy Hart, Jacque Hillman, Tent City, (The Jackson Sun). p. 7.
civil rights of blacks were also denied services. The oil embargo was only broken later that year when the NAACP encouraged its 350,000 national members to boycott Gulf, Texaco, Esso, and Amoco oil companies.3
The idea of the new tent city, or Freedom Village as it became known, was a relatively unique form of political protest. Unlike the educated middleclass blacks from the larger towns who drew support from the NAACP and other organizations, the plight of rural blacks in Fayette and Haywood Counties was largely a struggle of uneducated and poor blacks with little outside assistance. This lack of support changed once the evictions began and blacks flocked to Freedom Village and other camps. Their plight, in often dire conditions, soon began to draw national attention. During the month of June, 1961, President Kennedy “authorized shipments of surplus food” to the beleaguered residents of the tent city.4 As news of the lack of sanitation and food in the tent cities spread, other organizations began lining up to assist the rural blacks.
The creation of Freedom Village reflected a new twist in the idea of what freedom meant and what form political protest could take. A brochure from Operation Freedom, a Civil Rights organization that became deeply involved with Fayette and Haywood Counties during this time, explains in its brochure how “Freedom Village” is actually a form of protest: “Asserting Freedom in Montgomery had meant riding in any part of a bus. In Little Rock it had meant going to school unsegregated. In North Carolina it had meant eating at lunch counters. In Fayette and Haywood it means registering to vote.”5 Black voters refused to leave the counties upon eviction and protested in one of the few ways that poor, rural blacks could. They stayed in Freedom Village and remained inside the county so that they could vote.
3 Jimmy Hart, Jacque Hillman, Tent City, (The Jackson Sun), p. 7.
4 Jimmy Hart, Jacque Hillman, Tent City, (The Jackson Sun), p. 9.
5 A Call for Help Brochure, (University of Tennessee Special Collection), p. 2.
Freedom Village and the other tent cities unintentionally created a different and more positive dynamic between blacks and law enforcement in Fayette County. Blacks on remote sharecropper farms were isolated and vulnerable to racial terrorism that was often overlooked by the sheriff. By being evicted from their farms and moving to Freedom Village, blacks were suddenly placed together in a tightly knit community. This allowed rural blacks to be seen as a more cohesive political and social force in Fayette County by 1961. In July, 1961, an unidentified shooter fired shots into Freedom Village in a blatant act of terrorism. The matter was reported to the local sheriff who vowed that “they would not be bothered again by the perpetrators.”6 This prompted one observer to point out that “the sheriff now recognized the black population as his constituents and as citizens of the county.7 The protest that had created Freedom Village was beginning to change the lives of blacks in a positive way.
The evictions that created the Freedom Village protest also drew national attention to the evils of sharecropping. In a July, 1961 report of Ohio ministers visiting Haywood and Fayette counties, Virgie Hortenstine pointed out the racism of the sharecropping system. While investigating the evictions, she quoted a local minister, “if I had a ram I could evict my sharecropper if he registered and I didn’t like it. I could evict him if I didn’t like the way he parted his hair.”8 The shocking statements of a white minister exposed the insidious nature of sharecropping and how it as a system allowed white landowners to control their sharecroppers through intimidation and threats of eviction.
6Early Williams, Tent City: Stories of Civil Rights in Fayette County, Tennessee, (University of Memphis), p. 2.
7Early Williams, Tent City: Stories of Civil Rights in Fayette County, Tennessee, (University of Memphis), p. 2.
8Virgie Hortenstine, A Report On Visits With Eight Ministers in Fayette and Haywood Counties, Tennessee July 1-3, 1961, (University of Tennessee Special Collection), p. 4.
The publicity of Freedom Village spread far beyond the rural Tennessee counties where it had begun. As the civil rights movement in Haywood and Fayette Counties grew over time, more and more help came. Hortenstine, in a report date December, 1963, points out those students from Oberlin College, Wooster College, Western College, the University of Michigan, Swarthmore College, Earlham College, the University of Illinois, Shiner College, and Mary Holmes Junior College who had all arrived to help local blacks construct the Fayette County Civic Center. These sixteen volunteers were from Mississippi, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. These young white men “ate and slept in homes of local Negroes,” and they shared the workload alongside the local blacks.9
Other civil rights organizations also supported the Freedom Village movement and the voter registration campaign in Fayette and Haywood Counties. Operation Freedom was created as a direct response to the suffering in the tent cities. Unlike other civil rights organizations, Operation Freedom’s main aim was in providing the black residents of Freedom Village with direct economic aid. It raised funds. Clarence Jordan, an Operation Freedom board member described their work as the “Red Cross of the civil rights movement, going immediately to the scene where the tornado of racial turbulence has unleashed fury.”10 Most blacks in the tent cities had been evicted just after harvesting their cotton crops and were left financially destitute. Due to white businesses boycotting black patrons and the gasoline embargo, many in Freedom Village were living in deep poverty. Operation Freedom was created due to this set of emergency conditions.
9Virgie Hortenstine, News from Fayette County Workcamps, (University of Memphis), p. 1.
10Judith A Blackburn, Robert M Coughlin, Building the Beloved Community: Maurice McCrackin's Life for Peace and Civil Rights, (Philadelphia: Temple UP), p. 10.
While Freedom Village was created out of necessity in the face of radical injustice racial violence in western Tennessee, it did create moments of racial accord among some sympathetic southern whites. Talmo Johnson, a white landowner from a neighboring county stepped up when he saw the plight of the tent city blacks on television. He offered a few black families work on his farm, “built them a house, bought them a refrigerator and a cookstove, a washing machine, and a deep freeze.”11 Johnson understood that the only thing that the blacks had done wrong was in having the audacity to register to vote in a society dominated by bigoted whites. Johnson regretted nothing in assisting the Freedom Village blacks, and added that they were hard workers and good people.
The variety of documents investigated during the research of the Freedom Village and the battle for civil rights in Haywood and Fayette Counties has ranged from newspaper articles, to a biography of Maurice McCrackin. The University of Memphis’ website provided written materials, eye-witness accounts, and video interviews of those involved directly with the life in the tent cities. The archival website of The Jackson Sun contained many articles and an overarching view of the civil rights movement as a whole. The Carl and Anne Braden papers gave a wonderful insight into the planning and implementation of agitation for political change as well as a view to the creation of Operation Freedom and its response to Freedom Village. Through all of these documents a view of west Tennessee’s place in the broader civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s was realized.
Political protest for civil rights was a necessary tool for ensuring the end of segregation and the Jim Crow system of southern political control. It took many forms, from sit-ins and marches, to the use of boycotts and other economic means. In Haywood and Fayette Counties, it took the form
11 Jimmy Hart, Jacque Hillman, Tent City, (The Jackson Sun), p. 9.
of simply refusing to leave the county after being evicted. This refusal, or rather, this embracing of the idea that the only way to affect change was to vote, forced rural blacks to create a tent city of impoverished but stalwart blacks. Faced with violence, embargo of fuel and food, refusal of loans, and various other intimidations, the Freedom Village stands as a unique protest in the American civil rights movement. The tent city proved to be an effective weapon for social change. Unlike urban blacks who were better educated and wealthier, blacks in Haywood and Fayette Counties were woefully poor and uneducated. Their protest, the very act of banding together at Freedom Village, was the only real way to protest their ill-treatment that they had. Although it was created first out of necessity, over time the tent city allowed the black community as a whole to become a voice for social change.
Blackburn, Judith A., and Robert M. Coughlin. Building the Beloved Community: Maurice McCrackin's Life for Peace and Civil Rights. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1991. Print.
"Carl and Anne Braden Papers All Items." Carl and Anne Braden Papers All Items. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
"The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories." Carl and Anne Braden Papers - The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories (The American Folklife Center, Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
Hortenstine, Virgie. "Pageviewer." Pageviewer. University of Tennessee Special Collections Library, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
Hoskins Library. "Volunteer Voices: The Growth of Democracy in Tennessee." Volunteer Voices: The Growth of Democracy in Tennessee. Knoxville, Tenn. : University of Tennessee Special Collections Library | 2007-03-20, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
"Tent City Timeline: The Civil Rights Struggle in Fayette County - October 1960 - Civil Rights - A Jackson Sun Special Report." Tent City Timeline: The Civil Rights Struggle in Fayette County - October 1960 - Civil Rights - A Jackson Sun Special Report. The Jackson Sun, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
"Welcome to the Tent City Website." Home - Tent City: Stories of Civil Rights in Fayette County, Tennessee - University of Memphis. University of Memphis, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016.
December 15, 2016
..... hello, all..... just a quick note to say that we're still kicking it here at The Compound....... I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year...... and if you're of a different religious stripe than that, well, have a happy holiday season.......
.... more later.......
It is good to hear you are doing well. I think of you now and then and wonder what is going on in your life. Have a great holiday season!Hell raised by Lou on December 15, 2016 10:03 AM
.... thanks, Lou..... we're doing well..... I enrolled at the University of Tennessee as a mature student and I am currently a junior studying for a degree in history.......
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