Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream

David J. Garrow

DEEP IN OUR HEARTS: Nine White Wmen i~f the Freedom Movement. By Constance Curry, Joan C. Browning, Dorothy Dawson J3urlage, Penny Patch, Theresa Del Pozzo, Sue Thrasher, Elaine DeLott Baker, Emrnie ~chrader Adarns, and Casey Hayden. Univ. of Georgia Press. 400 pp. $29.95 FREEDOM'S DAUGHTERS: The Unsung Heroines ofthe Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970.

Read Time:
10m 1sec

Current Books

ideas on race, slavery, and Reconstruction. His last words, Taylor says, following the old Douglas Southall Freeman story, were "strike the tent." But the more skeptical and penetrating historian Fellman observes simply that Lee had suffered a stroke two weeks earlier and was almost certainly incapable of speech at all. In the college chapel, he adds, a statue was soon erected, sculpted "from white, white marble."

>Max Byrd, a professor of English at the University of California, Davis, is the author most recently of Grant: A Novel (2000).

Requiem for a Dream

Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement.

By Constance Curry, Joan C. Browning,
Dorothy Dawson Burlage, Penny Patch,
Theresa Del Pozzo, Sue Thrasher,
Elaine DeLott Baker, Emmie Schrader Adams,
and Casey Hayden. Univ. of Georgia Press. 400 pp. $29.95

The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement
from 1830 to 1970.

By Lynne Olson. Scribner. 460 pp. $30

Reviewed by David J. Garrow

For years, historians slighted the contributions of women to the civil rights movement. It was the women of black Montgomery who instigated the famous mu ni ci p a l bus boycott of 1955–56, for instance, but until the late 1980s historians credited the city’s black ministers and other male activists. Although black women have been the most overlooked, scholars have also given short shrift to white women—including the idealistic young white women who worked in the early 1960s for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the most important if not the most heralded of the southern civil rights groups. Now nine of those women, led by Sandra Cason "Casey" Hayden, have joined together to publish thei r i n dividual recollections. Deep in Our Hearts i s a richly emotional and sometimes quite moving document, a tale of optimism, hope, and, u l t i m a t e l y, di s i l l u s i o n m e n t . "Our book," they write, "is about girls growing up in a revolutionary time." Most of them became active in SNCC in their late teens or early twenties. They found themselves in a small, close-knit, and warmly supportive organization, albeit one in which most white women were assigned office work rather than field organizing—in dangerous rural counties, the presence of white female activists would have further inflamed violent segregationi s t s .

That loving and supportive world of interr a cial harmony began to deteriorate in mi d 1964. SNCC and other movement groups recruited hundreds of new college students, mostly northern and primarily white, to help sta f f the massive Mississippi Summer Project. They

o r g a nized freedom schools, registered voters, and mounted a powerful challenge to the sta t e ’s all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The new volunteers were enthusiastically received by most black Mississippians. Emmie Schrader Adams, in one of the book’s richest chapters, quotes famed Mississippi activist Fa n nie Lou Hamer as saying that the "big thing about the summer of ’64 was the people learned white folks were h u m a n ."

As the locals grew more understanding, though, blacks on the SNCC staff seemed to

1 1 2 Wilson Quarterly

g r ow more di s tant from their white colleagues. Adams asks, "So if in [Hamer’s] opinion local people had their first opportunity in the summer of 1964 to rub shoulders with nonraci s t whites, why is it that the same experience caused the staff not only to resent and dislike the new whites, but even to turn on their old white comrades-in-arms? The local people di s c o vered that some whites are different, just as some staff discovered that all whites are fund a m e n tally alike?" In Adams’s view, the "main problem with whites in the movement was that there were suddenly too many of them."

SN C C ’s internal problems reached well beyond racial tensions. To Casey Hayden, staff morale eroded because the organization lacked a clear strategy for the future: " We were at the end of all our current programs. We had no plans for after the summer." The Summer Project ended in disappointment—at the behest of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City rejected the movement’s integrated delegation in favor of Mississippi’s traditional all-white delegation—and the atmosphere within SNCC turned even sourer. In November, SNCC activists gathered at Waveland on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to plot a new strategy. The Waveland meeting is best remembered for a single word that future SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael uttered one evening, when a biracial group of men and women were drinking and joking on the Waveland pier. Prompted by a paper anonymously written by Hayden and her friend Mary King, part of the day’s formal di s c u s s i o n had addressed incipiently femi nist qu e s t i o n s about the position of women in the freedom movement. Carmichael, in a remark that would live in scholarly infamy, joked that the real position of women in the movement was " p r o n e ." D e f e n ding Carmichael, Theresa Del Po z z o argues in her essay that it "is a funny line today, and it was then, and no one took it any other way. E s p e cially not Stokely, Casey, or me." Casey Hayden concurs: "Stokely sounds like a sexist, pure and simple, to any outsider. But he was quite the opposite." The laughter that greeted his remark expressed "our release and relief at the exposure of sexuality, sexist attitudes, and the p a p e r ’s pomposity."

Although no one knew it at the time, Waveland marked an ending. "That night on the pier was my final experience after a SNCC meeting of black and white joi ni n g together to laugh, to touch, to bond, and to comfort each other," writes Hayden. The Waveland meeting aimed to restructure SNCC, but, as she notes, "nothing was r e s o l v e d ." SNCC became a centrally controlled organization that soon fell into decline. At the same time, the organi z a t i o n abandoned its nonviolent, interracial roots in favor of Carmi c h a e l ’s call for Black Pow e r.

For these white activists, SNCC’s di s s o l ution was as much emotional tragedy as political t r a g e d y. Penny Patch writes of her "anguish" over the growth of black separatist sentiment in the

o r g a nization. She left in 1965, feeling desolate and betrayed. Hayden writes, "Even now when I give talks about the movement I weep, sometimes breaking down completely. My tears are for that loss and for the innocent girl I was."

Asecond new book, Lynne Olson’s broadly inclusive Freedom’s Daugh ters, allows one to compare the SNCC w o m e n ’s firsthandaccounts with a sympathetic and experienced journalist’s evaluation of the w o m e n ’s experiences. Olson, a former reporter for the Associated Press and the Baltimore Sun, provides a valuably comprehensive civil rights h i s t o r y. She emphasizes the contributions of black women, but her extensive treatment of SNCC ensures that most of the contributors to the Hayden volume appear in Freedom’s D a u g h t e r s t o o . Characterizing SNCC as "unprecedented" among civil rights groups for "the way it welcomed women," Olson stresses that women in the organization "were leaders in all but title and outside recognition," while acknowledging that white women lacked the clout of thei r black counterparts. The white women who worked with SNCC in the early years, she notes, were mostly southerners, often ini t i a l l y naive about the dangers and obstacles faci n g them. They weren’t naive about everything, though. Penny Patch forthrightly acknowledges that Carmi c h a e l ’s "prone" joke had a grain of truth: "We were ready, black and white, to break all the ta b o o s ."

Spring 2001 1 1 3

Current Books

O l s o n ’s account, like the essays by the women themselves, describes the emotional devastation that followed SNCC’s decline and implosion. The feeling of loss, of "searching for the kind of meaning and fulfillment" of the early years of the movement, has haunted many alumni, black as well as white, men as well as women. As Casey Hayden confesses to Olson, "It’s hard to sense that you’ve peaked in your twenties and that nothing is going to touch this afterw a r d s ."

>David J. Garrow, Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory University Law School, is the author of Bearing the Cross (1986), a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which won a Pulitzer Prize, and the editor of The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson (1987).

Name That Tune


Edited by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball. Pantheon. 706 pp. $39.50

Reviewed by James Morris

What good is a song

If the words just don’t belong?

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans didn’t get

around to asking that question in a song

( " To Each His Own") until 1946, but the sentiment was hardly new then, and it hasn’t aged a day since. The common wisdom is that words and music are inseparable, a ta k e n - f o r granted couple like love and marriage, horse and carriage. And yet, the music of many a song lives without its lyrics. So how would the words to those same songs fare if sent orphaned into the world? On the evidence of this hefty brief for independence, the lyrics on their own would have an up-and-down time of it, and a lot of them would go hungry. But that’s not to say they don’t deserve a shot at freedom.

Gottlieb and Kimball gather the words of more than a thousand American and English popular songs written during the first 75 years of the 20th century as if the sum of them made a new species of Norton poetry anthology. And throughout the collection, the lyrics have the look of poetry. T h e y ’re in slivers down the page:

What’ll I do

When you

Are far aw a y

And I am blue

What’ll I do?

(Irving Berlin) Or they grow to Whitmanesque width:

And list’nin to some big out-a-town jasper hearin’ him tell about horse race gamblin’ ( M e r e dith Willson)

Or they find distinctive cadences in bet w e e n :

My ship has sails that are made of silk—
The decks are trimmed with gold—
And of jam and spice
T h e r e ’s a paradi s e
In the hold.
(Ira Gershwin)

But though they may look like poetry from a distance, they mostly lack good poetry’s denseness and complication. Of course, they don’t need to be poetry. They’re pliant and coll o quial and always meant to be only half of a whole. The stronger the claim of lyrics to poetic independence, the less comfortable they’ll be making the accommodation to mu s i c .

Poetry—even poetry that may fall comfortably and intelligibly on the ear when reci t e d — makes its first impression on the page and a l l ows a reader to linger over its complicating devices. Lyrics are written to be heard and apprehended more or less immedi a t e l y, which is why the emotions in them are so direct and s i m p l e — s i m p l e - minded even ("Tea for Tw o ," for goodness’ sake). But wrap what is spare in

1 1 4 Wilson Quarterly

More From This Issue