The Anthology 

Down in Mississippi

By Carlyle Brown


When I was a kid I used to so much admire all those white heroes in the movies and on TV who believed in something so completely that they would die for that cause.  Hop-Along Cassidy, Gene Autrey, Roy Rodgers, and the Lone Ranger and his Indian companion Tonto, heroes who were risking their lives for the cause of Freedom and Justice and the American way.  …That was in the Fifties and little did I know that I had something close to me like that, as close to me as the color of my skin.  There was two things I seen that made me change my mind about who was and who was not a hero.  The first was how they killed 14 year old Emmett Till down in Lefore County down there in Mississippi.  They showed him right there in Jet Magazine, his face mangled like an old, dried up rotten potato ‘cause they said that he had whistled at a white woman.  Just thinking about that just fills me up with nothing but fear and hate.  …And I don’t much like that feeling.  That feeling like you’ve been cut off at the knees and you’re just a suspended torso floating in the air where there is no sense of feeling for anything but fear.  It’s just too overwhelming.  I can only fill up with so much fear and so much hate and then I got to fight.  Trouble is that any Negro who is ready to fight, on any level, has a very short life span here in these United States of America.  So you sit on that fear and you sit on that hate like a steaming volcano just ready to explode.  …I didn’t even want to think about it.  I just put it right out of my head.  I was just glad that I was a nigger in the Big Apple and wasn’t a nigger in Mississippi.  …But, then I seen something on the TV, on the news, that made me change, my thinking once again.  It was a little girl going to school, a little black girl going to school.  It was her first day.  She was six years old going to the first grade at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans of all places.  But she wasn’t just going to school, she was integrating that school, escorted by Federal Marshals no less, and every day all around her there was this mob of red faced angry crackers yelling at her and jeering at her and threatening her life.  And I’m wondering to myself how can she do it?  How could she contain all that fear in that little body?  How could that little girl possibly put up a wall against all that hate?  How could a child so little so young have such mastery over her self?  They say her momma told her to pray for them crackers ‘cause what they was doing to her was the same thing they did to Jesus.  I don’t know about all that, but the one thing I do know from watching that little girl on the glow of that TV was that she wasn’t just going to that school for herself she was doing that for me, for all of us, for all Black people.  And seeing that little girl going through all her struggles and still standing up, made me suddenly realize that she had just changed my life forever.….So now I’m going down, down to Mississippi, down in Mississippi where a Negro is lower than a dog, his life ain’t worth a nickel, and he better not complain about it.  That’s what I’m doing out here at Western College in Oxford, Ohio of all places preparing and training to do that.  Training with SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Black Folks, and we going down to Mississippi to register Negroes to vote no matter what them crackers say.  I’m going to prove to myself that there’s a light shining in me just like there was in that little girl.  The only problem is that our leaders, they say we got to be nonviolent which isn’t natural.  Why the first law of nature is that most natural and absolute of laws, the law of self-defense.  But the SNCC people say if I’m going to be with the program, I got to get with the program.  They say I got to learn it, got to practice it like a discipline.  Learn it like it was an instinct.  ‘Cause you can’t fake it.  It’s got to be real.  They say, you’ve got to give up that power within you and surrender it to love.