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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 15, 2024


The nightly meeting at the church was the most important part of all the action. It always began late, featured rallying speeches, tales of the day, news of the greater movement, future activities and more non-violent reinforcement. And most of all music –– we rocked the rafters every night. The young people who were the heart of the movement were such terrific singers, even writing their own songs, that they toured the north as a choir to raise money. Many of them continued their education in northern schools under our auspices when the movement left Williamston (the way collaborators were brought out of Vietnam).
The northern students who went into the south to work in the movement were very idealistic and with the innocence of youth, totally convinced that we were invincible and immortal (and of course, so morally correct that the enemy would fall before our wisdom!) Slowly it dawned on most of us that we were definitely not welcome there and in fact, we were in a lot of danger.
One night, Brad and I were leaning against the front of the church in the dark, smoking and talking and waiting for the meeting to begin. I suddenly became aware of something hitting the wall behind me and we both quickly realized we were being shot at from across the road. They were using the glow of our cigarettes as the target. We temporarily gave up smoking and permanently gave up standing out there.
Over the course of the year I participated in the movement the following incidents occurred: (and were never prosecuted)
Girls going house to house to register voters were followed by two young men in a white convertible who leveled a shotgun at them.
A local girl and a white northern student had lye thrown on them as they were walking.
Students sitting in at the Presbyterian Church were bodily carried out and dumped in the street.
A northern minister’s wife had a brickbat thrown into her lap through the van window as she was driving with her children.
Windshields on three movement vehicles were shattered and tires were punctured. (Local dealers never seemed to have these items in stock.)
Two taxis we used were rammed through the radiators with a trailer hitch.
Several times carloads of Klan members in full regalia would drive by homes where we were eating together.
The sheriff blocked the sidewalk twirling his rifle as a trio of young women made their way to the church. (I am absolutely sure I will live a few years less because of that incident.)
Windows were shot out in five homes. (Toward the end we had an group of local black men who were armed and patrolled the areas where we stayed at night.)
A black northern student was hit on the head with a large stone.
A van returning us from a court appearance in a nearby city was run off the road, bounced across a ravine and landed in a field upside down with me hanging from my seat belt.
Harassment and intimidation were the major weapons of the power structure and the Klan. The biggest danger was to the locals who lost their jobs, had their homes firebombed, their cars repossessed and continued to be discriminated against after we went back to the north. There were still cross burning in Williamston in 1964 and lynching and church bombings were frequent enough in the south to deter even the most courageous black person from actively participating in the movement.
If you had any doubt that this was a real war, a closer look at some incidents and tactics dispelled that. My favorite ‘‘insider view’’ was my observations one evening as the terror tactics escalated. I saw Golden confer with three young men who quickly ate their dinner and were not seen until several hours later when they entered the back of the church and gave Golden a ‘‘high sign’’. The next morning the local paper detailed the embarrassment of two young men who had been ambushed on a country road, forced to strip to their underwear and had the tires on their white convertible slashed.
Non-violence is a wonderful philosophy but occasionally you need to explain it in other terms because some people find it hard to grasp. The following week I heard Golden explain to Attorney General Robert Kennedy on the phone, that if things didn’t start happening real soon, he didn’t know how much longer he could keep the peace. “After all there are many people who don’’t believe in non-violence and they tend to take matters into their own hands.” Yea………….
Golden Frinks was (hopefully still is) a fascinating person and a good example of the hundreds of young black leaders who birthed integration in the United States. He literally ate, drank and slept FREEDOM and it must have been sufficient because he seldom ate, drank or slept and was able to get his ‘troops’ to keep up with him.
On Easter Sunday, 1964, a caravan of cars (now we travel only in groups which slows us down a lot to change old tires or refill leaking radiators) headed for Chapel Hill, N.C. We were supposed to be there at three to help break the fast that five people had been having on the lawn of the post office to oppose public accommodation actions. We arrived at 4:30, Golden gave a speech at the church and then we formed a double line and marched about 15 blocks – 170 people – to the post office in perfect silence. There we sang and Golden said a few more words all under the watchful eye of a CBS camera.
At 7 p.m. we drove to Raleigh where we pulled up outside the Governor’s mansion. Golden went in to see him (on Easter Sunday!). We waited outside in the cars for about two hours. We were starving and someone found a couple bags of food left from the deliveries the day before. Like animals we opened the cans with a screwdriver and ate beans and canned ham and tuna with our fingers.
Meanwhile Golden got to see the Governor by sheer determination. He told the governor that unless we got some police protection in Williamston we were going to camp sixty strong on the governor’s lawn. The governor said that we could stay in the prison until his office was open on Tuesday morning and then he would see us. But Golden replied that we didn’t want to stay in comfort and when the governor said that maybe about a dozen of us could stay on the lawn, Golden said that we were a jealous group and if one stayed we would all stay!!
Of course, this camping on the lawn was all news to us. When Golden finally came out with the governor’s assistants and the press and announced to us that we would not camp here, we were the most baffled group and luckily it was dark so no one could see the shocked looks on our faces. After a much needed bathroom stop we headed back to Williamston for a midnight Easter dinner.
Golden got the additional police presence but the terrorist harassment continued and SCLC withdrew from Williamston a few months later considering it counter-productive to continue. When I returned on a trip south in 1979, the police chief was black and a Cuban family from New Jersey owned the Shamrock Hotel and Restaurant.

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