Sunday Focus: Locals remember push for integration in Natchez

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 6, 2014

That realization was driven home the next month when someone firebombed a building used by workers with the Council of Federated Organizations, the coalition umbrella under which SNCC, SCLC and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did much of their Civil Rights work.

“When I heard it had been bombed, I ran down there concerned because a lot of people had given information and it was in there,” Williams said. “As I was standing there, a fireman pulled the hose under me and I fell and hurt myself, I couldn’t feed myself for a month.”

In July 1964, Rayford Batieste wasn’t a part of the planning or implementation of the Freedom Summer movement. He attended a few meetings, but if Williams was a foot soldier, Batieste — who was 37 at the time — was the cavalry. He wasn’t armed, but he provided transportation.

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“When the places got bombed — wherever they were participating — I would go pick them up in my car and take them back,” he said.

George Metcalfe was president of the Natchez NAACP and had his car bombed. Metcalfe survived the bombing. (Submitted photo)

George Metcalfe was president of the Natchez NAACP and had his car bombed. Metcalfe survived the bombing. (Submitted photo)

Many of the COFO freedom workers were from the North and were accustomed to integration, and would come into the area to “soften up” the community so the local NAACP could step in and take up action as necessary, Batieste said.

Helping the COFO activists move to and from the community wasn’t an act of bravery, Batieste said, but was motivated by a desire to be of service to them.

“I thought it was something that had to be done, and nobody else was willing to do it,” he said. “It was so fearful back during that time, but I guess I was too naive to be scared.”

As the summer heat cooled down and the fall of 1964 blew into Natchez, desegregation efforts — and retaliation against them ramped up.

The Freedom Summer movement didn’t start and certainly didn’t bookend the Civil Rights effort in Natchez, but as desegregation and voting rights efforts picked up over the next year, it gave a boost to the overall support network in the area, Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum Director Darrell White said.

“COFO, SNCC, they were all in here at some point, however, it didn’t really become effective until Charles Evers came in and was working along with the establishment of the black community, the preachers and the business folk,” White said.

“Before then, not much had happened to them to bring the overall campaign or mission home, and the random acts of violence had become so commonplace that they were no longer considered newsworthy.

“But it was the firebombings of churches, the firebombings of folks homes, that really brought it to them.”

Being a part of the work that resulted in some of the first firebombings wasn’t without its scary moments, but was worth it to see those who had been disenfranchised given an opportunity to participate in the Republic and hold its leadership accountable, Williams said.

But with 50 years of retrospect on the Freedom Summer, Williams said she wants to get one message across to those who would ask about it — don’t take what it aimed to correct for granted.

“When I saw the turnout for the last election, it was so low, I was so disturbed,” she said.

“The sacrifices that were made and the blood that was shed, the sleepless nights that people had, those who are enjoying the freedoms that we fought and sacrificed for disappoint me because too few people go to the polls and vote. Bill Ware was beaten, Medgar Evers died for this, Wharlest Jackson died for this. George Metcalfe was bombed for this. Ben Chester White was killed. I don’t care who you vote for, but get out there and vote.”