Baton Rouge Student Protests (Dec 1961 - Jan 1962)
See Baton Rouge Sit-ins & Student Strike for previous events.
With the assistance of New Orleans CORE leaders Dave Dennis, Doris Castle, Julia Aaron and Jerome Smith, Southern University (SU) students Ronnie Moore, Weldon Rougeau and Patricia Tate begin organizing a
Present-day file photo of Freedom Rider Jerome Smith.
new CORE chapter at SU in October. Early in December, they ask Baton Rouge's major downtown merchants to negotiate with them regarding segregation. The stores refuse to meet with them, and CORE launches a merchant boycott similar to those underway in New Orleans.
In mid-December, 14 CORE activists - 7 men and 7 women - are arrested for picketing in support of the boycott. Among them are Theda Ambrose, Jarvis Thompson, Janetta Gilliam, Claudia Smith, and Beverly Redford. All 14 are incarcerated in East Baton Rouge Parish Jail for a month until their release in mid-January. In immediate response to their arrest, 3,500 Black students attend a protest rally at SU. On December 15th, 1,200 students march five miles to the state capitol to protest the arrests and segregation. The cops attack the marchers with dogs and tear-gas. More than 50 students are arrested.
With the other CORE leaders in jail, D'Army Bailey leads 3,000 students on a march to the campus residence of SU President Felton Clark who promises not to expel students arrested on sit-ins as he had done the previous year. The next day the Louisiana Board of Education bans all student demonstrations - on and off campus - at all Louisiana colleges. Clark closes SU four days early for the Christmas break.
Early in January 1962, U.S. Federal Court Judge Gordon West - a segregationist appointed by Kennedy - issues a sweeping injunction against CORE banning all forms of protest of any kind. When students return to SU in mid-January, they discover that seven CORE leaders have been expelled. A thousand students protest the expulsions. At a faculty convocation next day, SU President Clark denounces the demonstrators as "hoodlums" and "anarchists."
State police troopers occupy the campus to quell any further protests and 40 more students are expelled. Judge West's unconstitutional injunction is not overturned by a higher court until 1964. The combination of repression by the state police, a Federal court injunction, and mass expulsion of students who participate in the Movement succeeds in suppressing student activism at Southern University until protests again erupt in 1969.
After their expulsions, some CORE leaders become full-time field secretaries, and other expelled SU students are hired for voter registration projects with money distributed by the Voter Education Project (VEP).
See "Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana for continuation.
For more information on the Baton Rouge Civil Rights Movement:
for partial list of books.
Web: Justice (CORE ~ Online Archive California)
New Orleans Merchant Boycotts & Sit-ins (1960-1963)
There are three major Black colleges in New Orleans - Dillard University, a private college; Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA), a venerable Catholic institution; and the newly opened Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), which is state-financed and subject to the Louisiana Board of Education and legislature.
In 1960, close to 40% of New Orleans' population is Black. The city's main shopping-commercial avenue is Canal Street where all the stores are white-owned with segregated facilities - Blacks can buy goods but not eat
A sit-in at Woolworth's undertaken by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), September 9, 1960. Seated left to right: Jerome Smith; Ruth Despenza; Joyce Taylor; Hugh Murray; Archie Allen; William Harrell. All were arrested. "We were all convicted of a felony," Murray says, "and it took several years for the New Orleans sit-in cases to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where the charges were thrown out." (Murray, email to Flood, August 2, 2012)
at the lunch counters, the restrooms are segregated, and so on. There is also a Black shopping-commercial district - the second largest in the city after Canal Street - along Dryades Street. Here the stores are also white-owned, but the shoppers are almost all Black. Blacks can use the facilities, yet except for an occasional janitor all of the employees and managers are white. Many of the white Dryades Street store-owners are Jews who are themselves prevented from owning stores on prestigious Canal Street by the same white power-structure that enforces segregation against Blacks.
In late 1959, Rev. Avery Alexander, Rev. A.L. Davis (SCLC), and Dr. Henry Mitchell (NAACP) organize the Consumers' League of Greater New Orleans (CLGNO) to fight employment discrimination by the Dryades Street merchants. Said Reverend Alexander: "There were a hundred stores and there were no Blacks clerking in any of the stores. No managers, no assistant managers. No white collar workers. We didn't believe it was equitable when ninety percent of the customers were Black."
For several months in late 1959 and early 1960 the League negotiates with the Dryades Street merchants - to no avail. Despite their own experience of discrimination as Jews, the store owners refuse to open "white" jobs to Blacks. In April, the League launches a boycott of the Dryades stores that won't employ Blacks as anything but menials.
The boycott is effective. The week before Easter is traditionally a major business peak, but on Good Friday the street is filled with pickets but empty of shoppers. Attorney Lolis Elie, working pro-bono for the CLGNO, describes the boycott as "in many ways a spiritual movement" that unifies the New Orleans Black community.
A few stores begin to hire Blacks, but most continue to refuse. Over the following months, many stores close or move to the white suburbs rather than hire Blacks. The boycott continues, and customers take their business elsewhere. Dryades Street - once a busy commercial district - becomes a street of abandoned, boarded-up stores.
Inspired by the boycott, new organization emerge including the Citizens' Committee, a coalition that targets segregation at the Canal Street stores and Coordinating Council of Greater New Orleans (CCGNO) which focuses on voter registration. Students from XULA, SUNO, and Dillard - along with a few white students from Tulane and University of New Orleans (UNO) - join the picket lines on Dryades Street. When the CLGNO pickets are temporarily halted by an injunction, they form a CORE chapter led by former XULA student body President Rudy Lombard, Oretha Castle from SUNO, Jerome Smith one of the students who withdrew from Southern University in Baton Rouge, and Hugh Murray a white student from Tulane.
On September 9, seven members of the new CORE chapter stage a sit-in at the Woolworth on Canal Street. This challenges the white (Christian) commercial elite in a way that a boycott of Jewish stores did not. They react with anger. The integrated group of Blacks and whites is arrested and charged with "Criminal Mischief." Mayor Morrison issues a statement condeming the sit-in, forbidding any future sit-ins, and ordering the police to suppress civil rights activity in the downtown shopping district. CORE leader Oretha Castle is fired from her job at the Hotel Dieu Hospital: "The good nun gave me my paycheck and said, 'Take it, and get out of here, and don't ever come back.'"
On September 16, a week after the Canal Street sit-in, CORE field secretary Jim McCain, Reverend Avery Alexander, and other members of CLGNO are arrested for picketing stores on Claiborne Avenue. On Saturday, September 17, Rudy Lombard, Oretha Castle, Dillard student Cecil Carter, and Tulane student Sydney Goldfinch are arrested for sitting-in at the McCrory's department store lunch counter. As a Jew, Goldfinch is particularly hated by the white (power-structure. He is charged with "Criminal Anarchy" which carries a potential sentence of 10 years in state prison, his bond is set at $2,500 (equal to $19,000 in 2012). As police repression against the Movement increases, not only are sit-ins arrested, but so too are picketers. And soon people passing out flyers are being busted for "Leafletting Without a License." Some 3,000 people attend a support rally for the "jailbirds" at the ILA (longshoremans' union) hall, and SCLC leader A. L. Davis opens his church to CORE activists for meetings and training sessions in Nonviolent Resistance.
Hampered by lack of bail money, CORE sit-ins continue off and on as funds become available, and the NAACP Youth Council led by Raphael Cassimire pickets the stores to protest segregation and the arrests. Crowds of angry whites taunt, abuse, and attack the CORE and NAACP demonstrators, beating them, scalding them with hot coffee, and throwing acid on them.
The New Orleans sit-ins, pickets, boycotts, and arrests continue for years, culminating in a massive Freedom March in September of 1963. Slowly - too slowly - public facilities in New Orleans are desegregated. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 overturns all segregation laws, but custom and practice yield slowly, taking years more to change.
For more information on the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana
New Orleans Citizens Boycott... (Global Nonviolent Action Database)
A House Divided (Southern Institute ~ Tulane Univ.)
Freedom March in New Orleans (Sept)
By mid 1963, many of the Canal Street lunch counters and stores have been desegregated by a combination of direct action protests and selective buying campaigns by CORE and the NAACP Youth Council (NYC), and negotiations & public pressure led by Rev. A. L. Davis and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. But promises made by white business leaders to hire Blacks for non-menial jobs have remained largely unfulfilled, and the city itself still practices segregation and job discrimination.
Despite opposition from some of the more conservative Black leaders
Oretha Castle Haley became one of Louisiana's leading civil rights, women's rights, and human rights activists. She was a founding member, and then president, of the New Orleans Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the most active organizations in the civil rights movement.
and organizations, CORE, led by Rudy Lombard, Oretha Castle, and Jerome Smith, and the NYC led by Raphael Cassimere, remain committed to direct action. After Birmingham, they threaten mass action unless progress is made. Heavily dependent on tourism and northern investment, New Orleans' white business leaders fear large- scale civic disruption and negative publicity on the Birmingham model. They are the real power behind the politicians and they negotiate an agreement which Mayor Victor Schiro has to sign on August 9, 1963.
Under this agreement, the "Colored" and "White Only" signs are to be removed from public buildings, the city will not appeal court desegregation orders, the city civil service will no longer discriminate against "qualified" Blacks and will hire Black firemen and garbage collectors, and the city will not harass or retaliate against private businesses who agreed to desegregate. But the Mayor and other politicians are elected by white segregationists who oppose any progress by Blacks. The agreement is not fully implemented, Blacks are not hired and the City Hall cafeteria is not integrated. After the Birmingham Church Bombing, the Black moderates can no longer hold back the demand for a massive protest in New Orleans.
On Monday evening, September 30, some ten thousand Blacks and three hundred whites march to City Hall. Led by boycott leader Rev. Avery Alexander, A. J. Chapital (NAACP), Oretha Castle (CORE), and Rev A.L. Davis (SCLC), they demand full implementation of the August 9 agreement and creation of a biracial committee to address continuing issues of inequality. Known as the "Freedom March," this is the largest Black demonstration of the era in New Orleans. Neither the Mayor nor any other white politician is willing to meet with the marchers who rally in front of the building.
Following the Freedom March, Rev. Davis delivers a petition to the City Council demanding repeal of all segregation ordinances, desegregation of schools, elimination of police brutality against Blacks, elimination of segregated trade unions, allowing Blacks to join professional organizations, appointment of Blacks to government commissions and boards, and desegregation of all public accomodations, hospitals, and civic venues. The Mayor and City Council drag their heels and have to be pushed every inch of the way. It is only after sit-ins, arrests, and widely-publicized police brutality against Rev. Davis in the fall and winter of 1963 that the City Hall cafeteria is finally desegregated. CORE and NYC continue direct action protests through 1965 when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 begins to have its effect.
For more information on the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana (Book)
New Orleans School Desegregation (Nov)
See Second Youth March for Integrated Schools - Washington, DC for preceding events.
In 1960 - six years after Brown v Board of Education - New Orleans still maintains two completely separate, segregated school systems, one for whites and an inferior one for Blacks. Though whites outnumber Blacks
On November 14, 1960, at the age of six, Leona Tate entered into the civil rights movement when she and two other African-American girls integrated McDonogh No. 19 Elementary School. For Leona and many others in the city, this day played a pivotal role in the pursuit to build a unified New Orleans
in population by roughly 60% to 40%, many white students attend private or parochial schools, so Blacks outnumber whites in the Orleans Parish Public Schools by 52,500 to 38,000 (58% to 42%).
In May of 1960, in the first-ever court-ordered school integration plan, Federal judge Skelly Wright decrees that 1st graders be allowed to enter the nearest formerly-white or formerly-Black school at their option (an approach similar to the Nashville Grade-a-Year plan). White New Orleans is horrified and the school board appalled. If the 7,000 incoming Black 1st graders all choose to attend the nearest white school, two-thirds of white elementary schools will be integrated, and Blacks will greatly outnumber the expected 4,000 white 1st graders.
The Louisiana legislature passes Act 496 granting Governor James Davis the power to "supercede" any school board threatened with an integration court order. If a board is superceded, the state then runs those schools (the theory being that since Wright's court ruling is directed at the New Orleans School Board, a new round of integration lawsuits would have to be initiated, this time against the state). They also enact a law empowering the governor to close all Louisiana public schools if even a single school anywhere in the state is threatened with integration. (Closing individual integrated schools, or all schools in a given district, had been tried by Governor Faubus in Little Rock and those tactics had already been forbidden by the courts.)
With the help of the White Citizens Council, many white parents begin forming private, white-only schools for their children. Other whites form two organizations - Save Our Schools (SOS) and Committee on Public Education (COPE) - to keep the schools open. These two groups do not support integration, in fact they oppose it, but in effect they indicate a willingness to accept some limited integration if that is the only way to keep the schools open. With their support, the school board files suit against the Governor to prevent him from superceding the New Orleans board or closing the schools.
Just days before school opens on September 8, Judge Wright grants the school board's motion against the Governor, and accepts their integration plan based on Louisiana's anti-integration school placement law. This new plan puts the burden on Black parents who now have to apply to transfer their child to a white school, and allows the board to severely limit the number of Blacks permitted to attend a white school (in other words, the new plan is for token integration by a few carefully-selected Black 1st-graders at a couple of white schools rather than across-the-board integration of the entire 1st grade).
In addtion, Wright grants the school board's request to delay integration until November 14 so that they can screen and select the few Black children allowed to integrate a white school. Behind the scenes, the Eisenhower administration also wants to delay integration-day until after the November election because they don't want to face another huge school crises like Little Rock just days before voters cast their ballots in Kennedy vs Nixon and the Congressional races.
Despite having publicly promised to integrate Catholic schools no later than the public schools, Archbishop Rummel decides not to integrate the parochial schools so they remain a segregated option for parents who pull their children out of public school rather than let them sit next to a Black child. The Archbishop piously urges Catholics to pray for "an early solution to the race problem."
As it turns out, only five Black students - all girls - are approved by the school board to transfer to a white school on November 14. It's then discovered that the mother of one of the girls is not married to her father, and because she is "illegitimate" she is dropped from the list, leaving just four. Meanwhile, the Governor and legislature frantically pass bill after bill aimed at stopping these little girls from attending a white school, but Judge Wright annuls them as fast as they are signed into law. In a final act of desperation, the legislature declares November 14 a state-wide school holiday and dispatches state troopers to prevent Black children from attending school in New Orleans.
Evading the troopers, Federal Marshalls escort the four girls to school, three of them (Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost, and Gail Etienne) to
|MLK Day Legacy: Ruby Bridges|
McDonogh elementary and the 4th - little Ruby Bridges, just six years old - to Frantz elementary. Whites jeer and curse the girls and the Marshalls, but there is no violence or disruption.
Both of the integrated schools are in the Ninth Ward, which in 1960 is the poorest white working-class neighborhood in New Orleans. The poor whites living in the Ninth Ward bitterly resent the New Orleans power elites who maintain segregation in the schools attended by their own children - or, as in the case of Judge Wright, send their kids to private white-only schools - while imposing integration on those whites who have the least influence in the uptown halls of power. In the opinion of NAACP leader Raphael Cassimere, the school board, "... maliciously calculated that if we start at the places where the tension is the greatest, then maybe we can defeat [integration] by showing it just can't work."
The following evening (Nov 15), thousands of whites crowd into the Munciple Auditorium for an anti-integration rally (the Mayor had previously denied the NAACP's request to hold a meeting at the auditorium because he said it would be too "emotional"). White Citizens Council leader Willie Rainach calls on whites to boycott the schools, "Let's use 'scorched-earth' policy. Let's empty the classrooms where they are integrated!" The politically powerful, arch-racist Leander Perez shrieks hatred against Blacks and Jews and urges whites to march against the school board, "Don't wait for your daughter to be raped by these Congolese! Don't wait until the burr-heads are forced into your schools! Do something about it now!"
The next day (Nov 16) a marauding mob of white adults and high school students rampage down Canal Street, into government buildings, and through the downtown area, attacking and beating Blacks on the street. The police do little to deter them until they attack the Mayor's office at which point they are dispersed. White parents withdraw their children from the two integrated elementary schools. Only one teacher, a woman just arrived from Boston, remains at Frantz. She is the only one willing to teach Ruby Bridges.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell, depicting Bridges as she goes to school.
The White Citizens Council retaliates economically. Ruby's father is fired, and her grandparants evicted from the farm where they had lived and worked for a quarter of a century. A few white parents refuse to withdraw their children from the integrated school, some of them are also fired and one family has to flee the state.
In an effort to close the schools by economic blocade, banks (white-owned, of course) refuse to process checks issued by the school board for money in its accounts, and the city and state refuses to turn over tax revenues intended for schools. By January the school board is unable to pay 1900 school employees. Eventually, the Federal courts threaten bank officials and legislators with Contempt of Court. Facing jail, the segregationists falter, the banks are forced to honor school board checks and funds are pried loose from city and state.
Day after day, the four Black children and the few whites remaining in the integrated schools are forced to run a gauntlet of enraged racists as they enter and leave school each morning and afternoon. Mostly women, the daily mob that gathers outside the two schools call themselves the "cheerleaders." They threaten the children with death, shriek obscenities, and throw things at the students, their parents, and the Federal Marshalls protecting them. By the end of November, McDonogh is empty except for the three Black girls, while at Frantz the entire student body consists of Ruby Bridges and two white kids who brave the mob.
SOS works to encourage white parents to break the boycott and return their children to the two boycotted schools. Slowly, a few white kids come back to class and by the first week in December, there are 23 whites attending Frantz school with Ruby Bridges. The White Citizens Council organizes vicious hate-campaigns of intimidation, harassment, and violence against their parents. Local police are slow and ineffective in offering protection. The FBI refuses to involve itself in protecting Blacks or anyone sympathetic to the cause of freedom. Yet, despite these obstacles, Blacks and a few whites persevere, and slowly, very slowly, the white boycott wanes and the "cheerleaders" dwindle.
Over time, those whites most opposed to integration either place their children in white-only private schools, or white-only Catholic schools, or move to the suburbs - a "white-flight" that eventually shifts New Orleans population from majority white to majority Black. In 1960, the Ninth Ward - location of the two integrated schools - is inhabited by poor and working class whites. It is the most impoverished and neglected white neighborhood in the entire city. When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans 45 years later, the Ninth Ward is still the most impoverished and neglected in the entire city, but now it is inhabited by Blacks.
See Massive Evasion of School Integration for continuation.
For more information on the New Orleans Civil Rights Movement:
Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana
Schools and School Desegregation
Man-Hunt in Plaquemine LA (Aug-Sept)
Plaquemine is the main town of Iberville Parish. It sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River about a dozen miles downstream from Baton Rouge. In 1963 segregation is still the norm and the town boundaries are gerrymandered to exclude the main Black neighborhoods from municipal elections and deny city services to Blacks.
In June of 1963, the Black community demands that the city annex the excluded neighborhoods, end job discrimination, desegregate facilities, and form a biracial committee to address ongoing grievances. Their demands are ignored. A boycott and picketing of white merchants commences, and in mid-August CORE begins protest marches. The white power-structure refuses to negotiate.
On August 19, CORE Executive Director James Farmer leads more than 1,000 marchers to City Hall. When the demonstrators refuse to stop singing We Shall Overcome the police arrest Farmer and three of the local leaders. They then attack the march and arrest 200 more. With the local jail filled to capacity, Iberville Sheriff Songy disperses the prisoners to lockups in neighboring parishes. Farmer is scheduled to speak at the upcoming March on Washington, but bail is set at $500 each (equal to over $3,750 in 2012) and CORE does not have $100,000 to bail out all of those arrested. Farmer refuses to bond out while others remain in prison, so CORE Chairman Floyd McKissick speaks in his stead.
Farmer and the other protesters are released from jail on August 31. Later that day, cops mounted on horses attack a march by 200 young students. The brutal assault on their children enrages the Black community, uniting them behind CORE and the demonstrations. On the following day, Sunday, September 1, local ministers lead their congregations to Rev. Jetson Davis' Plymouth Rock Baptist Church for a spirited mass meeting. Outside the church, 500 demonstrators line up two-by-two for a silent protest against the previous day's police brutality.
Movement leaders Rev. Davis, Ronnie Moore, Bill Harleaux, and Tolbert Harris are served with an illegal injunction forbidding the march. Knowing that the illegal injunction has already been stayed by a higher court, the march proceeds. The leaders are arrested. Cops and hastily deputized white civilians attack the marchers with tear gas, cattle prods, and clubs. State Troopers on horses charge into the line, trampling men, women, and children.
The protesters retreat to Plymouth Rock church. Police wearing gas masks break into the church, tossing tear gas into the pews to drive people out. Then they bring in high-pressure fire hoses to destroy the sanctuary and smash the windows. The police and troopers surround the parsonage where women and children have taken refuge. They shoot tear gas through the windows to force them out, then club them back inside again when they try to escape.
More than 400 are arrested. With the Plaquemine jail filled, they are incarcerated in an animal stockade at the county fairgrounds and then dispersed to jails in other towns the next day.
James Farmer tries to phone the Department of Justice, but the phone operators block all long-distance calls coming out of the Black neighborhoods. The State Troopers, sheriffs, police, and vigilantes rampage through the Black community hunting for Farmer. House by house they smash in the doors, overturning furniture and emptying the closets, "Come out Farmer! We're going to get you!" Two protesters hiding under the church hear one trooper tell another, "When we catch that goddamned nigger, Farmer, we're gonna kill him."
As night falls, James Farmer and hundreds of others take refuge in a Black funeral home. The State Troopers surround the building, "Come on out, Farmer. We know you're in there. We're gonna get you." To save the others, Farmer tries to give himself up, but men restrain him, "That's a lynch mob. You go out there tonight, you won't be alive tomorrow morning."
The woman who owns the funeral home steps forward to confront the troopers who are forcing their way inside. She demands to see their search warrant, "You're not coming into my place of business without a search warrant." Her bold courage confounds the troopers. She prods them in the chest with her finger, demanding to see their warrants as she forces them back outside.
Two Black ex-Marines sneak into the funeral home. They report that roadblocks have been set on every road leading out of town, and that the cops who had been guarding the rear of the building have gone back to the police station, presumably to obtain a search warrant. The Movement leaders have to escape before the cops return with a warrant. Farmer, Rev. Davis, and Ronnie Moore are concealed in a hearse. A second hearse acts as a decoy to pull the guards away from one of the roadblocks. The two ex-Marines in a lead car followed by the hearse drive at high-speed through the back streets and then smash their way through the wooden saw-horses at an unmanned roadblock. Both the ex- Marines and the hearse drivers are armed, their instructions are, "Don't stop for anything and, if forced to stop, shoot."
As was the case in Gadsden, this state terrorism suppresses large-scale direct action marches in Plaquemine. But acts of courage, defiance, and resistance continue. In the aftermath of the repression, a cafeteria worker at the Black high school is fired because her children had participated in the marches. Kenny Johnson, a 16 year old student, organizes a boycott of the cafeteria. He and 34 other students are suspended. The students picket the white high-school, demanding an end to segregated schools. On October 7, the cops use tear gas to disperse the pickets. Johnson is sent to the State Reform School for Colored Youth. It takes three months of political and legal action before CORE can get him released.
For more information on the Louisiana Civil Rights Movement:
Free Southern Theater (Oct)
By the latter half of 1963, the student lunch-counter sit-ins of 1960 have grown into a broad-based mass movement - the most poweful and significant social movement since the labor struggles of the 1930s. Led by young activists, the movement has expanded geographically from college towns to rural and urban areas in every southern state. It has expanded politically from segregation, to voting rights, employment discrimination, access to education, crop subsidies, hunger, freedom of speech & assembly, police repression, student rights, housing, and all other aspects of human dignity and citizenship. But these are not viewed as separate issues or disparate efforts, rather they are all intregal aspects of the "Freedom Movement." And as activists move and shift back and forth between direct action and community organizing, from one project to another, from the front lines to school and work and back, they bring with them to whatever they are doing the energy, spirit, and political focus of the Movement.
In October, SNCC members John O'Neal and Doris Derby join with actor/journalist Moses Gilbert and drama instructor William Hutchinson to establish the Drama Workshop at Tougaloo College just outside of Jackson. From that beginning grows the Free Southern Theater (FST).
Tom Dent who would serve as artistic director of the Free Southern Theater (FST) during the peak years of the urban crisis, 1966-1969.
For Mississippi, the FST is unique - it is racially integrated, it won't play to segregated audiences, and it's productions reflect the social-change agenda of the Movement. Forthrightly, they proclaim the FST's relationship to the Freedom Movement:
Through theater, we think to open a new area of protest ... one that permits the growth of and self-knowledge of a Negro audience, one that supplements the present struggle for freedom. ... we feel that the theater will add a necessary dimension to the current Civil Rights Movement through its unique value as a means of education ... stimulate thought and a new awareness among Negroes in the deep South, ... work toward the establishment of permanent stock and repertory companies, with mobile touring units, in major population centers throughout the South, staging plays that reflect the struggles of the American Negro.
Our fundamental objective is to stimulate creative and reflective thought among Negroes in Mississippi and other Southern states by the establishment of a legitimate theater, thereby providing the opportunity in the theater and the associated art forms. We theorize that within the Southern situation a theatrical form and style can be developed that is as unique to the Negro people as the origin of blues and jazz. A combination of art and social awareness can evolve into plays written for a Negro audience, which relate to the problems within the Negro himself, and within the Negro community. 
With the assistance of Tulane University professor Richard Schechner and support from entertainment luminaries such as Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Loraine Hansberry, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, and Lincoln Kirstein, the FST performs - free of charge - in churches and other donated community spaces for audiences that have never seen a play with live actors.
As part of Freedom Summer, the Black and white actors of the FST stage performances in Freedom Schools and community centers of an adapted version of Martin Duberman's In White America, a two-act "documentary" play that dramatizes race relations from slavery through Reconstruction up to the current struggle in Mississippi. Most of the performances are accompanied by workshops and discussions over several days that involve students and community in both the content of the play and the experience of theater. "COFO project volunteers worked with us to secure places for the performances," O'Neal latter recalled, "homes to house our company members in each town, and helped with publicity. The Free Southern Theater became the focus of a community event, involving everyone and open to everyone."
In Indianola, 200 people arrive while the company is still setting up in a field next to the Freedom School which has just been condemned by city officials after a fire "mysteriously" breaks out in the building. The FST enlists children to help set up the staging area. In Mound Bayou, drenching rains turn the dirt roads around into "mud moats" yet people drive for miles in their trucks to attend a performance. 
The Freedom Summer tour is so successful that FST comes back in the Fall with productions of Purlie Victorious and Walting for Godot performed for audiences in Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennesee, and Georgia. Performances that bring live theater to new audiences - mostly poor, mostly rural, mostly (or all) Black.
But attacks by white racists, arrests, and political harrasment take their toll. Money, as always, is in short supply - particularly for a theater whose shows are free. In 1965, the FST settles in the Desire neighborhood of New Orleans, combining both a touring and a repertory company with community engagement programs and training workshops in Black theater. By 1966, the company includes 23 members including performers, crew, and an administrative staff under the leadership of Tom Dent; and it has evolved into an all-Black cast, primarily performing works by Black authors such as Amiri Baraka and members of the Free Southern Theater itself.
With the help of Val Ferdinand (Kalamu ya Salaam), FST implements community writing and acting workshops, which evolve into BLKARTSOUTH in 1969. From these workshops come scripts that are performed by the company. Works by John O'Neal are also included in the repertoire such as When the Opportunity Scratches, Itch It about social class divisions in the Black community, and Where Is the Blood of Your Fathers? depicting the daily life of a slave as revealed in historical texts.
Today , under the artistic direction of John O'Neal, the mission of the Free Southern Theater continues through Junebug Productions, a touring theater company with community cultural development programs in New Orleans. The name "Junebug" evokes the mythic folk character "Junebug Jabbo Jones" created by O'Neal and expanded on by other SNCC organizers to articulate through humor and insight the wisdom of common people looking at society from the bottom up.
For more information on the Free Southern Theater: