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September 14, 1965 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1965-09-14

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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1411965

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

PAGE SEVEN-

i

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1965 THE I~IICHIGAN DAILY PAGE ~EVE1~:

a aa ..r w.. a.r ua

7,

Belzoni,

Mississipp i:

Abstract

of

Closed

Society

By THOMAS R. COPI
Special To The Daily
BELZONI, Mississippi -- Even
though it's been over a year
since the passage of the federal
civil rights bill of 1964, equality
under the law and first class citi-
zenship are still distant dreams
for the Negro population of this
small (pop. 4200) Southern town.
Integration is a seldom-used'
and often misunderstood word
here, where all public accommoda-
tions are divided into the in-
evitable "white" and "colored"
sections and two "separate but
equal" school systems are main-
tained,
For example, Belzoni's Mayor
Henry-Ganz says that the 50-bed
Belzoni hospital is "integrated."
But Ganz's definition of "inte-
grated" doesn't necessarily jibe
with that of a Belzoni Negro who
has to wait to be treated at the
hospital while a white patient is
cared for, even though the Negro
was there first. And whose defini-
tion does a Belzoni doctor use
when he leaves a partially-treated
Negro in order to look after a
white patient who has just come
in?
It seems to be largely a matter
of one's point of view. Ganz, for
instance, feels that "race-mixing
is repugnant to both white and
colored." In defense of segrega-
tion, he says "we have our cus-
toms here that have been estab-
lished for God knows how many
years."

SUPPOSEDLY, a Negro can go
into almost any store in Belzoni
and be waited on. But if he fails
to address the white proprietor
as "sir," chances are he'll have to
go elsewhere for what he wants
until he can remember his "place."
The restaurants, of course, are
private. (The only thing one has
to be a member of to be served,
though, is the white race.) Even
the movie theater is a "private
club."
As Mayor Ganz explains it, "Ne-
groes buy 'club' tickets for the
balcony and whites buy 'club'
tickets for the main floor" The
movie theater "clubs" were start-
ed after local Negroes attempted
to integrate the theater last year.
In the year preceding the pas-
sage of the 1965 voting rights bill,
13 Humphrys County Negroes
came into Belzoni, the county seat,
to register to vote. For nine years
before that there were no Negroes
registered in the county.
Rev. George Lee was the last
Negro to be registered prior to
1964 in "the youngest and one of
the most progressive counties in
Mississippi." He was found In a
ditch in 1955-shot through the
back, supposedly for refusing to
remove his name from the regis-
tration list and for working in a
voter registration movement.
There was no investigation of his
murder.
P. B. Hgdon, Humphrys county
clerk and voting registrar, says
"qualified Negroes could register
here. I've turned down white i-
lite ates just as soon as Negro
illiterates."
IF ONE IS to believe Higdon,
the school system in Belzoni must
be very poor, since it apparently
graduates only illiterates. Yet
Mayor Ganz says the consolidated
school system in Humphrys county
is very much up to date.
Rural ''little red schoolhouses,"
as Ganz calls them, send their
graduates to one of the two mod-
ern public high schools in Bel-
zoni. "Belzoni High School is for
whites, and the, colored kids use
McNair High School," Ganz says.
He maintains that school inte-
gration is foreign to the people in
the South-it could create more
harm than good."
The McNair school is named for
the Negro superintendent of the
Negro school system. McNair also
owns a large plantation and sev-
eral of the better Negro homes in
Belzoni. A popular story in Bel-
zoni says that whites call him
"superintendent McNair" to avoid
calling him "Mister."
The teachers in the Negro
schools are all Negroes, and most
of them are from the Belzoni
area. According to some of their
students, the teachers never say
anything about Negro history, seg-
regation, integration or the civil
rights movement. When asked
about these "taboo" subjects, the
teachers decline to answer and
simply change the subject.
SEVERAL years ago there was
a single public swimming pool in
Belzoni. Then, as Ganz puts it,
"believing in integration, the
people decided that the Negroes
should have a pool too." So the
city built a pool for Negroes.
When asked if the two pools
are "equal," Ganz readily replies
that "they're certainly not-the
'colored' pool is much nicer."
The Belzoni police force consists
of eight men-six white and twi,
Negro, although neither of the
Negroes carries agun. Police chief
M. L. Nichols says he'll "arrest a
white person just as soon as a
Negro if a law is broken." Nichols
also says his men only have,juris-
diction inside the city limits.
But the two police cars seem to
find the time to patrol the Negro
ghetto, just across the city line,
quite regularly.
A Negro youth who is a resi-
dent of the Negro ghetto which

Belzonians have dubbed "Hog-
town" claims he was threatened
by a Belzoni policeman last year
for growing a beard. It seems one
of the civil rights workers in
Belzon had a beard, and for the
Negro to wear one was apparently
taken as a sign of rebellion.
" Also, it is a common occdrence

"I OWN MY OWN HOME, but damn the house-I'm getting out
of here before I get killed," says this Belzoni resident. Neverthe-
less, he did try to register to votet and, though he was refused,
says he'll try again.

THESE TWINS, unused to seeing white people visit their farm
home near Belzoni, warily eye the integrated Movement group
which has come to discuss, voter registration and the Belzoni
Freedom School with their parents.

THE WOMAN talking with a Movement worker is nearly 70 years
old. She has never voted in any election and now does not at-
tempt to register because she thinks she is "too old." She was not
aware that there is no upper age limit on voting.

MAYOR GANZ

for the car which belongs to the
Belzonicivil rights workers to be
stopped by the police for no ap-
parent reason and all its passen-
gers searched and questioned.
HUMPHRYS IS an agricultural
county, and Belzoni, as the county
seat and largest city in the county,
is an agriculturally-oriented city.
In ifact, fewer than 400 people are
employed by Belzoni's various
light industries.
The city is in "the heart of the
Delta," and the main crop of the
surrounding area is, of course,
cotton. The Negroes who do not
own their own farms work for the
plantation owners picking and
chopping cotton. For this back-
breaking work they receive about
three dollars per 10-hour day.
But the cotton-picking season
lasts for only six to eight weeks
and for the remainder of the year
there is no work for the cotton-
pickers. As, one Belzoni Negro
says, "there just ain't nothing to
do here. And when there ain't no
work I just got to go without."
One of the Movement workers, a
local Negro, says, "The people
have to chop cotton or they'll
starve. They can't 'strike' for
higher wages because they have to
eat."
BELZONI NEGROES - most of
whom are unemployed simply ;be-
cause there is no work--are kept
within the ghetto by fear of vio-
lence from the white-controlled
"outside" and simply because they
do not have the means to leave.
Those few Negroes who do not'
depend directly on agriculture for
their livelihood : find themselves
constantly under the thumb of
the white - controlled economic
power structure.
A middle-aged Negro woman
who has worked as a cleaning
lady for whites since she was 12
fears that if she participates in
the Freedom Movement there will
be no more work for her. She says,
however, that she's "not afraid,"
although "there's no telling what
the white folks will do now."
An elderly Negro man who
works as a custodian at McNair
High School says that he's afraid
to io down to register to vote be-
cause he's sure such a move would
cost him his job "and everything
else." He feels that the only solu-
tion to the problem of segregation
in Mississippi is enforcement of
the laws by federal marshals.
But a suggestion like this
brings to mind the statement of a

CHIEF NICHOLS

Mississippi University s t u d e n t
quoted in James Silver's "Missis-
sippi: The Closed Society." The
student said "we hate violence,
but we are determined to keep our
way of life. Nobody can take it
away from us, and I would die for
it. I expect there'll have to be an
occupation before there'll be in-
tegration in Mississippi. . . It
would probably be the most tragic
thing that could happen to our
beloved state. But afterward,
when the troops leave, . .. every-
thing would be just like before,
only the poor Nigras would lose
all the friendship and goodwill
they had."
IN BELZONI, shop-keepers buy-
ing the same goods from the same
dealers as white merchants us-
ually pay more. In this way their
margin of profit is kept small
and they, too, are kept in "their
place."
When the proprietor of the Ne-
gro grocery store in Hogtownx
tried to register to vote earlier
this summer, she was told that
she had failed the test, but not
where she had made her mistake.
As- it turns out, her mistake may
have been in going down to reg-
ister at all.
Shortly afterward she was fined
$365.71 for selling beer without a
license. She had been selling beer
for years with just a city license,
but now, it seems, she must also
have a county license. Also, she
was told that if she didn't get the
civil rights workers to leave Bel-
zoni, she would be run out of bus-
'iness.
The grocery wholesaler she used
to trade with has "gone into an-
other business," and the other
wholesaler in Belzoni is "with
them," thereby compounding her
troubles. Her dwindling grocery
stock barely half-fills the shelves
of her store, and she doesn't know
what she'll do when it's gone.
EVEN TO the casual observer of
the Belzoni scene, it is obvious
that most of the Negroes exist in
living conditions far inferior to
the whites of the area. This is a
result of their low, shaky eco-
nomic status and a network of
laws and ordinances which serve
to make their plight even more
helpless.
Hogtown, the worst of the Ne-
gro neighborhoods, lies just across
the city line from Belzoni proper.
Since it is legally outside of the
city, it cannot receive the serv-
ices of the fire department. Also,
none of the streets in Hogtown
are paved, and trash and gar-
bage often collect in the deep
ruts in the dirt roads that serve
the area.
There are practically no sew-
age systems and practically no
indoor plumbing in Hogtown. Most
of the people get their water from
outdoor "community" faucets.
The city cannot provide the
needed public services because
Hogtown is not inside the city.
And a recently-drawn-up annexa-
tion code prevents an area like
Hogtown from becoming part of
the city by stating that all sub-
divisions to be annexed into the
city must already have such things
as a sewer system and naved
streets. So the people of Hog-
town live in unbelievable slum
conditions which they are unable

an equal standing with the white
neighborhoods is now pending in
federal district court. The Move-
ment workers, who asked for the
injunction, feel that perhaps the
federal government can force the
city to give Negroes equal facili-
ties.
Mayor Ganz doesn't feel such
an injunction will be granted, but
he is nevertheless concerned over
the possibility that it might. He
feels the injunction would be un-
just, especially since Belzoni was
refused Accelerated Federal Works
project funds several years ago,
allegedly because of its racial poli-
cies.
The project for which the fed-
eral funds were requested would
have greatly expanded Belzoni's
city water system. The city gets
its water from two deep wells
through two large storage tanks,
the second of which was built
solely with city funds when the.
federal aid was refused. Ganz
blames the Movement for the re-
fusal of the federal government to
come to the city's aid.
THE DIFFICULT situation of
the Belzoni Negroes and the ap-
parent lack of any remedy for it
lead to tremendous apathy on the
part of Negro Belzonans, and this
is one of the major uroblems the
civil rights Movement faces in the
area.
Although -most of the Negroes
say that they are not afraid, fear
plays a very real part in the every-
day lives of these people. For some
there is the fear of physical harm
that can come so easily to Negro
Mississippians. Even Mayor Ganz,
who has to be classified as a racial
moderate in Missi sippi's white su-
premacist society, 'acknowledges
the possibility of harm coming to
Negroes who speak up for their
rights: "My biggest fear now is
that someone will be victimized
by the 'rednecks' who feel they are
only a little better than the Ne-
groes and must preserve what
status they do have," he says.
According to Ganz, the Ku Klux
Klan does not operate in Hum-
phrys County, and the Citizens'
Council, although it has a chap-
ter in Belzoni, is a dormant if not
dead organization in the area.
BUT THE REAL FEAR of the
Negroes here is that they will lose
what small economic status they
do have if they participate in the
Movement. For although real fi-
nancial security is unknown to
most Negroes here, they do not
want to jeopardize what they do
have, especially when they can see
nothing better coming as a result.
This is why many Belzoni Ne-
groes feel that food, clothing and
money from the outside will help
them. Such things would suppos-
edly make them less dependent on
Ithe white - controlled economic

power structure and more free to
work for their civil rights. Ac-
cording to one woman, "outside
help is good, but there has to
be a better distribution system for
the goods that do come here. The
'grab' system just doesn't work,
and actually serves to divide the
community."
One of. the civil rights workers
in Belzoni, a member of the.
Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, disagrees. He feels
that "the people in Belzoni ex-
pect something for nothing from
the Movement. There's nothing
for these people to do but beg-
it takes promises to get them to
participate in the Movement pro-
grams. What we have to do is
make them come down to the
Movement because they under-
stand the situation and then want
to come down."
HE SAYS he "doesn't think it's
right to give the Negro things to
make him work for his own rights.
It won't work. If you promise him
food and clothing tomorrow, he'll
come to the Freedom School-un-
til tomorrow."
This Negro civil rights worker
who quit his job as a salesman
in Chicago in order to "work for
Freedom" also maintains that
some of the other civil rights
workers aren't well enough ac-
quainted with the Belzoni-Missis-
sippi situation to know exactly
what is needed. He says they come
in and want to do things like go
on voter registration forays into
the outlying areas of the county
without knowing how dangerous
such projects can be. And the lo-
cal Negroes who are involved in
the Movement usually go along
rather than disagree with the
"outsiders.
He explains that the Belzoni
Negroes can expect no help or
cooperation in any way from local
whites who, "while they are not
actively hostile toward the Move-
ment, are certainly against the
Negroes voting - simply because
they're against Negroes."
Mayor Ganz admits he is not
opposed to the operation of a Free-
dom School here and that he
thinks similar schools should be
set up for the poor whites. The
part of the Movement he does
oppose, he says, is "the white
peopleiving right there with the
niggers."
SOME of the local Negroes who
were opposed to the Movement
at first because they feared that
it would cause trouble in the
community, have been won over
to the side of the Movement aft-
er witnessing its activities.
The civil rights workers were
responsible for having "school
zone" signs put up on the high-
way that the Negro children have

to cross on their way to school,
and they instituted a clean-up
program to make Hogtown more
livable. They also had street lights
installed. Their voter registration
drive has resulted in many Hum-
phrys County Negroes registering
to vote, especially since the pass-
age of the voting rights bill this
year.'
And most of the Negroes in
Belzoni feel that if they are able
to vote, they will finally be able
to change their situation. Even
though most of them are unable
to explain how the vote would
help, they are sure it will.
But the Freedom school is the
Movement's main selling point in
Belzoni. Classes for pre-schoolers,
tutorials for students and reading
and political action study classes
for adults make up the program.
It has gotten a "good" respopse,-
according to one of the "outside"
Movement workers.
THE MAIN . concern of the
Movement workers is that when;
they leave to return to college
and the Freedom school closes for
lack of personnel, the Belzoni and
Humphrys county Negroes will lose
whatever feeling of unity they
gained through the school.
The SCLC worker says the
SCLC will provide many of the
needed school supplies for the

Belzoni Freedom School as long'
as there is enough personnel there
to make use of them.
A major project of the "out-
side" Movement workers is, then,
to train enough local Negroes so
they will be able to maintain what
cohesiveness within the Negro
community has been built over the
summer. But this is very' difficult,
because many of the people who
reluctantly participate' in the
Movement gain the courage to do
so from the presence of the "out-
siders? And when the "outsiders"
leave, these people drift away
from the Movement.
THIS IS why white Mississip-
pians very often don't take the
civil rights Movement and the
"summer projects" seriously -
they know that once the "out-
siders" leave, the situation will
return to "normal."
So the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party, under whose
banner most of the civil rights
organizations have rallied this
year, is fighting a severe uphill,
battle in Belzoni. If solutions to
the problems of the Belzoni Ne-
groes are to be found, the MFDP
will need all the help it can get,
mainly in the form of permanent
personnel to help run its Freedom
schools and other; Freedom pro-
jects throughout Mississippi.

THIS YOUNG (NEGRO man is employed by the city of Belzoni as
a trash collector. Garbage is collected in the Negro neighborhoods
inside the city limits but not in "Hogtown," a Negro ghetto just
across the city line.

REGISTRAR HIGDON

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