Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #26: Reverend Bevel

“Newsmen crowded the Negro churches each night to hear civil rights leaders make fiery speeches as they attempted to spur local Negroes to go to the Courthouse to register to vote. At one such meeting The Reverend James Bevel, formerly of Itta Bena but at that time living in Atlanta, shouted, ‘Yo vote will be the dentist who pulls the teeth of the police dog.’ A Memphis reporter for the Commercial Appeal wrote, ‘Ribbing and poking fun at members of his own race in exaggerated deliberate dialect, he fired up the audiences to participate in mass voter registration drives in the South.’ He quoted Bevel, ‘Man, the white man has been tricking us n—–rs all these years into making us think we are scared of them. But actually they have been afraid of us all these years or why would they be shooting at your houses, sicking dogs on us, trying to keep us from voting?’ His story continued: ‘Rambling through numerous pep rallies in the churches where the choirs would sing hymns with a fast beat, stomp their feet and shout, the Negro preacher yelled “If you don’t get out and register and vote, you gonna be like a country mule looking out the window of a street car. Now you Negroes remember, they think they got us running and afraid and jumpy and scared. Why? Cause we have never before organized. But I am telling you Negroes this: We ain’t got nothing to be scared of and we sho’ ain’t afraid of dying. That right, we ain’t afraid of dying ’cause we done killed too many of us on a Saturday night to be afraid of dying.”

“The newspaper story went on: ‘Responding to shouts and amens, the preacher continued: “Now you listen to me: We gonna vote. We gonna get strong and sho’ gonna put that Barnett [Governor Ross Barnett] out of office with our votes. But you gotta register and then when you git registered, you have to vote.” Asked how the leaders were going to get all of the Negroes qualified in Mississippi the preacher tucked at his blue serge suit lapel and answered: “We gonna take them down to the courthouse. For those that can’t read and write, we gonna teach them and then get them registered. It’s as simple as that.” Raising his hand, Reverend Bevel pumped his fist at the audience and shouted, “Now I want you Negroes to walk with your head up. Walk straight and be proud. ‘Cause, remember, in the morning you got to cook for white folks, walk their chillun, make their beds, wash their clothes and and then iron them. That’s all right ’cause it’s a job and you are trying. But we gonna do better than that in the future.”‘ “

About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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