Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #46: Letter to Ohio

Sara's unmailed letter to Marge Doyle, 1964

“I sat on the back porch one morning and wrote a letter to my former neighbor and good friend, Marge Doyle in St. Clairsville, Ohio, but I never mailed it for fear she might not fully understand our feeling of desperation. I found it later, and its content reminds me of how real that feeling was. It read:

Dear Marge,  I’m on the porch drinking my coffee. The rest are asleep, and I happened to remember 13 years ago when we had nothing to worry about except when Jimmy would arrive (after several doses of castor oil) or whether Cathy was cutting a tooth or had been exposed to another Stigler ailment. It was so hot with no trees, no air conditioning and for me not even a porch, but didn’t we have fun!

Oh, Marge, you can’t imagine how sad it is down here, the terrible feeling of defeat and despair. We are so worried about what tomorrow will bring. The good relations with our Negroes are fast disappearing and nobody trusts each other anymore. We are so sorry for the good Negroes (and we do have many). They are frightened and confused. If they take up for the white people their friends ridicule them and call them ‘Uncle Toms.’ Georgia [Edwards, Sara’s maid, who had also worked for Marge Doyle] is sick (high blood pressure, gall stones, etc.) and just lies out there with her door locked, afraid the white students will come by. 

We have a number of COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) workers here, mostly white. They live with the Negroes and don’t look like they’ve had a bath or a haircut in weeks. The white girls fall all over the Negro boys and the Negro girls over the white boys. They came to the Court House yesterday with three Congressmen, two from California and one from New York (one a Negro) and they really put on a show for Court House employees, a white boy and a Negro girl drinking from the same bottle, etc. When they leave here the damage they’ve done to our relations with the Negroes will be hard to repair. We don’t know what the future holds but it looks pretty gloomy. We still have twice as many Negroes as whites so you know what a situation we’ll have. 

Several restaurants just closed up yesterday. We don’t know what they’ll do after the weekend. The pool closed, as did the library, but I guess they’ll open again Monday [unless] trouble starts. The drug store where all the teenagers gather closed their lunch counter and removed the booths yesterday after Negro agitators went in and sat down. Most of the Negroes taking part are the same ones who marched and demonstrated and are paid Civil Rights workers. And, of course, we do have our roughneck whites who are just ready to get into something, so each morning we get up and pray the day will bring no trouble. 

Please tell your friends we’re not heathens down here. We feel like after seeing all the television specials about Mississippi the whole country thinks we’re all KKK members. We’re really just wanting everything to be peaceful again, and someday maybe it will.”

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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