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September 16, 1965, Vol. X, No. 48
‘Man, 17 Funerals Are Just Too Many’
By Jack Newfield
“He would stride cool and smiling through Hell, philosophizing all the way.” That’s how Howard Zinn in “The New Abolitionists” described 24-year-old SNCC worker Stokely Carmichael. He is the happy warrior of the Movement.
Last week, burdened by death, Carmichael sat in SNCC’s New York office and remarked, “I’ve just come back from my 17th funeral since I’ve started in the Movement. That’s just too much killing, man.”
The lean Bronx Science and Howard University graduate was referring to the funeral in Keene, New Hampshire, of the Reverend Jonathan Daniels, who had been shot down in broad daylight in Hayneville, Alabama, two weeks earlier. Hayneville, county seat of Lowndes County, is where the voter-registration books did not carry the name of a single Negro six months ago, although Negroes outnumber whites by four-to-one. It was also in Lowndes County that Mrs. Viola Gregg Liuzzo was killed on March 25, the night the Selma-to-Montgomery march was completed.
Sitting with Carmichael in the SNCC office were four eyewitnesses who say they saw Tom Coleman, a shopkeeper and part-time sheriff, kill the Protestant minister and seriously wound a priest, Father Richard Morrisroe. Not one of the four has even been questioned by the local police, who released Coleman on bond.
Ruby Sales, a 20-year-old SNCC field secretary, described the shooting. “We all got out of jail at 3 o’clock. We asked the jailer for protection, but he refused. So, for 10 or 20 minutes we stood at the corner, near the jail, waiting for someone from the Movement to pick us up. Then we decided to get a bite to eat and some cokes, since it was hot and the jail food had been miserable. We walked over to this store down the street. I was walking in front, Reverend Daniels was behind me. Joyce Bailey was behind him and Father Morrisroe was behind Joyce. Willie Vaughn was by the corner, coming back from making a telephone call to the SNCC office.
“I was up on the steps of the store halfway when this Mr. Coleman comes out pointing a gun at us and screaming about niggers on his property. ‘Goddamn niggers, get off my property before I blow your damn brains out,’ he yelled. Before I knew what happened someone yanked me off the steps and I heard a shot. I saw Reverend Daniels fall to the ground holding his stomach and all bloody. I heard another shot and Father Richard fell down. Then I just began to scream and saw all that blood.”
Joyce Bailey, 19, who lives in Lowndes County, spoke of the slaying. “The four of us were walking to this store. Before we got to the door, this man came out on the steps. He looked just like the man who tried to bail us out the week before, but we wouldn’t come out because we were suspicious. He pointed his gun at Ruby, and Reverend Daniels pushed Ruby to the ground, and then he was shot. Father Richard took my hand and started me to running, but just as he began to run he was shot in the back.”
At the press conference later that day, Carmichael, in a quiet voice, told the assembled newsmen about “all the untruths that have been printed about the assassination of Reverend Daniels.”
“First, the papers wrote that the four people were picketing the store when the killing happened. That’s absolutely untrue. The four people were just trying to enter the store for a coke. The press also reported that Reverend Daniels had a knife with him. That’s crazy, but maybe you people wrote that because he was killed the week of the Los Angeles riots. I don’t know. Reverend Daniels had just come out of prison where he had spent a week for picketing in Fort Deposit, and he was frisked on the way out. But what no paper did print was that Tom Coleman tried to bail some of the demonstrators out of jail the day they were arrested. Now, that’s interesting.”
Civil rights workers believe that it was the killers of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner who bailed them out of jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi, last summer. SNCC activists say that local racists often try to bail them out. “A sort of white-collar way to lynch us,” was how one activist put it.
Despite the terrible tale he had to tell, Carmichael’s wit broke through when a television interviewer began to bait him about “not trying to fix up Harlem, where you come from, instead of running down to Alabama.”
“There’s only one way to cure Harlem,” he told the startled interviewer, “and, man, that’s to have those 400,000 spade cats march into Scarsdale with watermelon seeds.”
The young SNCC workers are now back in Lowndes County, where white registration is 118 per cent and where the alleged killers of Mrs. Liuzzo are free and treated as respected citizens.
Before he left, Carmichael said, “These murders don’t stop us. I just figure that after 17 funerals that I’m the next one to get killed. So I just work faster and harder.”
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2009