Selected Excerpts from Book
Chapter 11: Veterans of Domestic Wars
Excerpt: Honoring Our Veterans
WORLD WAR II
JUL 2 1925
JUN 12 1963
Medgar Evers is buried on the edge of a small oak grove, just inside the north gate of Arlington Cemetery, the one directly opposite the Lincoln Memorial. The solitary grave site is easy to find. Visitors entering the north gate need go only about a hundred paces up a slight hill, past a tall ivy-covered arbor on the right, to a flight of concrete stairs. There, down about two dozen steps and to the right is where the fallen hero was laid to rest.1
In this quiet spot, the general of the nonviolent Jackson Movement was buried after his shockingly violent death. Three rounds of gun blasts and the sorrowful sound of taps sent his spirit on while his wife, children, and brother just stared into the emptiness that had been shot through their lives.2 It was a veteran’s funeral, one that Evers had earned on the battlefields of France in World War II. But he deserved this honor just as much for his heroic efforts in another conflict as well: America’s domestic war of freedom by and for its own citizens.
In an interview shortly before his murder, Evers told a Washington-based reporter, “I’ve been fighting for America just as much as the soldiers in Viet Nam.”3 The same could be said of all of the Woolworth’s demonstrators. They are veterans of that same domestic war. And like any group of veterans, some emerged in better shape than others from the harrowing stress of daily facing the shadow of death. Some got out intact, stronger for the ordeal. Others lost too much along the way and had to retreat to recover some measure of stability. Still others stayed too long at the front and became so battle-scarred that they died soon after or were so wounded that their lives were irreparably damaged. The rest of their story, like the most intensive and memorable period of their lives, is filled with both hope and sadness. For some, it has not yet reached an end.
Excerpt: George Raymond
George Raymond’s legacy became the mass movement he led in Canton, one of the most repressive cities in the state of Mississippi. But he suffered severely for his devotion and his convictions. From 1963 through 1965, Raymond had police on constant lookout for him. They would stop his car without even pretending to have a reason, simply attempting to slow his progress and hoping to scare him out of Canton. In just some of many examples, a cocked shotgun was pointed at him while he was taken in a squad car to jail and arrested for “reckless driving” because he had transported CORE workers to a voter registration drive; he was pistol-whipped by a Canton constable, then charged with intimidating a police officer; he was stopped while driving a group of people home after a mass meeting, taken behind the squad car, and severely beaten; he was hit with an ax handle by the local marshal while leading some teens in integrating a little cafe and then shot at as the group fled. This and much more happened to this young, committed activist, still only in his early twenties.
Despite his exposure to this sort of extreme brutality, Raymond managed to have fun with his tormentors every now and then. Billy Nobles, Canton’s vicious deputy sheriff, had a running joke going with the civil rights worker. He had said if he ever saw Raymond in the town square, he would come across the street and “kick his ass.” Raymond, partly jokingly, partly to shield himself, would put all sorts of protective clothing and even pots and pans inside his overalls to soften the blow that inevitably would come. Dave Dennis, who witnessed this ritual, couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Don’t worry about it,” Raymond would tell him. “I’m OK.”
George Raymond participated in every significant civil rights project that came along during those years. He helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in Madison and surrounding counties; he was a major participant in the Freedom Summer activities within his district; and he became part of the Child Development Group of Mississippi when that organization proposed its radical approach to fighting poverty within the state during Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty campaign.
As tireless and courageous as he was as a freedom fighter, however, Raymond often seemed to have trouble with those who worked with and for him. At one point, his coworkers asked Dave Dennis to reassign Raymond to another project somewhere else in the state; Dennis refused, believing Raymond’s contacts with the local people were much too valuable to lose for internal staff reasons.
Throughout those challenging times, Raymond was also trying to maintain the respect of his family, which was especially important to him because, unlike many movement participants who saw their commitment as temporary, Raymond seems to have viewed his as lifelong. On a trip to New York City in January 1964, when Raymond and his friend Jerome Smith stayed with James Baldwin in his Greenwich Village apartment, Raymond wrote a letter to his parents on Baldwin’s stationery, asking for their prayers and understanding. “My dearest mother and father,” he wrote, “just a few lines to let you and the children know that I am doing well and that I still love all of you. My belief[s] may seem strange to you all some time, but all I ask of you all is to trust in me and believe in me. My goal is my people and everything that will make them progress. . . . Please always love me, mom and pop, because I need love very much. . . . the world do[es] not offer it and I really need it from you all always.”
A significant part of George Raymond’s life fell into place in June 1964 when he knocked on the door of the Evans family home in Sandhill, Mississippi, during a voter registration drive, and eighteen-year-old Myrtis Evans answered. Evans was immediately taken with Raymond, and he with her. Within a few months she was on her way with him to Canton—a trip she also remembered for the random harassment Raymond received from the Madison County sheriffs. Evans moved in with Raymond at the Freedom House in Canton in the late summer of 1964, and the next year they married and had a son, Jomo Kenyatta Raymond. Though happy with her new family, Myrtis Raymond became exposed to the shocking brutality her husband encountered daily. She told of acid being thrown on him in one demonstration; of how police would stop them and take their money; of how she would regularly visit the police station to bail George out for one trumped-up charge after another.
In 1965, George Raymond was appointed CORE’s Mississippi field secretary, taking Dave Dennis’s old post after Dennis was reassigned to New Orleans as CORE’s southern regional director and after Dennis’s first replacement stayed only six months. The following year, the Raymonds helped organize the James Meredith March Against Fear when it came through Canton on its way to Jackson. Myrtis Raymond was pleased to have hosted Martin Luther King for lunch on that occasion. The march, however, turned brutally hostile as it moved through Madison County, with police using tear gas on the marchers for simply attempting to set up tents on public property. The federal and state government’s lack of response to the abuse pushed the movement in a radically new direction. It was during this march that Stokely Carmichael, then the head of SNCC, articulated his militant “black power” manifesto. Soon thereafter, CORE also adopted a black power stance. Raymond could not accept the organization’s shift in philosophy and resigned.
To make ends meet, Raymond next took a job in Michigan with Foundation Cooperative Housing, which managed low-income housing projects. After a few months, the job turned sour, and he returned to Canton. Other disappointments followed. Raymond ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi legislature in the 1967 elections under the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party banner. He also tried getting jobs in and around Canton, but inevitably word would spread about his movement work and he would be fired. Raymond began borrowing heavily from a supportive Ohio-based organization called Operation Freedom, including a business loan to open a restaurant and bar called Club Desire. When it folded after less than a year, Myrtis Raymond got a job with Head Start and became the primary wage earner of the family.
Myrtis begged her husband to consider relocating with her and their son to New Orleans, where with the strong support of his tight-knit family, they might be able to succeed. Raymond wouldn’t hear of it. “He was just too dedicated,” she said, “and he loved the people [of Canton].” Raymond’s friend and fellow CORE worker Mat Suarez summed up Raymond’s predicament. “George felt that he could not walk away from that community,” Suarez said, and likened Raymond to a combatant abandoned in enemy territory: “The movement pulled out and left George behind.”
Raymond eventually became bitter over what he saw as the movement’s failure to effect real change in the lives of the people for whom he had worked so hard. He also scorned the poverty programs and the welfare initiatives that were being created because he thought they fostered dependency upon the government. The constant economic hardships and his growing frustrations became too much for Raymond, and he began to smoke and drink heavily. This was especially dangerous for him because this lion of an activist, who had lived all his life with a heart full of courage, suffered from an enlarged heart—a congenital condition of which few in the movement were aware.
The situation gradually became too much for Myrtis Raymond. In November 1969, after regularly pleading with her husband to break away and make a new start, a pregnant Myrtis took Jomo and moved to her sister’s home in Jackson. Two months later, Shindina Raymond was born; a year after that, Myrtis filed for divorce.
Raymond continued to live and work in Canton, at times taking odd jobs in Jackson at nightclubs or factories, but by the end of 1971, he was so sick that he could hardly walk. Someone called his family in New Orleans, and his brother John came to take him home. Dave Dennis, who had just graduated from law school and was living in New Orleans, remembered Raymond visiting him, though his heart was clearly in bad shape. “I lived in an apartment . . . just one flight of stairs up, but he couldn’t make it. He’d make a few steps, then he’d have to sit.”
Raymond’s sister Lois remembered doctors telling her that her brother, still under thirty, had the heart of a seventy-year-old. His family said he’d changed in other ways too. “He was very quiet,” Lois said. Raymond’s nephew Robert believed his uncle “was in a state of constant grief.” “He would sit around and talk about his people being free,” Lois continued, “and how he was not able to really accomplish all that he wanted to accomplish. He was not the same active George that we knew. . . . [It] seem[ed] like he had just given up.”
Myrtis Raymond was aware that her ex-husband was in terrible shape. She visited him in New Orleans and asked him to come back and remarry her so she could care for him in Jackson. She felt he’d get better care at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and she had a job with medical benefits, but Raymond refused. He had little time left at that point. On March 8, 1973, at the age of thirty, George Raymond died of congestive heart failure.
Dave Dennis spoke at Raymond’s funeral service in New Orleans. “Dave cried through that eulogy,” remembered George’s brother John. A week later, when a memorial service was held in Canton, his family was stunned to see the outpouring of emotion and support. The Raymond family had had no idea of George’s impact on this small community in a neighboring state.
Raymond’s siblings remained at a loss to understand their brother’s fate. During the intervening years, they tended to idealize his complex character while appropriately honoring his contributions. “He believed in freedom,” said his sister Verna, “not only for himself but for everyone. And he was willing to make the sacrifice—the ultimate sacrifice—to give his life to see everyone free.”
About the Author
It was while visiting the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991 that M. J. O’Brien conceived the work that has become We Shall Not Be Moved. As part of its civil rights display, the King Center showed a photograph of the 1963 Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth’s sit-in—a photograph that has become the image used in history books and magazine articles to show what a sit-in was like. O’Brien was captivated by the photograph because at its center was a woman, Joan (Trumpauer)Mulholland, whom he had known for a number of years.
We Shall Not Be Moved is a labor of love. Primarily created in the late 1990s and finally brought to life through the auspices of the University Press of Mississippi, it is a story of triumph and determination that was captured by the now-iconic Fred Blackwell photograph. Although its publication was delayed (as told in Acknowledgements), timing is everything. The book was supposed to be published in 1999, but for a variety of reasons, it is only reaching a broader public today. And that is as it should be. We are on the cusp of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In (May 28, 1963) and the courageous souls who decided, one-by-one , to sit in at the counter that day are being recognized for their contribution to the overall civil rights struggle.