Tag Archives: The Summer That Didn’t End

A SUMMER THAT STILL HAUNTS US

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From Paulette:
Sometimes the best books aren’t the newest ones. Bestselling books or recently published books are not necessarily the ones we decide to spend our time reading. Sometimes a book grabs us by the throat and takes our breath away. There’s a great big world of books out there as today’s guest blogger Jack Armstrong reminds us.

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The Summer That Didn’t End
Author: Len Holt
Publisher: Morrow (1965)
Genre: non-fiction
351 pages

Post by Guest Blogger Jack Armstrong

I read The Summer That Didn’t End, by Len Holt. He was one of the
organizers of the Mississippi Civil Rights Project of 1964. He wrote
the book the following year, while they were still in the hot middle of
the project.

I’d like to mention two things. First, it’s hard to
appreciate from the perspective of 2013 the enormity of what the civil
rights movement was up against. It wasn’t just the KKK. It was the
POLICE. And the NEWSPAPERS. The civil rights workers of 1964, who
wanted nothing more than to register people to vote and teach people to
read, voluntarily went places that were completely controlled by known
enemies, who had already tortured and/or killed dozens of their
fellows. Although in theory they had some protection from the law, in
fact they had none. The local courts were in full collusion with the
KKK. The state courts refused to hear their cases. Even the Federal
government, which should have been their defender of last resort,
refused to help.

So these organizers went unarmed, with absolutely no
protection but the grace of God. James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and
Mickey Schwerner (whose deaths in June 1964 sparked national outrage)
were not the first civil rights workers murdered by the police. They
were the first white civil rights workers murdered by the police. There
is a summary list in the back of this book of atrocities committed
against the movement – torture, murder, harassment, house burnings,
church burnings. The list is fifty pages long.

Try to imagine volunteering to fight in a war in which the other side
uses guns, knives, baseball bats, bullwhips, sneak attacks in the
middle of the night, and vicious propaganda, and your side uses nothing
but prayer and goodwill. The magnitude of what those people did for our
country, and the courage and self-restraint they showed in doing it, is
just heart-stopping.

The second thing I want to mention is the impact the civil rights
movement had on white America. Here’s a quote, about the white college
kids who came to Mississippi that summer to teach black children:
“Most of the teachers were white and from northern suburbia. Analyzing
their own lives in the North, the teachers pointed out the drastic
shortcomings of the tension-ridden, insecure life of those “middle
class” people (like the teachers’ parents) who would have heart attacks
if a Jew, Negro or Chinese-American moved into their neighborhoods; who
haven’t expressed an honest idea in public since the first payment on
one of their several mortgages; whose ulcerated, psychotherapied,
martini-drenched lives are composed totally of the deadest, sickest
fictions that the most successful Madison Avenue huckster can sell in a
world tottering on the brink of ultimate destruction.” It probably wasn’t that bad in every home, but any white American old enough to remember the ‘sixties will find this description distressingly familiar.

Quite apart from what Dr. King and his compatriots did for themselves,
they gave to white America — to my mother and father; to me — the
greatest gift ever: the right, for the first time, to breathe the clean
air of innocence. So: to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Len Holt, Bayard Rustin, Ralph
Abernathy, James Earl Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, Emmett
Till, Wharlest Jackson, George Metcalfe, Medgar Evers, and a thousand
others, you have my deepest, everlasting gratitude. Thank you all.

About our guest blogger:
Jack Armstrong divides his time between printing
election ballots and helping his wife run the Philadelphia Shakespeare
Theatre. They have two children. Jack grew up in Fort Worth, Texas,
where he spent his time with Boy Scouts, skateboards, books, and
getting in trouble at school. He attended St. John’s College, in
Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM. Before starting the ballot company,
Jack worked as a carpenter, auto mechanic, salmon fisherman in Alaska,
jade prospector in Guatemala, political campaigner in Texas and
lobbyist in Washington.

Thanks so much to Jack for joining the conversations at www.readeatlive.com.