Notes From a Montgomery Jail

I was first put in Montgomery County Jail on the charge of stealing a newspaper, acquitted, and put right back because the driver of our car had a flare gun in the trunk. Four days ago five of us were driving North and home. Now bail is set at a thousand dollars apiece and since we’re still in Montgomery it’s safer in than out, they say. I’m scared.

Nine of us walking down a night road in Selma remember a car backing up, stopping, and four whites chasing us back amid the shacks. I remember standing security guard at the campsites in Lowndes County with the F.B.I., a colonel, and U.S. marshal McShane within calling distance then. And if the faces were dark we’d let them through, but if they were white we’d chat for a minute first. And when I was relieved late at night I’d get a ride back into Selma with a Negro family and I’d sit low in the back seat. A colored undertaker pressed his business card on me as a joke. I was a marshal in the ring of locked hands that surrounded King and the others as we marched into Montgomery, and in the colored districts the leaders asked the people to join in and march to their capitol. Some clapped and said freedom. Others stood with their mouths and faces shut and I wondered could they still be scared with these thousands marching down Montgomery Street and up Dexter Avenue to the capitol building and its white marble steps? That night after the march my friend and I went back to our friends in Montgomery, but they were nervous and glad we left at six in the morning.

We were arrested about ten miles outside Montgomery. The State Police pulled us over and told us to follow them. We were under arrest for stealing newspapers. We had bought one newspaper on the outskirts of Montgomery where we tried to get breakfast. I saw my friend put the dime in the honesty box. The headlines said a woman had been shot in Lowndes County. We were off the main road now. The police car kept getting out of sight ahead and we didn’t dare speed. There were five of us, white: my neighbor and I from New York, and three students driving back to school who had offered us a ride. We all checked our pockets. The police were parked in front of a town police station. Ten Montgomery County sheriffs stood waiting for us. We got out, were handcuffed, frisked. A young student was carrying a switchblade. He had missed the point of nonviolence. I suppose he thought he was too young to play Schwerner, Chaney, or Goodman. Before they drove our car away they sprayed it with disinfectant. The sheriffs complained that we smelled like niggers and had crabs and lice and syphilis, but no one touched us. A slight man in a business suit walked up and down behind the…

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