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Saturday, December 1, 2018

"The Green Book" movie and an earlier,1962 integrated road trip in South

To All,  I went to a movie last night and saw one I heartily recommend, The Green Book.  It is "based" on a true story.  I assume there were many, stronger, bitter words between the 2 main characters that are not mentioned in the film.  I suspect it is sanitized.  BUT IT IS STILL A GOOD FILM.  No special effects.  But the basics are there; the basics are true.  If you can, see "The Green Book."
     All that reminded me of a car trip I took in the South.  The Green Book takes place in 1962; my trip was 1960.  Hugh Murray

Hugh Murray
 In August 1960 the Congress of Racial Equality, which had been involved in student sit-ins that had begun earlier that year, decided to hold a training institute in Miami, Florida.  I desperately wanted to go, and the newly formed CORE chapter in New Orleans was preparing to send some people.  I assumed there would be about 1,000 people from all over the nation who would meet in Miami.  I was living with my parents who were not enthusiastic.  Would I be the only white going?  They asked.  I told them another white from Loyola U. of the South (a Jesuit institution) would be going.  He probably made it easier with his parents by telling them I was going.
8 from the NO area were finally set to go - one who was not an activist but he had a car, Marvin Robinson, a student at Southern U. (in Baton Rouge, which was then the largest Black university in the world).  I think he had been arrested in some of the SU protests in the spring of 1960, and he also had a car.  Ruth Dispenza, a young Black woman (though physically very light), from New Orleans; another young Black woman, I think it was Joyce Taylor; Rudy Lombard, leader of NO CORE, and a student at Xavier U. in NO (a Black Roman Catholic univ.), Archie Allen, a Black student at Dillard U. in NO (a Black Protestant univ.), and the 2 whites.
We were to depart from NO early in the morning.  I did not want the car to come to my parents home, where a possible argument and scene might erupt.  Oliver and I decided to stay the night NOT at our homes, but renting a room at the Negro YMCA.  He did not stay the night, but went out the the French Quarter with friends for a drinking session.  I stayed but got little sleep.  The room had a large window, it was hot, humid summer night in NO, and no air con or fan.  Just outside my window was the big lighted sign for the YMCA, the light filling my room.  Far worse, there was no screen on the window, and mosquitoes buzzed all night.  I got little sleep.
Oliver would not be driving (I learned later he was legally blind).  He would be in the car with the 2 young women and the driver (who may have been related to one of the women.  So in that car was Oliver (white), Ruth (looking, most would think who was white, though she was not), and Joyce (Black) and the driver.  I was in the car with Marvin, Archie, and Rudy (they were all Black).
In those days one could travel rather comfortably in an American car. There were 3 seats in the front, 3 in the back, and one did not worry with the discomfort and hassle of seat belts and other tortures imposed on the modern riders. In our car, Archie had brought an over-sized trunk that was too big for the automobiles boot or trunk, so it lay on the back seat, occupying what would normally be the seats of 2 people. So we only had room to seat 4 people. Archie did not drive, and since his trunk made it impossible for anyone to sleep in the back seat, he volunteered to sit in the middle front seat, least comfortable on the 22-hour journey.
I was not driving when we first had to stop for gas (petrol) in the very conservative state of Mississippi. In those days a gas station was a “service” station, and a young man would first come out to wipe the windshield, before asking how much gas to pump into your car. Before he came, I rushed out to the restroom (toilet), hoping he would not realize we were a mixed (racial) group. The others then followed. I tried to reenter the car only after the clerk was returning to the cash area of the station. We ate in Tallahassee, a diner operation, and perhaps Marvin knew of it through the Green Book, so it was mainly a Black eatery. I was driving deep into the night going south down into Florida. I went to sleep at the wheel. Happily, the car veered slightly to the right, we went only slightly off the paved highway and the right tires hit gravel, which caused noise and the car to jostle a bit waking all the occupants. Someone else decided to drive after that.
We arrived safely at the Negro motel where we would be staying and where CORE had scheduled its conference. It took 22 hours for our road trip. Not much happened to make it a topic for a movie – happily. The conference was nothing like I expected, for instead of a thousand participants, there were only about 50. It was a 3-week training session in non-violence. Most of our session were held during the day in the motel's cocktail lounge. One day our teacher was baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who was also promoting the cause of Richard Nixon and the Republicans (August of 1960 was a presidential election year). On another day, the teacher was Martin Luther King, Jr., who at that time was only quietly for John Kennedy and the Democrats. His father, an influential minister in Atlanta, had been for Nixon, as he was worried about a possible Catholic president. However, once his son was jailed and the Kennedy's made phone calls to help him, the elder King openly supported the Democratic candidate.
Part of our learning was testing. In Miami there was a major supermarket with a restaurant inside. The restaurant was segregated. We were divided into groups and entered the restaurant and took seats. Most of the CORE groups sat at tables to integrate the eatery. Police were called, and many of our group were arrested. Only 2 were at our table, Ruth and me, but as most assumed she was white, we were not arrested (though, in fact, we were integrating the restaurant).
A few Miamians joined the CORE institute, including the son of A D Moore, who was a student at Dillard in NO, and Bob Kunst, who in the 1970s would lead the campaign against Anita Bryant and for gay rights. One organization very sympathetic to ours was the Jewish Culture Society, which lent us their main room for a dance. You could easily distinguish between the 2 groups, their youngest member was about 60, while most of ours were early 20s. I do remember learning how to do the twist from Ruth at that dance.
I recall little of the return trip. I think we had more in the car, so perhaps Archie's trunk went in the other car. Coming with us was a white young woman from NY, Dottie Miller, who would later marry southern white Bob Zellner. The Zellners were leaders in the early days of the civil rights movement in SNCC and in the Mississippi Freedom Summer efforts of 1964.
Back in New Orleans, Rudy Lombard continued to lead NO CORE. NO, the largest city in the South for over a century, was soon to lose it place with the upcoming census. NO had had no sit-in. In early September 1960, Ruth was the chosen leader, as 7 of us were arrested after being read the law, literally, by the then DA of NO Dowling. Archie Allen, Joyce Taylor, me, another white from Tulane Bill Harrell, and 2 others were arrested. The local NAACP opposed us and our sit-in. But soon the Youth NAACP supported us, and more people joined CORE.
We 7 were convicted of a felony. During the trial, we had all sat together with our attorneys, who were Black. When the judge saw this, he threatened us with contempt of court for race mixing his courtroom. So Bill Harrell and I moved away from the others and from our attorneys. Our convictions were upheld on the local an state levels, but eventually, after some years, the US Supreme Court made a decision in our favor.
       In 1961 CORE would originate the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, in which integrated buses from the North were sent south to end in New Orleans, but often they were attacked along the way in Alabama or Mississippi when they sought to integrate bus terminal facilities along the way.  CORE National leader James Farmer beginning in 1961 would eventually furn for Congress in Brooklyn as a Republican, but he lost.  He then had an office in the Administration of Republican Richard Nixon.
This summary of events is written 58 years after the events, so there may be some errors.

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