This is the 4th part of a series celebrating the 50thanniversary of the Hyde County school boycott, a remarkable chapter in the history of America’s civil rights movement and the subject of my first book, Along Freedom Road. Today, a school protest becomes a civil rights movement.
As I look forward to the celebration of the Hyde County school boycott’s 50th anniversary this weekend, I am remembering how much Golden Frinks and the county’s black activists taught me about the history of the civil rights movement in America.
One of the most important things I learned was about the source of the civil rights movement’s strength in the 1960s.
They taught me that a movement—like the school boycott in Hyde County—wasn’t simply a succession of protests or rallies.
A movement was a daily part of people’s lives. It involved the whole family. It involved education, debate and intellectual striving. It involved the church. It involved struggle and hard times, but also joyous times—celebrating, singing, maybe even games now and then.
It involved building community. It involved a changing sense of oneself, who one was, who one could be.
And a movement was “little d” democratic—everybody making decisions together about the movement’s goals, directions and tactics.
The school boycott in 1968-69 launched the civil rights movement in Hyde County. Here’s how I described the feeling of that movement in my book Along Freedom Road.
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The school boycott transformed daily life in Hyde County. With the help of Southern Christian Leadership Conference co-workers Milton Fitch and James Barrow, Golden Frinks led protest marches and mass meetings almost every day… : usually the mile walk from Job’s Chapel to the Hyde County Courthouse in Swan Quarter.
Many days, protests occurred in Engelhard as well as the county seat. The school boycotters also conducted longer marches . . . : Swan Quarter to Scranton, New Holland to Engelhard, Lake Landing to Fairfield.
Every Sunday afternoon they held a larger march and a mass meeting in Swan Quarter….
School boycott leaders held community meetings almost every night after the protest marches, rotating the location among the county churches. Years later participants still remembered their exhilaration and energy at those gatherings.
Singing and worship formed the heart of every meeting. Guest speakers, often civil rights leaders visiting the school boycott, frequently gave inspirational or educational speeches.
Frinks and other SCLC activists often conducted workshops on civil disobedience.
Other times, several meetings happened at once within a church. Small groups caucused and later reported to the larger session. While a youth group met to plan the next protest, for instance, the adults would organize another delegation to Raleigh or sing gospel and movement songs….
“Everything was aired at the meetings,” Alice Mackey Spencer recalled, and everything seemed new, important, exciting, often revelatory.
One almost has to visualize mass meetings at isolated churches like Pleasant Grove, Snow Hill or Old Richmond to appreciate their import to the rural people who attended them.
Surrounded by swampy wastelands and a few homes on a creek bank, most of these small country churches had dwindling congregations, with an unusually high proportion of elderly members because so many younger people had migrated out of the county.
None of them had full-time or local ministers, and many churchgoers only saw the pews even half-filled when former members and relatives returned to Hyde County for homecoming.
Now, all of a sudden, the churches could barely hold the large crowds. The vibrant music and oratory and the tumult of activity brought new life to both the churches and their remote communities.
Beyond the possibility that they could preserve the O. A. Peay School and the Davis School, these scenes filled many black Hyde Countians with a more general sense of promise and hope.
Something seemed to be happening every moment during those early weeks of the school boycott. Crab pickers and oyster shuckers, whose shifts often began in the middle of the night and finished in late morning or midday, frequently came to Job’s Chapel directly from the fish houses in Swan Quarter, Engelhard and Rose Bay.
SCLC leaders were staying in the rectory, and the church had become the daily center of school boycott events and the rallying point for protests directed at the county government in Swan Quarter.
At almost any hour, black citizens that showed up at Job’s Chapel could count on being drawn into a strategy session, a protest, a fundraiser or a workshop.
Other churches and school groups were also preoccupied by the boycott.
Even mutual aid societies like the Order of Love and Charity and lodges such as the Masons and Eastern Star devoted their energies to the school boycott, organizing fundraisers, donating materials, arranging transportation, readying churches for meetings and providing food and chaperones for student protestors….
To some observers, it seemed that “everybody was organized….”
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Next time– the young people