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Sat. July 18 , [Hattiesburg, Mississippi] [typescript page 1]
Dear Mom and Dad,
We’ve got almost no news to report today, but I will answer your questions in the letter you mailed Tues and we got yesterday afternoon. Bob Stone’s ancestors were completely unknown to me, so thank you for letting me in on all that. Of course we saw, admired and photographed the US Embassy in Delhi. There are other Stone buildings that we like, but I can’t think which right now: Nancy will remember. Meanwhile, however, Bob himself has left Hattiesburg to go to McComb to start a Freedom School there. This is not a very nice town, I’m afraid, in the heart of the very worst part (southwest) of the state.
All our classes are held in churches. There is no equipment worth mentioning, except chairs to sit on. We have received donations of all sorts from people in the north, but this is all very haphazard. The worst shortage is books. So far we have enough paper, and plenty of pencils. Some people have gotten twenty or thirty copies of some paperbacks, which they are using in their classes. But what books we have come in twos and threes. There aren’t by a long shot enough source materials for the teachers, which is very bad (there are thirty-five teachers now; we are running a huge operation).
My own feeling is that the schools haven't been very successful, though I don't have any idea how success is supposed to be measured. I suppose just being here and dealing with people on an equal level is an end in itself, but from an academic point of view I don't feel that I've accomplished very much. One huge obstacle is the really appalling ignorance of these kids. Our best students all seem to be from Racine or New Orleans or someplace sophisticated (they are here for the summer visiting realtives). I had a devastating few minutes yesterday trying to get kids (some 14 years old) to figure out whether Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence before or after he became president. Since they didn't seem to have any idea what the role of the Declaration was in history, I tried to get them to reason it out for themselves, but all they did was try to guess when J. might have been President. Reading the Dec itself (not easy English of course) was a struggle. I don't know about the other people but I haven't found any older kids who are even remotely ready for a good college; some who would do all right at WMU I suppose. I have met a few kids who seem very bright, but not, I suspect, in any academic sense. Reading and writing are not anyone's forte.
The church I teach at is about two or three miles from where we live, in a rather large community just beyond the city line. I drive people all over in the morning and then go out. We are served lunch by the local (free lunch) ladies at the churches we teach at. Nancy’s school is across the street from our home, so she has no transportation problems at all. I don’t teach at night (we have many more day students than night students); usually I stay home. In the evening we have a hamburger or something down the street. The food we get is very cheap but quite good and nutritious. All sorts of green things, chicken (every meal) (they must kill more chickens per capita down here than anywhere else), dumplings, rice, sometimes ham and occasionally some other bits of meat (cooked in something). (Pork chops every so often.)
Teddy wrote us a nice letter and offered to send materials; Nancy immediately took her up on it, though I’m not exactly sure what Teddy is going to make of Nancy’s request for “Negro books” (here are three or four: Why We Can’t Wait and Stride Toward Freedom, both by ML King; Black Boy by Richard Wright; Go Tell It on the Mountain, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, all by Baldwin. All are in cheap paperback editions. Any number of copies will be appreciated. You can’t imagine what an acute shortage of books there is here.)