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Aug. 7, 1964, [Hattiesburg, Mississippi] [typescript page 1]
Dear Mom and Dad,
Here is our second letter to the Gazette. The last letter I can find from you is dated last Monday, July 27. Have I lost a letter, or haven’t we written to each other in all that time? If not, I’m sorry; I’ll give the usual plea of work and inertia.
We have been getting several packages of books, and right now I can’t remember what from whom, especially since Nancy opens them all. We did get a lot of office material from Teddy, for which we are thankful, and will send her a note. She also sent four bars of ivory soap, the significance of which I really don’t understand. Has she been reading the beatnik propaganda about us?
Nancy is now a full-time librarian, which she is enjoying very much. For a while she was teaching typing, which she rather enjoyed too (an evening class of adults), but many new teachers arrived recently and now she’s got nothing to do but library. We have about 6,000 books in the library, main branch, and are opening new branches in several places in town and at Palmer’s. (The Negro library supplied by the city has about 2,000 books or so. Negroes can use books in the main library downtown but can’t get a card or take anything out.) What will happen to these libraries after we leave, heaven knows; finding people to continue the programs is [the] number one problem now. But meanwhile Nancy is busy sorting and weeding out and cataloguing, all the kind of work that makes her happy.
All the kinds of books you suggest – adventure stories, children’s books, etc. – are fine for the library. When I first wrote about books I had our Schools in mind, where the book shortage continues to be bad, though we have gotten used to it by now. I hope to give out copies of King’s Stride Toward Freedom which Dick Bernstein is sending in quantity (50); this is stuff I think should be discussed in class.
We had a good lesson on Gandhi the other day. Tomorrow our school and the other one in Palmer’s Crossing are having a debate on non-violence. (We hope to debate with a school from Gulfport one of these days.) We need to do more work on the history of the movement; most of these kids are totally unaware. One of the new teachers, an old woman from someplace (probably NY) was a Freedom Rider, and if she ever stays still enough to let me catch her, I’m going to have her come down and talk about that.
The Baldwin book that I think is most suitable is Go Tell it on the Mountain, which is a novel about Harlem. It’s not bitter, or at least this would be an odd way to characterize it. Notes of a Native Son is hardly about Negroes at all. You are right in thinking that The Fire Next Time is probably above the heads of most kids, especially kids who read as poorly as ours do.
Do you know who Dick Bernstein is? He’s a young philosophy prof at Yale who I knew reasonably well. He got inspired and came down here for a week, spending about three days in Hburg. Was he ever enthusiastic! He promised to send 250 books, 50 of 5 different kinds. They haven’t arrived, but that’s the way books are.
The other night we had the traveling theater group in town (for two nights). They did In White America at two churches, complete with a highly contemporary ending about the three then-missing boys. (Rita Schwerner’s statement was