SEPTEMBER 14, 1959
HYDE PARK—A young man was brought to visit me the other evening who had a dramatic story of the South to tell. He is a teacher by profession, and for a short time last summer taught at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. As you may know, this school has several times been the object of attack because it holds integrated meetings for colored and white people who frequently conduct seminars or workshops to discuss and be trained for work in the labor movement. The accusations levelled against the school have always been that it was Communist.
These accusations have never stood up in court, and last year, when I visited the school, I met some interesting people but found no one that I thought was Communist. Moreover, nothing was served at any meal, so far as I could see, that was stronger than fruit punch. Nevertheless, my young visitor told me that he had been arrested at the school with two other white teachers, all of whom were living for the summer period in the home of the director, Mr. Myles Horton. Simultaneously, a colored woman, who was the director of education in the school, was also arrested during a seminar. The charge against them all was "drunk and disorderly conduct and resisting arrest."
I asked the young man when he had last had a drink, and he said ten days before. In Mr. Horton's home the police discovered one bottle containing a small amount of gin and another containing a small amount of rum. These my young man could account for, but he was completely surprised when the police "discovered" one other bottle of moonshine whiskey. This, none of the members of the household had any recollection of ever seeing before.
While they sat in the car after their arrest, waiting for the police to finish ransacking the buildings, the seminar of students—which was very largely made up of colored people—softly sang some of the songs which they have set to the old hymn tunes especially well known in this area. The young man looked at me and said that it was one of the most moving things he had ever listened to.
When they arrived at the jail, the people from the school of course followed to offer bail. But the official in charge announced that since the complaint was drunkenness, they must spend eight hours in jail to sober up. They had no choice but to remain locked up for the night.
This seems to me just another attempt, failing the Communist charge, to close up a school which has been doing excellent labor education and which has been proving day by day that colored people and white people can live, work and play together and grow in a Christian spirit of understanding and charity.
The trial is today (Monday). The eyes not alone of the American people will be focused on this part of our country. All over the world as well, people will be watching to see what our promise of justice really means in the U. S. A.