In the mid 1980s, Duke history student Joseph Sinsheimer interviewed veterans of the fight for voting rights in early-1960s Mississippi. The generational distance between the interviews and the subject worked in Sinsheimer’s favor: his narrators had gained the perspective of years but many still had their youth, with memory intact, and were ready to talk at length of their experiences. The collection guide to these remarkable interviews is a roll call of Civil Rights Movement leadership in the deep South: C.C. Bryant, Robert Moses, Lawrence Guyot, Willie Peacock, Hollis Watkins and others detail Mississippi’s struggle through stories of their involvement.
As we digitize the audiocassettes that Sinsheimer used to record the interviews, one story immediately stands out. Activist Sam Block’s retelling of how he came to be involved in the movement is a coming-of-age story informed by the death of Emmett Till and galvanized by a confrontation with a white customer at his uncle’s service station. His subsequent recruitment into the Movement via the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and his training at Highlander Folk School, were prologue to the courage Block demonstrated when he asked Robert Moses to drop him in Greenwood, Mississippi, with “no car, no money, no food…just me.”
Listen here: Sam Block interviewed by Joseph Sinsheimer
Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist in the Technical Services Dept.