Document 100: Email, Jane Adams to Elaine DeLott Baker, 5 October 2014, Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
In the course of tracking down the authors of the documents in this collection, I learned a lot about what happened to people post-Mississippi. We became a diaspora of sorts, separated from the homeland, a state of mind, a moment in history, a lost community, left with the memory of what it felt like to be so committed, so sure that our actions would lead to change. Reconnecting, or just reading about how people lived their lives, their values, post-Mississippi, has been a hidden benefit of revisiting this wonderful, but exhausting history. I asked one of these persons, Jane Adams, if I could post her e-mail response to my question of what she did after Mississippi. In my "Semi-Introspective" position paper, I admonished the men and women who I felt were pushing the white people out of the state, saying they couldn't stop us from organizing (see Document 44), but I never anticipated the ripples of social change that would flow from this small cadre of committed individuals to the larger culture, in multiple manifestations. Our values were forged from our individuality, from our colleagues, and from our experiences in the Freedom Movement. It was a beginning of many beginnings, reaching deeply into the culture--teaching, transforming, living.
"My Life after Freedom Summer" by
I returned to Carbondale in January 1965 to finish up a couple of courses I'd taken incompletes in. Then I went back down to Mississippi and don't have a clear recollection of what I did. The COFO office was sort of disintegrating, and Jesse was trying to start the Poor People's Corporation (or what became the PPC). In June there was a major demonstration in Jackson and, with several hundred others, I was taken to jail. The demonstrations continued for a week or more, with some 1,000 arrested. After getting out of jail I went to McComb to work in Amite County, with Louis Steptoe and his family. I tried to organize a quilting coop, but could not get traction with the older women quilters, several of whom were better educated than I but insisted on calling me "Miss Jane". I gathered there were some cleavages among the women I was trying to organize but I couldn't get a handle on what they were or how to bridge or get around them.
So that fall, with the Vietnam War heating up, I went north. I went to the SDS office in Chicago, becoming a campus traveler to chapters in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. I remained active in SDS until it disintegrated in 1969--served as National Secretary in 1966. I met my partner of several years at a Teacher-Organizer Institute we created in 1967 and went with him to Norman, Oklahoma, in the fall. We participated in the Democratic National Convention in 1968, serving as marshals keeping a line between the police and demonstrators in Grant Park.
After a few years regrouping in the Bay Area (an accident of bad tires and insufficient money to travel to our destination, the Pacific Northwest), and with our daughter b. 1971, I returned to Carbondale in 1976 to complete my BA, then got a PhD in anthropology at University of Illinois, doing my dissertation research on changing farm life in southern Illinois. In 1986-87 I worked on the farm crisis for a public interest group, Illinois South, that had been the lead organization for getting the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act passed (coal mining, of which there's a lot in Southern Illinois). I taught anthropology at Southern Illinois University (SIUC) until retiring in 2010. I remained active, serving on Illinois South's (renamed Illinois Stewardship Alliance) board and on the board of the Migrant Head Start program for about 10 years. In 1996 a mutual friend connected me with an acquaintance from our movement days and, with we moved into town. As chance had it, we bought an old bungalow in a "student neighborhood", rehabbed it, and became active in our neighborhood organization. I taught rural economic development and transformations; social movements; America's diverse cultures; and, after the melt-down in the former Yugoslavia and other Eastern European countries, and the resurgence of militant and political Islam, inter-ethnic relations.
When I retired in 2010 I ran for City Council. Carbondale is a small town of some 27,000 people, including students who live in university residence halls. There's a sizable black community that goes back to the 1860s (integrating Carbondale's restaurants in 1960 was my first direct involvement in the civil rights movement when I was in high school).
But the number of very poor African Americans is now growing sharply with the elimination of much public housing in St. Louis and Chicago (and probably elsewhere) and the "gentrification" of those cities. Carbondale has a large amount of low-rent housing and a large number of social service providers, as well as a large number of students who are easy picking for those with a predilection to petty theft, drug sales, and recreational thuggery. There are probably other factors involved in the influx of many very poor and apparently rootless African Americans who live on the borders between social services, low-wage work, and the illegal economy, but these seem to be the primary ones.
So we're faced with some very serious issues if we're to remain (or once again become) a town that's attractive to faculty and staff at the university and our other anchor, a regional hospital. I'm hoping my history in the movement, as well as being a legacy (my parents were very active in the local civil rights movement) will give me both the legitimacy and the imagination to deal with these issues in creative ways.
Here's my blog: http://www.adamscarbondale.org. My husband, D. Gorton, and I have other content-heavy websites that are informed by our work in Mississippi and elsewhere: http://mississippidelta.com, http://jccoovert.com, http://www.dgorton.com/farmsite/, http://dgorton.com/white_south/whitesouth.html. I've written three books and D. and I have another one that life keeps coming in the way of completing. We've restored a few houses in our neighborhood that we rent and from time to time sell--part of our efforts to restore the older near-in neighborhoods. D. restored a 1967 Avion truck camper that we've begun to travel around in. We always have too many balls up in the air, it seems.
I continue to seek the answers to life's persistent questions, but have become reconciled to the fact that many of them either have no answers or that in my lifetime I will not find the answers.
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