Document 16: Elayne DeLott to Renee DeLott, Oxford, Ohio, [June 1964], Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
My older sister Renee was my closest family confidante. This is the first of several letters that I wrote her during my time in the movement.
When it became clear that I wouldn't be able to finish the survey before staff left for the summer project orientation at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I just got on the bus as it left Jackson for Ohio. My plan was to finish the survey during orientation. Orientation was an overwhelming experience. The only lens I had for connecting with its commitment and exuberance was my experience in Young Judea, the Zionist Youth Organization that I was a part of in high school. Freedom Summer orientation was an experience of a different order and magnitude. It was literally a matter of life and death.
When I got on the bus in Jackson, headed for Ohio, I was not a volunteer, but neither was I staff. Once in Ohio, I was recruited to help with staff duties, like "manning" the WATS (wide area telephone service) line, the movement's national phone service that served as the basis of communication between projects. My co-worker on the WATS line the night the call came in that the three civil rights workers went missing in Neshoba County was Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) staffer, Rita Schwerner, whose husband, Mickey Schwerner, was one of the three young men killed that night. It would take another six weeks before their bodies were found. When I climbed back on the bus a few days later, headed back to Mississippi, I was no longer on the sidelines.
dear sister renee,
do not be misled by the postmark, although there is some truth in it. i am in ohio at oxford for the orientation of the sncc summer project people. i am working as staff on loan from tougaloo in order to help train researchers who will be working in miss. as it worked out that is not at all what i am doing. in effect; i have helped organize different administrative parts of the program and in general kind of looked around. in a way it is like being back in young Judaea with all this singing of songs and group spirit and assignment and very self-important people running around doing "movement work". i am leaving tonite back for miss and will be there by the time you get this letter. i came up from jackson on Saturday with a busload of people. the whole thing has been marred and we are all greatly disturbed about that incident in neshobe county which i am sure you heard about by now. three boys investigating the burning of a church just disappeared. it is now 35 hours that they have been missing. rita, one of the boys' wife, is here and since i have been working in the office i have had to watch and feel for her every time the phone rings. we all kind of think that the boys have been killed, although nobody wants to talk about it. the frustration comes in because the fbi won't go in and investigate, neither the highway police, neither the justice department. it is all quite frightening and i am very upset about it. newspapermen and tv and all kinds of people are coming in. meanwhile we're on the phone to senators and congressmen and the white house, and nothing is being done. sorry i haven't talked about tougaloo. i really love it there it is beautiful and the kids are marvellous. i am teaching social sciences and art appreciation. i really long to get back and on the other hand i can't think of leaving this place while no one knows what is happening. i hope you had a good trio with the mere. i probably will not get another chance to write you. take care and drop me a note.
all my love,
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