Document 53A: Cleveland Sellers, "Holly Springs project--Letters from Cleveland Sellers," [November 1964], Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. 3 pp.
In October 1964, the Jackson office asked project directors in Mississippi to submit reports on their projects. Nine of these reports are included here (Documents 52-60). Cleve Sellers was a Howard student who came south in his sophomore year to work as a field secretary. His straightforward, no-nonsense assessment of the needs of the Holly Springs Project, where he served as project director, provides a clear picture of what projects faced in the fall of 1964. Cleve was a proponent of a hierarchical structure and went on to become SNCC's Program Secretary in 1965. In 1968 he was arrested and imprisoned in conjunction with the Orangeburg Massacre, but later fully pardoned. Cleve's book, The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC (1973), helped shape the early historical view of SNCC. Cleve now serves as President of Vorhees College, a historically Black college in his hometown of Denmark, South Carolina.
Holly Springs project --- Letters from Cleveland Sellers.
I am not sure how this letter is supposed to be written, since you were caught in the same situation that we (Holly Springs project) are caught in now. We have reached the point where we must close up shop here until we are able to produce. And we don't mean just getting by. We are financially unable to function after December 3, 1964.
We are anticipating a working relationship between Jackson and H.S. now that you have decided to clean up and out. We think that now we should be able to work out some type of arrangement that could keep the Holly Springs project open. Enclosed is a letter to the same effect written to Jim Foreman. It is a little more in detail because I want him to weigh the situation carefully this time. I hope that your decision concerning this matter will be as honest and serious as your decision to close the Jackson office. Let me know what you think.
I guess you thought our financial problem was settled, but, in fact, we are farther away from a solution than when we first started bitching. We are presently getting $200 a month from Jackson. If you look at the list of our expenses below, you'll see that it is quite insufficient; For us to comply with Betty Garmen's memo which forbids soliciting for individual projects would be tantamount to closing shop.
Auto repairs: Kendall's VW $320.37
Merrill's VW 355.37
Ford Sta. Wagon 433.95
additional minor repairs for all cars, averaging $30./month
Gas for 8 cars averages $75/month each, or a total of $600/month
Legal Bond for Elwood Berry $500
Bond for Cleve Sellers 500
Fine for Charlie Scales 900
Truck rental to pick up food and clothing sent to Memphis $43.84
Telephone bill: $90.00/month
Autopsy for man who was thought to be poisoned: $150
Rent: office $75./month
girls' dorm 50./month
community center 25./month total $160./month
Repairs to office $200.00
Repairs to comm. center $100.00
The list is incomplete and does not include nonessential expenses such as food. We have receipts on all of the above except for gas. None of this money has been replaced by either Jackson or Atlanta.
We have estimated that it takes $20 a day to run this project, covering nine counties. So far the only way that we have been able to get food and clothing is to make appeals to the North for it to be sent directly to us. We have asked for food and clothing
[p. 2]from Jackson since the last of August but have received nothing yet.
We are also trying to get money to set up a branch office in Oxford and another about 10 miles south of Oxford near Yalobusha. The one south of Oxford is an old school that we plan to turn into an office and a community center.
We have a weekly publication that costs about $13.00 to print because we can't get stencils, paper, and ink from Jackson. Enclosed is a sample copy.
Local people also use our northern contacts to raise money for their programs. The Wayne Yancy Community Center in Benton County has raised almost $3000 so far. It is scheduled to go up in the spring and they want to have about $20,000 by then. The Holly Springs Freedom School students are going to tour New York with the play based on the life of Medgar Evers which they wrote and directed last summer. This tour, which will take place during Christmas vacation, has been arranged by one of the summer volunteers. They had to solicit money in the North to cover their $1,500.00 travel expenses. Marshall County people are also trying to get Northern supoort for their supermarket which will be the first in a projected chain. Arrangements are also being made in the North for rebuilding the church that was burned in Tippah Co.
The H.S. project along with local citizens are in the process of trying to work out an economic program for our nine counties. Our next political programs will be: 1. Pay your poll tax campaigns. 2. Massive freedom days, and 3. a political education program.
Getting back to our project needs, we have not had a lawyer since August 12, and may have to hire our own in Memphis. Perhaps because of lack of communication with Jackson, we have been repeatedly slighted in the provision of such services. The Freedom Singers were here for one night (for nine counties?), a couple of folkies that nobody ever heard of were here for one night (Barbara Dane, the only name folk singer scheduled for us was cancelled at the last minute). We've had but three speakers since June, we had a photographer here on October 26 for the first time since June, and IN WHITE AMERICA never made it to our project. We also desperately need reliable cars and additional reliable workers.
We are in need of a lot of things that are possible to get if someone in Jackson or Atlanta would become responsible. Let me make myself clear. I had little to say at the staff meeting about structure because the structure doesn't matter, the service the structure tenders is what counts. And until some people become responsible, the structure, regardless of what it might be, will not render service.
Now, Jim, we have weightd all of this carefully and feel that we should not be held responsible for some one else's irresponsibilities. Therefore, I am thinking seriously of resigning as project director of the Holly Springs project if there cannot be an understanding between the project, Jackson and Atlanta. There should be no need for Frank and I to have to turn over our checks to the project treasury to help keep it going. Therefore, we have decided to close down the project on Dec. 4, the first day of the
[p. 3]Mississippi staff meeting, and reopen as a COFO project when we have some guarantee of support from COFO and SNCC. Otherwise, we will assume the role of an autonomous local group. Then we will know exactly where we stand.
Yours in freedom,
cc: Stokely Carmichael
Ruby D. Robinson
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