Document 79: Elayne DeLott to Ted Bayne, Batesville, Mississippi, 17 March 1965, Elaine DeLott Baker Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
The demise of romanticism, the ongoing reality of physical violence, uncertain political gains and the tensions of Black/white relationships depressed me. On the outside, I continued to function effectively. My work with the co-op, which I would continue until after the co-op had distributed seed to its members, was going well, but my view of the impact of what I was doing had changed drastically. Once again I turned for understanding to my smart and caring friend Ted, who was a philosophy major at Harvard before joining Progressive Labor. With Ted I was able to frame my mental/emotional crisis in existential language, concluding with an existential decision to continue.
letter to ted- march 17
i really don't know how to write without misrepresenting. there is nothing heroic about what i'm doing. is it here in a house staring at A BULLET HOLE IN THE WINDOW, answering crank calls, in a house guarded at nite by two local people with shotguns, and all i can think about is occasionally how ridiculous it would be to be killed, how absurd. a car passes slowly and we duck and laugh at each other for staying in a position where we could be killed, knowing that what we are doing is meaningless, meaningless, except for the knowledge we are gaining that this is not the way, that there is no such thing as social change for the kind of change we want, from actions like these. the other night we were joking and it burst from us all of a sudden- we started pledging to each other that if we are killed to allow no publicity, no memorials, no formal or informal remembrances that would cheapen or cloud the issue. if i die now, i die absurd. really. i don't mind, but i want it to be that. to die now for this, another wrong track in the search for freedom, would really be meaningless, but i feel comfortable about it because i know. i feel pity for andrew goodman because he didn't know yet it was meaningless. i can accept, however, my dear friend's death, if it happens, with more of a smile, because he would know. at least he would die absurd. that's only half, though, the absurd part. the other part is that i really don't want to die because i've got a question, how do you free people (not classes, countries, society) and i have something i want to do in my life to find out. but this adds to the first part, the absurdity. it would be absurd to die at a point where i recognize that my actions now are meaningless, but where i see how much wonderful search is left. i am finding little bits out, freeing myself in bits. i don't want to die. i don't know why the obsession with death. maybe it's becaue i go to sleep every nite facing the window with the hole in it. what poor philosophy this must sound like. what a muddling of terms. it makes me laugh at philosophers, at existentialists. or maybe it was just that i could never understand b words, maybe it was my failing. but i don't believe that. i am arrogant, obscene. i don't think any of you know anything from your books i want to scream. why didn't anyone ever teach me anything? why didn't anyone ever tell me I didn't have to suffer, have to be a slave? i hate you all because you made me believe i could find out that way and i couldn't, and i was in pain becaue i couldn't find out and nobody would tell me why. and i suffered because i knew i was missing it. and now my mood changes and i feel gentle and loving. and i feel strong from beginning to learn, and i don't hate any of you. instead, i want to be gentle and patient, and try to make you look into "it". i forgive you all because you are slaves too. i guess you don't like that. it's paternalistic. but maybe it doesn't have to be. i love you all. and i love you ted. i am afraid only that you will deify my hummaness as I begin to succeed in becoming human. that's what happens and what will eventually suffocate me if i ever learn to be free. the only way out is to, well
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