This is my transcription of a speech given by Ortha Williams, the president of the Farmers' League in Madison County at the Mount Zion Church, on October 7, 1964. I had been asked to research a grant opportunity under the Poverty Program, which included familiarizing myself with Madison County. I transcribed as much of the speech as I could keep up with. The style of the speech was a familiar one in the Black community, full of metaphors and images, moving freely from one topic to another, with the crowd following closely and applauding enthusiastically. It was similar to the style of the sermons I had heard in other Black churches, the differences being the lack of biblical references, the addition of applause, alongside the periodic chorus of "Amen, brother." Hearing the speech was a watershed moment for me. Ortha Williams was the real thing, no doubt about it. He was the essence of the local Black leader--courageous, tired of injustice, ready to act and able to read the minds and hearts of his fellow community members. This was the embodiment for me of "local people," the true heroes of the movement who put everything on the line in the battle for racial justice. His passion and commitment to bringing justice to his community resonated with the classics of my youth, the traditions of liberal Jewish thought, my identification with the working class, and my aspirations for a life of meaning. After hearing Ortha Williams speak, I knew what I was fighting for.
excerpts from a speech given by ortho jones [Williams], president of the farmer's league of madison county, at a meeting held in the mount zion church, october 7, 1964.
"JFK, a great man, said ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country’. . .*
We got to fight like hell, and we've got a fight comin up, i'm gonna go down to that state house in a few days with a load of men and see about that charter.* comin here on that road i saw that road's too tough to haul crops over.* there's not enuf gravel, and as long as we're afraid to go to that courthouse there isn't gonna be no gravel on that road. . .*
i don't mind a white man in office if he treats that office right and me right. . . .*
there's a piece of cake been passin along and every time it comes to me it goes right by. now i want to stick my knife in that cake, even if it's just on top to taste the icing. . .*
one of these guys here asked me about cofo. well, cofo is fine, but nonviolence isn't goin to work,*** i'm gettin tired and i'm gettin mad. . . .
we got started from help in cofo. piori and me, we got to be fast friends, but we both had mule heads, like a mule and a hog we got to rootin and diggin in different things. . . .
from cofo i've seen 6 people get $1000 from the fha to improve their homes. one of these people put in an electric well, and for the first time an old lady of 60 or 70 years was able to draw water in her own home.* that old lady was my mother.* the credit goes to cofo because they started diggin the path. . .
George Raymond, now he's got his head whooped pretty good. i seen him walkin down the streets swingin' his arms when those people up there were callin him everything but George Raymond. . .*
the white american would make you stop, he's tryin with all kinds of things, but there's a couple of eyes lookin down here right now-not all, cause they still got Eastland up there tellin them we're all happy, but there's a couple. . .
i'm gettin tired enough to fight, and you tell those men hidin behind those bushes that say they have no part in what's happenin that every time a black child hits this world and hollers, he's in it. . .**
we're tryin to get into politics to make our position in Mississippi better, you've got to beat the bushes like there's snow and you're followin a rabbitt's trai, andget him out of those bushes. . .
we aint got much when we got Johnson, but we aint got nobody when we got Goldwater.* that's politics. . .
we're goin to break down discrimination, get some negroes and some whites in there, mix 'em all up. . .*
you can't build bridges till you come to them, first you got to see who wants to come, and then you gotta see who's gonna help you build that bridge. . ."
* = applause