Rinaldi, Matthew James

Matthew James Rinaldi’s personal account of happenings in Attala County 65′-66′:

“I first went to Mississippi as a civil rights worker in the winter of ’65-’66 with a large group of students from Oberlin College. We were sent for one week to Kosciusko, Attala County to work with MFDP organizers Gunter Frentz and Betty Jones. In that week we were involved in a blitz of restaurant sit-ins, a movie theatre sit-in and voter registration efforts. The Freedom House was attacked one night by armed white men and two of our group were slightly wounded, but we were armed and fired back. (This was a new era in the movement and a dramatic shift from the rules against armed self-defense in place in ’64). The attackers fled. While the KKK had more than a century of experience lynching, shooting and beating Black people who stood up to racism and segregation, it seems clear in retrospect that they were not prepared to risk their own lives. They were armed and ready to kill; we were armed and ready to die. I believe that difference was our power.

I returned to Attala County for the summer of ’66 to continue working with the MFDP. We were joined for the entire summer by a local high school student, Luther Mallett, who became my partner. His brother, Wiley Mallett, and sister, Jean Mallett, were also active in the movement. Their mother, Lenora Mallett, was one courageous person to endure the risks taken by her children. We spent the summer on more sit-ins, voter registration and a major effort to integrate the city park and whites-only swimming pool. We also made an effort to spread the movement to small towns in the county; our Freedom House in McCool was burned down the day after Luther and I arrived, but we rebuilt a new Freedom House on the ashes of the old and continued our efforts.

The real heroes and heroines were people like the Malletts, Shirley Adams, Emma Ree Rayford, Nash Hannah, Betty Jean Rimmer, Shirley Yawk, Roxie Meredith, Carl (Elmore) Winfrey and countless others in the local Black community, who registered to vote, attempted to integrate the city park, marched, organized, fed us, housed us and protected us at tremendous risk. Through their efforts the county was changed forever.”