Recap: Mickey, Andy, James, and Yonah were trying to drive away from a police car, but now they are stuck because their front tire blew.
No, no, why was this happening? I was shaking all over.
The sheriff slammed his car door and swaggered towards us. He wore a cowboy hat, boots, and a holster with pistols. He looked like a cowboy in a movie, only he wasn’t an actor, and he looked really mean. My first thought was he must be in the KKK. He looked like someone who would be in it. My next thought was this is it. You’ve lived a short life, Yonah.
The sheriff barked at James, “You fix that flat tire, boy.”
James grimaced and proceeded to take out a jack from the trunk. Andy came out to help. I was too frozen with fear to move. The hubcap had popped off when the tire went flat, and Andy found the hubcap and put it close to the car. We stood outside the car watching James and Andy fix the tire. My back was soaked with sweat. After the tire was fixed, the sheriff barked at James. “Show me your driver’s license.” Then he turned to each of us. “Y’all, show me your ID.” All I had was my student ID. My hand was shaking when I handed it to him.
He glanced at each of the IDs. “Goodman, you one of them North college students.” Then he stared at me. “Hartstein, you’re the boy staying next door to the Herrings, ain’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Go on, get! Rest of yous are headed for the Neshoba jail.” He turned to me. “Just stay away from the likes of these people. That’s a warning to you.” He tapped his pistol in my direction.
I realized that staying with my relatives was saving me because of their association with the Herrings. I stood watching in horror as the sheriff drove away with my three friends, leaving me to walk back to Neshoba on my own.
My stomach clenched with fear. I sank down on the ground to try to regain some sense of reality. I asked Hashem to please help me to help my friends and to please protect them.
My mind started working. The question now was what to do. Should I go back to Neshoba or should I hitchhike to Meridian and try to find a way to contact Rita Schwerner and to let the CORE office know the three of them were arrested.
I decided that would be the best thing to do, only I never did have a good sense of direction. I tried to run since I’m a fast runner, but it was hard to keep pace in that sweltering heat.
I ran and ran and ran. After a good hour, to my utter dismay, I discovered a sign that said Neshoba County four miles ahead. When I thought I was heading to Meridian, I was really heading back towards Neshoba.
“No! I’d run in the wrong direction.”
Just then a car sped towards me. I thought of hitching a ride until I saw who was in the car. Jed was driving with two of his friends who looked like henchmen. He jumped out of the car when he saw me.
“I heard you were hanging out with those civil rights people. You dirty dog Jew. You don’t deserve to live.” He grabbed me around the neck.
Was this it? I said Sh’ma Yisrael. Suddenly, one of his friends took something like a metal pole or a heavy piece of wood and proceeded to bash me on the head. The pain was sharp and unbearable. I felt myself falling. The world went black.
When I opened my eyes, the sky was splattered with stars. My head was killing me like I’d been hit with a hammer. I shuddered, recalling Jed’s attack on me. I had to get to Meridian. There was no time to spare. My friends needed my help now. I slowly raised myself up. I felt dizzy. I touched my head and felt something sticky. There was an open wound on my head. I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my head. I had to find my way to Meridian. I searched frantically for the main road. When I finally staggered to the road it was quiet. I heard crickets whirring and the hum of insects. There were no street lights. I started walking, hoping I was going in the right direction. I headed away from the direction of the sign that said Neshoba four miles ahead.
Just then, a pick-up truck rambled down the road and I stuck out my thumb. The driver pulled over.
“Where ya’ll going?” the man drawled. He appeared slightly drunk.
“I need a ride close to Meridian,” I said.
The man motioned me into the truck. I hoped he wouldn’t notice the blood dripping down my back. His words slurred together as he spoke to me about the weather and his farm.
I listened politely, watching the street signs and praying we would get there soon. The moon was high in the sky. It felt like it was very late at night.
Finally, we pulled into Meridian. I thanked the man and jumped out of the car. I raced into town and headed for the CORE office. I told one of the people there what happened. She thanked me and said she would notify Rita Schwerner.
Meanwhile, she suggested I go to the jail and reassure Mickey, Andy, and James that CORE was going to send someone to bail them out. They lent me a car and I drove back to Neshoba. My head was throbbing, and I felt light-headed, but I kept driving. I parked outside of the town, so no one would see me in this car. I raced towards the jailhouse.
I stepped inside.
The whole jailhouse was empty.
The only sound was George Cotton, the sole inmate snoring peacefully in the Negro cell.
Thank G-d. They were bailed out.
I glanced at the book in the front of the jailhouse.
Mrs. Herring had written Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney’s names and next to all three she had written “Negro.” How strange, I mused. To her way of thinking, I guessed, if you associated with black people you were Negro.
I headed out of the jailhouse towards the Hartsteins’ home. I would have to somehow sneak inside without them seeing my bloodied state.
I plopped into bed and fell into a deep sleep. I was unaware of the terrible danger that my three friends were facing at that very moment.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.