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March 27, 1971
On March 27, 1971, the New York Amsterdam News reported that South Carolina civil rights activist Victoria DeLee was running for Congress. DeLee had been fighting for civil rights for nearly three decades when she launched her campaign. DeLee ran as a member of the United Citizens Party, a group she helped found because black people were excluded from the Democratic party in Dorchester County, South Carolina. This article notes that DeLee was in New York City to attend a fundraising cocktail party hosted by Florynce Kennedy and other supporters (I was actually searching for articles on Florynce Kennedy when I found this news item on DeLee).
DeLee’s campaign flier described her as “Champion of the Underprivileged: black, white and red. Undaunted Crusader for Human Rights.” The flier listed DeLee’s civil rights accomplishments and struggles, which included:
- “1964: Victoria DeLee and DeLee children filed first federal court action to de-segregate Dorchester County, S.C. schools. As a result of this courageous act, the DeLee family received threatening letters and telephone calls; their house was repeatedly riddled with bullets; their cars were chased down lonely country roads.”
- “1966: DeLee house burned to ground by an arsonist’s fire.Mr. and Mrs. DeLee and two small children who were sleeping in the house barely escaped death. All family belongings were destroyed.”
- “1970: Parents, led by Victoria DeLee, waged a successful battle to enroll American Indian children in the regular schools of Dorchester County.”
- “1970: The ‘Four Hole Day Care Center,’ a facility for malnourished underprivileged black, white and red children, established by Victoria DeLee in Dorchester County, S.C.”
The New Yorker published “Victoria DeLee: In Her Own Words” (edited by Calvin Trillin) on the same date as this Amsterdam News article. Here are some of the most interesting quotations from the New Yorker piece:
The white people did us so bad. Knowing all the black people that was getting killed, it just worried me most to death. One white man knocked me out because I was hoeing cotton and he said I left some grass behind the cotton. So he took and knocked me up side the head. And when I come to, my grandmama had to beat me til he was satisfied. Till he was satisfied. And this was one of the first white men I meant to kill...
I got registered when it was real tough back there [early-1940s]. I made ’em register me...I went there and I just waited till the door opened and somebody comed out that it was time for somebody else. I stepped in. So I got in there with this guy—he was an old white man. His hair was white. He asked me what I wanted. I told him. I said, “I want my registration certificate.” He said,“You can’t get registered.” I said, “Oh yes I am.” I was [pregnant and] real heavy with this baby. Well, I looked like a barrel. I said, “I’m not going anywhere. I want my registration certificate. Don’t put your hands on me—and nobodys else.” I said, ”I want my registration certificate“...And he said, “You got to read this here—the Constitution. So he gave me a book. It wasn’t no Constitution. It was somethin’ else he give me to read—a whole big there there. I read it. He say, “You read, but you can’t read with understanding”...I said, “Who’s the person who’s supposed to understand it—me or you? I read and I understand what I read, and give me my registration certificate.” I said, “If you don’t—Mister, it’s goin’ to be trouble.” So he got scared. This white man got scared. He said, “You know who you’re talking to?” I said, “You know you you’re talking to?” I said, “This happen to not be one of your niggers.” I said, “I want my registration certificate.” After a while he says, “O.K. Now, you ain’t making me do this...but I’m goin’ to give you this registration certificate. But don’t you go there and tell nobodys else. I give you this registration certificate.” I says, “ You ain’t givin’ me my registration certificate.” I says, “I applied and I am eligible for it. That’s your Constitution—I done read it. That’s all that’s required. I said, “I’m going out here and tell everybody.”
From ’64 till ’66 [after trying to desegregate schools in Dorchester County, South Carolina] it was a living hell. We couldn’t go out in the daytime or sleep at night. My house, before they burned it down, looked like a polka-dotted dress. Every kind of bullet hole was in that house. Even with all that, I never hate. But when they would shoot at our house, we’d shoot back. I believe God will take care of us, but I believe that part of Scripture that say you help yourself and He’ll help you. I believe in lettin’ these people know that I do have a gun....
I set up a citizenship school, which I taught black people, uneducated people, how to read and write. And taught them about the government, the little that I had knowed. I taught them a little about the Constitution. I reads a lot. I always did. All my life, any book I got my hands onto, I read. And I love to study about the government. Then, in ’65, we really put on a registration drive...
The idea of the United Citizens Party come out from the way black people was being excluded from the Democrat Party. We is supposed to be black Democrats, but we have never been accepted as Democrats...
When I thinks about a thing, I believe in just pushin’ forward with it. I know that if I was to get to be elected to Congress everybody would know I was there.