I'm reminded by the discovery of the photo below of my last official duties as a Keesler AFB Air Policeman. I was sitting at the airbase dreading and preparing to go on leave before my deployment to Vietnam, when emergency orders came down for several of us to board a C-47 within the hour.
Within that hour I stood shaking, not having a clue what was coming or where I was going, on the Keesler flight line just outside an olive drab "Gooney Bird". The same TSgt. that had been drilling us in riot control just weeks before shouted orders. In full riot gear, we boarded the plane, and it was only after takeoff that we learned we were headed for Greenville, MS; to an abandon airbase where a large group of "civil rights" protestors had taken up residence in one of the main buildings.
Riot gear in those days consisted of our "piss pot (helmet)", a gas mask strapped around our waist, and a "billy club". No weapons were issued.
I found this in a excerpt in a blog today that gave me more of the story than I had ever known:
"...a group of fifty Civil Rights activists with the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union occupied one of the empty buildings at the airbase to protest poverty, homelessness and political repression in the Mississippi Delta. The protest took place on January 31, 1966. As the airfield was technically still under USAF ownership, the local police would not respond. Instead, the USAF Air Police mobilized to Greenville. Within thirty hours, USAF law enforcement personnel forcibly evicted the protestors."
I remember peering into the building and seeing blacks and whites sitting around on the floor chanting something about "freedom". It scared me a little, I admit, but it also shamed me that America had come to that. What saddened me even more was seeing black protestors vent their anger on black Air Police in the detachment.
|This photo was from a year earlier, but shows Air Police in action.|
The procedure for removal was to grab one protestor at a time, pass that person to policemen inside a revolving circle of troops. No one Air Policemen was to ever be stationed at the door longer than it took for them to side-step to their right and be replaced by the next in line. The circle would briefly open and a protestor would be inserted, or pulled, into the inner circle. That continued until the building was empty and all the protestors were outside and inside the moving circle.
Several of the black protestors shouted at the black policemen and spit at and on them. That really burned me, since I knew the black troops and they were my friends. However, we were trained not to show emotion.
The protestors were loaded on buses and taken off the site...to where I don't know.
My group reassembled and were back on the plane to Keesler within hours of arriving.
This was just one small episode of southern civil rights demonstrations, but there were many and they proved effective.