First Person by Hazel Stewart
My mother was slightly to the right of John Birch. And during the civil rights demonstrations, I told mama that I was going to go and demonstrate. Mama said whatever you do, don’t get arrested. I said I’ll try not to. Who wants to go to jail? I had been going to CORE. They
would give us lessons on how to relax so that we’re not resisting arrest. You become a vegetable. On my first day, I had on my white heels, gloves and bag, and pink dress.
I wear gloves all the time. And I was demonstrating. We would sing, “We are soldiers in the army; we have to fight, although we have to die. We have to hold up the freedom’s banner. We have to hold it up until we die.”
And I was enjoying walking around singing, and our purpose at that time was to slow the construction of a federal building by unions that did not hire blacks. There was a cement mixer there. That was a focal point, to stop the delivery of that cement until it solidified.
To stand in front of the mixer. As fast as you moved in front of it, the police were pulling you off. So it got to be my turn, and one of the leaders said, “Are you ready to be arrested?” I said I don’t know if I’m ready, but let’s go. Whatever has to be done. So the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the cement mixer with my hands on the fence. I’m holding on to the fence, and the policeman came and said, “Move on.” I didn’t say a word because I didn’t know what was happening. My last order was to stop the cement mixer, and that was what I was doing. I turned my head, and the scoop almost brushed my cheek; that’s how close I was. I looked to see if the next person was ready to take my place. When the policeman said, you’re under arrest; I stepped forward so that the next person could slide in and take my place.
Mama said, “Hazel, I told you don’t get arrested.” When we got in the paddy wagon, an Italian detective lectured us on how wrong we were. He said, “Your’ e doing this the wrong way.” He said that when my Great-grandfather came; he couldn’t get jobs in unions, no union jobs for Italians. I said what did you do? He said, “At night, we would sneak out and blow up whatever they built.” I said yes, but when you sneaked back home, you faded into the populace. We don’t fade. He laughed and said, “Oh, you don’t.” It was true that they could do that, but we knew. Nobody had to hand me a treatise on the background of the blacks.
Hazel Stewart, mother of publisher David Greaves, passed in 1994