My father was first to be arrested, then the students; tactically, they didn't accept a $500 bond from Judge James Webb. Dad was carted off to Fulton County Jail along with seventy-five "law-breakers," mostly student leaders from the Atlanta University Center. They would agree to be released only if the charges against them, based on unjust Jim Crow laws, were dropped. After reaching a settlement with the affected parties the students were released on their own recognizance.
People say that's when Senator John F. Kennedy got involved, but actually that's when my father's friends and admirers got moving. One of them worked for the Kennedy-for-president campaign. His name was Harris Wofford. He started calling around — Atlanta mayor Bill Hartsfield, a local lawyer named Morris Abram, anybody he could call that might be able to help. Mr. Wofford had great admiration for my father and Mohandas Gandhi. He was a learned, sensitive man who had gone to Howard University Law School after graduating from Yale.
Mayor Hartsfield was about to broker a deal to let the students and our father go anyway. But Daddy was kept in jail. Monday morning, a DeKalb County deputy sheriff came, put him in manacles and leg irons, and took him from jail in Fulton County to DeKalb County — which in those days was going from the dragon's back into its mouth. Murders of civil rights workers by rogue law enforcement officers and other vigilantes were routine occurrences; such deaths had been common for the hundred years since the Civil War. DeKalb County was a Klan stronghold. My distressed mother, with me floating in her belly, went to the hearing at the DeKalb County courthouse with Granddaddy and my Aunt Christine. Members of the faculty at Morehouse College and AU Center students went as well.
Judge Oscar Mitchell found my father guilty of violating his probation over the misdemeanor involving the "invalid driver's license," then sentenced him to four months' hard labor at Reidsville State Prison, which was isolated far downstate. There was pandemonium in the courtroom. Immersed in this was Mother, me in her amniotic sac, feeling each twitch and strain, feeding off her moods.
Yoki was four, Marty was about three, but they weren't there. Mother was shocked when Judge Mitchell announced the sentence; my father's sister, Aunt Christine, broke into tears. So did Mother, and she wasn't given to crying. Staid male professors fell prostrate and wept.
Mother said she felt helpless and out of control and desperate despite the fact my father's family was with her. They were not inside her. I was. She was emotional, weepy; Daddy had not seen her like this, and said so. "You have to be strong now, Corrie," he said. Mayor Hartsfield, in Atlanta and Fulton County, backed off from Judge Mitchell's sentence, saying it "didn't happen in Atlanta." Hartsfield was mayor when the chamber of commerce came up with the slogan that billed Atlanta as "The City Too Busy to Hate." At the time, Georgia wasn't too busy.
Governor Ernest Vandiver crowed about Daddy's dilemma.