It would be hard to tell it by the idyllic peace that reigned constantly at her tiny liberal arts college in Wisconsin's prairies, but there was quite a bit going on in America in the spring of 1964. In the midst of the violent and unpredictable civil rights movement, the 800 or so students, most hailing from Illinois, New York, oddly enough, and of course Wisconsin, were clueless.
Rayne had been the only African American coed enrolled in the college until the second girl arrived that year. A large portion of her young life had been devoted to fostering the assimilation of *Negro* people into the mainstream of American life. So while her daily life was spent trying to blend in, study fiendishly and party hearty, as one could at age 19 in Wisconsin, her soul yearned to be a part of The Movement.
On a blustery day that included sub-zero temperatures and drifting snow, Rayne bounced into her Experimental Psychology class, ready to discuss the findings from a study she had been helping Dr. Alexander conduct. As she slid into a desk, she noticed a crowd around Doc, talking excitedly, but in fairly hushed voices.
"What's up?" Rayne asked her sorority sister, Pam, who had been two steps in front of her through the classroom door.
"Something about a trip Doc is planning. Down South," Pam shrugged.
The crowd dispersed and Doc started talking.
There had been a small group of students invited to visit the campus for a week. That invitation had been extended by Doc to Tougaloo College, a small *Negro* school in Tougaloo, Mississippi, just outside the state's capital city of Jackson. Doc had been boldly trying to override the conservative tendencies of our school, which had actually been the birthplace of the Republican Party, according to local lore. He was determined to take that school into the Civil Rights Movement.
"I am planning to drive down to Jackson to visit our friends at Tougaloo. I will take as many of you as can fit into my car if anyone is interested."
The opportunity to get out of Wisconsin for a week and to see for herself what Mississippi was really like was not likely to come up again any time soon. Without hesitating, she jumped at the chance. Rayne and three guys who were also Psych majors piled into Doc's beat up old car and headed south.
Naive is too mild a word to describe this bunch of fresh-faced kids. Rayne, the only person of any color other than white among them, had only heard the stories about life in Mississippi. She had sneaked to the corner drugstore to catch a glimpse of a Jet Magazine in 1955, to see the photo of that Chicago boy, Emmett Till, who had been lynched in Money, Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. He was 14 years old. When she opened the diminutive publication to the page with the photo of Till's body lying in his coffin, she was horrified. His mother insisted that the world see exactly what had been done to her boy, so very little had been done to pretty up the corpse.
Till had been beaten senseless, one of his beautiful hazel-colored eyes gouged out of his head. He was shot through the head, weighted down with some kind of machine part, and tossed unceremoniously into a river, where his body stayed for three days.
The photograph of that bloated, brutalized boy who was only four years older than she was burned itself into Rayne's memory and started a fire in her that still rages today.
Not too many from the Chicago area knew this at the time, but some parts of southern Illinois might as well have been part of the Deep South. This little group of fledging Northern Agitators was about to find that out. After driving for nearly twelve hours, the group agreed it was time to stop. They were in the small town of Effingham, Illinois.
Doc stumbled, exhausted, out of the car and lurched toward a real hotel in what passed for a downtown . The students slowly unfolded themselves and followed him. The front desk clerk had a broad smile on her face as Rayne rounded the corner in the lobby and approached the desk. The clerk's smile quickly melted into a dour scowl and it was directed right at Rayne.
"We don't take Nigras here, sir." She looked unreasonably annoyed to this band of Yankees. "She will have to leave."
Rayne felt as if she had been shot. Nothing like that had ever happened to her and the tears literally sprang from her eyes. The boys surrounded her, one flipped the clerk the bird and they all piled back into the car. No longer tired or sleepy, the chatter of outrage bounced off the walls of the car.
The fun had waned and the full potential of this little adventure finally sank in. Doc just shook his head.