[Source Description: 25 April 1964: Letter from John Dunne to His Parents, Emmaline and John Dunne, Sr. - From John B. Dunne Papers (#4391), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
"Well here we are!" reported John Dunne. Writing to his parents from the jail in Hillsborough, John Dunne described the outcome of his trial held before Judge Raymond Mallard in Orange County District Court. Also included in the letter are descriptions of the sentences imposed on fellow demonstrators and details about the conditions in the jail.
Hillsboro Jail, Saturday, April 25, 1964
Well here we are!! In February, 117 Americans made a protest and in doing so chose to disobey the laws. Now, as responsible citizens we are paying the legitimate cost of that action. Great injustices were common fare during the trials, but the injustice to the demonstrators was the least of these: the fact that we were sentenced on the basis of charges which had never even come to trial, much less conviction, is a minor tragedy. The source of my sorrow is the cruel lie which this court and the system it serves continued to perpetrate upon the unfortunate masses of white people: as long as the white people of this country are allowed to believe that this revolution is anything but a result of the legitimate anger and frustration of the oppressed people of this country, violence and tragedy will continue to grow. Judge Mallard bears great responsibility for everyone who dies or is hurt in the coming months of racial violence - for everyone whose soul is further frozen with hatred. He did not lecture us about our lack of responsibility as citizens, nor about the wrongness of civil disobedience as a method to attain our just goals. Instead he spoke in the incredibly ignorant and guilt-ridden words of the Klan: that we were all pawns or malicious agents of "the international conspiracy," that we were all paid $6.00 a day by Northern funds to come into the South, warping young people's minds to think that Christianity permits you to break the law with impunity, that we were all alien forces of an alien power being supported by alien funds, and so on and on. I am afraid - afraid that I will be forced to see the disintegration of America and the dream it once symbolized, the light it once gave the world.
I am in the Orange County jail at Hillsboro awaiting transfer to one of the work camps. There are two cells in my block with three beds each. The others with me are David Davis, a SNCC worker from Danville, who got 10 days active, 18 months at judges' discretion; Lou Calhoun, Pres. of local Wesley Foundation, a UNC senior from Shelby, NC and the present chairman of SPU at UNC, who got 6 months active and prayer for judgment on Resisting Arrest charge cont. till August; Buddy Tieger (from N.J.) former honor student at Duke (graduated) and present field worker for CORE who has been granted a $2,100 fellowship to Brandeis Univ. for next year, who got 1 year active and 2 yrs. at discretion of judge during next 5 years and $250 fine and court costs (approx. $130 - everyone got court costs); Arthur Crisp, a SNCC volunteer worker (not employed) from Reidsville, NC, 19 years old, who got 8 months active and 18 months at discretion of judge for 5 years; Arthur Tracy, SNCC volunteer from Danville, VA, 19 years, who got
10 days active and 12 months suspended for 5 years.; on the other side of this floor, out of sight but in easy hearing distance of us, are Pat Cusick from Gadston, Alabama, 32, Field Sect'y of SPU, whose great-grandfather was a confederate general and founder of the Ala. KKK, a former staff sergeant in the Air Force and Air Traffic Control Supervisor in Berlin during the Korean Conflict, for 5 years a UNC student, resident of Chapel Hill, and fulltime employee of the Computation Center her, who served 30 days last December for a sit-in last summer, who got 1 year active, 5 years probation during which any violation of probation activated 2 years active sentence. Rosemary got 6 months active "because she housed and fed demonstrators and had interracial parties." J.V. Henry "because he wrote articles for a yellow rag (the Student Voice, publication of SNCC) and was a professional agitator (SNCC field Sect'y - native white from Asheville, NC) who got 1 year active and 2 years active in discretion of judge for next 5 years, and some others. I assume Quinton has already told you about his situation. As you must know by now, I got 1 year active (on the road) and 2 years at the discretion of the judge for the next five years + $150 and Court Costs ($160). Rosemary also got a $500 fine + costs. What is so angering is that the judge will be called lenient because he nul prossed our other cases. But in fact, those cases involved trespass and we would have won them on appeal and the jury trials would have cost the County more money than they have in their entire budget. Thus they would never have been tried anyway. Same with the conspiracy charges. Also the judge claims for the record that we were sentenced solely on the basis of the 2 charges, blocking traffic and resisting arrest, for which we were tried, which is an absolute and bold-faced lie. This is one of the most corrupt systems of justice I've seen, the worse because of its ability to remain barely within the letter of legal procedures and still act unjustly and violate the essence of those procedures. But in terms of my personal
act of civil disobedience, I cannot complain, for my sentence is within the legal limits provided by law. However, a minor irritation is the fact that we were arrested under the town ordinance which has a maximum sentence of 30 days and $50. We acted with that understood to be the extent of our legal commitment. Then later the Grand Jury, under directions from the judge, indicted us under the state statute, which has a maximum sentence of 2 years and $500. However, ignorance of this legal trick is no excuse: We could have read all the law books in the library before we acted.
I am in no way ashamed of what I have done, nor have I in any way altered my views concerning my actions or my commitment. Those views have merely been further substantiated and bolstered by increased awareness and understanding of the extent of evil in our world. I worry that cynicism will overtake the soul of many of the people most committed to love today. It is one of the greatest problems facing the movement today.
This is probably the last uncensored letter I'll be able to smuggle out. I am eligible for work-release program now, although I may not be able to get it for a while. On that program, we work at a regular job in town and spend the night and the weekend at a minimum security camp. Our earnings are sent to the camp, 24.50 a week are extracted for room and board, and we are given $5.00 for cigarettes, etc. The rest is banked for us. I also am eligible for parole after 3 or 4 months. Even without parole, we'll only have to serve 9 months if we have "good behavior." Also, there are now 3 integrated misdemeanor camps in the state, and we have a good chance of a quick transfer if we don't go there immediately. We have talked with the state prison director prior to sentencing, and so should get quick action. This is encouraging, as eight days or so of fasting and refusing to work will not be rough at all, but it might get uncomfortable if it went beyond 2 weeks.
In general, spirits are high here in Hillsboro, although there is a definite undertone of resigned awareness that this won't be a lark. We are integrated here (on special orders of the Sheriff) and are eating fairly well. In the afternoon, a trustee takes orders for fruit and candies, which helps to round out the generally unappetizing but definitely edible 2 meals a day. We get sugared rice, fried balony, lard gravy or greasy scrambled
eggs for breakfast, with shoe polish mixed in water and called coffee, and bread. For lunch it's many variations on a theme of hot-dogs (2) and beans (today pork and beans and cole slaw - best yet - yesterday pinto beans and sauercraut ugh and bread both days and water). Subject to the talents of the varying cooks, the food at the road camps is supposed to be substantially better - 3 meals a day, varied diet.
This should be a good experience for me - educationally and from the standpoint of self-discipline during the more unpleasant days. There is some question as to who may write to us, but I think everyone can as long as they do not criticize the government, prison, judge, law etc. All mail is censored!!! We have no legal privacy, so beware!!! It's about time for lights out, so I'd better sign off. If a section of a letter seems sort of irrelevant or includes some crazy references, check every tenth word for a message. Keep in touch through Quinton, who is my Power of Attorney and may be able to see me occasionally. If you receive a letter which is addressed Mr. and Mrs. J. Dunne, please forward it to Harold. We are only allowed to write our immediate family.
I know that this will not be an easy time for ya'll and I will be thinking of you often. But try not to worry. I'm in good company with some wonderful friends, and we must approach this together as another chapter in a richly varied and very fortunate life. Without this experience however unpleasant, certain depths of my being might never be plumbed nor fulfilled. I love you all, and my visit home and yours here, Mother, was a wonderful thing for me before going to jail. If you ever get down, do check beforehand with Q. as to visiting regulations, etc. I'll keep you posted from week to week, and will look for your letters.
Much love as always from your devoted son,