"A View of White Ruleville from Black Ruleville"
In the 1960's, Ruleville MS, where Sugarman lived during the summer of 1964, had a population of about 1,900 residents, with just over 50% African Americans. Like most towns in Mississippi, it was racially segregated, mandated by Jim Crow laws put in place after the Civil War and enforced through terror and intimidation.
Sugarman and other white volunteers lived with families in the Black section of town, represented by the viewer's position in this landscape sketch. Many years later, he returned to visit the gravesite of Ruleville activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) and reflected on residing here and making this specific image. In We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns (2009) he wrote:
I gazed up and past the silent headstones, tracing with my eye the long, naked rows of cotton as they stretched farther and farther, ending at the low silhouette of the stand of trees in white Ruleville. I remember making a drawing from this place during that long-ago summer of '64. I felt I was barely perceiving another world - distant, forbidding, and alien from my protected haven on this side of Highway 41."
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer was a Ruleville resident, civil rights leader, community organizer and one of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Her riveting testimony at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 galvanized national attention to the struggle for voting rights in Mississippi and across the South. Below is a video clip from the 2014 PBS documentary Freedom Summer.
Hamer and Sugarman maintained a life-long friendship, visiting each other in Connecticut and Mississippi on numerous occasions. A biography of Hamer was one of the films produced by Rediscovery Productions, the documentary film company he founded with Bill Buckley (1928-2017), with a mission to honor the contributions of Black men and women to American society.
"Mr. Williams, Sharecropper, Church Deacon"
In Mississippi, as elsewhere across the South, the Black workforce was exploited by white landowners through sharecropping and tenant farming systems in place since the Civil War. Sharecroppers, like Mr. James Williams, portrayed here, rarely broke even with each harvest, paying a share of their crop’s revenue to cover their rent, equipment and wages.
During the Freedom Summer, Black families seeking change and social justice hosted volunteers from across the country, often at great personal risk. In Ruleville, James and Rennie Williams opened their home to Sugarman and another field volunteer. That summer, the Williams Chapel, a seat of local civil rights activism where James was pastor, was attacked by arsonists, a violent act repeated across the South to deter civil rights initiatives.
The 1964 Mississippi Summer Project established Freedom Schools across the state to help counter the inequitable public education provided to African-American children. The schools, attended by over 3,000 students (children and adults), taught literacy and other core courses, but also offered critical instruction in Black history, civil rights philosophy, and leadership to foster a new generation of activists.
Above is a video clip about freedom schools from the 2014 PBS Freedom Summer documentary.
"Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney are Still Missing"
On June 21, 1964, – the day Sugarman arrived in Mississippi – three young civil rights workers were reported missing after being arrested and released while investigating a church burning. Though officially “missing” for most of that summer, the men had been brutally killed by a mob of Klansmen; their bodies were found on August 4.
Although lesser chargers were brought against the men who participated in the killing of James Chaney (age 21), Michael Schwerner (age 20) and Andrew Goodman (age 24), no one was convicted of their murder until 2005.
Sugarman and the Freedom Summer volunteers were well aware of the violence regularly experienced by activists and citizens in Mississippi, and knew the danger they themselves would face as participants in the movement. The abduction and murder of these three men - occurring just as the summer activities got underway - brought home the reality of the threat for many.
In addition to students, many attorneys volunteered with the Freedom Summer project to provide free legal services in voter registration and other civil rights cases, and to assist arrested demonstrators. Inspired by their experiences, numerous student volunteers would later pursue civil rights and anti-discrimination law in their careers.
Sketches from World War II
Tracy Sugarman identified two formative experiences in his life and artistic career. One was his participation in the Civil Rights Movement. The other was serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He participated in the 1944 D-Day amphibious invasion of Normandy, an experience he documented in sketches and illustrated letters home to his wife. Westport Public Art Collections holds four original pen-and-ink drawings from Sugarman's wartime sketches, recently conserved and framed.
Approximately 2,000 African-American troops participated in the D-Day invasions of Normandy, including soldiers in both combat and support roles, even as the U.S. Armed Forces remained officially segregated until 1948. Many returning Black veterans, including Medgar Evers (1925-1963) and Amzie Moore (1911-1982) went on to play pivotal roles in the fight for civil rights, while Black Americans across the country advocated the "Double V" campaign: victory abroad against fascism and victory at home over white supremacy. In many ways, Sugarman’s wartime experiences also shaped his personal commitment to civil rights activism.
If I were king in America, I would start every radio program with ‘Don’t go to sleep America.' I’d have every front page carry a banner headline seven days a week that says, 'Nothing is over but the shouting.'
Hear an extended version of this quote, from a letter to his wife after the D-Day invasions, recorded by Sugarman's friend and Westport resident, Harold Bailey, Jr.
Tracy Sugarman (1921-2013)
Tracy Sugarman was born and raised in Syracuse, NY, and studied art at Syracuse University where he met his wife, June. After serving in the U.S. Navy, he and June settled in Westport in 1950. Sugarman became a beloved member of the local community of artists, and remained in Westport for over 60 years until his passing at the age of 91.
A prolific illustrator, Sugarman chronicled post-war America through his sharply-observed, energetic sketches and watercolors. His drawings appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Colliers Magazine, and Forbes among other national publications. He illustrated hundreds of children's books, and nurtured new generations of artists as a generous mentor. The Westport Public Art Collections holds over 25 original drawings and paintings by Sugarman, on display in schools and municipal buildings throughout the town.
"My thrust as an artist is to winnow from the scene the single true note...If the moment is worth preserving, then I have the responsibility of trying to endow the drawing with the compassion that comes from understanding. "
Below you can hear an extended version of this quote recorded by Westport resident and artist, Miggs Burroughs.
Sugarman's 1964 Sketches in Print, On Screen, and in Museums
Tracy Sugarman's Freedom Summer images were displayed to raise awareness about the civil rights struggle in Mississippi almost as soon as they were created. In August of 1964, 43 sketches were displayed during a concert by Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern held at Staples High School in Westport, raising funds for SNCC and the Freedom Summer project and honoring local participants.
Photographs by Westport Public Art Collections, unless otherwise noted in captions. WestPAC would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their kind assistance with this project: James S. Marpe, Westport First Selectman; Sara Harris, Westport Operations Director; Pete Ratkiewich, Director of Public Works; Mike Frawley, Public Works Superintendent of Facilities; Lauren Francese, Westport Public Schools Social Studies Coordinator; Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, Westport Town Curator; Harold Bailey, Jr., Chair TEAM Westport; Ramin Ganeshram, Executive Director Westport Museum for History and Culture, TEAM Westport member; Nancy Diamond, Chair Westport Arts Advisory Committee (WAAC); Miggs Burroughs (WAAC), John Dodig (WAAC), Diane Lowman (WAAC), Redell Hearn, Founding Director of Academic Affairs, Mississippi Museum of Art; Laurie Sugarman-Whittier, Carole Erger-Fass, Bug Design; Jay Cimbak, Rockwell Framing; Ive Covaci, Education Chair WestPAC and exhibition curator; Randa Trivisonno, Chair, WestPAC; Friends of WestPAC and the Drew Friedman Community Arts Center.