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Civil Rights Workers and Rabbi Beaten in Mississippi

July 10, 1964 - A rabbi and two other white civil rights workers were beaten in Hattiesburg, Miss., today by two segregationists wielding metal weapons.

The rabbi and his colleagues were returning from voter registration work with Negroes. They were accompanied by two Negro girls from Hattiesburg who were not harmed.

The rabbi, Arthur Lelyveld (pictured) of Cleveland, 51 years old, was reported to be in good conditions at Methodist Hospital in Hattiesburg. He had a deep gash over the right eye, contusions on the chest and abdomen, and a cut over the left ear.

The two other rights workers — Lawrence Spears, 21, of Palo Alto, Calif., and David Owen, 19, of Pasadena, Calif. — were released after treatment.

One of the Negro girls said she thought she could identify the assailants. The FBI said it was investigating the case.

Mr. Spears and Mr. Owen gave the following account of the incident:

The three whites were walking near railroad tracks in an uninhabited part of town. The girls, local civil rights workers from Hattiesburg, were with them.

A pickup truck stopped along the highway. In it were two whites, one about 60, the other about 35. One of them said, “We’re going to get you.”

Rabbi Lelyveld was attacked by one of them with a metal bar. The rights workers said it appeared to be part of an auto brake. Dr. Lelyveld was beaten over the head and chased by his assailant.

Mr. Owen was hit over the head with what was described as a piece of steel about a half-inch in diameter.

Mr. Spears was knocked down by the younger white man, who grabbed his notes and shoved them in the youth’s face and said: “Eat this — you n****r lover.”

Rabbi Lelyveld arrived in Hattiesburg Tuesday. He was working with the National Council of Churches, serving both as a counselor for the young civil rights workers and in the voter registration drive.

He and Mr. Owen set out to canvass Negro voters this morning. Mr. Spears had one out with the two Negro girls.

The two teams had joined up and were returning to the Morning Star Baptist Church for lunch when they were accosted. According to Mr. Owen and Mr. Spears, the assailants seemed to know who Rabbi Lelyveld was.

The assailants called the civil rights workers “n****r lovers,” “white n*****s,” and “Communists.” One Hattiesburg police officer told a reporter later that the three civil rights workers had been holding hands with the Negro girls. The white youths denied this.

Describing the attack, Mr. Owen said: “I couldn’t really believe that they were going to beat us. I thought they were just going to try and teach us a lesson.”


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