Your Feet Are in the Place Where History is Made: the Story of Tracy Sugarman

Most young people, most middle-aged people, most old people do not stand up. But there will be a fraction who will . . . and their having done it changes everything. ~ Tracy Sugarman

No one who went to Mississippi in 1964 returned the same. I came home from the dusty roads of the Delta with a deeper understanding of patriotism, an unshakable respect for commitment, and an abiding belief in the power of love. ~Tracy Sugarman

Featured image by Tracy Sugarman

In the summer of 1964, now known as Freedom Summer, a thousand volunteers – mostly white college kids – boarded buses headed for Mississippi.

Their mission was to register black voters. Only 6.7% of black Mississippi residents who were old enough to vote were registered. These volunteers wanted to help change that.

Before those students boarded buses headed for Biloxi, the struggle for voting rights was largely ignored by the national press. The lynchings, the church burnings, the violent intimidation – all were absent from the evening news consumed by mainstream America.

Meanwhile, civil rights workers were arrested by J. Edgar Hoover’s Justice Department under the auspices of combating communism.

So in the long summer days of 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC – or “snitch”) invited volunteers to come down south to register voters. They advertised mostly in college campuses. Maybe with young white college kids at their side, the mainstream media would finally start paying attention.

We think of the Freedom Summer volunteers as bright-eyed, young, naive students teeming with passion, but having little experience with the darkness of humanity.

But not all of the volunteers were students.

And not all of them were strangers to the darkness of humanity.

Traveling to the Delta with those college students was a 43-year-old white man named Tracy Sugarman. A WWII veteran, Sugarman was an illustrator and writer, and wanted to lend his skills as a reportorial artist to the movement.

He believed in the power of people – even in the power of young, inexperienced people who had never been far from home. On D-Day, he saw just what 18 and 19 year-olds are capable of, and saw the same courage and conviction in Mississippi that summer.

He later confessed that he had been more afraid in Mississippi than he had been on D-Day.

Sugarman used his talents as an illustrator to depict life in the Delta during the Freedom Summer. Later, he wrote two books detailing his experience, including his memoir We Had Sneakers, They Had Guns, ensuring that the stories of those brave volunteers and community members live on.

He wasn’t young. He wasn’t a student. He had a job, a family, and a house in Connecticut. He wasn’t the typical Freedom Summer volunteer.

He went anyway.

Later, he recounted what a fellow activist said to a church filled with anxious community members back in 1964:

What’s happening today is real, not something you’re reading about. It’s happening right here. You are doing things that people before you could not have dreamed of doing. You are here. You won’t say I heard about it or somebody told me. You’ll say, ‘I was right there. I saw it all. My feet were in that place when history was made.’

And rather than sitting in a lazyboy at his home in Connecticut, Tracy’s feet were in that place where history was made, too.

That was a conscious choice of his, and one that I imagine seemed strange at the time.

He wasn’t a college kid. He wasn’t a “beatnik.” He wasn’t an activist. He wasn’t a lawyer or specialist in voter registration or professor of social justice.

He was a pretty typical white guy in his ’40s with kids and a wife and a yard that he’d have to cut sometimes.

But he didn’t use his responsibilities at home as reasons to convince himself not to go.

Instead, he looked at what he could bring to the table – his incredible, reportorial drawings – and realized he needed to be the place where history was being made.

And he got himself on a bus.

Friend, right now, wherever you are, you’re in the place where history is being made.

We are living through historic, unprecedented, and often dangerous times. We shouldn’t minimize or normalize it. We should recognize it. We should act on it.

And you can.

That’s why I love Tracy’s story so much. Because he’s a reminder that we all have a place in the fight for democracy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a college student or a 43-year-old with a mortgage and a career.

Stepping out and standing up isn’t reserved for “the younger generation.” It’s not reserved for people who have some sort of specialized experience or education – or even a certain skill.

It’s just reserved for the willing.

Your feet are in the place where history is being made. You get to decide what to do next.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of January 17, 2023

Debt Ceiling Fight

This is going to be a nail-biter of a fight. We’ve known for some time that the House GOP is fixing to play chicken with the US economy and refuse to raise the Debt Ceiling unless they get their way with cuts to programs. (Read more here:

They’re basically trying to hold the economy hostage.

This is serious business being undertaken by unserious people.

If you are represented by a GOP Congresscritter, we really need you to pick up the phone and call their office. I want to especially encourage anyone who is in a non-MAGA district to call. This is a time when we need these Republicans to step up and stop the MAGA contingent from driving us over a cliff.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling from [zip]. I’m hearing that House Republicans is planning refuse to increase the Debt Ceiling and force the US to default on its obligations. What is [name of congresscritter]’s position on this? I can tell you as a [parent, retiree, student, etc] that the idea that Republicans would hold the economy hostage and threaten my [child’s future. retirement income, future, etc] to get their way is shocking. I will be watching this very, very closely.

P.S. If they say that Democrats are blowing the implications of default out of proportion, you can respond that one of Jim Jordan’s former staffers is on record saying it was something that their office considered and realized was so catastrophic that they tabled it.

Rogan’s List Returns!

Friends! Our dear and fearless resister sister Susan Rogan has reprised her famous and excellent daily list, aptly called Rogan’s List. When I saw she was back after a 2-year hiatus, I jumped out of my chair with excitement. Please go subscribe to her daily. ( You will not be disappointed!

Wisconsin Supreme Court Elections

Hat tip to Susan Rogan for this one – Activate America is having a postcarding campaign to remind voters to request a ballot to vote by mail in the upcoming Supreme Court elections. From Activate America:

In the swingiest of swing states, Wisconsin, an important upcoming election will determine the balance of power in the state’s divided 4-3 Supreme Court. Vital decisions on abortion rights, election rules, unions, and so much more are on the line. Activate America is excited to launch the first postcard campaign in the nation to turn out Democrats who will side with democracy and decency in this election.

Sign up today for a list of voters to write postcards to. The election is just around the corner, with a primary on February 21 and the general election on April 4th. Voting by mail makes a lot of sense in Wisconsin in February, and the state requires voters to sign up again each year to do so. There is only a short window for voters to request a ballot, so we want to get these reminders out to them as soon as possible. .

These cards need to be mailed by January 26th. Sign up here:


Join Indivisible for Race Class Fusion: Creating a Broader “We” on Wednesday, January 18 at 8pm ET/5pm PT, a virtual conversation with UC-Berkeley constitutional law professor Ian Haney López to discuss his new book Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America. In this conversation, we will explore the limitations of how the left has historically called out racism and how we can use the race-class-gender approach to provide a roadmap for building a cross-racial progressive movement, winning elections, and saving our democracy.


If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at or via paypal at
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.P.S: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

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