While Sheila was attending Catholic University in Washington D.C., she became involved in the Civil Rights movement, an experience that radicalized her politically, and led to a decades-long period of left-wing political work.
She participated in a series of demonstrations and other political activities in Cambridge, Maryland during the summer of 1963.
Around this time she also got involved with SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and later participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer voting rights drive.
The first important political event Sheila was involved with was the Cambridge, Maryland demonstrations in the summer of 1963.
For background on the protests and race riots in Cambridge take a look at this summary, or read an oral history on a movement web site.
As George tells the story:
Her first demonstration was in Cambridge and the demonstrators were blocked at a place where the main town road passed over from the black to white areas. It was the main downtown store-lined street, I think it’s mentioned in the press’s articles. They were blocked by national guard, and during one or more of the daily confrontations they had their bayonets out. She joked that she got a slight cut on her chest from a bayonet and I’m sure the story was correct.
She went with a group from the Christian Brothers at Catholic University. And she stayed for some time, put up by an elderly black women who looked out for her.
At the first demonstration the guard used teargas. The demonstrators and in particular the Christian Brothers she was with chanted something like we will not be moved and she wasn’t; we says she just sat there with gas all around and when she looked about discovered that all the demonstrators and in particular the Brothers were gone.
Later the Brothers went back to Catholic University, bunt she stayed and was put up in the house I mentioned above. When we drove through the town several years ago, she showed me the building where the demonstrators meet each day. Also, she said she went to church most days (I think she talked to god about what she was doing).
While in D.C., Sheila became involved with SNCC, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
She answered phones and did organizing work in SNCC’s Washington office, which introduced her to a number of influential civil rights activists, including Stokely Carmichael, Marion Barry, and Julian Bond.
She had nice things to say about working with Stokely Carmichael at SNCC, although when they met at a conference in Baghdad decades later, she was disappointed by his political thinking about the Middle East.
(Less pleasantly, she also reported an incident in which Marion Barry made unwanted advances towards her, but she was able to fend him off by running to the other side of the office.)