4th of July 1965 at the Bessie W. Munden Playground

excerpt from This Little Light of Mine, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories of the Wilcox County Voting Rights Struggle

I slipped into the cloudy lukewarm unfiltered water with leaves and pine needles floating all around. Nearly fifty of us filled up the pool and stirred up the gritty dirt collected on the bottom, but the water was cooler than the 90 degree air and it was ours for the moment.  I thought we were deep in the woods; later I learned that it was only on the edge of town a little ways off of Highway 221. As with all black areas, the roads were unpaved, and there were no flush toilets or drinking fountains, just a pump for filling the pool. The Bessie M. Munden Playground was named for an early Camden Academy teacher who collected money from the other teachers to build this park so that the children would have someplace to play.

Camden Kids 2008

The little kids leapt from the edge into my arms. Then I tried to teach them to float and paddle on their backs. The water seemed too dirty to put your face in although naturally they did. We splashed and sang and yelled, feeling far away from the white people gathered at the fairgrounds to shoot off firecrackers. “Crackers with firecrackers, shootin’ off their mouths” someone quipped. We were supposed to love everybody like Dr. King said, but it was getting harder every day.

As he waved his ever-present pipe in the air, Dan Harrell told us proudly, “You know this is historic, integrating this pool. Some day because of what you all are doing this summer, all the children of Camden will have nice places to play, to swim, to go to school — black and white together. You enjoy your day, we gotta’ go to Selma to meet with Rev. Blackwell.” That couldn’t be good news. Rev. Blackwell was Program Director for SCLC and this was a holiday weekend.

Children at EM Parrish Day Care Center: L to R

Mylka Hayden, Isaiah Love, Richard Chatmon, Torrence Phillips, Jamarion Wright

Photo by Samuel Torres Jr ©2008.

Bessie W. Munden Park

We stayed until dusk, eating watermelon, singing, talking. Charles Nettles started spitting watermelon seeds, mocking the stereotype of an old black man while we all laughed. Near sunset we sang songs like I Love Everybody and Change is a Comin. For a few hours here in the woods it felt that maybe we could hurry up that change in Camden. Change was being hard fought but like the song says, there ain’t no way it isn’t going to come.

One comment on “4th of July 1965 at the Bessie W. Munden Playground

  1. So glad you’re posting some of these stories from your experience with SCLC’s SCOPE project in Wilcox County Alabama. Your memories of being part of a local movement that teamed with SNCC match mine from directing the SCOPE project in Crenshaw County. We thought of ourselves as SCLC or plain old civil rights workers rather than as part of SCOPE. At our Bay Area Veteran’s website http://www.crmvet.org we are always looking for SCLC material. SNCC folk have done so much better in preserving their history than SCLC or CORE folk. We are in a very productive period right now, posting a lot of new material. Keep on, keeping on.

    Bruce Hartford, Webspinner, Civil Rights Movement Veterans.


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