When I set about seriously, full-time to complete this book about my experience as a student civil rights worker in the summer of 1965, I wrote my friend Bruce Hartford, manager of the www.crmvet.org website. He came South earlier, stayed longer and had greater responsibilities than I did so I turned to him in frustration as I began to recreate that long ago summer from a handful of lengthy letters and a trove of memories. Here is an edited version of our conversation July 2008.
Maria: I edited my letters heavily so as to generate funding from my supporters and sympathy from my family. Also, there are almost no names of locals since I was instructed not to name any African American activists unless they were on the SNCC or SCLC payroll. I wasn’t to mention intimate relations or parties or anything that could be used against us. In short, the letters were highly censored, sanitized versions of what I was feeling, much of which was confusion by the difference between what I experienced in my county, Wilcox, Alabama and my month of briefings in Berkeley, California and the weeklong intensive SCOPE orientation in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bruce: Strange, I don’t recall any admonishment not to mention the names of local folk who weren’t on staff. Who told you that, and why? It couldn’t have been to keep their activity secrets from the white folk; in those rural counties everyone knew everything about everyone else’s business.
I know it’s hard sometimes to get a handle on an approach. One possibility that occurs to me is to keep your letters but add in all the stuff you wanted to write way back when but did not because it might cause problems for the Movement, possibly also add in reflections and comments as you see things today. So you would have three different kinds of material that would need to be kept clear as to what is which.
Maria: I need to tell my story because I need to, but the truth is,I don’t know if the world needs to hear my story. A lot has been written by and about white youth in the Movement.
Bruce: Needing to tell your story seems sufficient reason to me. What more reason do you need?
So, I began with the letters and memories, then found my old friends, then went back to Wilcox County, Alabama and found the local people and their families, recovered their names and recorded their stories. It turned out that my old co-workers needed to tell their stories too. This memoir and oral history will be published February 15, 2014.
This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight is now available for advance purchase at www.uappress.edu and www.amazon.com.