One Woman’s Story: Rosetta Marsh Anderson (1933-2019)

Organizing in Wilcox County, AL – As told to Maria Gitin 2008-2010.

Rosetta Marsh Anderson is a dignified energetic lady with light skin, short curly hair and eyeglasses who came over to me at the NCNW Pink & Black Banquet in October 2008. She sat down to tell me about her involvement in The Movement.  We spoke again by telephone five times after that including a long interview in January of 2009. After that we spoke frequently until her death in 2019. Mrs. Rosetta Anderson was one of the local adult leaders behind the scenes the entire summer I worked in voter registration. Here are some of her memories that did not make it into the book”This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight. Read more;

The people of Camden who were public leaders in the civil rights movement paid some high prices. Everyone in the Black community knew Rosetta was involved, but she kept a low profile with whites at that time. “When the unrest began, Rev. Freeman was pastor at St. Francis Baptist Church. He helped organize and lead one of the first small marches along route 221 until the police turned them around. The church deacons there were fearful so they fired him but our congregation at Antioch Baptist Church took him on and supported his fight to let us use the church as a headquarters for the movement. “

“I worked with Rev. Threadgill early on. Bob Parrish, Dan Harrell, Albert Gordon. We began getting people up to the courthouse to register. I was a designated driver and organized others to drive the risky roads. We had threatening calls to our home regularly. My sons had to watch over our house because I had to leave them there alone. Maybe I didn’t realize how dangerous it was then, but I know I didn’t let myself fear for them. I could see the hatred in people’s faces when we went up to the courthouse, but I couldn’t dwell on it.”  

She began her early working life doing housekeeping and childcare in white homes. Whites called her ‘maid’ or ‘girl’. She was among several women in Camden who used their access to both races to see and hear how things were viewed inside white households, to help develop strategies for the freedom movement. 

“Coming up as a youngster I saw a lot of things I didn’t approve of. As an adult, I always identified with the students so naturally the children liked to be around me.  My daughter Lena Jo Anderson got in the midst of it along with Larry Threadgill and Cathy Wiggin, Richard Charles Bell, Benjamin Coleman and other student leaders[1]. They were really go-getters. Naturally I got involved. I was makin’ sure I was inside what was going on so that nothing happened to my daughter. I was very independent and my husband did not object. The children were the real leaders though; they got us involved.”

“For voter registration in Camden, we had adult leaders and student leaders.  Rev Threadgill, Jesse Brooks, Albert Gordon and me (Rosetta Anderson); we were the four adult leaders. If we wanted to get a crew into Coy, we’d tell them what time we’d have a mass meeting or when to meet to march. “

“Most folks didn’t have telephones. How did we get word around? Honestly, I don’t know how we did it – It was a miracle really. The young people carried messages. They had school buses back then so they could organize on the buses.  We parents listened to what they told us and then we knew what we had to do to organize for their safety and transportation.  I did that kind of planning, organizing. I have been called the Mother of Camden Civil Rights Movement,” Mrs. Anderson told me with a modest smile.

“How we organized was pretty amazing, now that I think about it. We came together regularly, met at Antioch Baptist Church and then other churches got involved. We’d ask the children about which area was ready for action. We also had telephone trees, although not only some had telephones back then.”

“We worked pretty cooperatively. If anybody disagreed, we had a meeting.  We got together as adults and settled it among ourselves. Then we’d say this is how it is going to be. We listened to the children and they listened to us. “

“I was busy going from one end of the county for several years.  We had precinct meetings until every little community was organized. We had leaders in each of the four ends of the county. We also did a lot of boycotting. Children had to walk the picket line in front of grocery and clothing stores. We used the younger children because they wouldn’t jail them and they couldn’t lose jobs. ” 

I remember waiting for Mr. Norman Poe from Coy.  He brought people in to walk the picket line. Charlie and Estelle Witherspoon came in from Alberta with some young people from out Gees Bend/Boykin. We used their place out there as an organizing center for dropping off information, picking up folks. 

“They called and said they were going to kill me. They burned down the government commodity building near us. A couple of people did get killed outside of Wilcox, Viola Luizzo after the Selma to Montgomery march for one. Had it not been for SNCC, SCLC and NAACP we would not have accomplished much. I was the first Secretary of the first NAACP and for SCLC. The Wilcox Civic Progressive League, I was secretary of that, one of our most important early organizations. We organized, we filed complaints with the justice department, we learned our rights and taught them to others.”

“When you came, you all gave us courage. We felt it was our job to protect you. Someone would call my house to threaten me and my sons would try to protect me. We could never let ourselves think about how helpless we really were because we knew we had God on our side.”

[1] At this point Mrs. Anderson is speaking of the student leaders of the school equality, school integration movement. These were younger students than the ones I worked with in voter registration in 1965. 

Womens History: Every Day

MRS Jessie Johnson Crawford Shares Some Personal History About Education in Alabama

As told to Maria Gitin March 26, 2010

Selma Jubilee 2010: Philip Young, Betty Anderson, Jessie Crawford, Maria Gitin (Robert Powell behind), Joy Crawford Washington

Born and raised in Wilcox County Alabama one of my favorite people on earth is Mrs. Jessie Crawford, mother of Joy Washington, Debbie Porter, and Jessietta Thomas, wife of Bob Crawford Jr and daughter in law of Bob and Georgia Crawford Senior.

JC: You know, Mr. William James Edwards, he changed my whole life. Because of that Snow Hill school he built, I turned in a completely different direction than I might otherwise have. I went to that school from sixth-twelfth grade. Yes, it was a public school by then, but that I got to go there made a difference. Here’s how it was.

When I was little, we lived way up in Ackerville, about 15 miles NE of Selma. There were no school busses for black children so I couldn’t go to a regular elementary school which was too more than 20 miles away.We had a little school that was held at the Sanctified Church, they call it Holiness now, but back then it was Sanctified. It was about six miles I guess. My daddy would ride me over on his mule as far as the Big Branch swamp, then I’d cross and he’d watch me get across alright. In the afternoon, he’d come back and wait for me to crossagain and then carry me home. Every day.

Traffic was too bad on Highway 21 East because it was under construction. I would have had to go 8 miles around to go to the Snow Hill elementary so that’s why I went to Sanctified Elementary up until the 6thgrade. We lived about 20 miles from Snow Hill and like I said, there were no busses for black children, they would just drive right past us walking along.

We lived on some white people’s place, the Wallaces. They were very nice to us. We just gave them some of our corn and chickens and vegetables. They didn’t pressure us. It was alright.

But, if not for Snow Hill, my education could have ended right therein sixth grade. Likely I would have stayed in Ackerville, got married,had children young.

My father’s brother, my Uncle bought some acreage on a hill. It had good drainage. He already had some land so he offered it to my father and we moved, and built a little house. It was just six miles to Snow Hill so I was able to complete my education there. We moved just in time for me to go to high school.

They had purchased their own school bus, “The Blue Goose” we called it, and they used a student driver but (at least) we had our own bus. Mr Wilson was the principal the year I entered, that would have been —– I graduated in 1953 age 18 and went on to college, became a teacher. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to that high school, that never would have happened.

MG: How old were you in the summer of 1965? We met little Debbie and Bob Jr but not you or Joy.

JS: I would have been 31 that year. I had been working, teaching in Barbour County earlier. Back then, in 1961 they fired me because I became pregnant. But something good happened in Barbour, too.

They came and asked black (teachers or everyone?) to register to vote, the local white people, not civil rights workers. That knocked me off my feet! Because in Wilcox where I was born and Monroe where I moved with Bob, we couldn’t vote until long long after that.

Where was I that summer? I had been working for the Demopolis School system but they fired me because I got pregnant with Joy. She was born August 21, 196—(year committed or Joy’s privacy) so I was home with her when he went over to Wilcox to see his parents. I went back to teaching and got fired again in 1970 when I had Jessietta.


For more about the Crawford family: “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight”

For more about JW Edwards and Snow Hill “Fallen Prince by Donald P Stone”:

Rosetta Marsh Anderson

Rosetta Anderson proudly points to herself in the crowd that greeted Dr. King at Antioch Baptist Church April 29,1967

Rosetta Anderson is one of my sheroes. We first met at the Wilcox County Pink & Black Gala in November 2008. She introduced herself as one of the adults who was active in the local civil rights movement. We began a correspondence, and telephone friendship over seven years of deep conversation. 

Although I was only able to include some of her story in This Bright Light of Ours, she faithfully appeared at every presentation and book talk I gave in Alabama.

Mrs. Anderson worked with Rev. TL Threadgill early on. She and Lawrence Parrish, Dan Harrell and others began getting people up to the courthouse to try to register. “My daughter Lena Jo was one of the student leaders at Camden Academy I was one of the adult community organizers. I was about twenty-seven at the time. I was a designated driver and organized others to drive the risky roads. We had threatening calls to our home regularly. Our sons had to watch over our house. I had to leave them there alone. I guess I didn’t realize how dangerous it was,  but I know I didn’t fear it or let myself fear for them. I could see the hatred in people’s faces when we went up to the courthouse, but I couldn’t dwell on it.” 

Rosetta Anderson stated hopefully, “We are trying to come together, all nationalities to build our community. It seems we are more divided now than ever. I regret it very much, but I don’t think in my lifetime that I will see as much unity as we had back then. The economy now could bring a lot of us back to where we were. Out of the blue somebody could stand up tomorrow and take up where we left off, declare a new war on poverty. “

Read more about Mrs. Rosetta Marsh Anderson: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight. Maria Gitin, University of Alabama Press

Maria Gitin Interview added to “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement” miniseries

New Release from the 6th Floor Museum, Dallas TX “Voices from the Civil Rights Movement” miniseries.

Thank you Curator Stephen Fagin for surprising me by having read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” and for great questions. More about the book:

Wilcox County Scenes Summer 1965

All photos by John Worcester, civil rights volunteer and seminarian who worked with SCLC SCOPE project. Please add your comments using the comment feature. They will be moderated. Thank you!

Ballards Store with SCLC staff car – 1965
Downtown Camden, AL 1965 where we organized boycotts of stores than would not hire African Americans
Broad Street, Camden AL 1965
Pettways Grocery – Gees Bend 1965
Wilcox County Courthouse where African Americans were denied rights except for marriage licenses
Most likely another view of Pettway Grocery in Gees Bend
Home very similar to ones where I stayed while working with voter registration in Summer 1965
Wilcox County Rural Road: We walked dozens of miles a day to reach rural residents to register to vote
Typical rural home constructed during enslavement period
Many days we walked for miles in Arlington, Boykin, Possum Bend, Coy, Pine Apple, Peach Tree and more outlying communities to spread the message of the power in voting rights.

Wilcox County Head Start Picnic July 1965

Due to the efforts of SCLC and other civil rights organizations, Wilcox County Al was one of the first counties to receive federal funding to set up Head Start. Summer volunteers worked with local teachers and students to launch the program and to celebrate with a picnic at Bessie Munden Park.

Wilcox County Head Start Picnic July 1965
Head Start Picnic July 1965

The Importance of Land and the Fight Against Food Insecurity

Notes and Resources from SNCC 60th Anniversary Conference Session ((will update with link to full program at SNCC Legacy website when available in February). This session focussed on the importance of Black landownership and production of food as vital to liberation and caring for one another.

Savi Horne, Executive Director at Land Loss Prevention Project

Leah Penniman, Black Kreyol Farmer, Author, and Food Justice Activist

Shirley Sherrod, Co-Founder, Southwest Georgia Project and New Communities Inc.

Malik Yakini, Executive Director, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network

Federal Aid: To compensate for historic prejudicial lending practices that disadvantaged Black farmers, the U.S. government approved $4 billion in debt relief for farmers of color in March 2021. However, the money is tied up in lawsuits filed by white farmers who claim the program is unfair.

ACTION: Follow this case online and write your Senator and the Department of Agriculture to insist on implementation.

Training for Black famers including heirs and new farmers:

  1. Learn how to farm, what to farm and why farms are important to Black community and beyond
  2. Learn how to acquire you own land, not just work land that belongs to others including legal re-partition of land (heirs property). Consider collective ownership, community land trusts. 
  3. Learn sustainability, planning and strategy skills. You may have to shift your idea of what to do with the land, which crops or animals to raise. Find your niche. Accept the reality that small farms are very seldom sufficient for all family income. May need to work other jobs for income. Examples: landscaping paving, snow-plowing, repair business and other businesses needed in rural areas. Also bookkeeping, tax preparation and other professions where you can manage your own time.

ACTION: Learn About The Federation of Southern Cooperatives / Land Assistance Fund which works to develop cooperatives and credit unions and to save, protect and expand the landholdings of Black family farmers in the South;

Learn more about the history of loans for and restoration of Black farmland

Details history. Our speakers cautioned against working with private attorneys. Work with nonprofit and state/federal resources to recover land and learn about your rights under Pigford V Glickman.

Chapter 25: More from This Bright Light of Ours

When I turned in my final draft to University of Alabama Press my editor informed me that I needed to cut thousands of words and one entire chapter. I saved some of the most interesting deletions and want to share a few of those of Wilcox County stories from the Voting Rights Fight.

Getting electricity, sewer and water run to rural homes was the biggest change for the African American community due to gaining voting rights. Into the late 1970’s, most Black family outside the town of Camden had to haul water from pumps, heat it on wood burning stoves, and use outhouses. One of our main arguments for voter registration was that people could get county water service. Running water and functioning sewer systems were public utilities taken for granted by most people in the United Sates for more than fifty years, but they were out of reach for African Americans in many parts of the deep South. Until the got the vote.


On January 15, 2012, Highway 41 from the junction of Highway 80 and Highway 41 in Dallas County to the Monroe County line was designated “The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway” by AL State Senate Bill SJR31. A piece of this highway runs in front of historical Antioch Baptist Church where a plaque has been installed to commemorate the naming. 

Ms. Kate Charley on Bessie W Munden Playground:

“Mrs Bessie Munden was the supervisor of Black teachers, when we were all segregated. Well, we still are all segregated, but anyway, it was named for her. In the 1950’s she told Black teachers that they all needed to pay $20 a year for the park. She collected it and bought the land, built that playground. You remember, it was a source of great pride to the Black community. It fell into disrepair for a while, but some of us retired teachers have reclaimed it. We have a little board of directs and raised some money. We got some grants, raised $87,000, and built a pavilion and three ball fields. “ W. Kate Charley 2008.

Mrs Rosetta Angion on what changed:

“There has been a BIG change since black people became citizens, able to vote, have a voice altogether like it should be. Before we had the vote, we were not realy citizens. Now, I am able to go to the polls. Those that are able to work can get a job. We are able to go in the courthouse and use the restrooms. I feel a lot safer. I know that black people have rights just like white people, not everything belongs to them

         We were just about coming out from under the hard slavery. I don’t think either my grandparents or parents were in slavery but my great grandparents were.          What really needs to happen, people need to come together, woik together and don’t be fighting against the other (within the black community). Most of the ones that really benefitted and got the good jobs didn’t march and all that. I’m one of the few left that was there, remembers it all. They should learn about our history. Keep working, it’s not over with. Keep tryin’ to help each other. Thank you,thank you kindly. ” Read more

Join us on MLK Day Jan 18, 2021

“This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” video presentation and live discussion with Author and Civil Rights Veteran Maria Gitin and Joy Crawford-Washington

Date & Time: January 18th 2-3:30 PM (PDT) online


Add to your Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance by listening to personal stories from courageous Wilcox County, Alabama freedom fighters who I met and worked with when I spent a brief summer in support of this courageous community. The pre-recorded (edited) 40 minute film will be followed by live Q & A with Maria Gitin and Joy Crawford-Washington, granddaughter of Civil Rights leaders from Pine Apple, Wilcox County AL who housed my friends that summer, at risk to their own lives. As time permits we will respond to questions and comments about historic and current voting rights and racial equity issues. Please join us.  

This Temple Beth El Aptos Senior Connections Event is free and open to all.  Log on any time after 1:46 PDT