Congressional Medal of Freedom for Voting Rights Marchers

https://youtu.be/tguJKkukwJ0

Rev FD Reese is presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for 1965 Voting Rights Marchers. Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Paul Ryan, Terri Sewell, Cory Booker and John Lewis were among the elected officials attending.

Rev FD Reese is presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for 1965 Voting Rights Marchers. Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Paul Ryan, Terri Sewell, Cory Booker and John Lewis were among the elected officials attending.

We were thrilled to be invited to the February 24, 2016 ceremony in Washington DC. The Congressional Gold Medal was ceremonially presented to Selma civil rights leader Rev FD Reese and will be on permanent display at the Selma Interpretive Center.

Although I was not a marcher, I joined the Movement and came to work in the voting rights fight, because of the marchers. Thank you Charles Bonner, Bruce Hartford, Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews and others who encouraged me to attend. The courage of grassroots civil rights demonstrators throughout the South from 1958-1970’s continues to inspire all of us. Commissioner John Moton of Wilcox County and Commissioner Dennis Harris Jr of Montgomery also attended.

Participating in the ceremony will remain among my most outstanding memories.

www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Bob Fitch Alabama Photo ID Project: 3

This is the third post in a series that will ultimately offer 60+ photos for identification so that they can be preserved in perpetuity. 36_517_41 36_519_26 36_519_21 36_518_34 36_518_18

Bob Fitch photos ©Bob Fitch Photo Archive Stanford University. All rights reserved. Photos may be shared for educational non-commerical and identification purposes only.

Civil rights photographer Bob Fitch www.bobfitchphoto.com, activist, friend and historian, has asked for assistance in identifying some of his historic photos of the first African-American candidates who ran for election in Alabama in 1966. Few of them were elected the first time out but they paved the way for others who finally won in majority Black counties. Some photos are of those who worked on campaigns, friends and families. All were taken in Alabama 1965-66. These photos are part of the Bob Fitch archives at Stanford University Libraries and will soon be available for all to view and share, free of charge.

To preserve the memory of the courageous local leaders, we ask your help in providing ID by name, county, office the candidate ran for and the # of the photo. You may post responses in the “leave a comment” box below, or e-mail me, Maria Gitin, civil rights veteran and author of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.” Find my contact information at www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Please Help Identify these Foot Soldiers for Freedom photos by Bob Fitch

 

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Bob Fitch photos ©Bob Fitch Photo Archive Stanford University. All rights reserved. Photos may be shared for educational non-commerical and identification purposes only.

Civil rights photographer Bob Fitch www.bobfitchphoto.com, activist, friend and historian, has asked for assistance in identifying some of his historic photos of the first African-American candidates who ran for election in Alabama in 1966. Few of them were elected the first time out but they paved the way for others who finally won in majority Black counties. Some photos are of those who worked on campaigns, friends and families. All were taken in Alabama 1965-66. These photos are part of the Bob Fitch archives at Stanford University Libraries and will soon be available for all to view and share, free of charge. To preserve the memory of the courageous local leaders, we ask your help in providing ID by name, county, office the candidate ran for and the # of the photo. You may post responses in the “leave a comment” box below, or e-mail me, Maria Gitin, civil rights veteran and author of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.” Find my contact information at  www.thisbrightlightofours.com

You may view these and more photos at: https://exhibits.stanford.edu/fitch/browse/black-candidates-in-alabama-1965-1966

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Happy 4th of July: 1965

Joyce Brians (Maria Gitin), civil rights worker 1965.

Joyce Brians (Maria Gitin), civil rights worker 1965.

This is one my letters home that I only excerpted from in my book. What was like for my family to be reading this around the dinner table, thousands of miles away? Today, I imagine the heartache, fear and pride that parents share as youth in Charleston and around the South continue to combat a new wave of murder and church burnings.

July 1, 1965

Dear Family,

Hi! Things have been really hot around here – in more ways than one. The nite (sic) after I got out of jail – the same night I phoned you – two of our local boys were beaten in the church. The church was sacked, doors broken down, gunshots in the walls. One boy who was beaten with a lead pipe is in precariously dangerous shape in the Selma hospital. We could only find a white doctor for him & he isn’t getting the best of care. The other boy was clubbed but is recovering nicely. The local crackers did the job – some of them are Sheriff Jenkins possemen during the day.

It is now July 2-

While I was in jail the white boy in the cell next to me was beaten by his white Southern roommate. I could hear him screaming & moaning. The guards gave Crow – his cellmate – cigarettes for beating him. It made me so sick I couldn’t eat anything so I gave my food – what little there was – to an insane man who was in the cell next to me. The trustees (Negroes who are guards) gave us a bad time.

It is now July 3 – every time I sit down to write to you someone calls a staff meeting or the phone rings. Anyway – jail was hideous but I ‘ll write you the gory details some other time. The nite I was released was the nite the two boys were beaten in our church. I phoned the hospital, newspapers, etc. I’ve developed a close relationship with one of the men (white) on staff. I can’ t say anymore about it because that is the kind of ammunition police could use if either of us gets jailed again. We stayed up all nite by the phone for further news. It was a miserable nite. At 5 AM another boy phoned from the church – he had been beaten, too.

The story was that 8 white men in stocking masks broke down both doors of the church, shot a hole in the wall & beat 3 boys with a lead pipe. I went to the church the next day and it was a mess.

(Again I must go – hope I finish this soon)

It is now July 5th – I had to move out of Camden Academy cuz I didn’t get a letter to (Principal) Hobbs in time. Besides, it’s too dangerous to be in Camden now.

Yesterday you never would have known we were having a Movement. We went to the Playground & swam & roasted hotddogs & danced & sang. It was a great day & no arrests were made for a change.

I am staying with a wonderful woman in Coy (one of Ethel Brooks’ neighbors or a relative) near Camden. I don’t know when I’ll get to write to you again.

I love you. Thanks for your letters – they mean so much. I got the dresses – the shift is really nice.

We’ll be canvassing voters all over the county for the next two weeks so its on the road for me. We’ll just stay at folks houses when evening falls.

Love, Joyce

PS

It’s 6:30 AM July 6th – and we are ready to go out in the field to canvass for voters. There are more little incidents all the time. One of the strongest local leaders [ Don Green ] a junior in high school, had some moonshine planted in his car. When he drove out of the Sawmill Quarter, the police were waiting for him. They took him to jail, put him in the bull pen – a cell with no windows or ventilation, harassed him, left him overnight & released him. He’s been beaten dozens of times, yet he’s a wonderful person [meaning, he wasn’t bitter or angry]. Well, our ride is here.

Much love, Joyce   – for more about this summer and the Wilcox County Voting Rights struggle in 1965, read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” by Maria Gitin (formerly Joyce Brians). http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Selma Jubilees of the Past: Wilcox County Always Out Front

for more about the Wilcox County Voting Rights Movement, read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” by Maria Gitin www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Civil Rights Veterans Maria Gitin & Betty Anderson

Civil Rights Veterans Maria Gitin & Betty Anderson

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters Selma Jubilee 2010 Mary Alice Robinson (NCNW Banner), Phillip Young (Freedom Banner), Jessie Crawford, Maria Gitin, Joy Crawford-Washington, Robert Powell (Freedom Banner), Alma King (NCNW Banner)

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters Selma Jubilee 2010
Mary Alice Robinson (NCNW Banner), Phillip Young (Freedom Banner), Jessie Crawford, Maria Gitin, Joy Crawford-Washington, Robert Powell (Freedom Banner), Alma King (NCNW Banner)

Betty Robert Banner

Carolyn Smith Taylor represents the Smith Family 2010 Selma Jubilee

Carolyn Smith Taylor represents the Smith Family
2010 Selma Jubilee

john lewis wilcox banner copy colston w wilcox freedom fighters copy

Wilcox County “First” Electeds – Featuring Jesse Brooks of Coy, AL

It was twelve years after twelve years after the first group of candidates ran for office and thirteen years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the first African Americans were elected in Wilcox County Alabama. BAMA Kids presented a celebration of this historic event and of Wilcox County Black History February 21-22nd. For more information: Wilcox Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jesse Brooksr and his daughter Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighters. Bob Fitch photo 1966 @ Stanford University Archives.

Jesse Brooks and his daughter Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighters. Bob Fitch photo 1966 @ Stanford University Archives.

Farmer and military veteran Jesse Brooks was a man of action long before he was elected Tax Collector Of Wilcox County in 1978. Beginning in 1965, with his wife Julia and daughter Ethel, he organized voter education and registration activities, worked on veteran’s and farmer’s affairs, and risked hosting outside civil rights workers. Both Jesse Brooks and Ethel were natural and SCLC trained leaders in the Wilcox County movement. When I met Mr. Brooks, he was optimistic and said that would run only if necessary to get honest people into office. He did not run on the People’s Choice” slate in 1966 but worked hard for those who did. Despite great organizing, African American candidates for county office continued to be defeated until November 1978 when Jesse Brooks was elected Tax Collector, and Prince Arnold became Sheriff.

In January 1979, a formal inaugural ball and program was held in the Camden National Guard Armory on Whiskey Run Road to celebrate this great victory. When Jesse Brooks spoke he didn’t talk about his office or campaign promises. “I stand here before you as your tax collector,” he told his friends and neighbors. “But I also stand here tonight for someone else. I stand here as the grandson of a little Black slave boy who was brought down river from Charleston, South Carolina, to Lower Peachtree, Alabama, and sold for a thousand dollars. Thanks be to God there’s not going to be any more bidding off of human beings!”

It was a wildly emotional moment and Brooks stood in the center of it ramrod straight, letting the cheers and clamorous applause roll around him. It was a golden moment when the years of struggle, pain and despair were faced squarely and dismissed. The sufferings of that “little Black slave boy” had been vindicated.

Brooks did not fail to mention that what is ahead is more struggle, but “we plan to push forward until justice runs down like mighty waters,” using one of Dr. King’s favorite quotes from the prophet Amos. Mr. Brooks vowed to walk into the courthouse “just like John walked into Jerusalem” and begin working hard to build what he predicted will become “one of the best counties in God’s country.”

Compiled by Maria Gitin in Memory of Jesse Brooks, based on her personal friendship with the Brooks family, her book “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” www.thisbrightlightofours.com copyright University of Alabama Press 2014 and an article by Harriet Swift, “A New Day in Wilcox” http://beck.library.emory.edu/southernchanges/article.php?id=sc01-6_002 copyright Emory University 1979.

Remembering Kate Charley 1934-2013

For many years I spoke with Kate Charley, retired school teacher and community leader in Coy, AL at least once a month. She was beloved by many former students who visited often and was a forceful booster for projects to benefit the community such as the Bessie W. Munden Playground, the Camden Christian Academy and most of all, Little Zion #1 Missionary Baptist Church. In January 2013 at age 79,she passed of natural causes and was laid to rest in the church cemetery after a large, loving service. When I miss her voice, sharp insights and friendship, I re-read some of what she shared for “This Bright Light of Ours,” my book about Wilcox County voting rights in which her family was deeply involved.

Miss Kate Charley celebrated her African heritage

Miss Kate Charley celebrated her African heritage

Kate on Race Relations in Camden

“A bit of progress has been made, but schools are still segregated, housing is segregated. There’s been a little bit of progress in job opportunities in banks and government. But the white and Black employees don’t eat lunch together, and don’t get together outside of work. If we go in the bank now, they (whites) will treat us alright. They act polite enough in public, but don’t mix outside of work.

The KKK, segregationists are now lower key now. If they want something done – violence or whatever, they get a Black man to do it, give them money or drink or buy them a car. They get them to go agitate against the others who are trying to accomplish something, like our little school, the Camden Christian Academy. But they, the KKK, didn’t go away, they are just out in their hunting clubs, probably cryin’ in their beer.”

Kate on Loyalty

“ You are probably not a Dodgers fan because you live closer to San Francisco (Giants) but once I am loyal to something or someone, I stay loyal. I always liked the Dodgers. I had to get a new truck so when I was picking it out I said I believe I’ll take the blue one, you know “Dodger Blue”; that’s the truck I drive. I am loyal that way.”

Kate Charley, Maria Gitin, Iris Judson join in prayer for Wilcox County civil rights martyrs March 1, 2010

Kate Charley, Maria Gitin, Iris Judson join in prayer for Wilcox County civil rights martyrs March 1, 2010

Please share your remembrances of Kate and read more about this remarkable woman in “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Wilcox County Head Start one of first in the US 1965

Head Start, also known as pre-school, was one of the greatest programs and most successful programs of the War on Poverty. Due to the hard work of Dan Harrell and others, Wilcox County, Alabama was one of the first counties in the nation to launch a Head Start, right in the midst of the fiercest struggle for the right to vote, for decent schools and for employment opportunities for the majority African American residents, who were denied all these rights. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) project SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Political Education) volunteer Ann Nesbitt and San Francisco Theological Seminary student Yvonne Young were the very first white volunteers. Please leave a comment if you know the names of any of the children or of the head teacher in these photos by John Worcester, also of the SF Theological Seminary. The seminarians were part of the National Board of the Presbyterian Church outreach to support the civil rights struggle though education and with efforts at reconciliation with the white community. – As told to Maria Gitin by John Golden and John Worcester, seminarian participants. Taken July 1965, Camden AL

Head Start Picnic July 1965

Head Start Picnic
July 1965

Head Start Kids Enjoy Picnic

Head Start Kids Enjoy Picnic

Head Start Picnic July 1965

Head Start Picnic
July 1965

40 Pre-school Picnic

Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project Orientation Part I

Excerpted from my letter of June 20, 1965 about the 5.5 day SCOPE/SCLC Project orientation that I and 400+ students attended prior to being assigned to our counties. I would be assigned to Wilcox County, AL. But did not know that at the time. Coming from northern California, I was filled with missionary zeal and idealism which is reflected in my letter. At age 19, I had high hopes for our country and great respect for the leaders of our project. SCOPE was directed by Hosea L Williams with the intention to use (mostly) white college students to support local communities in their efforts to secure the African American vote. At that time “Negro” was the preferred term of respect by African American leaders.

 L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette, Richard Boone w/ Hosea Williams at SCOPE House in Atlanta 1965

L to R- SCOPE Staff Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette, Richard Boone w/ Hosea Williams at SCOPE House in Atlanta 1965

 Dear Family and Friends:

This is another world. It’s a world where I, a 19-year-old white northern woman, am not free. I am not free to go into the white section of Camden, Alabama with a Negro. I am not free to work in civil rights and still relate to the Southern whites. I can’t go out after dark or go on a date or swim in a public pool all summer. You people think you are free. When I was in San Francisco I thought I was free. But, we’re not free. I’m not down here fighting so any Negro can vote; I’m fighting for my rights—my human right to choose my friends as I please, to work with whoever I want, to worship with all peoples.

There is a Movement going on. God is acting in history. It’s God, not Martin Luther King, or James Bevel or Hosea Williams that is leading this movement. It’s faith that enables people to endure with one meal a day, four hours sleep, and one change of clothes. And they can still sing and shout praises.

Early Sunday morning we arrived at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. We were assigned to our dormitories and given meal tickets. About 400 people attended the orientation. The very first evening we sat for 2-1/2 hours in the gym in 100-degree weather where we met and listened to the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Rev. Hosea Williams, SCOPE project director, was the main speaker. He gave us a pep talk and introduced us to the people we would be working with, including a large number of professors from top colleges and universities. We closed the evening by joining hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” followed by a closing prayer.

Monday, June 14, really began the intensive week-long session. Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, VP at large and treasurer of SCLC, told us the history of SCLC beginning with the famous day when Mrs. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus any longer. For those who would like more background history for this organization, I suggest reading The Negro Revolt by Louis Lomax, which also gives the history of the other civil rights groups.

Hosea Williams then gave us a long and fine talk on “Why We are Here.” He made us see our responsibility and our obligation. As has been said so many times, “none of us are free until all of us are free.”

In the afternoon we heard the history of the whole civil rights movement from SCLC staff member, Bayard Rustin. Following that we broke up into small workshops to discuss the speech. The faculty members lead these sessions and two or three staff members sat in on them. Many of our more practical concerns were dealt with here. [ Check back for more or – read the book]

-Excerpt from “This Bright Light of Ours” @University of Alabama Press 2014. For more about the Orientation and the book: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

SCLC’s SCOPE project in Wilcox County Summer 1965

June – August 1965 SCLC’S Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project – Wilcox County

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, "It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation": L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, “It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation”: L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Project) SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Education) project, directed by Rev. Hosea Williams, was part of an already active Alabama Voter Education Project that coordinated (or attempted to coordinate) efforts between multiple civil rights organizations. As many as 600 black and white college (and some high school) students were assigned to six states for ten weeks after a 5.5 day 14 hr a day intensive Orientation in Atlanta, GA June 14-19, 1965.

In Wilcox County, five white northern student volunteers joined SCLC’s Dan and Juanita Harrell, and Major Johns, two

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

(perhaps three) white seminary students from California and some SNCC field workers from Selma to support local leaders in voter education, voter registration and leadership development. In early April, Californian Bob Block, who had walked all five days of the March to Montgomery, came over from Selma with Strider Benston, Bruce Hartford and Charles Bonner to join a Camden Academy student demonstration led by Ralph Eggleston, Sim Pettway and other students. Block was recruited by Dan Harrell to stay on as SCLC field staff. Local activist Ethel Brooks was also on SCLC SCOPE staff that summer. Students Robert Powell, Grady and Charles Nettles, Don Green, and Frank Conner; Mary Alice Robinson and Betty Anderson were some of the many Camden Academy activists working with SCOPE on voter education and registration after their own demonstrations all spring. Local adult leaders included: Rev. Thomas L Threadgill, Mr Albert Gordon, Mrs Rosetta Anderson, Mrs. Virginia Boykin Burrell and many others from the rural areas of Wilcox County. About 30 total local and field workers canvassed all summer, resulting in 500 new registered voters before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August. Soon after passage, more than 3,000 Wilcox residents were registered, creating a new African American majority.

Charles “Chuck” A. Bonner of Selma SNCC began to coordinate voting efforts in Wilcox County with SCLC and later, SCOPE. Bob Block and I (Joyce Brians/Maria Gitin) belonged to SNCC and SCLC. SCLC/SCOPE workers were the majority in Wilcox County that summer. Most local residents didn’t know or care who were with except for being “sent by Dr King” and “with the Movement.” Local white segregationists called us as “outside agitators.”

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff

 

For more about SCOPE and Voting Rights in Wilcox County, AL  This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight by Maria Gitin: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

More about VEP: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_voter_education_project/