This Bright Light of Ours for first time in Watsonville April 25th as part of Vote! Exhibit and Celebration

VOTING RIGHTS EXHIBIT & PRESENTATIONS WITH PAJARO VALLEY ARTS

Vote! Your Vote is Your Voice / ¡Vote!  Su Voto es Su Voz, is an exhibit of art and historic artifacts with films and educational programs about historic and current voting rights issues, to run April 3-May 26, 2019 at Pajaro Valley Arts gallery, 37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, CA 95076 

Thursday April 25th 6-8 PM This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight – A special presentation 

NOTE SPECIAL LOCATION: Watsonville Civic Building Community Room (4th Floor)

As part of Pajaro Valley Arts “Vote! Your Voice is Your Vote” exhibit, former Watsonville resident and nationally known author and speaker, civil rights veteran Maria Gitin will present historic images and stories from the grassroots activists of rural Alabama in the 1965 struggle for voting rights. Gitin worked in and will cover the less known but violent period of the Civil Rights Movement following the March to Montgomery and prior to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A freshman at San Francisco State College, Gitin felt called to action after witnessing violent state troopers attack peaceful voting rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. She joined a summer voter registration and education project along with 400 other college students. After training in Atlanta, from dignitaries including Martin Luther King Jr. himself, she was assigned to rural Wilcox County where the majority African American citizens were attacked, fired and arrested for simply attempting to register to vote. Gitin spent the summer working and walking with courageous local Black activists and sometimes running from the Ku Klux Klan. Her memoir of that summer, “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” was published by University of Alabama Press in 2014. Since that time, Gitin has presented more than fifty times including as keynote speaker for the US Army Presidio of Monterey, King County Washington, the National Park Service in Selma and Emory University. This is her first slide show presentation in Watsonville. 
  
More about Vote! Your Voice is Your Vote/ ¡Vote! Su Voto es Su Voz Exhibit and presentations 

Originally co-imagined with Bob Fitch, I’m honored to serve as both curator and presenter of this important exhibit.   Vote! seeks to educate, inspire, and develop greater interest in the nonpartisan democratic process. We draw on the involvement of current and former Watsonville residents who wein the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and Chicano Voting Rights action of the 1980’. We will share our experiences through art, educational panels, and film.  Selections of Bob Fitch photos and Maria Gitin’s civil rights movement archives illustrate their experience as young voting rights workers in Alabama. Artifacts from Santa Cruz County Elections Clerk Gail Pellerin and Watsonville City Clerk Beatriz Vasquez Flores will be on display. A visual timeline developed by local artists guides visitors through voting rights history. Contemporary art work by regional artists highlights current events and responds to the question: What does the right to vote mean to me?

All events are free, bilingual and appropriate for students as well as adults.  Contributions to Pajaro Valley Arts free bilingual programs are always welcome. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

For interviews and information about the exhibit and educational programs:
Maria Gitin msgitin@mariagitin.com

www.pvaarts.org  or call the gallery: 831.722.3062

Jkt_Gitin_final cover

Bob Crawford Jr. Freedom Fighter

 

We honor the memory of Bob Crawford Jr. who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement that few knew of at the time. Over the past ten years, he and his family have become my family too. I mourn with them, even as we celebrate his long and legendary life. He told me that his role in the Movement was to set an example by being a successful Black man in America: a veteran, a teacher and devoted father and husband. Then, he’d laugh and say, “Well, I couldn’t taken the nonviolent position; I was more of a Deacons for Defense kind of man,” and laugh his big laugh. I loved to talk with him, hear his stories and share in the joys and sorrows of his wife Jessie, and his grown children. Although his home going is this coming Saturday, we will never stop loving him and remembering just one more great “Bob Jr.” story. “Don’t call me Robert, I’m just Bob!” Crawford.

Luke (formerly Bob) Bock who stayed at the home of his parents Bob and Georgia Crawford, stalwart leaders in the Pine Apple area of the county, did not know that their school teacher son Bob Jr came over nights when Black and white civil rights workers were sleeping in his parents home. Bob Jr came to protect the young SNCC and SCLC workers, sitting up all night on a camp chair with a shotgun to make sure no one hurt his parents, their home or the field staff.

Bob Crawford Jr., taught high school in Monroe County for many years. Over many hours of animated conversation, one of the things Crawford stressed to me was education, “One of the best things about having a primarily African American school system is that now they can teach the whole story. I specialized in American History after I got my masters degree. One of my teachers told us ‘Don’t fool those kids and tell them what the Alabama history books say; it is strictly a white man’s history.’

“You had to go to a foreign county to get a true history. I got information from a friend, a retired military man who collected history from other countries. France and Spain wrote more competent histories that told the truth about US history. Negroes were involved in cattle drives, in the Gold Rush. I read some of these books and learned that Negroes were everything from outlaws to ministers, but that never was mentioned in the regular high school history books. So I inserted the information into my teaching. During the Revolutionary War they didn’t say that there were Black soldiers fighting on both sides, mostly for the North. In South Carolina you had Negro congressmen, but no Black leaders were ever mentioned, except maybe George W. Carver and Booker T. Washington. Negro engineers like Horace King built nearly every bridge that connected Georgia and Alabama—never told us anything about that, but I taught my students all of that. They [the administration] reprimanded me for teaching the truth, presenting the facts. But I didn’t get fired, I resigned to get a better paying job. I had two sweet little girls to put through college. Believe it or not, back then, driving truck paid better and had better benefits than teaching school.”[i]

Bob Crawford Jr’s sacrifice of a prestigious teaching job for trucking was well rewarded by all three of his “little girls” successes in life.  Bob Crawford’s oldest daughter, Debbie C. Porter, retired after teaching 28 years in the Baldwin County Alabama School System. Middle daughter, Joy Crawford-Washington, is currently the Associate Director of Public Relations at the University of South Alabama, and the youngest, Jessietta C.Thomas, is a principal at Hayneville Road Acceleration Academy in Montgomery, Alabama. All are active in community, church and service work.

More of the Crawfords’ family story and their  involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is included in my book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press 2014 – www.thisbrightlightofours.com

In Memory of Grady Nettles

Mrs. Mattie Nettles in her flower garden

Mother of Grady, Charles, Larry, David, Loretta and four more.

Sending condolences to friends and family of Grady Nettles on his passing. Grady was one of the active students, in fact his whole family was active in the Movement registering voters, protecting the church from the KKK, housing civil rights workers and registering their children to integrate the white schools – all at great risk to their family. In 2009 Grady told me: “They burned down my mother’s house while all them children were in it sleeping. They killed a lot of the farm animals, but we got out and she didn’t give up. She died peacefully with family at her side.” May he now rest with his mother and brothers, and be remembered as a hero among the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters.

I still remember the morning he and his brother rushed upstairs to tell me and Bob that the KKK had broken into the church and destroyed our mimeograph machines, cut the telephone wires and torn up the placards we had made for picketing white stores that would not hire African Americans. He was agitated, but not discouraged. He was right there with us when we were all arrested, yet went back to working in the Movement as soon as we were released.

The Nettles had ten children. All were active in some way, and all paid a heavy price for their courage. Local activists like Grady and the rest of the Nettles were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. It was an honor to know him. May he rest in blessed memory.

National Park Service: Selma to Montgomery Trail Talk

We are looking forward to joining old friends and meeting new Monday June 6th in Selma Alabama for a dynamic afternoon of sharing stories, photos and experiences from the Wilcox County Voting Rights struggle. This presentation is suitable for tourists, seniors, high school and older students and the general public. Please spread the word and bring your friends. Thank you, Park Ranger Theresa Hall for your warm invitation to add to the history of Selma and Wilcox.

Gitin Selma flyer

Giving Thanks to the Courageous Citizens of Wilcox County for Sharing your Stories with the World

Betty Robert Banner

Betty Anderson and Robert Powell, Camden Academy Activists

Sheryl Threadgill and the Lawsons at Selma Jubilee 2014

Sheryl Threadgill and the Lawsons at Selma Jubilee 2014

W. Kate Charley lived her life standing tall, telling the truth and having fun. She lives on in blessed memory.

W. Kate Charley lived her life standing tall, telling the truth and having fun. She lives on in blessed memory.

 

Lewis V Baldwin, Anthea Butler and Barbara A Holmes at Baldwin's Vanderbilt University Retirement Celebration 2014

Lewis V Baldwin, Anthea Butler and Barbara A Holmes at Baldwin’s Vanderbilt University Retirement Celebration 2014

 

John Matthews in Pine Hill

John Matthews shows Maria where he found her and other civil rights workers headed deep into the woods at dusk. Pine Hill, AL

SNCC Buddies Luke (Bob) Block, Maria Gitin and Charles (Chuck) Bonner 2005

SNCC Buddies Luke (Bob) Block, Maria Gitin and Charles (Chuck) Bonner 2005

I’m feeling extra grateful today for the contributions of more than 70 friends, families and supporters to the amazing success of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.”  We have almost sold out the hard-bound first edition, thanks to your willingness to share your struggles, your pain and your laughter. Across the country, white students and adults alike tell me that they understand the history of racism and white privilege from a new perspective, and that they want to be part of eradicating injustice. African Americans, Latinos and others say, thank you for sharing these stories, our stories. Young students ask: Why didn’t we ever learn this in school?  Although marketed as a memoir, this is really your story, our story. Thank you today and always for your contributions.

Samuel supported Maria every page of the way on her journey back to Summer 1965

Samuel supported Maria every page of the way on her journey back to Summer 1965

Bruce Hartford, CORE, SCLC 1965 - invaluable historian of the Movement

Bruce Hartford, CORE, SCLC 1965 – invaluable historian of the Movement

Bob Fitch Photographer & Activist

Bob Fitch Photographer & Activist

July 12, 1965: Romance Blossoms as Attacks on Wilcox County Civil Rights Workers Continue

Wilcox County and its county seat, Camden, share a voting rights history with Selma in nearby Dallas County. As early as 1963, Bernard and Colia LaFayette organized marches in Wilcox with Black citizens demanding the right to vote. Dr. King visited the county many times on his way to and from Selma and Montgomery. Hundreds of Wilcox students and adults joined the February Childrens’ marches in Selma, and were beaten off the bridge on Bloody Sunday. Selma activists came regularly to support the Wilcox demonstrations. Charles Bonner of Selma and Bob Block from California spent a night or two in the Wilcox County jail in April. Bob got cattle prodded in one march and then signed on to work with Dan Harrell, the director of seven SCLC SCOPE project counties who was based in Wilcox.

Almost as soon as we met, Bob and I fell in love. I guess Charles wanted to keep Bob on his team so recruited me into Selma SNCC, although I continued to work with SCOPE in Wilcox County as well. We had many adventures and misadventures that summer, both together and separately. The racists were absolutely outraged at this new wave of “outside agitators” who arrived to join the “hangers on from the March,” as some snidely referred to whites who hadn’t gone back north. But Charles was thrilled to have us there and always made us feel at home in Selma. He began educating me on SNCC philosophy and tactics which seemed so cool compared to what I learned from our SCLC reverends. But I loved our “Revs” as we called most of our adult leaders. Out in the field, it took both SCLC and SNCC tactics and support just to stay alive. Charles would sometimes drive us away from (and sometimes into) danger in a powder blue SNCC Valiant. Our county project leader, Major Johns, rescued me from potential attack more than once in his ’52 Chevy.

Bob and I were seldom allowed to work together, but when we could get together, we met in Selma with Charles and his girlfriend Janet to party and to share stories. One day in July, I was with a small, integrated team canvassing for voters in a remote area outside Arlington. A couple of white men in trucks roared up and tried to run us over. They had guns, too. We spent that afternoon hiding in ditches, and running through pine forests while my local canvassing partner, Robert Powell, tried to get a call through to our project leaders to come rescue us.

Bob told us that his afternoon canvassing with Dan Harrell had been even more exciting. “Dan and I were walking along when this white guy appears out of nowhere. I mean we didn’t hear him comin’, see a truck, nothing. Just like that, he takes his pistol, raises it right to Harrell’s head and presses it against his temple.”
“You know I would kill you as soon as look at you, doncha?”
“I believe I do,” was all that Dan replied.
Read the full story: https://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/bob-dan-the-man-with-a-gun/
Then I told Bob what happened out in Arlington, about being chased all afternoon by white men in pickups with rifles. “He must’ve been related to my guy. Dan didn’t even tell me about what happened with you!”

Gitin and Block at National Voting Rights Museum March 2010

Gitin and Block at National Voting Rights Museum March 2010

45th Reunion Charles Bonner & Maria in Selma at the Saint James Hotel March 2010

45th Reunion Charles Bonner & Maria in Selma at the Saint James Hotel March 2010

Forty years later, Charles, Bob (now Luke) and I had a reunion, with some other civil rights veterans. We swore we’d go back some day and walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge together. In 2010, 45 years after our first meeting, we marched over that bridge with thousands of other foot soldiers in the Selma Jubilee Bridge Re-enactment Ceremony. I am so grateful that we lived to share these stories and to continue our friendship.

Excerpt and adaptation from “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” by Maria Gitin, copyright, University of Alabama Press 2014. www.thisbrightlightofours.com