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.

Maria Gitin to Read & Speak on Voting Rights History and Current Events December 8th

Just back from a whirlwind tour of Atlanta GA and Mobile AL where students, teachers and other civil rights veterans gave warm reception to me and “This Bright Light of Ours.”  We engaged in lively dialog about the need to bring back national civil discourse and restore voting rights in states where they have been lost. I am honored to carry not only my own stories but those of dozens of African American grassroots heroes to encourage this conversation.

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/20141206/activist-to-deliver-voting-rights-talk-in-aptos

TBE Senior program
I was invited to be one of 20 Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans (we have an organization) to the SF Film Festival premiere of Oprah Winfrey’s new film, Selma, which opens Dec 25th. When I looked at my calendar and saw that the date was Nov 15th when I was already committed to be in Atlanta presenting at the Southern Historical Association conference, I almost had a fit!  As the world turns, my trip to Atlanta was rich in dialog and memory. I hadn’t been back to Atlanta in the 49 yrs since our “civil rights book camp” – Orientation. One of the lasting images I had was of MLK speaking to me in our final friendship circle. Now his name and image are on dozens of buildings and national park sites.
I will also be speaking at Monterey Institute of International Studies on Wednesday Jan 21st as part of the YWCA Racial Justice series and at Stanford University on January 28th. Stay current on presentations and events at http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com/events-appearances-2/maria-gitin-upcoming-speaking-schedule/

When the People had to Fight to Vote

In 1965, in Wilcox County AL and in countless majority African American counties all over the South, Black citizens rose up in a nonviolent battle for their voting rights. With pressure brought on Congress and President Johnson to finally sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6th, all were free to register. Despite extensive documentation of discrimination, federal registrars did not arrive until late August. Only then were citizens allowed to register at the “real” courthouse on the town square instead of here at the “courthouse annex” which was the old jail. The victory was sweet. Today, we have to fight to get out 28% of voters for any election. Let’s reflect on the sacrifices of our elders, and work to get everyone out to vote this November.

 Evidence of need for federal registrars under new Voting Rights Act. August 1965. J Worcester photo.

Evidence of need for federal registrars under new Voting Rights Act. August 1965. J Worcester photo.

Qualified citizens stand for hours to exercise their voting rights, denied for over 100 years. J Worcester photo. August 1965

Qualified citizens stand for hours to exercise their voting rights, denied for over 100 years. J Worcester photo. August 1965

“This Bright Light of Ours” to Shine in 2015 Martin Luther King Jr Celebrations

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews brings BAMA kids to meet author Maria Gitin

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews brings BAMA kids to meet author Maria Gitin

Save the date for talks in Seattle, Monterey and Palo Alto. Check back for details in a few weeks.

January 13, 2015: Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle WA 

7 PM This Bright Light of Ours – Author Book signing event   http://www.elliottbaybook.com/

January 14, 2015: Open Windows School, Bellevue WA – MLK student assembly speaker

January 15, 2015: MLK Seattle Celebration 33rd Anniversary, King County, Seattle WA

The Voting Rights Fight, Keynote speaker for community celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. For more information:http://www.mlkseattle.org/

January 22, 2015: YWCA Monterey County

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing.  Details forthcoming.

January 28, 2015: Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing Details forthcoming.

Temple Beth El Book Launch Celebration

Temple Beth El Book Launch Celebration

Praise for Maria Gitin Presentations

Thank you! thank you! Thank you! Your contribution to the “Voice of Conscience: Civil Rights, Post-Civil Rights and the Future Freedom Struggle” was the highlight. You are a remarkable friend and colleague. As Director of the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt and on behalf of the program committee we thank you. – Victor D Anderson, Vanderbilt University

I learned a good bit from your presentation. I referenced you in the final chapter of” A Child Shall Lead Them.” Your book will be a valuable resource, and will be one I will want to use in my King course. – Rufus Burrow Indiana Professor of Christian Thought and Theological Ethics, Christian Theological Seminary

Maria’s passion, compassion, and love for the people of Wilcox County shines through in her lecture. I count it a privilege to meet someone who is so genuine and is part of living history.DeeAnn, student University of South Alabama

“This Bright Light of Ours” to Shine in 2015 Martin Luther King Jr Celebrations

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews brings BAMA kids to meet author Maria Gitin

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews brings BAMA kids to meet author Maria Gitin

Save the date for talks in Seattle, Monterey and Palo Alto. Check back for details in a few weeks.

January 13, 2015: Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle WA 

7 PM This Bright Light of Ours – Author Book signing event   http://www.elliottbaybook.com/

January 14, 2015: Open Windows School, Bellevue WA – MLK student assembly speaker

January 15, 2015: MLK Seattle Celebration 33rd Anniversary, King County, Seattle WA

The Voting Rights Fight, Keynote speaker for community celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. For more information:http://www.mlkseattle.org/

January 22, 2015: YWCA Monterey County

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing.  Details forthcoming.

January 28, 2015: Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing Details forthcoming.

Temple Beth El Book Launch Celebration

Temple Beth El Book Launch Celebration

Praise for Maria Gitin Presentations

Thank you! thank you! Thank you! Your contribution to the “Voice of Conscience: Civil Rights, Post-Civil Rights and the Future Freedom Struggle” was the highlight. You are a remarkable friend and colleague. As Director of the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt and on behalf of the program committee we thank you. – Victor D Anderson, Vanderbilt University

I learned a good bit from your presentation. I referenced you in the final chapter of” A Child Shall Lead Them.” Your book will be a valuable resource, and will be one I will want to use in my King course. – Rufus Burrow Indiana Professor of Christian Thought and Theological Ethics, Christian Theological Seminary

Maria’s passion, compassion, and love for the people of Wilcox County shines through in her lecture. I count it a privilege to meet someone who is so genuine and is part of living history.DeeAnn, student University of South Alabama

George Ow Jr to Introduce Maria Gitin at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Community Leader and diversity champion George Ow Jr. will introduce Maria Gitin’s reading and book signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz
Monday August 11th 7:30 PM
Free and open to All

Read More about the Book: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/ci_26286254/local-writer-maria-gitin-looks-back-at-civil

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Bookshop SC event flyer

Alabama Book Launch & Selma Jubilee

All Wilcox County Freedom Fighters, friends and family are welcome to attend the March 6th celebration in Camden and to march with us under the Wilcox County Freedom Fighter banner Sunday March 9th in Selma. I will also be with University of Alabama Press for “Meet the Author Book Signing” at the St. James Hotel Saturday March 8th 5-7 PM. See my book website: www.thisbrightlightofours.com for more details. We hope to see you there!Camden Book Celebration

This Bright Light of Ours is Published

Now available online www.thisbrightlightofours.com  See “Buy the Book” for options or order from your local independent bookstore. Published by University of Alabama Press.

This Bright Light of Ours  cover photo Bill Hudson @AP.

This Bright Light of Ours
cover photo Bill Hudson @AP.

This Bright Light of Ours Prepares to Launch: Save These Dates!

To stay current with Maria Gitin & friends events and appearances, and to leave comments about the book, please visit www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Upcoming Events and Appearances 

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Saturday February 15th – Oakland, CA, Holy Names University Social Justice Forum, Voting Rights panel with civil right attorney Charles A Bonner and Watsonville Mayor Karina Cervantez. Register for this great conference: The Dream Lives On: A Call to Action http://www.hnu.edu/SocialJustice

Thursday February 20th Aptos, CA– 6-7:30 PM West Coast Book Launch, Reading, & Signing at Temple Beth El, 3055 Porter Gulch Rd,  Free and open to the public with hosted reception.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Thursday March 6th  Camden, AL —  6-7:30 PM  Alabama Book Book Launch Celebration at the Lena Powell Convention Center 211 Claiborne Street in. Camden native son, Rev Dr LV Baldwin will come to give the invocation. Brief program with reading, historic slides and recognition of the 30+ families and individuals who contributed stories to the book. Free and open to the public with hosted reception, book sales and signing.

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Sunday March 9th Selma, AL– Participate in the Selma Jubilee bridge re-enactment ceremony. Meet under the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters banner outside Brown Chapel.  Families may make T-shirts or posters with family and civil rights hero photo on them. Please spread the word to everyone who lived or worked in the Wilcox Movement. 

Thursday, March 13th Mobile AL – 6:30 PM Museum of History, Book talk, signing and reception. 251-208-7246 or http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com