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

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 Freedom Fighters set to March in Selma Sunday March 8th

Thanks to friends and freedom fighters Robert Powell and Alversal and Albert Lawson for bringing and carrying the Wilcox County Freedom banner to the Selma Jubilee next Sunday, the Wilcox Movement will be represented at the 50th Jubilee. Learn more about the Wilcox County Voting Rights Fight at http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com.

Betty Anderson and Robert Powell with Banner 2010

Betty Anderson and Robert Powell with Banner 2010

Crowd at bridge

Phillip Young and Robert Powell carry the banner in 2010. Center L-R: Jessie Crawford, Maria Gitin and Joy Crawford-Washington.

Wilcox represents at the Bridge Re-enactment 2014

Wilcox represents at the Bridge Re-enactment 2014

All civil rights workers, family, descendants, friends and allies are welcome to join our group. Meet at on MLK Street directly across from the steps of Brown Chapel no later than 1:30 PM. If you come in on the bypass and then up Broad to any of the cut through streets, you can usually park on Lawrence by the elementary school, then cut through the Carver housing development and find the sign. They will keep it up on the long poles so everyone can find it. Every year so far we have gotten interviews, photos and news coverage. Plus had a great good time walking together. I won’t be there in person this time, but will be with you in spirit. Please send photos from your cell phones! Thank you!