When I met Wilcox County Commissioner John L. Matthews, he reminded me of a day from that long ago
summer that I had forgotten, given that every day was filled with long, long treks through wooded rural roads with potential danger on every side. He and his father and brothers were working in their corn field out in Pebble Hill when his father saw me, Bob and a non-local black youth (likely a temporary SNCC worker) walking deeper into the woods instead of toward the highway and our ride back to town.
John recalls, “Evening was upon us and night was not long in coming. You were heading into the community where the roadway and trails lead to a large wooded area. Daddy knew you didn’t have a clue where you were or what direction you were going.”
“He told me, ‘Son, go get the truck and get those civil rights workers off the road before something happens to them”.
Now I remember, this good looking skinny but muscular sixteen-year old pulled up in an old truck asks where we are headed. We say Antioch Baptist church and he tells us, “Get in.”
“Yes, I imagine we did what you recommended. The first principle of our field worker training was follow the locals lead,” I reminded myself.
John laughed , “I was glad you all jammed into the cab with me because there was just a flat bed in back and it would have been obvious who you were. So we four piled in the cab of that old ’56 green Chevrolet pickup and off we went. It was my first contact with civil rights workers.” What John and his father did that day was incredibly brave and dangerous. Integrated vehicles were frequently targeted, shot at and run off of the road in Wilcox County. In March 2010, John and I revisited the scene of our first meeting as part of the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters Commemoration.
© Maria Gitin, this story is an excerpt from her unpublished book, This Bright Light of Ours. Publication announcement forthcoming
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