Stories from Selma and the Voting Rights Fight in SF Saturday March 21st

Please join us for this engaging, interactive afternoon with Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans who worked in and around Selma, AL during the 1965 Voting Rights Movement. Saturday May 21st 2-4 PM at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. MOAD 8x10 poster image  white

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Voices of the 1965 Voting Rights Fight

As we observe the 50th anniversary year of the Selma voting rights struggle, the March to Montgomery, and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Bay Area civil rights veterans share their experiences of the historic African American-led struggle. If you liked the film “Selma,” you will enjoy hearing more about the role of youth during this pivotal period of the Civil Rights Movement.

Program features:
• Personal stories from the front lines in Alabama in 1965
• Singing Civil Rights songs led by renowned Freedom Singer, Wazir Peacock
• Book signing by three authors: Maria Gitin, Charles Bonner and Bruce Hartford
• Wazir Peacock Video (optional still under discussion)
• Historic slide show
• Q & A and discussion
Moderator and Panelist: Bruce Hartford, civil rights activist and historian is author of “The Selma Voting Rights Struggle & the March to Montgomery” Hartford is webspinner for the Civil Rights Veterans at He worked on voter-registration and direct-action campaigns with CORE and SCLC 1963-1967 in California, Alabama & Mississippi. In 1965 he worked in Selma during Bloody Sunday, and walked on the March to Montgomery with Dr. King.

Panelist and song leader: Willie B. Wazir Peacock, highly regarded singer of civil rights songs, is featured in the new video, Stand for Freedom: The Life & Times of Willie B. Wazir Peacock. Native of Mississippi, Peacock was an early member of Student Non-Violent Organizing Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was a SNCC field secretary organizing African Americans voting rights activities in Mississippi and Alabama from 1960-66. He was both participant and witness to many of the most dangerous and violent campaigns of the civil rights movement.

Panelist: Charles A. Bonner, civil rights attorney, is a Selma native and author of The Tip of the Arrow, the Selma Student Movement: a Study in Leadership. Bonner was a leader in Selma high school and college student movement, and was beaten and arrested numerous times for voting rights activities. He was on the bridge on Bloody Sunday and marched to Montgomery, and then helped train white kids working with both SCLC and SNCC during the summer of 1965.

Panelist: Maria Gitin, civil rights veteran and author of This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, left San Francisco State College to spend the summer of 1965 working with SCLC and SNCC in rural Wilcox County, Alabama, after the March to Montgomery. She canvassed for voters, was chased by the KKK, and arrested. Four decades later she gathered the memories of her co-workers, including Bonner, in a moving memoir of teenage civil rights action. Read about Maria Gitin and her civil rights work:

More Praise for “This Bright Light of Ours”


“THIS BRIGHT LIGHT OF OURS is a thoughtful, concise, multi-level, artful and thoroughly researched narrative of Maria Gitin’s summer as an Anglo volunteer voter registration worker in Camden, AL.  With candid, almost innocent precision, she exposes her multi-adventure summer experience which includes: lives of her co-workers and an intimate, historic and present exposé of African Americans in a rural back-water town challenging brutal and cleverly subtle oppression. This book is captivating because it presents so many documented stories about courageous ‘ordinary’ people. “  – Bob Fitch, photojournalist, My Eyes Have Seen [correct title, Glide Publishing, 1972]  May 2, 2014

I just finished reading the book and I loved it. At numerous points it had me in tears. And I very deeply appreciate your focus on the numerous and varied foot soldiers. Those are the stories most easily forgotten and too seldom told. – Gordon Gibson, Unitarian pastor, civil rights activist, Knoxville, TN – April 14, 2014

I’ve just bought your book and started to read it. It is absolutely compelling. I couldn’t put it down! I admire you greatly for your achievement and perseverance in realizing your vision.The book is clearly organized and written. Surely it will serve as a testimony of that vital time for generations to come.– Mary Swope, retired fine arts teacher, SCOPE volunteer. San Francisco, CA April 16, 2014

Maria Gitin tells her own story on her own terms, giving readers an honest rendering of one woman’s experience on the front lines of struggle against a deeply entrenched system of racial oppression.  Her book is a worthy companion piece to Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi and Ned Cobb’s superb Alabama narrative All God’s Dangers. 

Clarence Mohr, Chairman, History Department, University of South Alabama,
Mobile, AL – April 8, 2014

More about the book:

lorez Final book coverJkt_Gitin_final


My Heart is Filled With Gratitude

Many generous folks contributed over the past seven years to This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, a memoir and collection of true stories from the last large integrated voter registration drive during the Freedom Summer of 1965.

Fifty-five courageous individuals entrusted me with their stories of living in a violent, racist community while fighting for their voting rights in Wilcox County, Alabama. My beloved SNCC friends, Charles “Chuck” Bonner and Luke “Bob” Block ( kept me honest as I recreated our teenage civil rights work and play. Wilcox County community leaders opened doors, answered endless questions and become dear friends including: W. Kate Charley, Sheryl Threadgill, Alma King, and John Matthews. Civil Rights photographer Bob Fitch ( shared historic images that enrich the work immensely.

For generous encouragement, and expert counsel over the years, huge appreciation goes to brilliant author-scholar, Lewis V. Baldwin. ( For consistent and accurate fact checking, terminology, and political theory, my hero is Bruce Hartford, lay historian and web manager for the national Civil Rights Veterans website ( Scott E. Kirkland, researcher and curator of the Museum of History in Mobile, AL, played a vital role in the placement of this book, as a champion for an accurate portrayal of the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project, designed and spearheaded by civil rights hero, Hosea Williams.

Author-activist Bettina Aptheker, the late James Houston, and Benet Luchion provided early encouragement. Developmental editor Cassandra Shaylor helped shape the book for interest. Historian Martha Jane Brazy of University of South Alabama enthusiastically embraced the work during its final year, generously offering me graduate student level attention. Willy Siegal Leventhal’s unending fight for recognition of the SCOPE ( project was and is an inspiration.

Thanks to my beloved cousin, Jeanne Hanks, and my friend, Debbie Kogan, for empathetic listening during my years of obsessing about this project. Deep appreciation goes to my publicist, Joy Crawford-Washington of BGC Communications, for tireless support and warm friendship. To my yoga teacher, Amey Matthews for teaching me flexibility and strength are not opposites. And to Lauren Mari-Navarro for insights and resources. To Joan for fun & friendship.

Photo by Charley Hatfield, Aptos, CA

My husband, Samuel Torres Jr., offered me freedom to pursue the project, frequent and much-needed critiques, archival research, copyright management, proof-reading, tough talk and tender love, and took great photos. I can never thank him enough, but I am working on it!

Thank you all! Have a great Thanksgiving!  And Keep on Keepin’ On! – We have a long ways to go to achieve real racial and economic justice in the world!

The book has been retitled: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, and will be published by University of Alabama Press in January 2014. Speaking engagements and book-signings are being scheduled now. Please contact: Joy Crawford-Washington, for more information.

Exciting News: Wilcox County Voting Rights Book Rejected!

Not everyone might think this is good news, but I do. After waiting 11 months to hear from New South Books in Montgomery Alabama, I received this message Jun 22, 2011, at 10:17 AM,

Dear Maria Gitin,

NewSouth Books reviewed your manuscript, and I regret that we will not be able to accept This Little Light of Mine. We thought it was well written and historically valuable, but we just can’t fit it into our publishing lineup at this time. Thanks so much for contacting us, and best of luck.

Sincerely,Noelle Matteson, Editorial Assistant, NewSouth Books

“Well written and historically valuable” sound good to me!

Images from 1965

I am grateful to all my Civil Rights Veteran buddies especially the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters, Alabama history buffs and friends of good literature who have helped bring this collection of stories of the Voting Rights Movement this far on its journey to publication. Just as we sang back in the day, we gotta keep on walkin’, keep on talkin’  – I have to keep on keepin’ on until this book lands with the right publisher. More than 50 people I interviewed, all my friends and dear ones are with me on this journey. Thank you for your support, ideas and comments.

PS As of March 2012,  the book was completely revised with the assistance of  developmental editor, Cassandra Shaylor. Now re-titled This Bright Light of Ours to reflect the amazing collective effort that has gone into this project, the new book includes contextual history in addition to stories and photographs. Prior to submitting it elsewhere, the entire mss was requested by University of Alabama Press which has scheduled publication for early 2014.  This amazing accomplishment is due primarily to the following: the courageous activists of Wilcox County Alabama, Joy Crawford-Washington – publicist extraordinaire of Mobile AL, professor Martha Jane Brazy of University of South Alabama and Scott E. Kirkland, researcher and curator of the Mobile Museum of History. At University of Alabama Press, Editor in Chief Dan Waterman and Acquisitions Editor Donna Cox-Baker are wise and courageous risk-takers dedicated to reclaiming the full history of Alabama. Their dedication, enthusiasm, vision and commitment has made this pending publication possible.

Please keep your comments coming and post them here. They really help!

Civil rights worker & student reunion in corn field

When I met Wilcox County Commissioner John L. Matthews, he reminded me of a day from that long ago

But I thought Camden was this way!

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

Please contact author for permission to reproduce. For speaking engagements and readings contact:

Kids in Arizona send thank you notes to Civil Rights Veterans

Yesterday I received 2 postcards from the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona, Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service. One of them was hand signed by Lorina H, age 8 who wrote “Thank you for your service.” An MLK quotation: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”, was followed by this message that brought tears to my eyes, “Thank you for taking those steps to get us where we are today. Your role in the Civil Rights Movement will not be forgotten.” So lovely and so good to know that children are learning that there were many more people than just Rosa Parks and Doctor King who brought us to this day. And how many more of you we need to take us the rest of the way to true social and economic justice. Peace & love, Maria