Although nearly abandoned today, in 1965 the tiny primarily Black community of Boiling Spring in remote northwestern Wilcox County was the center of a vibrant voting rights movement with leaders like the Lawsons, Burrells and Robinsons.
Sometimes I stayed with the Robinsons who had 12 children yet made room for me, a white teenage civil rights worker. I shared a bed with their teen daughter and several small children. When I rolled over, I had to be careful not to kick the little ones stacked at the end of the bedstead. Some evenings, we’d walk through the woods with kerosene lanterns to take meals at the Lawsons. After I returned to California, my letters to Robinsons and Lawsons were returned undeliverable. I searched for them for decades without success.
Forty-seven years later, Deborah Burrell Tucker, whose mother Virginia Boykin Burrell was a leader and voter literacy teacher in Boiling Spring, contacted me.
Her sister, Voncille Burrell Spencer, recalls canvassing for voters with me when she was just 13 years old. Her Cousin Betty Lawson Henderson told me that her family maintained a civil rights safe house for years. After many years of searching, I discovered some of the Robinsons who housed me. Sadly, some still fear white retribution for their involvement in the Movement. While the Burrells and Lawsons, and another Robinson clan proudly claim their place in history, some of “my” Robinsons believe that the racial climate hasn’t changed a bit and asked me to omit their names from my book. It makes me sad but also helps explain why more progress hasn’t been made. The Robinsons and all civil rights activists who risked their lives and property to be active in the Movement, deserve to live in peace and comfort and to be honored for their contribution to the progress that has been made, most especially the right to vote.
Recent unprovoked white on black murders tragically give credence to lingering fears. A new Civil Rights Movement calls for massive economic, social policy and educational change. We cannot give up, cannot rest, until everyone in this country can go to sleep without fear of being targeted for the color of their skin or for their commitment to racial justice. All of us must vote in every election until we change policies and politicians to secure these rights for all. The courageous heroes of Boiling Spring,both living and deceased, known and anonymous, continue to call us to action.