SCLC’s SCOPE project in Wilcox County Summer 1965

June – August 1965 SCLC’S Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project – Wilcox County

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, "It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation": L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

Hosea L Williams with his top SCOPE staff outside the Freedom House in Atlanta in the Summer of 1965. As stated by his daughter, Dr. Barbara Williams Emerson in February 2012, “It is a good photo from the period, but it says nothing, or everything, about female participation”: L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marquette , and Richard Boone. – Courtesy Barbara Emerson Williams. Copyright, all rights reserved.

SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Project) SCOPE (Summer Community Organization and Education) project, directed by Rev. Hosea Williams, was part of an already active Alabama Voter Education Project that coordinated (or attempted to coordinate) efforts between multiple civil rights organizations. As many as 600 black and white college (and some high school) students were assigned to six states for ten weeks after a 5.5 day 14 hr a day intensive Orientation in Atlanta, GA June 14-19, 1965.

In Wilcox County, five white northern student volunteers joined SCLC’s Dan and Juanita Harrell, and Major Johns, two

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

(perhaps three) white seminary students from California and some SNCC field workers from Selma to support local leaders in voter education, voter registration and leadership development. In early April, Californian Bob Block, who had walked all five days of the March to Montgomery, came over from Selma with Strider Benston, Bruce Hartford and Charles Bonner to join a Camden Academy student demonstration led by Ralph Eggleston, Sim Pettway and other students. Block was recruited by Dan Harrell to stay on as SCLC field staff. Local activist Ethel Brooks was also on SCLC SCOPE staff that summer. Students Robert Powell, Grady and Charles Nettles, Don Green, and Frank Conner; Mary Alice Robinson and Betty Anderson were some of the many Camden Academy activists working with SCOPE on voter education and registration after their own demonstrations all spring. Local adult leaders included: Rev. Thomas L Threadgill, Mr Albert Gordon, Mrs Rosetta Anderson, Mrs. Virginia Boykin Burrell and many others from the rural areas of Wilcox County. About 30 total local and field workers canvassed all summer, resulting in 500 new registered voters before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in August. Soon after passage, more than 3,000 Wilcox residents were registered, creating a new African American majority.

Charles “Chuck” A. Bonner of Selma SNCC began to coordinate voting efforts in Wilcox County with SCLC and later, SCOPE. Bob Block and I (Joyce Brians/Maria Gitin) belonged to SNCC and SCLC. SCLC/SCOPE workers were the majority in Wilcox County that summer. Most local residents didn’t know or care who were with except for being “sent by Dr King” and “with the Movement.” Local white segregationists called us as “outside agitators.”

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff

Ethel Brooks SCLC Wilcox County field staff


For more about SCOPE and Voting Rights in Wilcox County, AL  This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight by Maria Gitin:

More about VEP:

This Bright Light of Ours

My beloved husband Samuel Torres Jr

My beloved husband Samuel Torres Jr

SNCC Buddies Luke (Bob) Block, Maria Gitin and Charles (Chuck) Bonner 2005

SNCC Buddies Luke (Bob) Block, Maria Gitin and Charles (Chuck) Bonner 2005

During this time of reflection on anniversaries – some joyous like the March on Washington, some tragic and still infuriating, like the murder of the Sunday School girls in Birmingham, we pause to reflect on the people and friends who have made contributions to positive change, to moving forward not backward and to keeping the faith. Our eyes are wide open yet we still hold Martin’s Dream and our own to be possible. I want to share images of just handful of the dozens of amazing people who supported me on the journey to complete This Bright Light of Ours:Stories of the Voting Rights Fight, University of Alabama Press February 2014.

My beloved friend and publicist, Joy Crawford-Washington and her mother, Jessie Crawford

My beloved friend and publicist, Joy Crawford-Washington and her mother, Jessie Crawford

Below (Left to right)

Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighter (In Memorium)

Bettina Aptheker, author, advisor, friend

Lewis V Baldwin, author, advisor, friend & inspiration

Surprise Happy 65th Birthday to Samuel Torres Jr my beloved, my office manager and source of endless support

Charles R. Stephens (In Memorium) for years of co-training, diversity lessons and leadership

Bruce Hartford, Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans for fact-checking, resources and realism

Missing photo but not appreciation: Martha Jane Brazy, historian, for enthusiasm, editorial eye and noodging to make it even better

Ethel Brooks Freedom Fighter UnknownBaldwin_ S very young Charles S 2009

maria gitin bruce hartford_MG_3663_1

New This Bright Light book website coming soon:

2014 Events – Save the Date

This Bright Light of Ours: A Celebration of Wilcox County Voting Rights, book reading, signing and reception, Camden, AL March 6, 2014.

This Bright Light of Ours, book reading, signing and reception, Temple Beth El, Aptos, CA February 20, 2014.

4th Annual Bay Area Social Justice Forum, moderator and panelist, The Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement,  Holy Names University, Oakland, February 15, 2014.

2013 Presentations

The Voice of Conscience: Civil Rights, Post Civil Rights and the Future Freedom Struggle Conference Plenary Speaker, Vanderbilt University, November 9, 2013.

The March on Washington@50 Symposium, moderator and panelist;  with Stanford University MLK Institute, Sojourn To The Past and Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA,  August 17, 2013.  

Freedom Stories of People in Struggle, presenter with Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, May 5, 2013.

Forging Alliances And Building Coalitions, California Social Studies Conferencepanelist, Burlingame, CA, March 9, 2013.

We will maintain this blog under a new name: www.wilcoxcountyfreedomfighters to preserve and add to the living history of the Wilcox County Freedom Fight.

These sites are not yet live – check back in early October.


Celebrate Women in Politics – Register to Vote Today!

Thank you Karina Cervantez, for stepping up to run for Watsonville City Council and for your kind inclusion of me in your “Celebrating Women in Politics” campaign kick-off Aug 18th. Daughter of farmworkers, an outstanding student from an early age, Karina is completing her Ph.D in social psychology at UC Santa Cruz. She serves on the Watsonville Planning Commission, is lecturer at California State University Monterey Bay, is a great mentor to many young women and a wonderful friend! More on Karina

Before the November 2012 elections, we must get everyone to register to vote and then out to vote. Remember if you have moved, changed your name or not voted for two elections, you need to re-register. Don’t let regressive scare tactics and repressive voter ID laws keep you from registering and helping to register others. Contact your local Democratic Party, NAACP Branch, union office or go to to volunteer to register voters at county fairs, shopping centers, and even learn how to canvassing for voters door to door as we did back in Freedom Summer of 1965. These are just a few of the women risked their lives so amazing women like Karina Cervantez can run for office, and so all of us can vote.

Ethel Brooks, SCLC trained community activist, trained and carried youth to marches and demonstrations in Wilcox County Alabama 1965-67. She and I were chased off the road by the KKK while working on voter registration in the Freedom Summer of 1965. More about Ethel

Shelly Dallas Dale was just 16 years old when she was taken to the county prison farm along with hundreds of other Wilcox County youth who were protesting segregated, sub-standard schools and fighting for their parents right to vote. Since 2001 Ms. Dale has served the county’s first female Tax Assessor.

Rosetta Anderson participated in boycotts against stores that refused to hire African Americans, coordinated protests and has worked tirelessly on Get Out the Vote campaigns from the 1960’s to the present. 

When I was a teenage civil rights worker in 1965 they said we couldn’t make a difference, but thousands of African Americans and their white allies forced Congress and the Presidnt to sign the Voting Rights Act thereby assuring their right to vote. If you want to combat the conservative attack on collective community values such as decent, affordable healthcare, living wage jobs, equal education, quality infrastructure and a safe, healthful environment – join your regional voter registration and get out the vote team today! – Maria Gitin, SNCC-SCLC 1965 voter registration worker in Wilcox County, Alabama. Current community activist and author of This Bright Light of Ours: Stories of the Wilcox County Freedom Fight.  Publication news forthcoming.

Monday March 1st In Memory of Ethel Brooks

Memorializing Ethel Brooks at the Scene of her Fatal Crash

In Memory of Ethel Lenora Brooks (1941-1985)

Monday evening March 1st at Historic Antioch Baptist Church, I will have the privilege of being one of the speakers at a Commemorative Mass Meeting celebrating the 45th Anniversary of a voting rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in Camden Alabama. Because we may not have internet access, I want to share Ethel’s story now, on the eve of our departure.

Today, March 1st was a week before the march known as Bloody Sunday in Selma forty miles away. We are here to honor our comrades who are here tonight and the far too many that we lost too young.  In 1965 at age 19, I was fortunate to be one of the smallest foot soldiers in the nonviolent freedom fight in Wilcox County Al. Our SCLC SCOPE project was led by Daniel and Juanita Harrell and Major Johns with dozens of self-trained local student and adult activists supported by SNCC and SCLC. Most people know that the Spring and Summer of 1965 turned the tide for voting rights for African-Americans and changed history forever, but few people know how much of that change occurred right here in Camden.

Before I arrived in June, students had led demonstrations to the courthouse where they were met with violence, beatings, tear gas and arrest. Adults organized, demonstrated, marched from this very church. Hundreds of Wilcox County residents were on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Bloody Sunday – many of you were injured in the attacks on the marchers. Dozens of you were at Dexter Curve when the marchers made their finally victorious entry into Montgomery three weeks later. Although that famous five-day Selma to Montgomery march ended in tragedy as it had begun  – with death, arrests and beatings – fearless freedom fighters continued on in Camden as they did in communities across The South, out of the limelight and without federal protections.

In my three months in Wilcox County, as I walked the rural red dirt roads doing voter education and registration work, ran from the Klan, was arrested and ill, organized and attended mass meetings and supported local leaders, I met dozens of people who I have never forgotten. I admired your courage and am grateful for your acceptance of a few of us white kids who shared in your struggle for a while.

Many people could and should be honored tonight but it is my duty with a heavy heart to honor someone who died too young, who should be here with us, her clear alto voice singing out the freedom songs she loved so much, my friend and hero, Ethel Lenora Brooks of Coy, daughter of Julia and Jesse Brooks and mother of Jesse Brooks Jr.

When I met Ethel she was only twenty-four years old, a very attractive single mom, who lived with her son and wonderful parents in the tiny community of Coy one of the most organized areas in the county.

Ethel organized carloads of students to participate in the Selma marches. She had been trained by SCLC and was fearless and tireless, impatient with those who were not ready to join The Movement. She always there for us, She taught me how to act, what to do and even how to sing Freedom songs with the right kind of spirit.

One day we were being chased by a truckload of the local Klan so she sped up and hid behind Harvey’s Store at the crossroads. After they passed, she pulled out and started chasing them! We were screaming at her to stop, terrified but also laughing at her courage; that’s just how she was. Outrageously brave.

She had these pants – paisley pedal pushers – they call them ‘crops’ now – that she called her jail pants. She said she could tell when we were going to be arrested, had a nose for it. Sure enough, a few days after we arrived, she was wearing her paisley pants while we were working on boycott materials at the church office and the sheriff rounded us all up and took us to the old jail.

One of my best memories is of the weekend of 4th of July out at the Brooks’ in Coy. We had fried chicken, pecan pie, strawberry wine. When the fireflies came out, Ethel and I sang “This Little Light of Mine”. The day after that we all jumped into the pool at what they then called “The Negro” playground. Yes, we integrated the pool at Bessie W. Munden Park. Later the Klan chased five carloads of us all out of town but it was worth it.

When I returned here in 2008, I was devastated to learn from Ms Kate Charley that Ethel Brooks died young in a solo car accident. I visited her grave, said a prayer and wept. It is still nearly impossible to imagine that she isn’t right here with us tonight. I never knew anyone more alive than Ethel Brooks.

I don’t know if her son Jesse is here, but I want to say to all the young people here, whatever Ethel did, it was all for the children, everything was about the future. The Movement people put our lives on the line so the terrible abuse, poverty and humiliation they and their parents endured would not have to be carried by the next generation. It is now your honor and responsibility to carry forward the work of eliminating prejudice and building a healthy, thriving community. It may not be as exciting, but it is just as important, more important right now.

There were many many leaders, both known and unknown. Thank you for giving me the honor of sharing just a few memories of my dear friend Ethel Brooks.

I want to conclude with a quote from another Coy leader, Mrs Rosetta Angion who raised 16 children and still found time to be a Movement activist.

Ethel Brooks? She carried my children over to the Selma march, the one they call Bloody Sunday. She went up to the Academy and got them all to walk out and go over there. They looked up to her.

She was a young Harriett Tubman. Whatever she told us to do, we did it. If she came by and told a few of us ‘I want you all to go walk across the Alabama River, ‘I know you can do it, ’we’d go do it.