June 28, 1965 – Camden
Eighteen (18) SCOPE-SCLC and local civil rights workers are arrested at Antioch Baptist Church and booked into the Camden jail without due process. Local student activist Don Green is beaten in front of us and thrown into the bull pen (solitary confinement) when a knife is discovered in his sock. White summer volunteer 18 yr old Mike Farley is put in a cell with a violent white prisoner who beats him mercilessly throughout the night while we girls scream and bang on the bars. Over the next few days we are released one at a time. All are released within five days but we never know when they will be either released or attacked. Leaders Albert Gordon and Major Johns were arrested along with six white civil rights workers and the following Black youth: Don Green, Lester Core, John Davis, Roosevelt Washington, Johnny Jackson, Calister Wright, George Shamburger, Elmo Jones, Harris Knight, Ashley Stallworth. White kids included: myself (Maria Gitin/Joyce Brians), Connie Turner, Judy Harmon, Shari Thurber, Mike Farley and one other white student civil rights worker.
Source: Author was eyewitness-participant, saved a letter from that date, and field report from John Worcester to SCLC. More detail: www.thisbrightlightofours.com
Thanks Bruce Hartford for sending this terrific NY Times 1966 article by Gene Roberts. That month was the first opportunity for newly registered African American voters to elect their own candidates including sheriff. Military veteran Walter J Calhoun took on the challenge in deeply segregated Wilcox County, Alabama. Although he and the other Peoples Choice candidates did not prevail, they paved the way for future success. This in depth gives perspectives Black activists and the white establishment including fascinating quotes from Calhoun, Dan Harrell, former sheriff Lummie Jenkins, landowner Sam Hicks and others on both sides of a deep divide about race and politics.
To read and order article:
For more Wilcox County Voting Rights History: www.thisbrightlightofours.com
In the early 1960’s farmers and residents of Gees Bend and surrounding areas intensified their efforts to get African Americans registered to vote in Wilcox County. Although 78% of population, no one had been allowed to register or to vote. In April 1963, twenty men from the Gees Bend region marched on the Wilcox County Courthouse. Their primary objective was to be able to vote on the commissioners to the powerful county agricultural committee which allotted federal agricultural subsidies and loans previously denied to Black farmers. Rev Lonnie Brown and farmer Monroe Pettway led this historic march after visits from Martin Luther King Jr and participating in organizing training from SCLC staffer Bernard LaFayette. LaFayette accompanied the men to the courthouse and shared the risk of arrest with the entire group. Although the men were denied access to registration, they were not arrested and returned peacefully proud of their accomplishment in reaching the courthouse, the first documented organized voter registration effort in Wilcox County.
Rev Lonnie Brown was a pastor at Pleasant View Baptist Church who worked as an insurance agent who visited his customers and potential customers on the tenant farms and plantations where they lived and worked. When he began recruiting potential voters along with insurance customers, white Wilcox County landowners organized and filed a trespassing complaint. Two of of the 28 white landowners who signed the complaint were George Findley and James Strother. At a recent presentation in Selma, AL a white gentleman told me that he was proud that his father refused to sign the 1963 complaint.
On behalf of Rev. Brown and local leaders, the U.S. Attorney General’s office brought an action against the landowners (US v Bruce: 353 F .2d 474;1965 US App. LEXIS 3942) and eventually dismissed the complaint, which allowed Brown and others who had prior permission, to once again organize on property where he had been permitted to sell insurance. In 1965, the Federal Court of Appeals found that the federal government made a “strong case” and that the property owners did in fact “intimidate and coerce” the black citizens of Wilcox County for “ the purpose of interfering with their right to vote.”
During the two years this case took place, Rev Brown was forced to sell insurance in adjacent counties, included Dallas County, as he was barred from entering the properties of his clients. His family continues to be active in Wilcox County politics.
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals, (1965), U.S. v Bruce, 353 F2d 474.
This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight www.thisbrightlightofours.com
We are looking forward to joining old friends and meeting new Monday June 6th in Selma Alabama for a dynamic afternoon of sharing stories, photos and experiences from the Wilcox County Voting Rights struggle. This presentation is suitable for tourists, seniors, high school and older students and the general public. Please spread the word and bring your friends. Thank you, Park Ranger Theresa Hall for your warm invitation to add to the history of Selma and Wilcox.
Last week, Ms. Cassandra Vee Rodgers wrote to me on Face Book that she wanted to surprise her fiance, Mr Tyrone Bryant, by coming to meet me and having me sign a copy of “This Bright Light of Ours” for him because his father, Willie H Parker of Coy is featured on the book jacket. We had a wonderful visit yesterday. Growing up, Bryant did not get to know his father well so he was surprised and happy to meet someone who knows about his father’s courageous Camden Academy Class of 1965.
Camden Academy students, including Willie Parker, Sim Pettway, Ralph Eggleston, and many others, participated in almost daily demonstrations from February-May of their senior year. They were tear gassed, beaten, cattle prodded, ridiculed and threatened with suspension, but they kept on with the encouragement and support of Camden Academy Chaplain TL Threadgill, and teachers Mr Parrish and Mr. Foster.
“This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” by Maria Gitin www.thisbrightlightofours.com
“In the Shadow of Selma: The Continuing Struggle for Civil Rights in the Rural South by Cynthia Griggs Fleming
We were thrilled to be invited to the February 24, 2016 ceremony in Washington DC. The Congressional Gold Medal was ceremonially presented to Selma civil rights leader Rev FD Reese and will be on permanent display at the Selma Interpretive Center.
Although I was not a marcher, I joined the Movement and came to work in the voting rights fight, because of the marchers. Thank you Charles Bonner, Bruce Hartford, Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews and others who encouraged me to attend. The courage of grassroots civil rights demonstrators throughout the South from 1958-1970’s continues to inspire all of us. Commissioner John Moton of Wilcox County and Commissioner Dennis Harris Jr of Montgomery also attended.
Participating in the ceremony will remain among my most outstanding memories.
Bob Fitch photos ©Bob Fitch Photo Archive Stanford University. All rights reserved. Photos may be shared for educational non-commerical and identification purposes only.
Civil rights photographer Bob Fitch www.bobfitchphoto.com, activist, friend and historian, has asked for assistance in identifying some of his historic photos of the first African-American candidates who ran for election in Alabama in 1966. Few of them were elected the first time out but they paved the way for others who finally won in majority Black counties. Some photos are of those who worked on campaigns, friends and families. All were taken in Alabama 1965-66. These photos are part of the Bob Fitch archives at Stanford University Libraries and will soon be available for all to view and share, free of charge.
To preserve the memory of the courageous local leaders, we ask your help in providing ID by name, county, office the candidate ran for and the # of the photo. You may post responses in the “leave a comment” box below, or e-mail me, Maria Gitin, civil rights veteran and author of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.” Find my contact information at www.thisbrightlightofours.com
Betty Anderson and Robert Powell, Camden Academy Activists
I’m feeling extra grateful today for the contributions of more than 70 friends, families and supporters to the amazing success of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.” We have almost sold out the hard-bound first edition, thanks to your willingness to share your struggles, your pain and your laughter. Across the country, white students and adults alike tell me that they understand the history of racism and white privilege from a new perspective, and that they want to be part of eradicating injustice. African Americans, Latinos and others say, thank you for sharing these stories, our stories. Young students ask: Why didn’t we ever learn this in school? Although marketed as a memoir, this is really your story, our story. Thank you today and always for your contributions.
All are welcome to register for the entire conference or at the daily rate at www.sclcscope50th.org Daily rate includes Friday night banquet and Saturday evening reception at the King Memorial Site.
You want to be in that number for this upbeat, feel-good, reflective gathering. Register today! 100 grassroots voting rights Freedom Fighters – aged 69-90, their families, and local leaders are already registered. If you can’t attend, please click on the donate button at the registration site to help support others. Thank you!
Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) Summer Conference on Community Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE)
50th Anniversary Reunion
Marriott Century Center
2000 Century Boulevard NE
Atlanta, GA 30345
October 1-4, 2015
Learn more about SCOPE SCLC History: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/scopdocs.htm
Read personal accounts from the Voting Rights Summer of 1965: www.thisbrightlightofours.com
SCLC SCOPE 50th Anniversary Reunion Program http://wp.me/pO2S8-o9
Thursday, October 1, 2015
4:00-6:00 p.m. Registration
6:00-8:00 p.m. Opening Reception
Ballroom – separate registration for Reception Only online $35 http://www.eventbrite.com/e/50th-anniversary-reunion-sclc-scope-tickets-16069341834. For full conference registrants, all events are included.
Welcome: John Reynolds, Reunion Planning Committee Chair
Bernard Lafayette, SCLC Board Chairman
Refreshments and No-Host Bar
Reconnecting with old friends
Singing of freedom songs
Ending the evening with a friendship circle
Friday, October 2, 2015
9:00-9:30 a.m. Registration
9:30-10:30 a.m. Introduction of Committee and Veterans Roll Call
10:30-11:00 a.m. Keynote Address: “Status of Voting Rights Then and Now” Bernard Lafayette and John Reynolds
11:00-12:30 p.m. Workshops: Sharing our Stories
Groups of 5-8 will meet to share their stories, experiences,
and how their Freedom Movement work affected their lives.
Each group will be audio taped for future history.
12:30-2:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own” (The hotel restaurant will have a buffet in addition to its regular menu.) There will be an opportunity for an optional peer-led roundtable discussion for those interested.
Maria Gitin will lead a roundtable “Writing Your Civil Rights Memoir” with civil rights veteran, author and editor Constance Curry
2:00-4:00 p.m. Workshops
Ballroom and Breakout Rooms
Groups of 5-8 will meet to discuss/assess the following topics from the perspective of 50 years. Each group will be audio taped for future history.
• Looking Back, Looking Forward: Evaluating our Work in the Movement – Facilitated discussion with Bruce Hartford
• Women in the Movement – Facilitated by Lula Joe Williams.
With Panel: Barbara Williams Emerson, Gwen Green
• How SCOPE Helped Change the Political Landscape in the South – Facilitated by Willie Bolden.
• Nonviolence: How Can It Be Used Today?
Panel: Bernard Lafayette and Diane Nash
4:00-6:00 p.m. Exhibits, Book Signing and Free Time
7:00-10:00 p.m. Hosea L. Williams Tribute Banquet
Dinner (with cash bar)
Remembrances of Hosea Williams by Gwen Green and JT Johnson
Music by members of The Freedom Singers
Close with friendship circle
Saturday October 3, 2015
9:00-9:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast
9:30-11:00 a.m. SCLC Leadership Panel – Moderated by John Reynolds
Panel: Willie Bolden, Lula Joe Williams and others
11:00-12:00 p.m. SCOPE Legacy Panel
Maria Gitin, Bruce Hartford, J. T. Johnson, Jo Freeman
12:00-2:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own”
Exhibits and Book Signing
1:00-2:00 p.m. “Martin Luther King and the Spirit of the 60’s”
Multi-media presentation by Lanny Kaufer (Location TBD)
2:00-3:30 p.m. Workshops: Challenges and Successes in SCLC and SCOPE
Ballroom and Breakout Rooms
Groups will discuss the grassroots challenges and successes in SCLC-SCOPE projects and campaigns. Each group will be audio taped for future history.
3:30-4:00 p.m. Groups to reconvene and report to the larger body
4:00-5:00 p.m. Remembrance of those who have passed
A Wall of Remembrance will be displayed throughout the Reunion.
Close with friendship circle
6:00-7:30 p.m. Reception at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National
Historical Site, Atlanta
Sunday October 4
9:00 a.m. Breakfast “on your own”
9:45-11:15 a.m. Mass Meeting and Non-denominational service
Ballroom led Rev. John Reynolds and local clergy
12:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own”
1:00-4:00 p.m. Tour of significant Civil Rights Movement sites
Those registered will be picked up at the hotel and returned
at the completion of the tour. The cost will be approximately
$40 per person.
At the conclusion of the program on Sunday, several participants will return to the counties where they worked during the SCOPE project fifty years ago. Groups are going to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.