In Memory of Civil Rights Martyr David Colston Sr., Camden, AL January 23, 1966

scope078 jetDeath threats, firebombing, incarceration and assassination of Southern Blacks seeking freedom and equality continued from the time of enslavement until long after most people believe The Civil Rights Movement ended. Alabama is steeped in the blood of martyrs who have never made the history books, but they were heroes to us. The fact that death was a potential price to be paid by Freedom Fighters was always on our minds.

Mr. David Colston, age 32, was a local resident who had participated in Wilcox County voting rights protests. He and his family were pulling into the parking area outside Antioch Baptist Church to attend a civil rights mass meeting. A white farmer, Jim Reeves, deliberately bumped Colston’s car. When Colston got out to protest, Reeves shot Mr. Colston in the head at close range in front of the Colston family and dozens of community members coming out of the church.

SCLC leader, Daniel Harrell and local leader Rev. Frank Smith were leaders of the meeting in the church. After the police took Reeves into “protective custody.” Harrell and Smith reconvened the mass meeting with a eulogy for Mr. Colston and called for a march the next day. Camden native , King scholar and author, Lewis V. Baldwin, who was still in high school at the time, recalled the march of hundreds of Wilcox County Black residents, as being very solemn, almost silent.

The next day, SCLC Photographer Bob Fitch arrived with Martin Luther King Jr., to take the photos that appeared in Jet Magazine. Fitch told me that the family was devastated but grateful for King’s consoling visit.

Nearly 50 years later, Colston’s namesake nephew, David Colston, was elected as the first Black representative from Wilcox County to serve in the Alabama State Legislature. Of all the civil rights murders in the South in the 1960’s, the Colston assassination is recalled most vividly by the then youn Wilcox County Freedom Fighters. Typical of the times, despite witnesses, the murderer was acquitted. May the Colston family, their relatives and neighbors draw some comfort from knowing that David Colston’s sacrifice is mourned by many of us who continue to fight for racial justice.

Update August 2013: Despite a conservative backlash that consistently drives out the majority of promising young Democrats, David Colston has fulfilled the dream first, of being an Alabama state trooper who truly understands justice and now, of continuing to serve in the statehouse in Montgomery. He will run for a second term in 2014. With the outcry and awareness generated by the recent Supreme Court decision on the 1965 Voting Rights Act http: and the tragic Trayvon Martin case, perhaps good-hearted, strong and smart Alabamans of all races will vote for progress during the 3013 November’s mid-term elections. The future is in your hands: move forward or continue a slide backwards.

Rev Frank & Mrs Etta Pearl Smith Family

Smith Family 1950
Children L-R Geraldine, Carolyn, Frank Milton, and Jesse

During the Wilcox County AL SCOPE-SCLC voter registration drive of summer 1965, my boyfriend, Bob (Luke) Block often stayed with the Rev & Mrs. Frank Smith family in Lower Peachtree. Jesse Smith, then a sixteen year old student leader recalls: “I remember Bob real well. We were sort of like brothers then. One day I was cutting Larry’s hair and Bob asked me to cut his. He had great faith in me; I had never cut white hair before, but I went ahead. It looked real bad on the sides. He looked at it in the mirror for a long while and then he said,”It’ll grow back.”

Bob (Luke) Block 1965

“I admired Bob for his ‘never give up’ attitude.  Somewhere in Pine Hill he asked this man was he a registered voter. He said, ‘Son, that ain’t none of your business.’ We made a U turn – no use talking to him- but we kept on goin.  In Lower Peachtree we had been trying to get the people to go over to sign up for commodities. Bob got Mr. Campbell and his wife to sign up after they wouldn’t listen to me or other black students. They needed that food for their family. After Mr. Campbell signed up, a bunch of other folks went over and got signed up. That was a big help. One night Daddy wrote out the complaints of the students at the high school: No running water, no library, gym or science lab. The student body signed it. Someone from the Board of Education came and we gave the letter to him.” – Rev Jesse Smith, Montgomery AL interview with Maria Gitin June 8, 2009

Rev Frank Smith was fired from his teaching position at Pine Apple High School immediately upon passage of the Voting Rights Act, August of 1965. The official reason provided by the Superintendent of Schools, as was the case with all of the activist teacher terminations, was low attendance in Smith’s classes. The real reason he was fired was because he had allowed white civil rights workers to stay at his home, SNCC and SCLC to meet at his church and because his children were active in the Movement. It took fifteen years of legal filing, but in 1980 Smith won a back pay settlement and was elected to the same Wilcox County Board of Education that terminated him — victorious at last.

Carolyn Smith Taylor represents the Smith Family
2010 Selma Jubilee

The Smith family, Frank Smith Jr, (may he rest in blessed memory), Geraldine Gwendolyn Smith, Carolyn Smith Taylor, Jesse Smith and Larry Smith keep their parents’ memory alive by living up to their ideals.