One Woman’s Story: Rosetta Marsh Anderson (1933-2019)

Organizing in Wilcox County, AL – As told to Maria Gitin 2008-2010.

Rosetta Marsh Anderson is a dignified energetic lady with light skin, short curly hair and eyeglasses who came over to me at the NCNW Pink & Black Banquet in October 2008. She sat down to tell me about her involvement in The Movement.  We spoke again by telephone five times after that including a long interview in January of 2009. After that we spoke frequently until her death in 2019. Mrs. Rosetta Anderson was one of the local adult leaders behind the scenes the entire summer I worked in voter registration. Here are some of her memories that did not make it into the book”This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight. Read more;

The people of Camden who were public leaders in the civil rights movement paid some high prices. Everyone in the Black community knew Rosetta was involved, but she kept a low profile with whites at that time. “When the unrest began, Rev. Freeman was pastor at St. Francis Baptist Church. He helped organize and lead one of the first small marches along route 221 until the police turned them around. The church deacons there were fearful so they fired him but our congregation at Antioch Baptist Church took him on and supported his fight to let us use the church as a headquarters for the movement. “

“I worked with Rev. Threadgill early on. Bob Parrish, Dan Harrell, Albert Gordon. We began getting people up to the courthouse to register. I was a designated driver and organized others to drive the risky roads. We had threatening calls to our home regularly. My sons had to watch over our house because I had to leave them there alone. Maybe I didn’t realize how dangerous it was then, but I know I didn’t let myself fear for them. I could see the hatred in people’s faces when we went up to the courthouse, but I couldn’t dwell on it.”  

She began her early working life doing housekeeping and childcare in white homes. Whites called her ‘maid’ or ‘girl’. She was among several women in Camden who used their access to both races to see and hear how things were viewed inside white households, to help develop strategies for the freedom movement. 

“Coming up as a youngster I saw a lot of things I didn’t approve of. As an adult, I always identified with the students so naturally the children liked to be around me.  My daughter Lena Jo Anderson got in the midst of it along with Larry Threadgill and Cathy Wiggin, Richard Charles Bell, Benjamin Coleman and other student leaders[1]. They were really go-getters. Naturally I got involved. I was makin’ sure I was inside what was going on so that nothing happened to my daughter. I was very independent and my husband did not object. The children were the real leaders though; they got us involved.”

“For voter registration in Camden, we had adult leaders and student leaders.  Rev Threadgill, Jesse Brooks, Albert Gordon and me (Rosetta Anderson); we were the four adult leaders. If we wanted to get a crew into Coy, we’d tell them what time we’d have a mass meeting or when to meet to march. “

“Most folks didn’t have telephones. How did we get word around? Honestly, I don’t know how we did it – It was a miracle really. The young people carried messages. They had school buses back then so they could organize on the buses.  We parents listened to what they told us and then we knew what we had to do to organize for their safety and transportation.  I did that kind of planning, organizing. I have been called the Mother of Camden Civil Rights Movement,” Mrs. Anderson told me with a modest smile.

“How we organized was pretty amazing, now that I think about it. We came together regularly, met at Antioch Baptist Church and then other churches got involved. We’d ask the children about which area was ready for action. We also had telephone trees, although not only some had telephones back then.”

“We worked pretty cooperatively. If anybody disagreed, we had a meeting.  We got together as adults and settled it among ourselves. Then we’d say this is how it is going to be. We listened to the children and they listened to us. “

“I was busy going from one end of the county for several years.  We had precinct meetings until every little community was organized. We had leaders in each of the four ends of the county. We also did a lot of boycotting. Children had to walk the picket line in front of grocery and clothing stores. We used the younger children because they wouldn’t jail them and they couldn’t lose jobs. ” 

I remember waiting for Mr. Norman Poe from Coy.  He brought people in to walk the picket line. Charlie and Estelle Witherspoon came in from Alberta with some young people from out Gees Bend/Boykin. We used their place out there as an organizing center for dropping off information, picking up folks. 

“They called and said they were going to kill me. They burned down the government commodity building near us. A couple of people did get killed outside of Wilcox, Viola Luizzo after the Selma to Montgomery march for one. Had it not been for SNCC, SCLC and NAACP we would not have accomplished much. I was the first Secretary of the first NAACP and for SCLC. The Wilcox Civic Progressive League, I was secretary of that, one of our most important early organizations. We organized, we filed complaints with the justice department, we learned our rights and taught them to others.”

“When you came, you all gave us courage. We felt it was our job to protect you. Someone would call my house to threaten me and my sons would try to protect me. We could never let ourselves think about how helpless we really were because we knew we had God on our side.”

[1] At this point Mrs. Anderson is speaking of the student leaders of the school equality, school integration movement. These were younger students than the ones I worked with in voter registration in 1965. 

Rosetta Marsh Anderson

Rosetta Anderson proudly points to herself in the crowd that greeted Dr. King at Antioch Baptist Church April 29,1967

Rosetta Anderson is one of my sheroes. We first met at the Wilcox County Pink & Black Gala in November 2008. She introduced herself as one of the adults who was active in the local civil rights movement. We began a correspondence, and telephone friendship over seven years of deep conversation. 

Although I was only able to include some of her story in This Bright Light of Ours, she faithfully appeared at every presentation and book talk I gave in Alabama.

Mrs. Anderson worked with Rev. TL Threadgill early on. She and Lawrence Parrish, Dan Harrell and others began getting people up to the courthouse to try to register. “My daughter Lena Jo was one of the student leaders at Camden Academy I was one of the adult community organizers. I was about twenty-seven at the time. I was a designated driver and organized others to drive the risky roads. We had threatening calls to our home regularly. Our sons had to watch over our house. I had to leave them there alone. I guess I didn’t realize how dangerous it was,  but I know I didn’t fear it or let myself fear for them. I could see the hatred in people’s faces when we went up to the courthouse, but I couldn’t dwell on it.” 

Rosetta Anderson stated hopefully, “We are trying to come together, all nationalities to build our community. It seems we are more divided now than ever. I regret it very much, but I don’t think in my lifetime that I will see as much unity as we had back then. The economy now could bring a lot of us back to where we were. Out of the blue somebody could stand up tomorrow and take up where we left off, declare a new war on poverty. “

Read more about Mrs. Rosetta Marsh Anderson: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight. Maria Gitin, University of Alabama Press

Marching toward Freedom’s Land

Youth demonstrators 45th anniversary commemoration

Former youth demonstrators 45th anniversary commemoration

Looking Back on Wilcox County in the 60’s-70’s from the 21st Century

There were far more people who were active in the Movement and far more violent incidents than I had been aware of during my short stay in Wilcox County in the summer of 1965. As it turned out, nearly every former student of Camden Academy was in at least one march, whether forbidden to do so or not.  We outside civil rights workers saw only a partial snapshot of any given moment. Some schoolteachers gladly let the children go and even joined them in their almost daily marches and in boycotting businesses that wouldn’t hire Blacks. March after march was held from 1965 to 1972 because the Wilcox County School Board continued to defy federal orders to provide integrated, equal facilities, and materials to all public school students.

Developer and minister Cleo Brooks (deceased) was one of the hundreds of students who participated in school integration marches. Because he was very young and kept near the back, he noticed that every day when they marched from the church to the courthouse, there was a white line chalked on the pavement. In 2009 he told me, “The powers that be put that line there to indicate where we had to stop marching that day. But it kept moving forward about ten feet a day. Someone higher up must have told them we were going to get there someday. We would arrive at the courthouse and we were going to win the right to equal public schools. They just wanted to make it as slow as they could.”

Rosetta Anderson, Camden activist

“We had so many marches, for years actually, so I don’t recall all of the dates,” Mrs. Anderson went on to say. “‘Big Lester’ Hankerson of SCLC led one march with lots of our local leaders. Four hundred twenty-nine people were arrested that day, including my daughter Lena Jo.  The students were getting more militant by then, ‘Lock us up honky!’ was part of what they chanted as hundreds were placed under arrest. They took the students out to Camp Camden in busses. Those were some times, I tell you!” (2011)

Read more about This Bright Light of Ours:

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.

Stories from a Teenage Civil Rights Worker

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters in Mobile

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters James Anderson, Sim Pettway, Rosetta Anderson, Maria Gitin and Joy Crawford-Washington after Maria’s presentation at University of South Alabama Tuesday evening. Living history was enjoyed by students, faculty and community members. Thank you Dr. Martha Jane Brazy and Joy Crawford-Washington!

Fox News 10 Mobile & Montgomery news anchor Eric Reynolds interviewed Maria and shared part of her story March 8, 2102

“Great interview Maria. You were wonderful!” – Charles Bonner, SNCC