Alabama Book Launch & Selma Jubilee

All Wilcox County Freedom Fighters, friends and family are welcome to attend the March 6th celebration in Camden and to march with us under the Wilcox County Freedom Fighter banner Sunday March 9th in Selma. I will also be with University of Alabama Press for “Meet the Author Book Signing” at the St. James Hotel Saturday March 8th 5-7 PM. See my book website: www.thisbrightlightofours.com for more details. We hope to see you there!Camden Book Celebration

This Bright Light of Ours Prepares to Launch: Save These Dates!

To stay current with Maria Gitin & friends events and appearances, and to leave comments about the book, please visit www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Upcoming Events and Appearances 

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Saturday February 15th – Oakland, CA, Holy Names University Social Justice Forum, Voting Rights panel with civil right attorney Charles A Bonner and Watsonville Mayor Karina Cervantez. Register for this great conference: The Dream Lives On: A Call to Action http://www.hnu.edu/SocialJustice

Thursday February 20th Aptos, CA– 6-7:30 PM West Coast Book Launch, Reading, & Signing at Temple Beth El, 3055 Porter Gulch Rd,  Free and open to the public with hosted reception.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Thursday March 6th  Camden, AL —  6-7:30 PM  Alabama Book Book Launch Celebration at the Lena Powell Convention Center 211 Claiborne Street in. Camden native son, Rev Dr LV Baldwin will come to give the invocation. Brief program with reading, historic slides and recognition of the 30+ families and individuals who contributed stories to the book. Free and open to the public with hosted reception, book sales and signing.

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Sunday March 9th Selma, AL– Participate in the Selma Jubilee bridge re-enactment ceremony. Meet under the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters banner outside Brown Chapel.  Families may make T-shirts or posters with family and civil rights hero photo on them. Please spread the word to everyone who lived or worked in the Wilcox Movement. 

Thursday, March 13th Mobile AL – 6:30 PM Museum of History, Book talk, signing and reception. 251-208-7246 or http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Dreams of Gees Bend

a contemporary Gees Bend quilt

a contemporary Gees Bend quilt

A message from 3rd generation quilter Delia Pettway Thibodeaux reminded me of a story I had to delete from my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, University of Alabama Press 2014, due to length.  I want to share this with Delia and all who know that poverty in Gees Bend and the rest of Wilcox County is still terrible, that there is a long way to go to have true equality, but that the freedom of the people has endured for centuries. Freedom didn’t come with us civil rights workers. Rather, we learned about real freedom, the freedom of the soul, from them. IMG_0666_0131_131

For several nights after I returned to Gees Bend in 2008, I had dreams with the quilters in them, both the women I had met in 1965, the ones I met recently and still others who appeared only in my dreams. In most of the dreams, the ladies are telling overlapping stories. I try to catch their meaning, feeling inadequate and behind, much as I did for the six years I worked on my memoir and oral history book about my experience and the experiences of others in the Wilcox County voting rights struggle.

Essie Bendolph Pettway quilt

Essie Bendolph Pettway quilt

This was the most vivid dream.  There are small clusters of women around fires in four corners of an outdoor area, an irregularly shaped grounds. Two of the areas are called “Piece of Mind” and two are “Peace of Mind.” There are signs that appear to me in my mind’s eye in the dream. In the center is a circle of women, slightly younger than the 70-90 year olds at the four corners. They are called “Reflections.” Without words it is explained that Piece of Mind was where quilts made for the primary purpose of sale were being stacked. They are newer and not made as carefully.

In the Peace of Mind corners, women who made the quilts are unfolding them and draping them over clotheslines to air out. They tell me that they will be sold to split the money between themselves and an organization that helps the community. In the middle, in the Reflections circle, the women are copying the early Gees Bend designs like Housetop, Wrist and Hand, Bear’s Paw that now hang in museums and galleries. They are making these for the next generation, for themselves and for sale and show. My task is to hold threads, try to keep straight the strands of many different colors that they pull from my hands.

The Reflections women ask me to join in the quilting but I barely know how to keep the threads sorted, let alone begin to sew. It is all I can do to hold the threads, weave a story, not the same story that has been told over and over, filmed and written about, but a new story. In 2008, I didn’t know what that story would become. Although the book is completed, I might have remained a witness-participant, not a seamstress.

But I had guides to help me weave my own and dozens of other stories from the Wilcox County voting rights struggle together, to make the work feel whole.  I extend deep gratitude to my supportive and generous developmental editors: Dr. Martha Jane Brazy, Samuel Torres Jr, and Cassandra Shaylor. Without their expert guidance of my collection and vision, the many pieces might still lie in fragments.

©Maria Gitin 2013

My Heart is Filled With Gratitude

Many generous folks contributed over the past seven years to This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, a memoir and collection of true stories from the last large integrated voter registration drive during the Freedom Summer of 1965.

Fifty-five courageous individuals entrusted me with their stories of living in a violent, racist community while fighting for their voting rights in Wilcox County, Alabama. My beloved SNCC friends, Charles “Chuck” Bonner and Luke “Bob” Block (https://thislittlelight1965.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/img327.jpg) kept me honest as I recreated our teenage civil rights work and play. Wilcox County community leaders opened doors, answered endless questions and become dear friends including: W. Kate Charley, Sheryl Threadgill, Alma King, and John Matthews. Civil Rights photographer Bob Fitch (http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/) shared historic images that enrich the work immensely.

For generous encouragement, and expert counsel over the years, huge appreciation goes to brilliant author-scholar, Lewis V. Baldwin. (www.amazon.com) For consistent and accurate fact checking, terminology, and political theory, my hero is Bruce Hartford, lay historian and web manager for the national Civil Rights Veterans website (www.crmvet.org). Scott E. Kirkland, researcher and curator of the Museum of History in Mobile, AL, played a vital role in the placement of this book, as a champion for an accurate portrayal of the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project, designed and spearheaded by civil rights hero, Hosea Williams.

Author-activist Bettina Aptheker, the late James Houston, and Benet Luchion provided early encouragement. Developmental editor Cassandra Shaylor helped shape the book for interest. Historian Martha Jane Brazy of University of South Alabama enthusiastically embraced the work during its final year, generously offering me graduate student level attention. Willy Siegal Leventhal’s unending fight for recognition of the SCOPE (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCOPE_Project) project was and is an inspiration.

Thanks to my beloved cousin, Jeanne Hanks, and my friend, Debbie Kogan, for empathetic listening during my years of obsessing about this project. Deep appreciation goes to my publicist, Joy Crawford-Washington of BGC Communications, for tireless support and warm friendship. To my yoga teacher, Amey Matthews for teaching me flexibility and strength are not opposites. And to Lauren Mari-Navarro for insights and resources. To Joan for fun & friendship.

Photo by Charley Hatfield, Aptos, CA

My husband, Samuel Torres Jr., offered me freedom to pursue the project, frequent and much-needed critiques, archival research, copyright management, proof-reading, tough talk and tender love, and took great photos. I can never thank him enough, but I am working on it!

Thank you all! Have a great Thanksgiving!  And Keep on Keepin’ On! – We have a long ways to go to achieve real racial and economic justice in the world!

The book has been retitled: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, and will be published by University of Alabama Press in January 2014. Speaking engagements and book-signings are being scheduled now. Please contact: Joy Crawford-Washington, bgccommunications@gmail.com for more information.