Giving Thanks to the Courageous Citizens of Wilcox County for Sharing your Stories with the World

Betty Robert Banner

Betty Anderson and Robert Powell, Camden Academy Activists

Sheryl Threadgill and the Lawsons at Selma Jubilee 2014

Sheryl Threadgill and the Lawsons at Selma Jubilee 2014

W. Kate Charley lived her life standing tall, telling the truth and having fun. She lives on in blessed memory.

W. Kate Charley lived her life standing tall, telling the truth and having fun. She lives on in blessed memory.

 

Lewis V Baldwin, Anthea Butler and Barbara A Holmes at Baldwin's Vanderbilt University Retirement Celebration 2014

Lewis V Baldwin, Anthea Butler and Barbara A Holmes at Baldwin’s Vanderbilt University Retirement Celebration 2014

 

John Matthews in Pine Hill

John Matthews shows Maria where he found her and other civil rights workers headed deep into the woods at dusk. Pine Hill, AL

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

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

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.

Samuel supported Maria every page of the way on her journey back to Summer 1965

Samuel supported Maria every page of the way on her journey back to Summer 1965

Bruce Hartford, CORE, SCLC 1965 - invaluable historian of the Movement

Bruce Hartford, CORE, SCLC 1965 – invaluable historian of the Movement

Bob Fitch Photographer & Activist

Bob Fitch Photographer & Activist

In Memory of W. Kate Charley – Community Leader, Coy AL

Kate (right) marches with  Iris Judson in high spirits, March 1, 2010, Camden, AL

Kate Charley (right) marches with Iris Judson in high spirits, during the Martin Luther King Jr Commemorative March and Mass Meeting Camden, AL March 1, 2012

Willie Kate Charley of Coy AL, known to most simply as “Kate” or “Ms Charley, ” born in 1934, peacefully passed from this world on February 11, 2013 in her own home, of natural causes and on her own terms. She was unapologetic about her choice to stay single, and as a retired teacher and tireless community activist, Kate enjoyed the affection of countless students, many “adopted” nieces, nephews and grandchildren and her sister congregants.  She was devoted to her church and to her other causes which focussed on improving the lives of  youth. Often when I’d call she had just finished making a pie to take to a church event, including her famous her famous “stick to your  ribs” (and teeth!) coconut pie.

Kate was generous, wise, kind and funny.  She once told me, “I keep myself busy to keep me out of devilment.” Kate loved to view the Fall Foliage in New England, and to visit the successes of her students. She also liked to race around the back roads of Wilcox County in her “Dodger Blue” pick-up truck, always on a mission to do some good deed. About her truck, she explained, “I always liked the Dodgers. I had to get a new truck – so when I was picking it out I said, I believe I’ll take the blue one; you know I am loyal that way.”

Kate was proud of her parents, Leona Brooks Charley and Joel Wentworth Charley, direct involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, including the risky work of transporting people to register to vote and of housing civil rights workers, while Kate herself chose to uplift the community through a lifetime of teaching and mentoring young people.

I had the honor to meet and the joy to get to know Kate through my search for folks I lived and worked with when I served as an SCLC student civil rights worker in Wilcox County during the tumultuous summer of 1965. We visited in person in 2008 and again in 2010 for the 45th Commemorative March & Mass Meeting in Camden, and enjoyed many long telephone conversations over the years. Her contributions to my forthcoming book, This Bright Light of Ours, University of Alabama Press 2014, are invaluable.

All who know Kate will remember her lively wit, energetic spirit and her devotion to her church, Little Zion in Coy. Contributions in her memory may be made online to the Bessie W. Munden Playground [http://www.bessiewmundenrecreationalpark.com] and Frank Smiley Scholarship Fund at the Black Belt Community Foundation [http://www.blackbeltfound.org/}. W. Kate Charley was a true Woman of Valor, as we say in the Jewish tradition. May she rest in blessed memory and may all who mourn be comforted and inspired to move forward with the teachings of her exemplary life.

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR TRIBUTES, MEMORIES AND STORIES ABOUT KATE IN THE COMMENT LINK BELOW. THANK YOU.

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.