“This Bright Light of Ours” to Shine in 2015 Martin Luther King Jr Celebrations

Save the date for talks in Seattle, Monterey and Palo Alto. Check back for details in a few weeks.

January 15, 2015: MLK Seattle Celebration 33rd Anniversary, King County, Seattle WA

The Voting Rights Fight, Keynote speaker for community celebration honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. For more information:http://www.mlkseattle.org/

January 22, 2015: YWCA Monterey County

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing Details forthcoming.

January 28, 2015: Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, Stanford University

This Bright Light of Ours: Presentation, reading and book signing Details forthcoming.

George Ow Jr to Introduce Maria Gitin at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Community Leader and diversity champion George Ow Jr. will introduce Maria Gitin’s reading and book signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz
Monday August 11th 7:30 PM
Free and open to All

Read More about the Book: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/ci_26286254/local-writer-maria-gitin-looks-back-at-civil

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Bookshop SC event flyer

Why we must vote

By Maria Gitin

Special to the Sentinel Published Sunday July 20, 2014

Link: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/Opinion/ci_26180697/Maria-Gitin:-Why-we-must-vote

Aug. 6 is the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This landmark federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting and led to removal of other barriers to voting that benefit people with disabilities, citizens with language differences and those whose work schedule requires weekend voting.

The act passed only after decades of civil rights activism. Well-known tragedies on the road to enfranchisement include the murder of four little girls in a Birmingham church, the assassination of three voting-rights activists during Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the “Bloody Sunday” attack on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

These are the stories that most of us know, but for over a decade tens of thousands of African-American grassroots activists like Mrs. Rosetta Angion organized in obscurity. While working on voter registration project in 1965, I met Mrs. Angion, mother of 16 children in the rural community of Coy, Alabama, who somehow found time to participate in voting rights demonstrations. She told me that John Lewis, now a Georgia congressman and then leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, explained, “You were not a real citizen unless you could vote.” Her commitment was so strong that she allowed two of her young daughters to march on Bloody Sunday.

Mrs Rosetta Angion at home where we picked up canvassing lists and potential voters in Summer 2965

Mrs Rosetta Angion at home where we picked up canvassing lists and potential voters in Summer 2965

Following a presentation at Cabrillo College last year, a student asked me why he should register to vote. “After all, doesn’t voting just support the status quo?” Apparently, many agree with this discouraging view. Although better than the state average, only 34.8 percent of Santa Cruz County registered voters cast ballots in the recent primary election. Nationally, only 23 percent voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Why should we vote? There is a saying that bad officials are elected by good people who don’t vote. Low voter turnout results in a small fraction of voters electing officials who make decisions that affect all of us.

Mary Ann Angion Robinson shows me where she was attacked on March 7, 1965

Mary Ann Angion Robinson shows me where she was attacked on March 7, 1965

Thousands of courageous people like Mrs. Angion and her daughters risked their lives for your right to vote. To honor their legacy and to make your voice heard, please register now and vote in November. Visit Santa Cruz County’s elections website at www.votescount.com.

Maria Gitin will read from her book, “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight,” at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11.

Independence Day at Bessie W. Munden Playground

On July 4, 1965, we had to hide out in the country because the segregationist were on a “patriotic” warpath against our voter registration workers. But on the 5th, we all gathered at the “Negro Playground” for a barbecue picnic. We white civil rights workers integrated the pool; it was the first time that blacks and whites swam together in Wilcox County AL. Nearly fifty of us – young and old, back and white – filled up the pool and stirred up the gritty dirt collected on the bottom, but the water was cooler than the 90 degree air and it was ours for the moment.

We stayed until dusk, eating watermelon, singing, talking. Some of the young men made jokes about their stereotypical love of watermelon.  Near sunset we sang some songs like I Love Everybody and Change is a Comin. For a few hours here in the woods it felt that maybe we could hurry up that change in Camden, AL. Change was being hard fought but like the song said, there was no way it wasn’t going to come.

Camden Kids 2008 Mylka Hayden, Isaiah Love, Richard Chatmon, Torrence Phillips, Jamarion Wright

Camden Kids 2008 Mylka Hayden, Isaiah Love, Richard Chatmon, Torrence Phillips, Jamarion Wright

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Later renamed the Bessie M. Munden Recreational Park, the playground was named for a teacher who collected money from the other teachers so that the children would have someplace to play since they were not allowed at the whites only parks in Camden. -Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours, a memoir and stories from the Voting Rights Movement of 1965 by Maria Gitin,

© University of Alabama Press.

Mylka Hayden, Isaiah Love, Richard Chatmon, Torrence Phillips, Jamarion Wright photo © Samuel Torres Jr 2008

Boys Attacked in Church – June 29, 1965

The most traumatic event of our voter registration drive in Wilcox County occurred on June 29, 1965. Our headquarters, Antioch Baptist Church had been vandalized several times so we thought it best to have someone there at all hours to protect project equipment and files. The group of teenagers watching the church that night—all of whom were between fifteen and eighteen years old—included Emmanuel Hardley, Robert Powell, Frank Conner, Charles Nettles and his younger brother Grady, Henry Robertson, William Truss, and one other teenager. Don Green would have been with them had he not still been in jail on his concealed weapons charge, and we were still worried for his safety.

The last time I saw Frank Conner and Emmanuel Hardley, who were beaten the worst, they were in Major Johns’s car heading to Good Samaritan Hospital with Frank looking like he was bleeding to death in the backseat. Robert Powell and the Nettles brothers escaped but were shaken and angered by the attack. At the time, the boys told both our leader Major Johns and my boyfriend Bob that they knew the men: they could see their faces through stocking masks. Major Johns told us the names as well. That same night, Don Green, who was still in jail in the solitary confinement bullpen, was beaten again, more severely than before.

On July 1, 1965, the New York Times published this account of the attack in the church:

Local Youth Civil Rights Activists Attacked in Church

Local Youth Civil Rights Activists Attacked in Church

Riddled with misinformation, no doubt received from Sheriff Jenkins who endorsed the attack, the New York Times article sharply contrasted with a press release by the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, vice president and treasurer of SCLC, issued July 1, 1965. The mistreatment of our SCOPE group in Wilcox was cited as yet another reason to hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act:

“Field workers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and local Negro citizens engaged in voter registration projects throughout The South are being subjected to sinister harassments and brutal intimidations. . . . Wilcox County is one of the most infamous of the state’s Black Belt counties, where until recently not a single Negro was registered to vote.

In Camden, the county seat, local whites Tuesday night broke into a house of God, Antioch Baptist Church, fired a shot gun blast against the wall and brutally beat seven Negro teenagers, two of them so badly they had to be hospitalized.”

Please share your memories and comments at the “Leave a comment” link here. Read more about these courageous young men, in their own words, in “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight.”

www.thisbrightlightofours.com.