This Bright Light of Ours for first time in Watsonville April 25th as part of Vote! Exhibit and Celebration

VOTING RIGHTS EXHIBIT & PRESENTATIONS WITH PAJARO VALLEY ARTS

Vote! Your Vote is Your Voice / ¡Vote!  Su Voto es Su Voz, is an exhibit of art and historic artifacts with films and educational programs about historic and current voting rights issues, to run April 3-May 26, 2019 at Pajaro Valley Arts gallery, 37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, CA 95076 

Thursday April 25th 6-8 PM This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight – A special presentation 

NOTE SPECIAL LOCATION: Watsonville Civic Building Community Room (4th Floor)

As part of Pajaro Valley Arts “Vote! Your Voice is Your Vote” exhibit, former Watsonville resident and nationally known author and speaker, civil rights veteran Maria Gitin will present historic images and stories from the grassroots activists of rural Alabama in the 1965 struggle for voting rights. Gitin worked in and will cover the less known but violent period of the Civil Rights Movement following the March to Montgomery and prior to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A freshman at San Francisco State College, Gitin felt called to action after witnessing violent state troopers attack peaceful voting rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. She joined a summer voter registration and education project along with 400 other college students. After training in Atlanta, from dignitaries including Martin Luther King Jr. himself, she was assigned to rural Wilcox County where the majority African American citizens were attacked, fired and arrested for simply attempting to register to vote. Gitin spent the summer working and walking with courageous local Black activists and sometimes running from the Ku Klux Klan. Her memoir of that summer, “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” was published by University of Alabama Press in 2014. Since that time, Gitin has presented more than fifty times including as keynote speaker for the US Army Presidio of Monterey, King County Washington, the National Park Service in Selma and Emory University. This is her first slide show presentation in Watsonville. 
  
More about Vote! Your Voice is Your Vote/ ¡Vote! Su Voto es Su Voz Exhibit and presentations 

Originally co-imagined with Bob Fitch, I’m honored to serve as both curator and presenter of this important exhibit.   Vote! seeks to educate, inspire, and develop greater interest in the nonpartisan democratic process. We draw on the involvement of current and former Watsonville residents who wein the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and Chicano Voting Rights action of the 1980’. We will share our experiences through art, educational panels, and film.  Selections of Bob Fitch photos and Maria Gitin’s civil rights movement archives illustrate their experience as young voting rights workers in Alabama. Artifacts from Santa Cruz County Elections Clerk Gail Pellerin and Watsonville City Clerk Beatriz Vasquez Flores will be on display. A visual timeline developed by local artists guides visitors through voting rights history. Contemporary art work by regional artists highlights current events and responds to the question: What does the right to vote mean to me?

All events are free, bilingual and appropriate for students as well as adults.  Contributions to Pajaro Valley Arts free bilingual programs are always welcome. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

For interviews and information about the exhibit and educational programs:
Maria Gitin msgitin@mariagitin.com

www.pvaarts.org  or call the gallery: 831.722.3062

Jkt_Gitin_final cover

Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot

Come share in the experience of young African American leaders and participants in the Selma Movement of 1963-65.  This documentary features dear friends Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles A Bonner and other courageous youth.

Presented by Watsonville Film Festival http://watsonvillefilmfest.org and Pajaro Valley Arts https://pvarts.org/vote-your-voice-is-your-vote-vote-su-voto-es-su-voz-2/ https://pvarts.org/vote-your-voice-is-your-vote-vote-su-voto-es-su-voz-2/ free and open to all in the Community Room (4th floor) Civic Building, 275 Main Street, Watsonville. Thursday April 4, 2019 7:00-9:00 PM

This 40 minute documentary film from the Southern Poverty Law Center is narrated by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, The Bridge to the Ballot is a crucial reminder that each of us has the ability to bring about powerful social change and will help inspire young people and communities across the nation to exercise their right to participate in our democracy. The documentary features the young students in the fight for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. They and their teachers stood up against injustice despite facing intimidation, arrests and violence. By organizing and marching these lesser known change-makers influenced one of the most significant victories of the civil rights era. Those who participated in civil rights work in the South will be recognized.

Double feature with: Willie Velasquez: Su Voto es Su Voz  a 53 minute PBS Film about the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP) – Willie Velásquez: Your Vote Is Your Voice tells the story of a grass-roots activist who mobilized Latinos into a movement that permanently altered the American political landscape. Filmed in Southwest Texas, this documentary features the organization that trained some Watsonville activists to organize and register voters at time of Gomez v Watsonville. Those who participated in voter registration will be recognized.

Wilcox and Selma Civil Rights featured in Voting Rights Exhibit April-May 2019

Postcard-Final-1024x563PAJARO VALLEY ARTS ANNOUNCES VOTING RIGHT EXHIBITION
We are delighted to invite all to attend the free, bilingual, exhibit and series of events devoting to Voting Rights. It is an honor to serve as curator of this important exhibit dedicated to the memory of civil rights photographer Bob Fitch.

Vote! Your Vote is Your Voice / ¡Vote!  Su Voto es Su Voz, is an exhibit of art and artifacts with films and educational programs about historic and current voting rights issues, to run April 3-May 26, 2019.  The public is invited to the opening reception Sunday April 7th, 2-4 PM, Pajaro Valley Arts gallery 37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, CA.

Originally co-imagined by Bob Fitch and Maria Gitin, Vote! Your Vote is Your Voice/ ¡Vote! Su Voto es Su Voz seeks to educate, inspire, and develop greater interest in the nonpartisan democratic process. Detailing the involvement of Monterey Bay residents in voting rights issues, current and former Watsonville residents who were active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and Chicano Voting Rights action of the 1980’s share their experiences through art, educational panels, and film.  Selections of Bob Fitch photos and Maria Gitin’s civil rights movement archives illustrate their experience as young voting rights workers in Alabama. Artifacts from Santa Cruz County Elections Clerk Gail Pellerin and Watsonville City Clerk Beatriz Vasquez Flores will be on display. A visual timeline developed by local artists guides visitors through voting rights history. Contemporary art work by regional artists highlights current events and responds to the question: What does the right to vote mean to me?

All events are free, bilingual and appropriate for students as well as adults.  Contributions to Pajaro Valley Arts free bilingual programs are always welcome. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

For interviews and information about the exhibit and educational programs:
Maria Gitin msgitin@mariagitin.com

For more information on the gallery: Judy Stabile, Curator stabilejud@aol.com

www.pvaarts.org  or call the gallery: 831.722.3062

PVA Vote! Confirmed Events

 

All events are free, open to the public, suitable for students and adults, and ADA compliant.

Thursday April 4, 2019   7:00-9:00 PM 
Voting Rights Films with Watsonville Film Festival – Watsonville Civic Center Community Room (4thfloor)
            Watsonville Vote: Summer in the City: 18 second PSA made by Watsonville Student interns with Beatriz Flores, City Clerk
            Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot   40 minute film from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Narrated by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, The Bridge to the Ballot is a crucial reminder that each of us has the ability to bring about powerful social change and will help inspire young people and communities across the nation to exercise their right to participate in our democracy. The documentary features the young students in the fight for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. They and their teachers stood up against injustice despite facing intimidation, arrests and violence. By organizing and marching these lesser known change-makers influenced one of the most significant victories of the civil rights era. Those who participated in civil rights work in the South will be recognized.
Willie Velasquez:Su Voto es Su Voz– 40 min. PBS Film about the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project (SVREP) – Willie Velásquez: Your Vote Is Your Voicetells the story of a grass-roots activist who mobilized Latinos into a movement that permanently altered the American political landscape. Filmed in Southwest Texas, this documentary features the organization that trained some Watsonville activists to organize and register voters at time of Gomez v Watsonville.  Those who participated in voter registration will be recognized.

April 3 – May 26, 2019 Exhibit Dates

Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery
37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, CA 95076
PVA Gallery open Wednesday through Sunday
11:00am to 4:00pm.

Historic and contemporary art and artifacts depict the struggle for voting rights in the South and here in Watsonville. Featured photographs by Bob Fitch, Matt Herron and Kathryn Mayo are accompanied by artifacts Maria Gitin’s experience as a teenage civil rights worker in Alabama. Art responding to the question: What do voting rights mean to me? Is on display and available for purchase.

Sunday April 7, 2019 2-4 PM
Opening Reception
Pajaro Valley Arts Gallery
37 Sudden Street, Watsonville, CA 95076

All are invited. There will be a very short program at 3 PM. Refreshments will be served.

Thursday April 11th7:00-9:00 PM 
“Councilwoman” Watsonville Film Festival in partnership with Pajaro Valley Arts

Watsonville Civic Community Room (4thfloor)

Before AOC, there was Carmen Castillo. “Councilwoman” is the inspiring story of Carmen Castillo, an immigrant Dominican housekeeper in a Providence hotel who wins a seat in City Council, taking her advocacy for low-income workers from the margins to city politics.

 

 

Sunday April 14th 2-3:30 
Maria Gitin Curator’s Talk- Guided Tour with Q & A in the Gallery

Maria Gitin and Bob Fitch envisioned this exhibit prior to Fitch’s 2016 death. Gitin will discuss how this exhibit developed in tandem with Pajaro Valley Arts as well her own history as “one of the white kids” who came South when Dr. King called on college students to assist with voter registration in 1965. This will be an informal event with opportunities to ask questions and make comments.

Thursday April 18, 6-8 PM
Florecer De La Mujer
Watsonville Civic Center Community Room (5th floor Civil Center)

Moderator: Shirley Castillo, MSW,

Panelists: Cruz Gomez, Raquel Mariscal, Shirley Flores Munoz, Naomi Quinonez,
Odelia Galvan Rodriguez, Rosie Murillo

Don’t miss this historic gathering of some of the original Latina community organizers who laid the ground work for the Southwest Voter Registration campaign (SVREP) and eventually the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) redistricting lawsuitGomez v Watsonville.  Successful plaintiff Cruz Gomez is traveling from her home in Mexico to make a rare appearance.

Thursday April 25th 6-8 PM This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight
Civil rights veteran Maria Gitin shares historic images and stories from grassroots workers in the nonviolent army that risked their lives for voting rights. NAACP Members and regional Civil Rights Veterans will be recognized. Discussion, Q &A., Book signing.

Signed copies of “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” will be available for sale with proceeds to Pajaro Valley Arts.

Saturday May 18th 2-4 PM   Landmark Voting Rights Victory: Gomez V Watsonville
Watsonville Civic Center Community Room 4thFloor
Moderator: Samuel Torres Jr, former Santa Cruz County Counsel
Panelists: Paule Cruz Takash, Anthropologist and Watsonville Chronicler; Daniel Dodge, MALDEF paralegal on Gomez v Watsonvilleand former Mayor Karina Cervantez, former Mayor and UCSC Doctoral Candidate

Participant-witnesses and historians detail how the Gomez v Watsonville case came about, how it was fought and won. Panelists will discuss their personal experiences and historic perspectives including contemporary impact

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Jesse Brooksr and his daughter Ethel Brooks, Freedom Fighters. Bob Fitch photo 1966 @ Stanford University Archives.

Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday 2015

seattle mlk flyer1412_4511l_mlkdayflyerMany people knew and worked with Dr. King far longer than I and other Summer of 1965 voter registration project workers, but all of us understood that the love the local people felt for him was key to getting our foot in the door to talk about voter registration.  We developed quick questions to find a connection that would lead to the courthouse registrars office. Years later, I still am invited to share these stories in hopes they will inspire and restore trust in the democratic process. Here is a sample of one of my favorite talks.

KING COUNTY MLK CELEBRATION  Paramount Theater, Seattle WA January 15, 2015         Thank you. I am very pleased to be here with you in beautiful Martin Luther King Jr. County  – which full name I understand can be credited to community leaders including Councilmember Larry Gossett. I am in awe that in an area this size, with just 7.9% Black residents in the city of Seattle, that you can boast not one but two of the largest MLK Celebrations in the Northwest, a beautiful African American History Museum and a legacy of peaceful nonviolent demonstrations for justice including the 1960s school desegregation campaign led by Martin Luther King Jr.’s friend, Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney..       In my brief remarks today, I want to touch on two themes:

  1. Why Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the voting rights fight was worth risking our lives for and
  2. What guidance his teachings give us to fight injustice today. While we may be fond of MLK’s speeches about brotherhood and integration, it is his insistent call for nonviolent action against injustice that, for me, rings loudest across the decades.

I first heard that call when I was a 19 yr old freshman at San Francisco State College. I saw Dr King on television, calling students to action, inviting us to come South and join in the voting rights struggle after the violent attack on voting rights demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Dozens of young people – some of whom would soon become my close friends and coworkers – were beaten, tear-gassed and chased off the bridge that day; many were severely injured. The year was 1965. What I saw on grainy black and white television became known as Bloody Sunday, commemorated each year on the first full weekend in March at the Selma Jubilee. My dear friend and SNCC leader Charles Bonner described the scene in Selma as he and other young demonstrators walked toward the armed city and county officers on the bridge that day:

“We were just teenagers marching toward a blue sea of police armed with guns, tear gas, billy clubs. Those on horseback had long leather whips. But we were at peace with our fear, our courage, our hope that as the song we were singing goes, A Change is Gonna Come.”

Mary Alice Robinson was a 16 yr old high school student from an active but very rural community in Wilcox County, Alabama. She vividly recalls Bloody Sunday, “My sister Edna and I ¾lots of us from Coy¾walked together. When they turned the dogs on us, and tear-gassed us, I rolled downhill into some bushes. I got briars in my hand and left them there for a long time, as a reminder of what they did to us.”

Before I was assigned to spend the summer working with these courageous grassroots freedom fighters in Wilcox County, I attended an intensive Orientation, “a civil rights boot camp” in Atlanta headed by Rev Hosea L Williams.  He, Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Cotton, Septima Clark and other leaders taught us 400 white and 200 Black students as much history, philosophy and voting rights as they could cram into a 5.5 day 14 hr a day training. Later that year in a speech at Hunter College, Dr. King recapped some of what he taught us: [Bear in mind that Negro was the term he used and a term of respect at that time] “The powerful unity of Negro with Negro and white with Negro is stronger than the most powerful and entrenched racism.” Repeat “The powerful unity of Negro with Negro and white with Negro is stronger than the most powerful and entrenched racism.”

King scholar Lewis V. Baldwin wrote that King’s further comments emphasizw that, “King concluded that racial injustice will never end as long as whites throughout the world minimize or ignore the problem.”  Quoting excerpts from King again: “The cup of endurance has run over, and there is deep determination on the part of people of color to be freed from the shackles that they faced in the past. Now if the white world does not recognize this and adjust to what has to be, then we will end up with a kind of race war.”

Dr. King penned this warning in 1965, nearly 50 yrs ago. Today, many activists, commentators, even scholars predict that as a result of our failure to eliminate institutional racism, and due to a recent series of murders of unarmed Black men and the reaction of the white establishment to the ongoing demonstrations, that we are in a period that could be both as productive and tumultuous as the southern civil rights movement of the 1960’s. This civil unrest and indignations arises at the same time that a broad segment of the public is cynical about the electoral process, and discouraged about their own potential for economic advancement. We see decreased voter registration and participation numbers.  What does it mean for us as a county, a state, a country, if we have large numbers of people who do not believe they are heard, that they are represented, enfranchised?

Martin Luther King Jr. is widely recognized one of the world’s greatest leaders, but he was a leader who always prodded us to do better, be better. Never rest on a single achievement, a voting site opened, a school integrated, even an unjust law changed – He encouraged us to push on and on, always pushing towards justice.

One of his more familiar quotes is a favorite of mine: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all – indirectly.” King’s familiar words offer both challenge and encouragement but we sometimes turn away from his less comforting quotes such as his insistence that we as a society, a whole society, cannot rest until we have eliminated racism from every aspect of our social and cultural institutions. Racism is as he said “that hound of hell which dogs the tracks of our civilization.”

Too many civil rights martyrs, most of them Black, most of them unknown to this day, were injured and some died fighting for the right of African Americans to vote. This is our theme today, the importance of that right to vote for all of us. I want to emphasize as Dr. King did, that the right to vote was not the end of the struggle but that it was a large step towards full citizenship. A right that enables all Americans, most especially those who had been denied voting rights based on race, to participate fully in the affairs of their community, this country and our world.

Mrs. Rosetta Angion was mother of 16 children, including Mary Alice Robinson who I quoted earlier, but she still found time to work in the Wilcox County Alabama voting rights movement. Her home in rural Coy was a rest stop, a place we picked up and dropped off our voter lists, a place where people waited for rides to go into the courthouse in Camden to attempt to register to vote.  She shared some of her memories of with me: Mrs. Angion recalled, “I’ll never forget sitting up watching TV, seeing Dr. King in other places marching, and whatever they tried to do they accomplished because he came there. I remember saying, ‘Lord I wish he would come to Wilcox County,’ and he did. I will never forget him coming here.

We were tear-gassed and beaten with sticks just because we wanted to vote. I remember marching in Camden, going to meetings, and then the great day when we stood in the rain to get registered, the day Dr. King was there. He stood on the jailhouse steps and spoke. Earlier, I found out that the only way you become a real citizen is to vote. After that I did everything I could to improve the lives of my community.”

Martin Luther King shared the Mrs. Angion’s conviction that you are not a full citizen if you cannot, do not vote, in his quote that is our theme for today: “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me.” Dr. King is warning us that not voting is equivalent of enslavement: lack of ability to vote means that we do not possess ourselvesthat others make up our minds for us.

And as Mrs. Angion so movingly reminds us ” the only way you become a real citizen is to vote.”

For more by Maria Gitin: www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

Bob Crawford Jr. Freedom Fighter

 

We honor the memory of Bob Crawford Jr. who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement that few knew of at the time. Over the past ten years, he and his family have become my family too. I mourn with them, even as we celebrate his long and legendary life. He told me that his role in the Movement was to set an example by being a successful Black man in America: a veteran, a teacher and devoted father and husband. Then, he’d laugh and say, “Well, I couldn’t taken the nonviolent position; I was more of a Deacons for Defense kind of man,” and laugh his big laugh. I loved to talk with him, hear his stories and share in the joys and sorrows of his wife Jessie, and his grown children. Although his home going is this coming Saturday, we will never stop loving him and remembering just one more great “Bob Jr.” story. “Don’t call me Robert, I’m just Bob!” Crawford.

Luke (formerly Bob) Bock who stayed at the home of his parents Bob and Georgia Crawford, stalwart leaders in the Pine Apple area of the county, did not know that their school teacher son Bob Jr came over nights when Black and white civil rights workers were sleeping in his parents home. Bob Jr came to protect the young SNCC and SCLC workers, sitting up all night on a camp chair with a shotgun to make sure no one hurt his parents, their home or the field staff.

Bob Crawford Jr., taught high school in Monroe County for many years. Over many hours of animated conversation, one of the things Crawford stressed to me was education, “One of the best things about having a primarily African American school system is that now they can teach the whole story. I specialized in American History after I got my masters degree. One of my teachers told us ‘Don’t fool those kids and tell them what the Alabama history books say; it is strictly a white man’s history.’

“You had to go to a foreign county to get a true history. I got information from a friend, a retired military man who collected history from other countries. France and Spain wrote more competent histories that told the truth about US history. Negroes were involved in cattle drives, in the Gold Rush. I read some of these books and learned that Negroes were everything from outlaws to ministers, but that never was mentioned in the regular high school history books. So I inserted the information into my teaching. During the Revolutionary War they didn’t say that there were Black soldiers fighting on both sides, mostly for the North. In South Carolina you had Negro congressmen, but no Black leaders were ever mentioned, except maybe George W. Carver and Booker T. Washington. Negro engineers like Horace King built nearly every bridge that connected Georgia and Alabama—never told us anything about that, but I taught my students all of that. They [the administration] reprimanded me for teaching the truth, presenting the facts. But I didn’t get fired, I resigned to get a better paying job. I had two sweet little girls to put through college. Believe it or not, back then, driving truck paid better and had better benefits than teaching school.”[i]

Bob Crawford Jr’s sacrifice of a prestigious teaching job for trucking was well rewarded by all three of his “little girls” successes in life.  Bob Crawford’s oldest daughter, Debbie C. Porter, retired after teaching 28 years in the Baldwin County Alabama School System. Middle daughter, Joy Crawford-Washington, is currently the Associate Director of Public Relations at the University of South Alabama, and the youngest, Jessietta C.Thomas, is a principal at Hayneville Road Acceleration Academy in Montgomery, Alabama. All are active in community, church and service work.

More of the Crawfords’ family story and their  involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is included in my book, This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight, University of Alabama Press 2014 – www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Social Protest & Women’s Leadership Talks set at Candler / Emory University October 17th

Maria Gitin will appear as a guest lecturer in Dr. Robert Franklin‘s graduate seminar October 17th, speaking about Women’s Leadership and her experience in the 1965 Voting Rights Fight in Wilcox County Alabama. Joining her will be her canvassing partner Robert Powell, Wilcox County native and student activist who worked with Maria during the summer of 1965.

Maria will also participate in an evening panel discussion on Social Protest Across the Generations with Johnny E Parham, a Morehouse and Clark Atlanta student activist and former director of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund; Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee and Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR).

candler.emory.edu/news/releases/2018/10/panel-to-explore-social-protest-across-generations.html

Direct link to registration: bit.ly/1968panel

In Memory of Grady Nettles

Mrs. Mattie Nettles in her flower garden

Mother of Grady, Charles, Larry, David, Loretta and four more.

Sending condolences to friends and family of Grady Nettles on his passing. Grady was one of the active students, in fact his whole family was active in the Movement registering voters, protecting the church from the KKK, housing civil rights workers and registering their children to integrate the white schools – all at great risk to their family. In 2009 Grady told me: “They burned down my mother’s house while all them children were in it sleeping. They killed a lot of the farm animals, but we got out and she didn’t give up. She died peacefully with family at her side.” May he now rest with his mother and brothers, and be remembered as a hero among the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters.

I still remember the morning he and his brother rushed upstairs to tell me and Bob that the KKK had broken into the church and destroyed our mimeograph machines, cut the telephone wires and torn up the placards we had made for picketing white stores that would not hire African Americans. He was agitated, but not discouraged. He was right there with us when we were all arrested, yet went back to working in the Movement as soon as we were released.

The Nettles had ten children. All were active in some way, and all paid a heavy price for their courage. Local activists like Grady and the rest of the Nettles were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement. It was an honor to know him. May he rest in blessed memory.