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.

Letter Home July 26, 1965 Part II

Boiling Springs Methodist Church (AME)
Boiling Springs Methodist Church (AME)

 

Part II of a letter from 19 yr old civil rights worker Maria Gitin in Wilcox County AL July 1965:
I was invited to a Methodist (Boiling Springs AME Church) revival meeting on Thursday night and went in hopes of speaking to the people about registration as they came out. We don’t ever ask to talk about civil rights in a church service because many folks haven’t seen the correlation between Christianity and social action. At the conclusion of the preacher’s long and emotional sermon he asked me to speak. I was quite surprised and pleased. I tried to relate my talk to his sermon and I received a good response from the congregation.
The rural people are very serious about their religion. Partly, I suppose, it is an emotional outlet for their frustrations. These are an oppressed people. But, even more, I can sense that they are really aware of the grace of God. They know they are lucky when their children live to the age of twelve, when the crops are not ruined by rain, when a white man doesn’t shoot their children for helping me canvass. You see, God is the only one who can help them because no one else will. I don’t want to romanticize the Southern Negro, because there is nothing romantic about being hated, harassed and oppressed but these folks have a certain kind of pride and dignity that I have never seen before. And they are freer in a sense than those who try to keeping them down I think their freedom comes from knowing that they are right.
Now, not all the Negroes are with the Movement…obviously or we would have cleaned up the mess years ago. There are hundreds of Uncle Toms and Aunt Janes who say “Mister Charlie has been so good to me…I can’t turn agin him now.” Some people have been pushed so low that they just don’t care anymore. There are those who for a pack of cigarettes will give Mr. Charlie a list of everyone in the Movement so he can fire them, and whip them, and try to hold them back.
But I don’t think Mr. Charlie – symbol of the white man – is going to keep folks down. I don’t think Uncle Tom – symbol of the humble, scared Negro – is going to help them down. The people who are fighting for their freedom value it above their lives. And I’ll bet you the devotion you’ll find here to freedom exceeds any you’ll find among our troops in Viet Nam. We are a nonviolent army, marching steadily towards one goal – freedom NOW!

Read more in “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight”
www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Letter Home July 26, 1965 Part 1

Boiling Springs Alabama

Boiling Springs: A Good Road with Good People

July 26. 1965                                                                                      Camden, Alabama

Dear Friends and Family,

Things are more peaceful now in Wilcox County…at least on the surface. A recent meeting of the local Klan drew a crowd of 2,000 according to Camden’s Mayor Albritton but there haven’t been any more incidents that we are aware of. Since there are only two more days of registration this summer* the white folks are not too worried anymore.

We haven’t come anywhere near our hopes of registering thousands of Negroes. About 500 have been actually registered in Wilcox this summer. The SCOPE people have been hampered by local people and by administrative conflicts. But more than anything it was hampered by you. By all of you who didn’t put pressure on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Bill; by everyone who didn’t write his Congressman; by everyone who didn’t voice his opinion of this bill. If we had the bill to work under this summer we could have registered 100 persons a day, five days a week, all summer long. I’m sadly disappointed in the American people for letting such a vital piece of legislation sit around in Congress at such an important time.

If everyone would use their democratic power to get things right, there would be no need for direct action. But, I’m afraid more blood will have to be shed before this battle is won. If the citizens of American won’t set themselves free legally we will once again have to take to the streets in moral protest.

I spent the week before last working in the community of Boiling Springs. To give you an idea of the living conditions, and not to get sympathy, I will tell you of some of my experience. I organized a group of local youth, 13 yrs and up, to go canvassing with me. We split into teams of two to cover a radius of 10 miles. Our objective was to talk with the people, to encourage them to register, and to notify them of the Sunday night mass meeting.

Houses in Boiling Springs are about 2 miles apart on the average. There are no paved roads, no electricity, no running water or telephones. Few people own cars. Women often work 10 hrs. a day at the rate of $1 a day in the okra canning factory. Poverty is normalcy here. Probably everyone there is eligible for Economic Opportunity loans but they can’t get them since Federal programs are administered by segregationist county officials.

The second day there I broke holes through both my shoes and had to go barefoot the rest of the time. Sometimes we walked 15 miles a day. But, all the other kids [local Black kids] were barefoot too. If they are lucky enough to have a pair of shoes they are saved for Sundays.

Read more about Freedom Summer 1965 – “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” University of Alabama Press

www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

Notes:

* The 1965 Voting Rights Act was finally signed into law on August 6th. After that, there was daily voter registration

Families who had children who remember working and walking with me included the Burrells (Voncille) ,  Lawsons (Albert, Alversal) and Robinsons (James). There were many others before and after we were there.

SNCC CIVIL RIGHTS WORKER SCREENING

During SNCC Mississippi Freedom Summer three teenage volunteers were murdered within the first three days: Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner. The following summer, when my cohort was recruited by SCLC to join local leaders and students registering voters in the Deep South, we went through intensive briefings, training and interviews to determine whether we would be helpful or not helpful to the Movement. Before being accepted as a 1965 Voting Rights volunteer, I sat through interviews in Berkeley with Dave Fogel and others, using the SNCC questions.

One question: What will you do when a redneck stops you on the street, pushes you around and calls you a dirty m-f-n lover?  Stopped me cold. I didn’t really expect that although once in Wilcox County, AL there were many incidents of being yelled at and threatened.  Of course, a nonviolent response was the only acceptable answer. These forms I have are old, but I hope you can read the rest of the document.

 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Age of Trumpism: Remembering the Drum Major Fifty Years after His Assassination by Lewis V. Baldwin, Ph.D.

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Lewis V Baldwin

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  This is the fiftieth anniversary of that tragic episode in our history, and memories of what happened still linger in the minds and hearts of millions. As we remember Dr. King in this “age of Trumpism,” we wonder if there is any consistency, congruity, or moral equivalency at all between his struggle “to make the American dream a reality” and President Donald John Trump’s promise “to make America great again.”  Undoubtedly, countless questions along these lines will be raised in the coming weeks, as discussions about Dr. King’s life, death, and enduring legacy occur in academic settings, churches, and in the larger public sphere of our society.

Trumpism has encouraged and inspired several developments in our society which pose a threat to the continuing realization of Dr. King’s dream. First, the breakdown of reality-based, rational, and critical-analytical thinking. In other words, all too many in our nation seem to have lost the ability to face reality and to think in accordance with the dictates of reason and a careful process of intellectual discipline and discernment. Trumpism has created a climate in which truth is under assault, reality is too often denied in preference for “an alternative reality,” logical thinking consistently bows to beliefs and conspiracy theories that are manifestly ludicrous, the non-sensible is routinely packaged as that which makes the most sense, and lofty idealism frequently surrenders to small-mindedness, narrow interests, and mindless nihilism. Sadly, we are increasingly uncomfortable with Dr. King’s image of a society in which citizens cherish “the search for truth,” “an open and analytical mind,” and an unwavering receptivity to “the best lights of reason.”

Second, Trumpism is contributing to a radical departure from basic standards of human decency and civility, which are essential to strong character, great leadership, and the building of community. Civilized conduct, courtesy, politeness, and empathy are too often sacrificed on the altar of incivility, outright rudeness, and a consuming attitude of inconsideration.  Although Mr. Trump epitomizes this spirit in so many instances, it is by no means confined to him alone.  Die-hard supporters of Trumpism frequently ignore and scoff at the idea of political correctness, rampart partisanship is increasingly leading to governmental dysfunction, and rarely do people greet each other with genuine respect, kindness, and hearty exchanges of civilities. Since the election of Mr. Trump, feelings of anger, bitterness, and disenchantment have reached fever pitch in America, and the widening chasms that divide Americans are painfully evident in the mounting incidents of road rage, bullying in our schools, and the active shooter scenarios that unfold in homes, schools, the streets, and even in churches.  Americans would do well to reject the factional dynamics of both our national politics and our daily existence, and especially Trumpism’s sense of “us versus them” scenarios, while revisiting Dr. King’s vision of a nation in which people relate to each other in the spirit of understanding, nonviolence, forgiveness, goodwill, and cooperation.

Third, Trumpism is largely responsible for the normalization and/or legitimation of forms of bigotry and intolerance. Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexicans and Muslims and his overall record of dealings with women, minorities, and the poor are too often overlooked, casually dismissed, and even fiercely defended in some circles. Our growing inability to experience moral outrage in the face of racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, sexism, nativism, and all of the other “isms” that afflict our society is exposed daily.  Dr. King always warned Americans against becoming too comfortable with bigotry, injustice, and intolerance, for he understood that such evils could only insure endless cycles of dehumanization. Thus, his challenge around the need to cultivate a culture of openness and enlargement that embraces all, irrespective of human differences, is as relevant today as it was a half century ago.

Fourth, Trumpism is associated with the mounting distrust of well-established democratic norms, values, institutions, and structures. Trumpism seems oblivious to the democratic norms and values that define America, and it consistently bombards and challenges us with the most negative images of the media, the two-party system, the judiciary, the justice department, the intelligence community, and other institutions and structures that have claimed so much of our loyalty over time. We are left with the growing impression that we are much better off when we turn to Trumpism for answers about who we are and how we should define ourselves as Americans in these times of fear, uncertainty, insecurity, and glaring polarization. Dr. King believed deeply in the power of America’s democratic creed and traditions, and this grounded his quest for the fullest realization of its constitutional and participatory democracy.  The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation, as he read them, spoke to the ideals of a nation that is constantly moving toward the fullness of what it can and should be as a democracy.

Fifth, Trumpism is breeding a disturbing tendency toward national isolationism. It attacks globalization, isolates allies, uses name-calling, threats, and reprisals as tactics in U. S. diplomacy, promotes a foreign policy rooted in amateurism and incoherence, and encourages the kind of self-centered nationalism and isolationism that stand in stark contrast to our traditions of faith, the hallmark of our participatory democracy, and the reach of our ecumenical loyalty.  Trumpism’s “America first” doctrine, on so many levels, is increasingly becoming an “America only” and an “America alone” doctrine, and there is virtually no commitment to the actualization of Dr. King’s vison of a better, just, and more inclusive world.  In his last two books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967) and The Trumpet of Conscience (1967), Dr. King warned America about the perils of isolationism, and he challenged us to a greater awareness of our world citizenship.  He framed this in terms of “the social nature of human existence” and “the interrelated structure of all life and reality,” declaring that what affects one of us directly affects all indirectly.  This nation needs to reclaim a healthy sense of the essential oneness of humanity, irrespective of national boundaries and the artificial barriers of race, religion, economics, politics, and culture. There is not better tribute to this “drum major” on the fiftieth anniversary of his death. After all, the legacy of Dr. King should remind us that humanity functions best not when walls of separation are constructed, but when bridges of unity are established.

Finally, Trumpism is the force behind the silencing, marginalization, and cooptation of potential prophetic voices and profiles in courage. Dr. King believed deeply in the necessity, power, and efficacy of prophetic and courageous leadership, and we can only imagine what he would say about so-called moral and spiritual leaders who remain silent and noncommittal in the face of Trumpism. King felt that the Christian Church should provide society’s strongest prophetic voices and profiles in courage, and he would undoubtedly be appalled at the lack of moral seriousness and commitment on the part of religious leaders, and especially evangelicals, who quietly accept, justify, and even sanction some of the worst aspects of Ttrumpism. Mega and super-mega church leaders, who have a platform to speak to the whole world, are actually a gift to Trumpism and an insult to Dr. King’s legacy.  And as long as this is the case, Trumpism will continue unabated, unaccountable, and unchecked. We can find some relief and hope in the fact that Trumpism is recharging calls for social justice and social change in this nation, and the leadership is coming not from the religious and political establishments, but from Black Lives Matter, the Me-Too Movement, and high school kids who are leading the March for Our Lives. They are the true caretakers of the King legacy.

Trumpism and its effects will continue for years to come, but we must never forget Dr. King’s parting words to the people of this country, on April 3, 1968.  He declared, in essence, that the choice is ultimately between chaos and community. If he was with us today, I believe he would remind us that we are stronger when we choose freedom, democracy, and community over tyranny, fascism, and tribalism.

This essay is copyright © Lewis V Baldwin 2018. Permissions may be requested through lewisvbaldwin@comcast.net

Dr. L. V Baldwin was born and raised in Wilcox County, Alabama and is a graduate of Camden Academy, a stronghold of student civil rights activism in the 1960′-70s. Baldwin is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University and the author of six books on Martin Luther King, Jr. He is also a co-author of two, the editor of two, and a co-editor of two, for a total of twelve books on Dr. King. He currently resides in Nashville, TN with his wife Jacqueline Laws Baldwin.

In Memory of Frank Connor

1

January 20, 2018

When I last saw Frank Connor, he was laying in the back of SCLC Field Director Major Johns’s car with a gash in his head that was pouring out blood.  He had been attacked along with seven other young men who were guarding Antioch Baptist Church where our voting rights campaign was headquartered. It was June 29, 1965 and Frank was just sixteen years old.

When I re-located Frank in Pensacola, Florida in 2010 he told me that he barely survived that attack by the KKK. He was in the hospital in Selma for months. His parents separated during that time, and he had to return to live with his father near the church where he was beaten, which was very hard for him. Frank suffered traumatic brain damage and was unable to graduate with his own class at the Academy. He missed six months of school but did graduate with the Camden Academy Class of 1971. Despite this horrible attack, he later married, had children, and earned a good living as a truck driver before his retirement. We spoke on the phone several times both before and after I quoted him in “This Bright Light of Ours.”  At first he was reluctant to share his story but later he told me that it was a relief.

This is an excerpt from his story, “It was as scary as I never knew what. I didn’t know if I was going to get killed. They didn’t want blacks and whites to be together but that was no cause to try to kill us. That took us completely by surprise, to come in a church like that. A certain part of my body holds that always. I put my hand on my head and I thank the Lord I didn’t die. I was bleeding all over. The doctor said I only had a 50 percent chance to live.

“I had revenge in my mind for many years. When I visited, I didn’t even want to walk up through town. I’d just go to my brother’s house and stay there. There are some low-down white people there. If they could get the power again, they’d do the same thing over again. They don’t think we are people. But they’d be surprised this time. Not me, I wouldn’t take up arms against them, but there are some that would, for sure. I was losing blood like you know what. But I made it. My mind is not like it used to be. I had fear in my mind for a long time but the Lord helped me through”

Frank called me back a few weeks later. Our conversations had brought that terrible night back vividly. I apologized. He said, “No, it is always there in the back of my mind. There is no way to forget it completely. I felt like I woke to find the shadow of death was hovering over me. Just before the man began to beat me with a lead pipe, I instinctively put my arm over my eyes; I didn’t want them to blind me. Two men hit me over and over and over, like they would never stop. The Lord must have been protecting me; otherwise I could be blind. Or dead.

“Me and a bunch of other guys went to a class reunion a few years back and they talked about that like we were heroes or something. I tried to block it out of my mind. I left to go to New York in 1968. Living in Camden, it was a nightmare . . . a real nightmare, I tell you.”

Frank Connor may not have wanted to be a hero, but all those young women and men who put their lives on the line for racial equality, the right to vote and to desegregate schools are heroes to me. May he rest in peace and blessed memory and all who mourn be comforted.

For more stories of the young people who risked their lives for civil rights, please read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” (University of Alabama Press 2014)  www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

Antioch Baptist Church, Camden

Antioch Baptist Church, Camden AL June 1965 Photo by John Worcester