Wilcox County and friends embrace book about their voting rights history

Thank you to all of you who made this book possible! I am truly blessed: Just heard from my publisher, University of Alabama Press: “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Movement” was the best selling Fiction/Non-Fiction book at Black Belt Treasures in Camden, AL last year. When you think about all the variety of wonderful books they carry in their store, this is truly an accomplishment. Yea!! Everybody!!!” Thanks Donna Cox Baker for sharing this good news. And thank you Wilcox County and beyond for your faith in our stories. More about “This Bright Light of Ours” at www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters Celebration March 6, 2014 in Camden L to R: Alma Moton King, Donna Gordon Finklea, Rev LV Baldwin, _________, _______, Alversal Lawson, Sheryl Threadgill, Maria Gitin, Charles Bonner (Selma SNCC), Betty Anderson and Robert Powell

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters Celebration of the publication of “This Bright Light of Ours” March 6, 2014 
L to R: Alma Moton King, Donna Gordon Finklea, Rev LV Baldwin, _________, _______, Alversal Lawson, Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews, Maria Gitin, Charles Bonner (Selma SNCC), Betty Anderson and Robert Powell

A Long Hot Summer Ahead?

Nonviolent student demonstrators attacked in Wilcox County AL

Nonviolent student demonstrators attacked in Wilcox County AL

When I signed on to SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Eduction (SCOPE) project fifty years ago this summer I was a naive, idealistic teenager who embraced nonviolence as the path to ending segregation and to securing African American voting rights. When I attended the intensive SCOPE Orientation, “a civil rights boot camp” in Atlanta, I learned that “nonviolent” does not mean passive. Hosea L Williams told us that we were foot soldiers in a nonviolent war to end racism. Dr. King proclaimed that “history is made where students are” and that it was worth sacrificing your life to be part of that change.

Later that year in a speech at Hunter College, Dr. King recapped some of what he taught us: [Negro was the term he used at that time] “The powerful unity of Negro with Negro and white with Negro is stronger than the most powerful and entrenched racism.”

King warned: “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 declaration in 1965, 50 yrs ago. Today, 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 women that we are now in deeply into a period that has the potential to be both as productive and as violent as the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. The continued white denial of racial injustice has enraged diverse communities.

Current civil unrest rises up at the same time that a broad segment of the public is disgusted with the electoral process, discouraged about their potential for economic advancement, and fails to register, let alone vote. What does it mean for us as a country if we have large numbers of people who do not believe they are heard, that they are represented, or enfranchised? And that de facto they are still denied those rights for which we risked our lives? And what are we going to do about it?

– Maria Gitin, SCLC SCOPE, SNCC 1965

For more about Summer 1965: http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com

April Action in Wilcox: 50 Years Ago this Month

April 10, 1965 – Camden

Smoke Bombs Halt New Wave of Alabama Marchers

Quotes Camden Academy students Ralph Eggleston and Charles Mimms. Photo of Jim “Arkansas” Benston, white SNCC youth, being beaten by Camden city police.  Source: Chicago Defender special by Leon Daniel

April 20, 1965 – Camden scope056_2

Dr. King came through on another whirlwind tour of Alabama while a 200-person march was already underway. The same date, the state of Alabama secured a federal injunction against Dr. King to prevent him from using children to march and demonstrate. Source: Chicago Defender.

Note: This was a ludicrous charge since the students and adults in each community were planning their own strategies. Dr King came to show support and give encouragement. He did not organize any events in Alabama after the Selma marches and was not even a lead organizer of those marches. He was the inspirational leader, but the white press and politicians saw as the only leader.

April 21,1965 – US Court of Appeals 5th Circuit Alabama

Federal Court of Appeals finds “substantial un-contradicted evidence” that registration officials in Wilcox County were applying the supporting witness (voucher) requirement in a discriminatory fashion. Records disclosed only one instance of a black person attempting to obtain a white voter as a supporting witness.

Source: US v Logue, 344 F2d 290 (1965)

April 21, 1965 – Camden26

Camden civil rights leaders declare they will protest daily until allowed to register and to vote. They do so and continue until school lets out in the end of May.

This date was this author’s 19th birthday celebrated with friends in San Francisco where she had already signed up for the SCOPE project. After SCLC orientation in Atlanta with Wilcox residents Ethel Brooks, Charles Nettles, Mary Alice Angion and others, I was assigned to that county for the summer voter education and registration project.

Source: Chicago Daily Defender and personal memory.

For more history of the Wilcox County Voting Rights Movement read: www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church

Dan Harrell in front of Antioch Baptist church  – Bob Fitch Photo 1966 © Stanford University Archives

Register Now for the SCLC/SCOPE 50thAnniversary Reunion in Atlanta

Join us! Come to Atlanta on
October 1-4, 2015,
as we gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of SCLC’s SCOPE project and SCLC’s long fight for justice

50 years ago, young people answered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to spend the summer of 1965 in the South registering black people to vote, in cooperation with SCLC activists and supporters. 50 years later, those young people are now older. We need to celebrate what we accomplished that summer. The Reunion will give us an opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and friends and share with each other the impact that SCOPE and SCLC has had in our lives. But we also want to share our stories with the young people of today.


For more information, go to www.sclcscope50th.org or contact John Reynolds, Reunion Committee Chair, at JohnR99773@aol.com.

SCOPE button

 Rev Hosea L Williams with 1965 SCOPE staff.L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marrisett , and Richard Boone © Barbara Williams Emerson

Rev Hosea L Williams with 1965 SCOPE staff.L to R- Benjamin Van Clarke, Stoney Cook, Carl Farris, Andrew Marrisett , and Richard Boone © Barbara Williams Emerson

Stories from Selma and the Voting Rights Fight in SF Saturday March 21st

Please join us for this engaging, interactive afternoon with Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans who worked in and around Selma, AL during the 1965 Voting Rights Movement. Saturday May 21st 2-4 PM at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. MOAD 8x10 poster image  white

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Voices of the 1965 Voting Rights Fight

As we observe the 50th anniversary year of the Selma voting rights struggle, the March to Montgomery, and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Bay Area civil rights veterans share their experiences of the historic African American-led struggle. If you liked the film “Selma,” you will enjoy hearing more about the role of youth during this pivotal period of the Civil Rights Movement.

Program features:
• Personal stories from the front lines in Alabama in 1965
• Singing Civil Rights songs led by renowned Freedom Singer, Wazir Peacock
• Book signing by three authors: Maria Gitin, Charles Bonner and Bruce Hartford
• Wazir Peacock Video (optional still under discussion)
• Historic slide show
• Q & A and discussion
Moderator and Panelist: Bruce Hartford, civil rights activist and historian is author of “The Selma Voting Rights Struggle & the March to Montgomery” Hartford is webspinner for the Civil Rights Veterans at http://www.crmvet.org. He worked on voter-registration and direct-action campaigns with CORE and SCLC 1963-1967 in California, Alabama & Mississippi. In 1965 he worked in Selma during Bloody Sunday, and walked on the March to Montgomery with Dr. King.

Panelist and song leader: Willie B. Wazir Peacock, highly regarded singer of civil rights songs, is featured in the new video, Stand for Freedom: The Life & Times of Willie B. Wazir Peacock. Native of Mississippi, Peacock was an early member of Student Non-Violent Organizing Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was a SNCC field secretary organizing African Americans voting rights activities in Mississippi and Alabama from 1960-66. He was both participant and witness to many of the most dangerous and violent campaigns of the civil rights movement.

Panelist: Charles A. Bonner, civil rights attorney, is a Selma native and author of The Tip of the Arrow, the Selma Student Movement: a Study in Leadership. Bonner was a leader in Selma high school and college student movement, and was beaten and arrested numerous times for voting rights activities. He was on the bridge on Bloody Sunday and marched to Montgomery, and then helped train white kids working with both SCLC and SNCC during the summer of 1965.

Panelist: Maria Gitin, civil rights veteran and author of This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, left San Francisco State College to spend the summer of 1965 working with SCLC and SNCC in rural Wilcox County, Alabama, after the March to Montgomery. She canvassed for voters, was chased by the KKK, and arrested. Four decades later she gathered the memories of her co-workers, including Bonner, in a moving memoir of teenage civil rights action. Read about Maria Gitin and her civil rights work: www.thisbrightlightofours.com