Bob, Dan & The Man with a Gun

 

Dan Harrell

 

Excerpt from This Little Light of Mine, This Bright Light of Ours ©mariagitin2010

Photo ©Bob Fitch 1966

http://www.BobFitchPhoto.com

My boyfriend Bob Block was surprised and didn’t seem especially pleased to see me when we hooked up in Pine Apple. He looked at my legs and shoes and said, “You’re gonna hafta keep up. We don’t have all summer, you know.” That summer, it seemed like every day lasted for an eternity, the way it does when you are a child.  But Bob was right, pretty soon the Voting Rights Bill would pass and federal examiners would come help these folks register, backed up by federal troops if necessary. Maybe they wouldn’t need us anymore.

Later, while John G. drove me back to the church before taking Bob down to Lower Peachtree, Bob told me what had happened to him yesterday.

“Dan and I were walking along when this white guy appears out of nowhere. I mean we didn’t hear him comin’, see a truck, nothing. Just like that, he takes his pistol, raises it right to Harrell’s head and presses it against his temple.”

“You know I would kill you as soon as look at you, doncha?”

“I believe I do,” was all that Dan replied.

“Man, that Dan, he was so cool. I was just about to beg and cry myself.”

Bob said as the seconds ticked into years he saw himself just as dead as Dan right there on that country lane, knowing this guy would never be caught or punished.

“And”, Bob explained, “This was just an ordinary guy, not one of the sheriff’s posse or anything, just an ordinary cracker. They can just do this stuff. Man! S–t!” He lit a cigarette and blew smoke out the open car window.

My heart was racing, “How did it end?”

“That cracker just lowered the gun, snorted and spit on the ground and walked away just as fast as he’d appeared.”

Then I told Bob what happened out in Arlington, about being chased all afternoon by a white man in a pickup with a rifle. “He must’ve been related to my guy. Dan didn’t even tell me about what happened with you!”

Bob said, “Yeah, I already heard.”

It made me feel good that our elders knew we were a couple and that he had some kind of idea what was going on with me even if the information didn’t flow both ways.  As an eighteen-year old boy he wasn’t the greatest at telling me what I wanted to hear, which was that he’d protect me, no matter what. How could he, when we’d chosen to put ourselves in danger?  Being threatened and scared went with the territory and he always claimed he wasn’t afraid. He was likely shell-shocked before I even arrived, what with the tear-gassing, beating and harassment, but he also liked the excitement. That’s a boy for you. I tried to talk and write letters that sounded like my boyfriend Bob, but inside my guts were churning.

There were so many incidents that I can’t recall them all. It was the same all over the South, in every county, every day for years for Movement folks. 95% of them were black folks who pressed on in a mostly nonviolent battle for freedom and justice for all against a continuous onslaught of violence and hatred. Not only were the local grassroots folks the real leaders of The Movement, they saved our little white behinds time and again. Sometimes we knew what they had done and could thank them; sometimes they just kept it to themselves.

Author’s note: Rev Daniel Harrell and his wife Juanita Harrell worked in Wilcox County Alabama on voting rights, literacy and community economic development from 1964 until their untimely deaths, both still in their forties. For more stories of unheralded heroes of the civil rights movement, watch for upcoming publication of “This Little Light of Mine, This Bright Light of Ours” by Maria Gitin. Thank you for sharing your comments and this page with others who are committed to honoring the memory of our civil rights veterans.

3 comments on “Bob, Dan & The Man with a Gun

  1. […] as look at you, doncha?” “I believe I do,” was all that Dan replied. Read the full story: https://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/bob-dan-the-man-with-a-gun/ Then I told Bob what happened out in Arlington, about being chased all afternoon by white men in […]

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  2. Maria Gitin says:

    Dan Harrell’s Family
    When I knew Dan Harrell during the summer of 1965, he was in his early 30’s. None of us knew that he and Juanita would have their only son, Edward, the following year and that before Eddie’s first birthday, his mother would be dead. When he was just 10, Eddie had to witness his father’s body lying on the ground outside their home in Coy, Alabama.
    Dan and Juanita Harrell opened doors for federal programs coming to Wilcox County including the launch one of very first Head Start programs in the summer of 1965. From 1964, until he was murdered in 1979, Dan gave his all to try to improve the lives of black folks in Wilcox County. In January 1966, SCLC stopped paying all SCOPE Alabama voter project staff, but Dan and Juanita stayed on in Coy where Dan guest preached and worked full time on his passion, African-American economic development.
    Despite constant blockage by state and county officials, Dan managed to receive a grant from the Community Action Division of the USDA to get a cooperative going for one hundred cucumber, peas and okra farmers who had been displaced from their tenant farms due to their registering to vote. He worked with other community leaders to get federal grants, buy land and build decent homes for the black community.
    When I started looking for Dan’s relatives, I only knew that Dan had been shot by another black resident from Coy; a man, people told me, who was put up to the murder by the Klan. Paid off they said. The attacker got off on self-defense. Two years of interviews and searches didn’t turn up anything more than what my Wilcox County friends told me: that Dan went into a decline after Juanita died and that Dan’s family took his son away after he was killed. No one kenw their names or where they might live.
    In March 2010, I combed through the archives of the Wilcox County Progressive Era and found a photo of Dan’s body face down, scarcely covered with a sheet and a brief article naming the killer, Jim Saulsberry.
    In June, I posted a photo and story about Dan on this blog. July 10th, Dan’s younger brother Leonard Hal contacted me. Within a few weeks, I spoke with five family members. I learned that Dan had changed his last name from Hal to Harrell while he was a student at Tuskegee. He has a large extended family that includes:
    His son Eddie with Juanita Daniels Harrell (deceased). Eddie was raised by his Uncle Lewis and Aunt Faye in Oakland, CA.
    Dan’s children by his first wife Frankie are Daniel Harrell III, Parol Lee and Ricky Harrell.
    Another son Dan recognized as his own lives in Coy, Alabama
    Dan has a flock of wonderful brothers and half-brothers: Lewis (deceased) Leonard, Tom, John, and Samuel Hal
    Dan’s family were warm and welcoming, yet still scarred by the memory of Dan’s tragic death. None have returned to Wilcox County since taking his body to be buried in Union Springs, outside Tuskegee, AL.

    Transcript of July 14 Telephone Conversation with Dan and Juanita Harrell’s son Eddie:
    I was 12 years old when my father Dan was murdered. I didn’t really get to know my mother. I was barely 1 when she died of Valley Fever. They said she caught it when my parents came out to California to visit while she was pregnant.
    A few weeks prior to the murder, Jim Saulsberry chased me into the woods out by Tait’s Chapel. I knew the sound of his truck and ran as soon as I heard it. I jumped over a barbed wire fence. I hurt myself but I stayed in there until he gave up and drove away. I was alone a lot. My Dad stayed at his place (the nightclub) until it closed. I spent time with my brother Dougie and his mother; we called her Ma Rue. Douglas Stallworth, that’s my half brother’s name.
    The night it happened, I heard three shots. I ran out back, the place was behind our house. My Dad was on the ground. I remembered Jim was wearing a white shirt with vertical blue stripes. It is imprinted on my mind. He said, ‘Call the law, because I just killed a good man.’
    Do you think it’s true, what they said, that the Klan was behind it?”

    I replied, “That’s what folks there say and what you are telling me makes me believe it has to be so. Saulsberry could confess and know that nothing would happen to him, because the KKK was behind the murder.”

    Although many residents remember more about the end of Dan’s life than his accomplishments, the freedoms enjoyed by the majority African-American citizens of Wilcox County can be credited in great part to Dan, Juanita and other civil rights leaders who risked and ultimately sacrificed their lives for the right to be free and equal citizens, rights denied to them more than one hundred years after the 13th,14th and 15th amendments granted those rights. May Dan and Juanita Harrell rest in blessed memory.

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  3. Leonard Hal says:

    The man in the photo “Daniel Harrell” is my brother.

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