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

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