My Heart is Filled With Gratitude

Many generous folks contributed over the past seven years to This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, a memoir and collection of true stories from the last large integrated voter registration drive during the Freedom Summer of 1965.

Fifty-five courageous individuals entrusted me with their stories of living in a violent, racist community while fighting for their voting rights in Wilcox County, Alabama. My beloved SNCC friends, Charles “Chuck” Bonner and Luke “Bob” Block (https://thislittlelight1965.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/img327.jpg) kept me honest as I recreated our teenage civil rights work and play. Wilcox County community leaders opened doors, answered endless questions and become dear friends including: W. Kate Charley, Sheryl Threadgill, Alma King, and John Matthews. Civil Rights photographer Bob Fitch (http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/) shared historic images that enrich the work immensely.

For generous encouragement, and expert counsel over the years, huge appreciation goes to brilliant author-scholar, Lewis V. Baldwin. (www.amazon.com) For consistent and accurate fact checking, terminology, and political theory, my hero is Bruce Hartford, lay historian and web manager for the national Civil Rights Veterans website (www.crmvet.org). Scott E. Kirkland, researcher and curator of the Museum of History in Mobile, AL, played a vital role in the placement of this book, as a champion for an accurate portrayal of the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project, designed and spearheaded by civil rights hero, Hosea Williams.

Author-activist Bettina Aptheker, the late James Houston, and Benet Luchion provided early encouragement. Developmental editor Cassandra Shaylor helped shape the book for interest. Historian Martha Jane Brazy of University of South Alabama enthusiastically embraced the work during its final year, generously offering me graduate student level attention. Willy Siegal Leventhal’s unending fight for recognition of the SCOPE (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCOPE_Project) project was and is an inspiration.

Thanks to my beloved cousin, Jeanne Hanks, and my friend, Debbie Kogan, for empathetic listening during my years of obsessing about this project. Deep appreciation goes to my publicist, Joy Crawford-Washington of BGC Communications, for tireless support and warm friendship. To my yoga teacher, Amey Matthews for teaching me flexibility and strength are not opposites. And to Lauren Mari-Navarro for insights and resources. To Joan for fun & friendship.

Photo by Charley Hatfield, Aptos, CA

My husband, Samuel Torres Jr., offered me freedom to pursue the project, frequent and much-needed critiques, archival research, copyright management, proof-reading, tough talk and tender love, and took great photos. I can never thank him enough, but I am working on it!

Thank you all! Have a great Thanksgiving!  And Keep on Keepin’ On! – We have a long ways to go to achieve real racial and economic justice in the world!

The book has been retitled: This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, and will be published by University of Alabama Press in January 2014. Speaking engagements and book-signings are being scheduled now. Please contact: Joy Crawford-Washington, bgccommunications@gmail.com for more information.

Rev Dr. Benet Luchion

Rev Benet Luchion D.Sci. Prof Emeritus 1996

Benet Luchion was on SCLC staff for several years, including during my summer in the south. He once saved me from being attacked by some men who were on the lookout for unaccompanied, somewhat tipsy girls who came in late after parties at the Atlanta SCOPE Orientation. Thirty years later, we ended up living in the same county, Santa Cruz, CA. When I interviewed him for this book, he said there were many such incidents as mine, and that his job was to keep all of the field workers safe, from summer students like me to leaders like Dr. King. Now in his late 70’s, Benet currently runs an organic farm and sells produce at a Farmers Market near Camden, Mississippi.

Copyright excerpt from my interview September 7, 2009:

Maria: Tell me about what you were doing in The Movement when we met?

Benet: Before we met in Atlanta, I was working in Gadsden AL. I headed the SCLC voting rights project there. Whatever titles people had, who I really was, was leader of the Human Security Movement.

In Atlanta (SCLC) we had to know what the security situation was in every community, where every one of our people were and how secure their situation was. I knew the name of every Klan member in the South and where they lived and what their modus operandi was – did they work in groups, alone, fire-bombing, car-jacking. I stayed on top of the security situation and went to or dispatched someone to any place where we knew people were not secure. We saved Hosea Williams, Dr. King, James Foreman as well as local leaders, field workers. If I had to get in my car and drive across Alabama to do it, then I did it. Whatever it took to keep our people safe.

We had a tight telephone network and handwritten lists, the lists had to be constantly updated because folks were always on the move. I had all those lists, kept them for years until I lost them all in a house fire in Berkeley in 1980.

The Human Security Movement is about the security of the people. That’s what my whole life is about, what I did back then, what I do now. Everybody talks about freedom and revolution but until the people are in a safe place with decent food, water, freedom from constant fear of attack – the rest doesn’t matter. I was totally about security. I was like a Mac truck driving that philosophy through the Movement. Before any other strategy you need to ask, are people hungry? Injured? Do they have trauma?  I was the one who knew where everyone was all of the time.

Now I’m in the international Human Security Movement. I went to the Bejing Women’s Conference in 1994 and created a lobby on this issue to get this on the agenda of the United Nations. It took until 2000 but now there is a Human Security Commission. The basis of democracy is the security of the polis, the people. – Dr BJ Luchion D.Sci. Prof Emeritus (Ret)

© Maria Gitin 2010. Prior written permission required to quote from this manuscript.