Lonnie Brown, Wilcox County Voting Rights Hero

In the early 1960’s farmers and residents of Gees Bend and surrounding areas intensified their efforts to get African Americans registered to vote in Wilcox County. Although 78% of population, no one had been allowed to register or to vote.  In April 1963, twenty men from the Gees Bend region marched on the Wilcox County Courthouse.  Their primary objective was to be able to vote on the commissioners to the powerful county agricultural committee which allotted federal agricultural subsidies and loans previously denied to Black farmers. Rev Lonnie Brown and farmer Monroe Pettway led this historic march after visits from Martin Luther King Jr and participating in organizing training from SCLC staffer Bernard LaFayette. LaFayette accompanied the men to the courthouse and shared the risk of arrest with the entire group. Although the men were denied access to registration, they were not arrested and returned peacefully proud of their accomplishment in reaching the courthouse, the first documented organized voter registration effort in Wilcox County.

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Lonnie Brown, Gees Bend organizer and leader. Ran for AL State Senate District 19 in 1966. Photo courtesy Bob Fitch Photo Archives Stanford University Libraries

Rev Lonnie Brown was a pastor at Pleasant View Baptist Church who worked as an insurance agent who visited his customers and potential customers on the tenant farms and plantations where they lived and worked. When he began recruiting potential voters along with insurance customers, white Wilcox County landowners organized and filed a trespassing complaint. Two of of the 28 white landowners who signed the complaint were George Findley and James Strother. At a recent presentation in Selma, AL a white gentleman told me that he was proud that his father refused to sign the 1963 complaint.

On behalf of Rev. Brown and local leaders, the U.S. Attorney General’s office brought an action against the landowners (US v Bruce: 353 F .2d 474;1965 US App. LEXIS 3942) and eventually dismissed the complaint, which allowed Brown and others who had prior permission, to once again organize on property where he had been permitted to sell insurance. In 1965, the Federal Court of Appeals found that the federal government made a “strong case” and that the property owners did in fact “intimidate and coerce” the black citizens of Wilcox County for “ the purpose of interfering with their right to vote.”

During the two years this case took place, Rev Brown was forced to sell insurance in adjacent counties, included Dallas County, as he was barred from entering the properties of his clients. His family continues to be active in Wilcox County politics.

Source: U.S. Court of Appeals, (1965), U.S. v Bruce, 353 F2d 474.

This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

50th Anniversary of Voting Rights Struggle to be Celebrated in Atlanta Oct 1-4

All are welcome to register for the entire conference or at the daily rate at www.sclcscope50th.orgSCOPE button Daily rate includes Friday night banquet and Saturday evening reception at the King Memorial Site.

You want to be in that number for this upbeat, feel-good, reflective gathering. Register today! 100 grassroots voting rights Freedom Fighters – aged 69-90, their families, and local leaders are already registered. If you can’t attend, please click on the donate button at the registration site to help support others. Thank you!

Southern Christian Leadership (SCLC) Summer Conference on Community Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE)
50th Anniversary Reunion
Marriott Century Center
2000 Century Boulevard NE
Atlanta, GA 30345
October 1-4, 2015

Learn more about SCOPE SCLC History: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/scopdocs.htm 

Read personal accounts from the Voting Rights Summer of 1965: www.thisbrightlightofours.com 

SCLC SCOPE 50th Anniversary Reunion Program    http://wp.me/pO2S8-o9

Thursday, October 1, 2015

4:00-6:00 p.m. Registration
Ballroom foyer

6:00-8:00 p.m. Opening Reception
Ballroom – separate registration for Reception Only online $35 http://www.eventbrite.com/e/50th-anniversary-reunion-sclc-scope-tickets-16069341834. For full conference registrants, all events are included.

Welcome: John Reynolds, Reunion Planning Committee Chair
Bernard Lafayette, SCLC Board Chairman

Refreshments and No-Host Bar
Reconnecting with old friends
Singing of freedom songs
Ending the evening with a friendship circle

Friday, October 2, 2015

9:00-9:30 a.m. Registration
Ballroom foyer

Continental breakfast
Ballroom

9:30-10:30 a.m. Introduction of Committee and Veterans Roll Call

10:30-11:00 a.m. Keynote Address: “Status of Voting Rights Then and Now” Bernard Lafayette and John Reynolds

11:00-12:30 p.m. Workshops: Sharing our Stories
Ballroom

Groups of 5-8 will meet to share their stories, experiences,
and how their Freedom Movement work affected their lives.
Each group will be audio taped for future history.

12:30-2:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own” (The hotel restaurant will have a buffet in addition to its regular menu.) There will be an opportunity for an optional peer-led roundtable discussion for those interested.

Maria Gitin will lead a roundtable “Writing Your Civil Rights Memoir” with civil rights veteran, author and editor Constance Curry

2:00-4:00 p.m. Workshops
Ballroom and Breakout Rooms

Groups of 5-8 will meet to discuss/assess the following topics from the perspective of 50 years. Each group will be audio taped for future history.

• Looking Back, Looking Forward: Evaluating our Work in the Movement – Facilitated discussion with Bruce Hartford

• Women in the Movement – Facilitated by Lula Joe Williams.
With Panel: Barbara Williams Emerson, Gwen Green

• How SCOPE Helped Change the Political Landscape in the South – Facilitated by Willie Bolden.

• Nonviolence: How Can It Be Used Today?
Panel: Bernard Lafayette and Diane Nash

4:00-6:00 p.m. Exhibits, Book Signing and Free Time

7:00-10:00 p.m. Hosea L. Williams Tribute Banquet
Ballroom

Tribute video
Dinner (with cash bar)
Remembrances of Hosea Williams by Gwen Green and JT Johnson
Music by members of The Freedom Singers
Close with friendship circle

Saturday October 3, 2015

9:00-9:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast
Ballroom

9:30-11:00 a.m. SCLC Leadership Panel – Moderated by John Reynolds
Panel: Willie Bolden, Lula Joe Williams and others

11:00-12:00 p.m. SCOPE Legacy Panel
Maria Gitin, Bruce Hartford, J. T. Johnson, Jo Freeman

12:00-2:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own”
Exhibits and Book Signing

1:00-2:00 p.m. “Martin Luther King and the Spirit of the 60’s”
Multi-media presentation by Lanny Kaufer (Location TBD)

2:00-3:30 p.m. Workshops: Challenges and Successes in SCLC and SCOPE
Ballroom and Breakout Rooms

Groups will discuss the grassroots challenges and successes in SCLC-SCOPE projects and campaigns. Each group will be audio taped for future history.

3:30-4:00 p.m. Groups to reconvene and report to the larger body
Ballroom

4:00-5:00 p.m. Remembrance of those who have passed
A Wall of Remembrance will be displayed throughout the Reunion.

Close with friendship circle

6:00-7:30 p.m. Reception at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National
Historical Site, Atlanta

Sunday October 4

9:00 a.m. Breakfast “on your own”

9:45-11:15 a.m. Mass Meeting and Non-denominational service
Ballroom led Rev. John Reynolds and local clergy

12:00 p.m. Lunch “on your own”

1:00-4:00 p.m. Tour of significant Civil Rights Movement sites

Those registered will be picked up at the hotel and returned
at the completion of the tour. The cost will be approximately
$40 per person.

At the conclusion of the program on Sunday, several participants will return to the counties where they worked during the SCOPE project fifty years ago. Groups are going to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.