This Bright Light of Ours Prepares to Launch: Save These Dates!

To stay current with Maria Gitin & friends events and appearances, and to leave comments about the book, please visit www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Upcoming Events and Appearances 

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Maria with Charles Bonner, Karina Cervantez and Javier de la Paz

Saturday February 15th – Oakland, CA, Holy Names University Social Justice Forum, Voting Rights panel with civil right attorney Charles A Bonner and Watsonville Mayor Karina Cervantez. Register for this great conference: The Dream Lives On: A Call to Action http://www.hnu.edu/SocialJustice

Thursday February 20th Aptos, CA– 6-7:30 PM West Coast Book Launch, Reading, & Signing at Temple Beth El, 3055 Porter Gulch Rd,  Free and open to the public with hosted reception.

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Honoring Martin Luther King Jr at Temple Beth El

Thursday March 6th  Camden, AL —  6-7:30 PM  Alabama Book Book Launch Celebration at the Lena Powell Convention Center 211 Claiborne Street in. Camden native son, Rev Dr LV Baldwin will come to give the invocation. Brief program with reading, historic slides and recognition of the 30+ families and individuals who contributed stories to the book. Free and open to the public with hosted reception, book sales and signing.

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Freedom Fighters: The Next Generation

Sunday March 9th Selma, AL– Participate in the Selma Jubilee bridge re-enactment ceremony. Meet under the Wilcox County Freedom Fighters banner outside Brown Chapel.  Families may make T-shirts or posters with family and civil rights hero photo on them. Please spread the word to everyone who lived or worked in the Wilcox Movement. 

Thursday, March 13th Mobile AL – 6:30 PM Museum of History, Book talk, signing and reception. 251-208-7246 or http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Rev Dr. Lewis V Baldwin, Camden Hometown hero Feted at Vanderbilt Retirement Event

Lewis V Baldwin with lifetime friend & colleague Walter J Fluker

Lewis V Baldwin with lifetime friend & colleague Walter J Fluker

Civil Rights Conference participants singing

Civil Rights Conference participants singing

Thank you all! I am filled with gratitude for the many blessings of new and renewed friendship brought about by this book project. One of the most exciting was this: November 7-9th Vanderbilt Divinity School and African American & Diaspora Studies celebrated and honored the man still recalled as “LV” Baldwin, now author of numerous acclaimed books. [search Amazon “Lewis Baldwin in Books.]  Baldwin was honored for 30 years of teaching, research, and scholarship devoted to American Religious History and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement by brilliant and well-known former students and colleagues from around the country, as well as family and friends. For a list of speakers and presenters, visit  http://www.vanderbilt.edu/aframst/Event%20News

It was a tremendous honor and privilege to be invited to speak about Lewis’s childhood community, Camden, Alabama,Wilcox County and about the long and successful Freedom Fight. Among others, I read stories shared with me by Lewis’s friends Robert Powell, Betty Anderson and Gloria Jean McDole.

Lewis Baldwin & Maria Gitin, Vanderbilt University

Lewis Baldwin & Maria Gitin, Vanderbilt University

Please vist our new website and learn more about the forthcoming book

This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight: www.thisbrightlightofours.com  and to learn about classroom and discounted advance orders, available now.

First Return to Camden 2008

Dan Harrell photo ©Bob Fitch  http://www.BobFitchPhoto.com

Dan Harrell photo ©Bob Fitch http://www.BobFitchPhoto.com

My old boyfriend Luke (Bob) Block and I returned to Camden, Alabama 43 years after my summer/his six months there as civil rights workers. Although we are both happily married to others, this first return visit could only be ours, two veterans returning to the battlefield. Walking down the overcast quiet streets, we exclaimed how great it was to feel safe, to not have to look over our shoulders, tense at the sight of a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the mirror, and not to expect to be run off the road. Coupled with deep personal relief, it felt great to see the people we had once considered “our people” living with greater ease.  These folks who let us share in their struggle had gained political power, some peace, and for some, even a bit of prosperity. It was evident that there was a long way to go for most people to enjoy real economic security, but they didn’t have to wonder every night if the Klan or Sheriff was coming for them.

One evening, we lingered over sodas and fried catfish at Miz Kitty’s Café, we tried to eavesdrop on a group of police and sheriff’s deputies gathered at another table. As they got up to leave, Luke walked over to ask about the sheriff, Prince Arnold, the first and current African American sheriff in the county. They said, “You just missed him.” Trying to track down Sheriff Prince Arnold became our private joke. Every time we asked, “Do you know where we could find Sheriff Arnold this morning?” we got the same response: “You just missed him.” Both of us were curious to meet the county’s first Black sheriff and to ask him about our old jail records and Dan Harrell’s murder, but I didn’t catch up with him until I returned with my husband, in 2010. When we finally met, in the vault of the Wilcox Progressive Era where I tracked down the article about Dan Harrell’s 1979 murder, Wilcox County Sheriff, Prince Arnold, told me that he had only gotten to know Dan near the end of Dan’s life but learned a great deal from him about working with the community. Arnold was elected sheriff in November 1978, the same election in which Dan was defeated for county commission. The paper reported that the investigation concluded that the shooting was self-defense. When I showed Sheriff Arnold the newspaper article, he made a copy but didn’t comment on the incident. He just shook his head and said, “The man was brilliant. I had total respect for him. People here don’t appreciate all that he did for us.”

Learn more about Dan Harrell and his civil rights leadership in This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight, University of Alabama Press. Pre-order now for release Feb 2014.

Welcome to Wilcox County 1965

SNCC & SCLC Cooperat at SF State to Recruit Student Civil Rights Workers

As a freshman at San Francisco State in 1965, I joined the Summer Conference on Community Organizing and Political Education (SCOPE). The project was the brainchild of Reverend Hosea Williams, one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s top aides and a chief organizer of the recent Selma to Montgomery march, as well as the 1963 March on Washington. In anticipation of the imminent passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, SCOPE’s mission was to recruit and train college students to work with local leaders to identify, educate and register as many disenfranchised Black voters as possible. After an intensive five-day orientation in Atlanta, I was assigned to rural Wilcox County, Alabama, where the judge, sheriff and mayor were outspoken about belief in segregation and racism was public policy. The Ku Klux Klan was highly active, and the white community had been silent during months of police tear-gassings, beatings, and arrests of local Black demonstrators (mostly young students from Camden Academy) before we arrived. They were fighting nonviolently for a good education, voting rights and jobs, none of which were available to Black residents. Their struggle quickly became ours as we jumped into the dangerous now nearly forgotten Freedom Summer of 1965.
Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours on my first night in Wilcox County:
It was after 4:00 a.m. when we heard truck doors slam as booted feet quickly surrounded Antioch Baptist Church where our exhausted group of newly trained civil rights recruits was trying to get some sleep. “Get down and stay down till I say,” shouted our leader Major Johns. Then there were shots—unmistakable, shotgun shots. I moved closer to Bob, a fellow civil rights field worker I had met only ten hours earlier. “They won’t kill us tonight,” he whispered as I shivered in fear. “Not likely anyway. I’ve only been cattle prodded once and never been arrested yet. Welcome to Wilcox County, that’s all.” I held my breath and prayed.
© All rights reserved by Maria Gitin (formerly Joyce Brians) 2012. This Bright Light of Ours publication announcement forthcoming.

In Wilcox County, SNCC Student civil rights workers before us included Charles Bonner, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Mants, Judy Richardson, Bernard and Colia Lafayette and Ruth Howard, among others. Our summer 1965 project worked cooperatively with Selma SNCC in Wilcox, especially with Charles Bonner and Amos Snell. SNCC workers after us included Martha Prescod Norman Noonan and Willy Squire of the SNCC Alabama Project, an all-Black voter registration community outreach project. For more information see: www.crmvet.org

John Matthews Antioch Baptist Church After Renovation 2009

For Maria’s first meeting with John Matthews in 1965 see: https://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/2010/04/05/civil-rights-worker-student-reunion-in-corn-field/

Stories from a Teenage Civil Rights Worker

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters in Mobile

Wilcox County Freedom Fighters James Anderson, Sim Pettway, Rosetta Anderson, Maria Gitin and Joy Crawford-Washington after Maria’s presentation at University of South Alabama Tuesday evening. Living history was enjoyed by students, faculty and community members. Thank you Dr. Martha Jane Brazy and Joy Crawford-Washington!

Fox News 10 Mobile & Montgomery news anchor Eric Reynolds interviewed Maria and shared part of her story March 8, 2102

http://www.fox10tv.com/dpp/news/alabama/the-interview-maria-gitin

“Great interview Maria. You were wonderful!” – Charles Bonner, SNCC

Independence Day at Bessie W. Munden Playground

Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours, a memoir and stories of the Wilcox County Alabama Voting Rights Movement 1965:

Monday 5th of July at the Playground

We all gathered at the blacks only playground for a barbecue picnic. It was a beautiful day made more so because they told us that we integrated the pool, being the first time that blacks and whites swam together. I slipped into the cloudy lukewarm unfiltered water with leaves and pine needles floating all around. Nearly fifty of us 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.  I thought we were deep in the woods; later I learned that it was only on the edge of town a little ways off of Highway 221. As with all black areas, the roads were unpaved, and there were no flush toilets or drinking fountains, just a pump for filling the pool. The Bessie M. Munden Playground was named for an early teacher who collected money from the other teachers so that the children would have someplace to play.

I loved watching the little kids leap from the edge into my arms then trying to teach them to float and paddle on their backs. The water seemed too dirty to put your face in although of course they did. We splashed and sang and yelled, feeling far away from the white people gathered at the fairgrounds to shoot off firecrackers. “Crackers with firecrackers, shootin’ off their mouths” someone quipped. We were supposed to love everybody like Dr. King said, but it was getting harder every day.

Dan Harrell and Juanita came by for a while. Juanita was so pretty! It was obvious that she and Dan were deeply in love as well as committed to The Movement. They headed our voter registration project, ran literacy classes and worked on bringing in federal funding. Dan was in charge of SCOPE in several counties and yet we saw him several times a week. He wore his slacks and white short sleeved shirt, still dressed to meet SCLC’s trademark respectability requirements, even to a picnic.

As he waved his ever present pipe in the air, Dan told us proudly, “You know this is historic, integrating this pool. Some day because of what you all are doing this summer, all the children of Camden will have nice places to play, to swim, to go to school – black and white together. You enjoy your day, we gotta go to Selma to meet with Rev. Blackwell.” That couldn’t be good news. Rev. Blackwell was Program Director for SCLC and this was a weekend. But off they drove in their yellow two-door Chevy that SCLC provided. It gave leaders a certain status with the locals if they had nice cars. It also really infuriated the whites to see blacks in good cars.

We stayed until dusk, eating watermelon, singing, talking. Some of the young men made jokes about their 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. Change was being hard fought but like the song said, there was no way it wasn’t going to come.

SCLC photographer Bob Fitch captured the beauty and pride of the children six months later. We were not allowed to take photos that summer.

www.BobFitchPhoto.com

copyright Bob Fitch, used by permission.