Happy 4th of July: 1965

Joyce Brians (Maria Gitin), civil rights worker 1965.

Joyce Brians (Maria Gitin), civil rights worker 1965.

This is one my letters home that I only excerpted from in my book. What was like for my family to be reading this around the dinner table, thousands of miles away? Today, I imagine the heartache, fear and pride that parents share as youth in Charleston and around the South continue to combat a new wave of murder and church burnings.

July 1, 1965

Dear Family,

Hi! Things have been really hot around here – in more ways than one. The nite (sic) after I got out of jail – the same night I phoned you – two of our local boys were beaten in the church. The church was sacked, doors broken down, gunshots in the walls. One boy who was beaten with a lead pipe is in precariously dangerous shape in the Selma hospital. We could only find a white doctor for him & he isn’t getting the best of care. The other boy was clubbed but is recovering nicely. The local crackers did the job – some of them are Sheriff Jenkins possemen during the day.

It is now July 2-

While I was in jail the white boy in the cell next to me was beaten by his white Southern roommate. I could hear him screaming & moaning. The guards gave Crow – his cellmate – cigarettes for beating him. It made me so sick I couldn’t eat anything so I gave my food – what little there was – to an insane man who was in the cell next to me. The trustees (Negroes who are guards) gave us a bad time.

It is now July 3 – every time I sit down to write to you someone calls a staff meeting or the phone rings. Anyway – jail was hideous but I ‘ll write you the gory details some other time. The nite I was released was the nite the two boys were beaten in our church. I phoned the hospital, newspapers, etc. I’ve developed a close relationship with one of the men (white) on staff. I can’ t say anymore about it because that is the kind of ammunition police could use if either of us gets jailed again. We stayed up all nite by the phone for further news. It was a miserable nite. At 5 AM another boy phoned from the church – he had been beaten, too.

The story was that 8 white men in stocking masks broke down both doors of the church, shot a hole in the wall & beat 3 boys with a lead pipe. I went to the church the next day and it was a mess.

(Again I must go – hope I finish this soon)

It is now July 5th – I had to move out of Camden Academy cuz I didn’t get a letter to (Principal) Hobbs in time. Besides, it’s too dangerous to be in Camden now.

Yesterday you never would have known we were having a Movement. We went to the Playground & swam & roasted hotddogs & danced & sang. It was a great day & no arrests were made for a change.

I am staying with a wonderful woman in Coy (one of Ethel Brooks’ neighbors or a relative) near Camden. I don’t know when I’ll get to write to you again.

I love you. Thanks for your letters – they mean so much. I got the dresses – the shift is really nice.

We’ll be canvassing voters all over the county for the next two weeks so its on the road for me. We’ll just stay at folks houses when evening falls.

Love, Joyce

PS

It’s 6:30 AM July 6th – and we are ready to go out in the field to canvass for voters. There are more little incidents all the time. One of the strongest local leaders [ Don Green ] a junior in high school, had some moonshine planted in his car. When he drove out of the Sawmill Quarter, the police were waiting for him. They took him to jail, put him in the bull pen – a cell with no windows or ventilation, harassed him, left him overnight & released him. He’s been beaten dozens of times, yet he’s a wonderful person [meaning, he wasn’t bitter or angry]. Well, our ride is here.

Much love, Joyce   – for more about this summer and the Wilcox County Voting Rights struggle in 1965, read “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” by Maria Gitin (formerly Joyce Brians). http://www.thisbrightlightofours.com

Antioch Baptist Church Attacked and Shot Up July 1965

Local youth examine one of the shotgun blasts from attack on Antioch Baptist Church while local civil rights activists slept inside.

Local youth examine one of the shotgun blasts the morning after an attack on civil rights activists who had been sleeping inside the SCLC-SCOPE office. Antioch Baptist Church, Camden AL July 1965. J. Worcester photo.

While much more about this story, in the words of survivors and witnesses, is in my book, “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight” www.thisbrightlightofours.com, today I am posting this photo to ask your help in identifying the two youth standing in the doorway the next morning. We were all in shock at the brutal attack on our Baptist Church sanctuary and office that left one of our SClC co-workers in the hospital for months. Can anyone reading this help ID the two young people standing in the doorway looking at the shotgun blast? Photo by John Worcester who worked with SCLC SCOPE in 1965. Please post replies here in comment box. They will not be posted unless you give consent. Thank you!

Additional information about this event:https://thislittlelight1965.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/boys-attacked-in-church-june-29-1965/

George Ow Jr to Introduce Maria Gitin at Bookshop Santa Cruz

Community Leader and diversity champion George Ow Jr. will introduce Maria Gitin’s reading and book signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz
Monday August 11th 7:30 PM
Free and open to All

Read More about the Book: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/news/ci_26286254/local-writer-maria-gitin-looks-back-at-civil

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Daniel Dodge Sr, Maria Gitin, Felipe Hernandez, Mavel Arujo and George Ow Jr NAACP Banquet 2014

Bookshop SC event flyer

More Praise for “This Bright Light of Ours”

 

“THIS BRIGHT LIGHT OF OURS is a thoughtful, concise, multi-level, artful and thoroughly researched narrative of Maria Gitin’s summer as an Anglo volunteer voter registration worker in Camden, AL.  With candid, almost innocent precision, she exposes her multi-adventure summer experience which includes: lives of her co-workers and an intimate, historic and present exposé of African Americans in a rural back-water town challenging brutal and cleverly subtle oppression. This book is captivating because it presents so many documented stories about courageous ‘ordinary’ people. “  – Bob Fitch, photojournalist, My Eyes Have Seen [correct title, Glide Publishing, 1972]  May 2, 2014

I just finished reading the book and I loved it. At numerous points it had me in tears. And I very deeply appreciate your focus on the numerous and varied foot soldiers. Those are the stories most easily forgotten and too seldom told. – Gordon Gibson, Unitarian pastor, civil rights activist, Knoxville, TN – April 14, 2014

I’ve just bought your book and started to read it. It is absolutely compelling. I couldn’t put it down! I admire you greatly for your achievement and perseverance in realizing your vision.The book is clearly organized and written. Surely it will serve as a testimony of that vital time for generations to come.– Mary Swope, retired fine arts teacher, SCOPE volunteer. San Francisco, CA April 16, 2014

Maria Gitin tells her own story on her own terms, giving readers an honest rendering of one woman’s experience on the front lines of struggle against a deeply entrenched system of racial oppression.  Her book is a worthy companion piece to Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi and Ned Cobb’s superb Alabama narrative All God’s Dangers. 

Clarence Mohr, Chairman, History Department, University of South Alabama,
Mobile, AL – April 8, 2014

More about the book: www.thisbrightlightofours.com

lorez Final book coverJkt_Gitin_final

 

Reconsidering President Johnson on Memorial Day

When we arrived in Wilcox County, Alabama in June 1965 to join a team of local leaders, SCLC and SNCC workers in a massive voter registration drive, I had a very low opinion of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Our SCOPE project, planned by Hosea Williams of SCLC, had counted on the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect us and the community while we walked together to the courthouse to register the 79% disenfranchised voters of the county. All over the South, similar teams of civil rights workers and local leaders were facing the same challenge. My opinion was that President Johnson and Congress were dragging their feet, athough my new boyfriend Bob told me that he saw Johnson on television pushing for the proposed Act in May.  He and Major Johns, one of our project directors, watched the speech together at Rev & Mrs Frank Smith’s home in Lower Peachtree. Bob told me, “I can’t believe that cracker actually said We shall overcome!” So I had to reconsider. Neither of us were aware that Johnson had been pushing for civil rights legislation for two years before we noticed him. This article from the Sunday NY Times is well worth reading in its entirety. [See link below]

L.B.J.’s Gettysburg Address

Excerpted from an article By DAVID M. SHRIBMAN

New York Times – Analysis News

MAY 24, 2013

Fifty years ago, on Memorial Day in 1963, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech in Gettysburg, Pa., that foreshadowed profound changes that would be achieved in only 13 months and that mark us still.

“One hundred years ago, the slave was freed,” Johnson said at the cemetery in a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. “One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.”

With those two sentences, Johnson accomplished two things. He answered King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And he signaled where the later Johnson administration might lead, which was to the legislation now known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Six months later, after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson became president and vowed to press ahead on civil rights, saying that was what the presidency was for — even though he was a Southern Democrat and many of his Congressional allies were devout segregationists.

Johnson’s speech directly addressed King: “The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’ It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock.”…The speech was given on Memorial Day, May 30, 1963, not on the anniversary of a battle now regarded as a turning point in the Civil War. Johnson’s visit to Gettysburg was a helicopter trip that took but 2 hours and 34 minutes, start to finish, but it was indicative of the bigger journey he would take as president.

Pres Johnson Memorial Day 1963

Pres Johnson Memorial Day 1963

The speech was given on Memorial Day, May 30, 1963, not on the anniversary of a battle now regarded as a turning point in the Civil War. Johnson’s visit to Gettysburg was a helicopter trip that took but 2 hours and 34 minutes, start to finish, but it was indicative of the bigger journey he would take as president.

For full text and audio recording: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/sunday-review/at-gettysburg-johnson-marked-memorial-day-and-the-future.html?hpw

Photo copyright Batteson/Corbis

Antioch Baptist Church, Camden AL – 143 Years Strong

From our first sleepless night on the floor of Antioch Baptist Church in June 1965, we voter registration field workers considered the church our home. Even after men with guns shot up the church, even after they attacked local youth co-workers who were guarding the building, even after David Colston was murdered in the parking lot in 1966 – Antioch Baptist felt like the one safe place in Camden for civil rights workers. Whatever religion we had (or didn’t have) before The Movement, once we were in Alabama, we all became Baptists. Freedom songs, hymns, prayers and petitions filled the air. Local leaders and brave pastors like Rev. SJ Freeman welcomed mass meetings, and even hosted Martin Luther King Jr, defending the right to assemble against the powers that tried to abolish this freedom of speech. Most importantly, the community persevered and preserved what is now one of the oldest active congregations in Wilcox County.

Antioch Baptist Church during renovation

Antioch Baptist Church during renovation

Antioch Baptist Church after renovation - John Matthews was one of several community leaders who worked on restoration and historic designation.
Antioch Baptist Church after renovation – John Matthews was one of several community leaders who worked on restoration and historic designation.