Shown L To R: Rev. Wendell Paris, Rev. Tommy Wilson, Min. Maggie Jolly, Elder Spiver Gordon, Rev. James Carter, City Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson, Min. Amy Wiggins, Lorenzo French and sitting in the center, Robert Hines.
Robert and Ethel Hines surrounded by their family members.
Rev. Wendell Paris received the Lucius Black Freedom Day Award
presented by Spiver Gordon
The 48th anniversary of Greene County Freedom Day (July 29, 1969) was celebrated at the William M. Branch Courthouse in Eutaw, Saturday, July 29, 2017. In the historic 1969 election, a special election held when Alabama deliberately omitted from its 1968 state ballot the candidates running under the National Democrat Party of Alabama (NDPA) , Robert Hines and Rev. James Posey were elected to the Greene County Board of Education, to join Rev. Peter Kirksey, who was already on the Board, giving Black people a majority on the board. Also in that election Franchie Burton, Harry Means, Vassie Knott, Levi Morrow, Sr. were elected to the Greene County Commission.
In the 1970 elections, Rev. William M. Branch was elected the as the first Black Probate Judge in Alabama; Thomas Gilmore was elected the first Black sheriff in Greene County and the second Black Sheriff in Alabama.
The day long celebration which included a program honoring the Honorable Robert Hines, former county commissioner, school board member, community leader, church leader and lifelong farmer. Mr. Hines is also the last surviving elected official of the initial group of Black elected officials in 1969. Hines received the Martin Luther King, Jr Freedom Award.
The Alabama Civil Rights Museum, headed by Spiver W. Gordon, sponsored the program commemorating the special election in 1969, which led to Black control of the School Board, Greene County Commission, Probate Judge and Sheriff’s office.
Greene County was one of the first counties in Alabama and the nation to realize the full benefits of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Black candidates joined the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), headed by Dr. John Cashin of Huntsville, and sued in Federal court for a new election when Blacks were left off the ballot in 1968. The Supreme Court of the United States ordered a special election for July 29, 1969 with the names of the Black candidates restored to the ballot, under the Eagle symbol of the NDPA. The white candidates ran under the Democratic Party with a rooster as their symbol and ‘Segregation for the Right!’ as their slogan.
Spiver Gordon and the Alabama Civil Rights Museum recognized grassroots community leaders who were involved in the struggle, including those who ran for office, were precinct leaders, were student marchers, were evicted from their homes on white folks property when they registered or organized politically, raised funds to support the work and those who baked a cake or cooked a dinner to help feed civil rights workers. Gordon said he hoped that the Museum would have photos and a written story on each person who played a part – big or small – in the Greene County voting and civil rights movement.
Gordon welcomed the congregation and stated the importance of knowing our history or being doomed to repeat it. He gave several examples of the struggles of those earlier times and how we have come a long way but still have so far to go. Gordon related the recent story of a man getting shot and killed because his dog pooped on another man’s lawn. “It should be a law where we are required to help each other,” Gordon said.
Many speakers at the event lamented the fact that young people in Greene County do not know about the struggles for voting rights and democracy in this county. Several speakers said our youth should be here to learn “Greene County’s History” and how Greene County spearheaded the movement in other counties as well as the nation.
Sis. Geraldine Walton, a retired educator, delivered the occasion emphasizing Freedom Day is the day a movement started. Hattie Smith and Muggie King spoke on the struggles and threats that Black people had to endure during this period to win rights for everyone. Min. Donell Branch, the son of the late Rev. William M. Branch, stated, “You have to stand for something or you will fall for any thing. I remember those times my father bought land because 60 – 64 people were thrown off their property for registering to vote.”
Former Tax collector, Edmond Bell of Sumter County, introduced the guest speaker, Rev. Wendell Paris, a founding member of the Tuskegee Advancement League (TIAL), a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He helped to register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi.
Rev. Wendell Paris of Jackson, MS is one of the early foot soldiers of the Voting and Civil Rights Movement. Paris brought greeting on behalf of Panola Land Buyers Association of Gainesville, and the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Right Movement.
Paris stated that Greene County represented all the people, for the people, by the people. Paris said that 48 years ago we were not considered people; we were considered as property and because of federal funds and grants, in order to received those fundings, we were counted as 3/5 human. “When Barack Obama was elected as president, I went up 4/5 human, but I want to be 5/5 of a human to be considered equal and treated fairly,” he said.
Paris remarked that earlier this year many people proudly said that they voted for Donald Trump, but today he can’t find anyone who will say they voted for Donald Trump. “Trump does not care about poor white folk or middle class white folk, even millionaires are not rich enough for Trump. He is concerned only for the billionaire.
“Look at who Trump has put in office, Jeff Session who prosecuted Albert Turner his wife Evelyn Turner and Spencer Hogue, Jr. The year was 1985 and Sessions, then a US Attorney, prosecuted an infamous voter fraud case that captured the nation’s attention, and had civil rights leaders rallying behind the accused. Known as the “Marion Three,” Turner, her husband Albert, and Spencer Hogue Jr. faced dozens of charges that their attorneys said were racially motivated. Session’s office disputed that, then and now,” remarked Paris.
Paris received the Lucius Black Freedom Award. The day-long festivities will continued on the old courthouse square in Eutaw with praise, music, fellowship, fun and food.