Above: First Baptist Church on Greensboro St. Eutaw, where students of the Greene County Movement met and mass meetings were held.
Below: Cemetery and park on Greensboro St. where student
Official Markers designating First Baptist Church and Clarence Thomas Cemetery as significant cites of the Greene County Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights Movement in Greene County often brings up names such as Rev. William M. Branch, Rev. Thomas Gilmore, Ed Carter, Peter Kirksey and Florence Kirksey, John Chambers, Rev. W.D. Lewis, Annie Brown, Sarah Duncan, Hurtlean Pippins, Fannie Lou Due and many others who came to play key roles in the local movement, but we tend to forget the youth, our African American youth, who were first to step out of a comfort zone and declare We aint gonna take it no more.
In reviewing the accounts of some of the Greene County youth of the movement, collected earlier by the Democrat, all acclaim that the movement was launched principally by young folk walking out of then Carver High School.
This took place early in 1965, perhaps in January, but certainly before the Jimmie Lee Jackson murder in Marion, AL on February 18, 1965 and before the Selma to Montgomery March which followed. Other SCLC organizers, Albert Turner of Marion, AL and Hosea Williams of Atlanta, made frequent trips to Greene County assisting the demonstrators.
On the night Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered, Greene County had planned a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, Eutaw, Albert Turner arrived to inform them that Rev. Orange had been arrested and jailed in Marion and a mass meeting was planned in Marian that evening.
The students continued to meet in the cemetery each morning, preparing for the events of the day, which included marches and pickets in Eutaw, bearing signs denouncing all forms of segregation. The students also boycotted the local stores, owned by whites who treated Black folks terribly. Their initial grievances included mistreatment in the stores, and lack of quality books and other school materials. The Black schools had to used the discarded books of the white students.
Students from Eatman Jr. High (Lewiston) and Greene County Training School (Boligee) joined the Carver students each day swelling their numbers and giving strength to their cause. Some parents allowed their children to gather in the cemetery but would not permit them to march, fearful for their safety. Many parents and other adults provided food for the students, since they were not at school for lunch. “After several days of us spending the day at the graveyard, some of the ladies in town realized that we didn’t have food. These ladies started coming out and bringing us bologna sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches and orange drinks,” Luther Winn, II, stated in his account.
Eventually First Baptist Church allowed the students to gather in their sanctuary and the community to hold mass meetings. Soon afterward, Little Zion Baptist Church (Boligee) and Ebenezer Baptist Church (Forkland) open their doors for mass meeting and organizing efforts of the movement.
Apparently, the schools would continue to open each day, the school buses operated, teachers would arrive, often not entering the school, some students would arrive as well, but the most significant and relevant learning of the time was the commencing and conducting of the Civil Rights Movement by young Black students in Greene County.
Winn also noted in his account of the early movement, that the young folk did not have a leader, so they “…gathered at First Baptist Church one afternoon and elected Thomas Gilmore to be the liaison from the young people and the adult leadership.”
All the student accounts noted that the white community generally did not like the rise of this movement. This was contrary to their order of how Blacks should conduct themselves. The students recounted that as they marched from the cemetery into town, whites lined the streets armed with large sticks, boards, irons, and perhaps guns as well. Later in the movement, there were physical encounters between local whites and Black marchers.
This account will continue next week with more of the students first hand accounts of the Greene County Civil Rights Movement, including the following: William “Nick” Underwood, Jacqueline Allen, Alice E. Smith, Geraldine Chambers Sands, Mary Dean Williams Mack, Mary Julia Winn Farmer Howard, Louvella Murray, Council Morrow and Geraldine Walton Jemison.