Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert,
On the weekend of July 27 and 28, the Alabama Civil Rights Movement Museum sponsored a series of events to commemorate ‘Greene County Freedom Day’ on July 29, 1969.
This is the date of a special election ordered by the U. S. Supreme Court in which four Black county commissioners and two Black school board members were elected countywide in Greene County.
With this election, Greene County became the first county in America where Black people took political control of a county government since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Over the years, many other counties in the Black Belt of Alabama and other southern states also elected Black officials and some took control of their local governments. As Rev. Wendell Paris, guest speaker at the Sunday mass meeting said,
“What the people of Greene County did fifty years ago was what democracy is all about – openly and fairly voting – to choose your own political leaders.”
Spiver W. Gordon, President of the Movement Museum said, ”We want this celebration to honor the footsoldiers, the ordinary grassroots people of Greene County who summoned the courage and did the organizing work, precinct by precinct,to elect their own folks to political offices that made decisions for the entire county.”
On Saturday, the Museum unveiled two monuments to young people who boycotted the schools in 1965 and started the movement and for two African-American sisters – Annie Thomas and Rosie Carpenter – who allowed their home to be used as a resting and meeting place for civil rights workers.
At the Saturday banquet and the Sunday mass meeting the work of footsoldiers was highlighted and many received certificates of appreciation for fifty years of work and involvement in the civil rights struggle.
At the banquet on Saturday at the Eutaw Activity Center, Veronica Morton Jones, Circuit Clerk, gave the welcome and said, “ I brought my children to the program at the monument unveiling this morning and we learned so much history of our home county that we did not know about.”
Bill Edwards, who worked with Dr. John Cashin and the National Democratic Party of Alabama at the time of the 1969 Special Election, pointed out, “Judge Herndon deliberately left the names of the NDPA Black candidates off the November 1968 General Election ballot. Dr. Cashin had to carry Greene County officials to court for this injustice against democracy. The case went to the Supreme Court on appeal and the highest court in the land ordered a new special election on July 29, 1969. This is what we are here to celebrate tonight.”
Circuit Judge John H. England, who served as legal counsel for the new commission gave greetings and told of his experiences in working with Greene County. “ I learned from Greene County and pursued a career as a Tuscaloosa City Councilman, Circuit Judge, Alabama Supreme Court Justice and a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama,” said England.
Lanz Alexander an SCLC Board member from Los Angeles, and Johnnie Knott, former Circuit Clerk of the county, also brought greetings. Judge Dexter Wimbush of Griffin, Georgia gave a keynote stressing the themes of jobs, justice and Jesus.
Renetta Gail Brown, daughter of Dr. Robert Brown, the first Black School Superintendent of Greene County spoke about her experiences integrating the schools. “Greene County deserves to have a movie made about our contributions to the civil rights movement, just like Selma, we should have a movie,” she said.
Sunday’s Mass Meeting was held at the William McKinley Branch Courthouse, name in honor of our first Black Probate Judge. Current Probate Judge, Rolanda Wedgeworth, gave the welcome.
Sarah Duncan, a footsoldier made remarks saying, “ It has been a long hard journey to freedom; don’t stop now; keep on going, we made Greene County a better place for all people.” Jaqueline B. Allen, Rev. John Kennard and Commissioner Lester “Bop” Brown also gave greetings.
Former State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma, said, ”I commend Brother Spiver Gordon for working to preserve the history of Greene County. If we do not study and recognize our history, we will not know where we were, where we are or where we are going. If we don’t stand on our history, our history will stand on us.”
Chief Warhorse Gillum of Slidell, Louisiana brought greetings on behalf of the Black Indians. She said, “You need to look around you to see the contributions of the Black Indians in the mounds at Moundville and the name of Tuscaloosa, the Black Warrior chieftain.”
Dr. Carol P. Zippert introduced Wendell H. Paris the guest speaker. As part of her introduction she said, “The Greene County Board of Education has passed a policy that Black history and Greene County history be incorporated across the curriculum in every subject. But, we are having problems getting our teachers to understand and incorporate this history into their lesson plans. We must teach our history in our homes, churches and communities.”
Rev. Wendell H. Paris, Director of Member’s Care for the New Hope Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi gave the message. He highlighted three points, first, that the providential hand of God was involved in changing Greene County, second, that God helped people to see and participate in his political will, and third Greene County was one of the pockets of power, than Dr. King pointed out and God worked his will in changing. Greene County helped set an example for many other counties in the Black Belt.”
Persons interested in supporting the continuing work of the Alabama Civil Rights Movement Museum, may contact: Spiver W. Gordon, P. O. Box 385, Eutaw, Alabama 35462, phone 205-372-3446; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert,