Stories from the early Greene County Movement, Part II

Mary Dean Williams-Mack – Class of 1965

As a senior at Carver High School in 1965, Mary Dean Williams was looking forward to graduation, but the chances of marching across that state seemed very slim.  The local Civil Rights Movement had gained momentum.  

Mrs. Williams-Mack recounted the following: “Life as we knew it was quickly changing and you could feel it in the air. Yet reality hovered over us like a dark cloud. We were marching through the streets of Eutaw for freedom, but we would not march across our high school stage in our caps and gowns to receive our diplomas.”
During the Greene County student movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Eutaw. He visited with the students at First Baptist church and assured them he would give them a graduation ceremony they would never forget. And he did. On May 30, 1965, the Carver High seniors traveled to Selma for their graduation exercises held at Brown Chapel AME Church. Dr. King delivered the commencement address and presented each senior with his/her diploma. A reception followed at the Elks Club across from the Selma jail.

Jacqueline Allen – Class of 1965

Ms. Allen was a senior at Carver High School in 1965. From her account: “Students from Eutaw and surrounding schools came together to participate in demonstrations in what became the Civil Rights Movement in Greene County. We shocked the conscience of the people of Eutaw as we pushed to abolish segregation here at home. We were a part of a movement and we only wanted to have an opportunity for a better life.” As a senior, Mrs. Allen was also looking forward to graduation as one of the class salutatorians. She shared the following: “ …I was one who greatly anticipated giving my speech at the graduation ceremony. But no one anticipated what happened here. My dream of giving my graduation speech and participating in all the other events that normally take place prior to graduation came to a standstill.”

Louvella Murray – Class of 1965

In her reflections of that early Movement period, Ms. Murray states that she can so vividly recall how life was for them and events of the protest. 

“ I can close my eyes and see us in Eutaw not able to sit in the Dairy Queen; sitting in the balcony of the movies, not allowed to sit in the main section; and I can see the unthinkable cruelty directed at us united in the struggle for freedom.” She recounts how her mother, Rosie Bee Edwards hummed spirituals as she prepared sandwiches and meals for the marchers.
Many of the movement organizers stayed at her mother’s house in the projects, and when the manager found out that they were staying and working out of their house, her family had to move. Ms. Murray sadly stated that her mother was never recognized for accommodating the Civil Rights workers; her name does not appear on the plaque in from of First Baptist Church.
Additional stories of youth in the local Civil Rights Movement will continue next week.

Revisiting the start of the Civil Rights Movement in Greene County

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
demonstrators met.

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.