New Civil Rights monuments unveiled as part of 50th anniversary of ‘Freedom Day’ in Greene County

Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

Members of the Class of 1965 pose behind the new
monument at former Carver School
Spiver W. Gordon points out information on monument at the home of Annie Thomas and Rosie Carpenter

During this weekend’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Greene County’s Freedom Day – July 29, 1969 –the Alabama Civil Rights Movement Museum unveiled two new monuments in Eutaw to the grassroots leaders and footsoldiers of the movement.
This weekend’s activities celebrated a Special Election held in Greene County, fifty years ago, which elected four African-American County Commissioners – Harry Means, Vassie Knott, Franchie Burton and Levi Morrow Sr. – two school board members – Robert Hines and James Posey. The two school board members joined two elected earlier – Rev. Peter J. Kirksey and John Head, which gave Black people majority control of county government. Greene County, Alabama was the first county in the South, where Black people took political control since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The July 29, 1969 special election was ordered by the U. S. Supreme Court after the names of the Black candidates, running under the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA) were deliberately left off the November 1968 General Election ballot. In the November 1970 election, Judge William McKinley Branch was elected Probate Judge, Thomas Gilmore, Sheriff and Wadine Williams, Circuit Clerk, Robert Cook, Tax Collector.
The success in the elections of 1969 and 1970 had their roots in a student protest and boycott that began in January 1965 at Carver High School in Eutaw and lasted the rest of the semester.
At 9:00 AM on Saturday, July 27, 2019, Spiver W. Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum, convened the program to unveil a monument to the students and supporting parents and community leaders who were involved in the 1965 school boycott. The monument which is in front of the former Carver School, now a City of Eutaw Community Center, lists the names of over 120 grassroots people who took part in this boycott, which paved the way for other civil rights and voting rights victories that followed in the 1960’s.
Joyce Crawford Mitchell, a tenth grade student in 1965 said the boycott came about because of the “blatantly unbelievable inequities in the educational system at that time.
“We had hand-me-down textbooks; sometimes we had to bind the books together they were so old. We could not go to the public library in Eutaw and there weren’t many books in the school. We shut down the school, chained the doors and left the principal inside.”
Jacqueline Bloxton Allen, of the 1965 graduating class described the boycott and ensuing months of marches and protests. “First we met in the First Baptist Church but they were pressured and put us out, so we started meeting in the cemetery across the street from the church. Black students from Eatman Jr. High and Greene County Training School joined us across the county. The parents and groups from around the county sent food for us to eat – mostly bologna sandwiches. We marched into downtown Eutaw. We were fearful and excited. Many parents were evicted from farms when the power structure found out their children were involved in the boycott and protests.”
Allen continued, “We found out that we would not have a graduation because of the boycott. At this point, SCLC scheduled a graduation for us on May 30, 1965 in Selma at Brown’s Chapel Church. We went to the graduation, boys wearing overalls and girls in denim skirts and white blouses.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was our graduation speaker and we all received Freedom Diplomas, signed by Dr. King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and James Orange. Dr. King told us we would have a bright future because we had taken part in the boycott. He said we had shown that young people are powerful when they make up their minds to change the world.”
The group moved on to unveil a second monument, on Alabama Highway 14, at the home of two Black sisters – Annie Thomas and Rosie Carpenter – who were grassroots leaders of the movement and allowed their home to be used for strategy meetings and as a resting place for civil rights leaders.
Ms. Rosie Carpenter was a schoolteacher, who was instrumental in actively supporting the civil rights and voting rights struggle in Greene County, when many other educators were afraid to stand-up and speak out against injustice. Mrs. Annie Thomas was a businesswoman who supported the movement. Ms. Carpenter, who is 97 years old, living with her daughter in Maryland, attended the program and made some remarks recalling the difficulties of standing up for justice in the 1960’s.
Others spoke to the role of the two sisters in supporting the civil rights movement. Some recalled that Dr. King, James Orange, Hosea Williams and other SCLC workers stayed at their home as a place of rest during the movement. Renatta Gail Brown, daughter of Robert Brown, first Black School Superintendent, recalled that SNCC workers, Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, played with her, as a child during the 1960’s at Ms. Carpenter’s house.
As the monument was unveiled, the group recited a dedication which concluded, We dedicate this monument to stand for years as a symbol that grassroots and ordinary people can do extraordinary and exemplary things, despite insurmountable obstacles, to advance their destiny and quality of life, as part of a movement for social change in their home community, the state, the nation and the world.
Gordon postponed, until a later date, the unveiling of a third monument, to be placed at the Robert Brown Middle School to honor Black students who integrated the schools of Greene County in the late 1960’s.
The Democrat will have additional reports and photographs of the 50th anniversary commemoration in next weeks and future editions of this newspaper.

Two-day celebration planned for 50th anniversary of ‘Greene Co. Freedom Day’, July 29, 1969, when Black people were elected to take control of county government

NDPA Political Planning Session
L to R: Rev. Peter Kirskey, School Board Member, Rev. William M. Branch Probate Judge candidate, Malcom Branch, Judge Branch’s son, Greene County Commissioner Franchie Burton, Dr. John Cashin, NDPA President, Rev. Thomas Gilmore, Sheriff Candidate, County Commissioner Levi Morrow, Sr., and County Commissioner Harry Means. The group shown here is meeting in a planning session for the special election for Greene County in 1968. (The Afro-American Newspaper in Baltimore MD.)
Packed courtroom on hand for the oath taking ceremony for Greene County Commissioners and school board members listened intently as Circuit Court Judge Emmett Hildreth read a six page speech in which he lists achievements of past administrations and county bank balance. Newly elected Black officials were joined by fifth commissioner, Dennis Herndon, Probate Judge and other school board members in 1969. ( AFRO Staff Photos  By Irving H. Phillips of The Afro- American Newspaper in Baltimore MD.)

Special to the
Democrat by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

“We will be holding a two day celebration of the 50th anniversary of Greene County Freedom Day – July 29, 1969 – when a Special Election was held in the county that elected the first four Black County Commissioners and two additional Black school board members, which gave Black people control of the major agencies of government,” said Spiver W. Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement in Eutaw, Alabama.
This special election in the summer of 1969 was ordered by the United States Supreme Court when the names of Black candidates, running on the National Democratic Party of Alabama (NDPA), were deliberately left off the November 1968 General Election ballot by the ruling white political officials of the time. The special election of July 29, 1969 allowed Black voters, many newly registered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, who were the majority in Greene County to have their say in a free and democratic election.
This was a historic event, which heralded a change in political power across the Alabama Black Belt and began a generational shift in the political power in Greene County that has continued for fifty years.
“As part of our commemorative celebration on the weekend of July 27 and 28, 2019, we will be unveiling and dedicating three monuments with the names of the ordinary people who made extraordinary contributions to changing the history of Greene County, the Alabama Black Belt, the South and the nation,” said Gordon.
The three monuments will be dedicated on Saturday morning, July 27, 2019 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.
The first monument will be for the Carver High School Class of 1965 and other Greene County school students, who boycotted classes and closed the schools to demonstrate against segregated schools and unacceptable civil rights conditions in Greene County at that time. The Class of 1965 closed the schools for the remainder of the spring 1965 semester and there was no formal graduation that year. Many of the students received a “Freedom Diploma” signed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph D. Abernathy and James Orange, at Brown’s Chapel Church in Selma, Alabama later in the summer.
The monument at the former Carver High School, now the Robert H. Cook Community Center, features the names of over 120 young people that took part in the school boycott and demonstrations of 1965, which led to the voting rights and election struggles later in that decade.
The second monument will be placed in front of ‘The Freedom House’, home of the late Annie Thomas and Rosie Carpenter on Highway 14 in Eutaw. These two courageous sisters, one a businesswoman and the other a school teacher, allowed their home to be used, starting in the 1960’s and continuing into the 1990’s for strategy sessions and political action planning meetings related to the civil and voting rights struggles of Greene County.
The third monument to be placed in front of the current Robert Brown Middle School and former Greene County High School site, to honor the young African-American students who first integrated the schools of Greene County in the 1960’s. The names of 45 or more persons are on this marker.
On Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 6:00 PM there will be a banquet honoring the foot soldiers who participated in the civil rights and voting rights movement of the 1960’s in Greene County. Among the living leaders who participated in the struggle, who have agreed to attend are: Rosie Carpenter (who now lives in Bowie, Maryland), Bill Edwards (Portland, OR), Atty. Sheryl Cashin (daughter of John Cashin from Washington, D. C.) Fred Taylor, Tyrone Brooks, and Dexter Wimbush (Georgia), Wendell H. Paris (Jackson, MS), Judge John England, Hank Sanders, Sen. Bobby Singleton and many other dignitaries.
On Sunday July 28, 2019, at 4:00 PM there will be a Freedom Rally, honoring the fallen Black political leaders of Greene County, at the William M. Branch Courthouse in Eutaw.
The rally will be followed by a fish-fry and watermelon eating fellowship meeting on the grounds of the old Courthouse in Eutaw.
For more information and to support the Freedom Day 50th anniversary celebration, contact: Spiver Gordon, Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement, Inc., P. O. Box 385, Eutaw, Alabama 35462; phone 205-372-3446;
email:
spiverwgordon@
hotmail.com