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.

50th anniversary of “Greene County Freedom Day – July 29, 1969” coming July 27 and 28, 2019

Greene County Candidates L to R: front row Vassie Knott, Levi Morrow back row-Hines, Means, Burton and William Branch, County Co- Chairman. ( Posey is not in the picture.)

Spiver Gordon, President of the Alabama Civil Rights Museum Movement, announced that there will be a two-day program on July 27 and 28, 2019 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the special election on July 29, 1969, which elected Black officials to the Greene County Commission and School Board.
“This is a two day celebration of 50 years of voting rights, democracy, justice and unity for all people in Greene County, Alabama. We invite everyone, Black and White, Hispanics, Asians and Native peoples from Greene County and around the state and nation to attend. This is a celebration of what is good and positive in Greene County.
“We need and challenge all community and business leaders – Black and White – to attend. This is an opportunity to honor grassroots community leaders who had the courage to believe they could change and make this community a better place to live, work and worship.

We have made a half century of progress but with full participation and unity the next fifty years will be easier and more productive for all,” said Gordon.
On Saturday, July 27, 2019 from 9:00 AM to Noon, three historic monuments will be unveiled and dedicated in Eutaw:
• the first will be at Carver School, now the Robert H. Cook Community Center, to honor students who boycotted schools in 1965 and started the civil rights and voting rights struggles and movement in Greene County.

• the second monument will be in front of the home of Anne Thomas and Rosie Carpenter, on Highway 14, where strategy sessions were held for the civil rights movement from the 1960’s into the 1990’s.

• the third monument will be placed at the Robert Brown Middle School, formerly Greene County High School to honor Black students who integrated the public schools of Greene County in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
“We hope these monuments will stand for a long time and be a beacon of light for our children and our children’s children, as they travel to and through Greene County. These monuments show the ‘peoples history of our county’ and many names of those living and deceased are on these markers,” said Lester Cotton, 2nd Vice President of the Movement Museum.
On Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 6:00 PM, at the Eutaw Activity Center, 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.

Greene County celebrates Freedom Day, 48 years

FD Award.jpg

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.

Hines and familyRobert and Ethel Hines surrounded by their family members.

paris and gordon.jpgRev. 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.