William M. Mandel
(Bill Mandel)

Civil Rights Congress, Virginia, 1951

Execution in Virginia, 1951
A Parent Looks Beyond The Summer

I went South at the request of the Communist Party, under the aegis of the Civil Rights Congress, headed by William L. (Pat) Patterson, Black, who organized a "Pilgrimage" of 500 from the entire country, South and North, East and West, about 50/50 from labor unions and other segments of society, also about equally Black and white, to attempt to save the lives of the Martinsville Seven, young Black men sentenced to death for alleged rape of a white woman.

When the U.S. Appeals Court, sitting in Richmond, turned the men down, about two dozen of us were able to stay (financial and job considerations being the deciding factor) for the week until the executions. During that week, the Black community welcomed and interacted with us in a manner not paralleled in any subsequent event of the Sixties in the South as far as I can find from the literature and the personal letters and reports from my son, Bob Mandel, with SNCC in Mississippi in 1963-64. I describe this on pp. 222-236 of my autobiography, SAYING NO TO POWER, Creative Arts, Berkeley, 1999.

Prof. Gerald Horne, in his book, CIVIL RIGHTS CONGRESS, cites and quotes often from my reports to Patterson. Langston Hughes wrote a generous evaluation of my poem, "New Trial in Richmond," reproduced in the illustrations section of my autobiography.

As Patterson, who was known nationally in the Black community as "Mr. Civil Rights" for the twenty years starting with the Scottsboro Case in 1931, not to be overshadowed until Martin Luther King Jr. came on the scene two years after the Martinsville "Pilgrimage," I was very pleased to find "Pat", his wife Louise, and physician daughter MaryLouise, all of whom I knew, prominent in the film about actress Beah Richards (Beulah Richardson) released in 2005.


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