I grew up in a segregated Baltimore, Maryland. My parents and grandparents migrated to Baltimore from South Carolina to find work in the steel mills. During high school my heroes were the students engaged in the freedom rides and civil disobedience struggles of the 1960s but my parents objected to my participating in anything that might get me arrested or derail their plans for my future education. I joined the Jackie Robinson Youth Council of the NAACP and participated in pickets protesting the discriminatory hiring practices of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company and the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone.
This however did not satisfy my burning desired to give my all for the cause. I entered Morgan State College in February 1963 as the Civic Interest Group [CIG] and Morgan students were attempting to integrate the Northwood Theatre, less than two blocks from campus. I would be thwarted once again from giving my all by warnings from school administrators and a prayerful plea from my wrestling team coach who wanted to win the CIAA championship.
During the summer break I finally got a chance to give my all, when Pastor Rev. Herman Octavious Graham held a meeting after Sunday service to recruit volunteers to go with him on a short Freedom Ride across town at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. I somehow wound up at the front of the demonstration and became the first person arrested. I sat perplexed momentarily in a paddy wagon listening to a howling mob screaming nigger this and nigger that, until a photographer snapped my picture and several others were shoved into the wagon.
My picture would appear in the newspaper the next day and would result in my being fired from my summer job which I needed for back to school funds. I found myself with enough free time to participate in numerous movement related activities, which would continue after I was back in school. When I heard about Freedom Summer, I desperately wanted to participate, but it would definitely be a financial hardship if I wanted to stay in college. Instead of going to Mississippi, I joined a local SDS Economic Research Action Project [ERAP], which would introduce me to new ways of looking at the issues of class, politics, poverty, organization and power. I would return to school that fall but I would drop out before mid semester and move to New York.
While in New York I would do volunteer work in the New York SNCC office and after the Christmas Holiday I caught a ride to Alabama with Courtland Cox and others to attend the funeral of a Tuskegee student and SNCC activist, Sammy Young. My time in New York had been one of reflection and a brief questioning of whether I wanted a life of struggle or a life sustaining job in this culturally diverse Mecca. The trip to Alabama answered the question.
Shortly after arriving in Alabama my mother somehow tracked down the Atlanta headquarter s number and left a message to get in touch. It was a notice from my draft board ordering me to report for a physical. I did report but immediately returned to Atlanta where I began work on the Atlanta Project.
The Atlanta Project was an outgrowth of Julian Bond's campaign for and expulsion from the Georgia Legislature. Its main focus was to build community organization among poor and working class black Atlanta citizens as a step toward empowering this group of citizens whose dreams and hopes had not been answered by the fights for public accommodation equality or voting rights. My experiences with the Baltimore ERAP projects led me to believe this was the next step in building real political power in a city bragging about reaching a million in population and proclaiming it was too busy to hate. I would remain with the project until I was arrested with others at an anti draft demonstration and spend fifty-eight days at the Atlanta Prison Farm. A year later I would be convicted of federal charges which were appealed.
Upon my release, I worked on various projects: including community organizing in Selma, doing college campus recruitment with Stokely Carmichael, and working in the research department until I returned to Baltimore setting up a Maryland SNCC office. My first task was to build a Black United Front. Progress was made with this effort until the aftermath of the riots stemming from Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968. Things Fall Apart, the title of Chinua Achebe's 1959 novel is how I would describe black unity in the wake of King's death as black leaders scrambled to collect the crumbs resulting from shrinking federal anti-poverty program dollars.
With fund raising for SNCC efforts defunct, I needed a paying job to provide for a child on the way. I got a job with Local 1199, New York City union of healthcare workers, which Martin Luther King called the conscience of American labor movement. 1199 was beginning an organizing drive in partnership with SCLC to continue MLK's poverty campaign. It seemed a perfect next step. In nine months we won campaigns covering 6000 healthcare workers.
Nine months after my first son was born I received a call that that the Supreme Court had denied my appeal to overturn my federal court convictions stemming from the 1966 Atlanta draft board demonstration. Fortunately the union continued my salary to support my family while I was in prison. I was elected Secretary Treasurer of the new local union 1199E. For the past forty years I have held various positions including local union president and International Vice President of the Service Employees International Union [SEIU] and continued my work for Social and Economic Justice. Today, 2009, I am attending the National Labor College [NLC] working on a degree in labor history as well as writing a history of my fifty years in the struggle to give voice to the powerless.