The civil rights movement was a unifying force for all persons in the 1960's. My personal involvement in the civil rights movement has been a defining force in my life.
Even though we, as volunteers, were an important factor in making our democratic system a reality for disenfranchised people, the real heroes are those who lived in the communities we were privileged to serve.
The real tribute should be to those men, women, and children whose commitment to democratic ideals became a reality.
I began active involvement with the movement in 1963 with the March on Washington. I was a participant in the SNCC Chapter at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. In addition to going to the march, we also targeted businesses in Carbondale who were discriminating on the basis of race.
In 1964, I worked for a while in the SNCC New York office. I soon went to Mississippi, going first to Canton. George Raymond was the no nonsense director of the Canton Project. He made it very clear that we were in a war armed only with nonviolent tactics and our Constitution.
I was sent to the Valley View Project in rural Madison County. We operated freedom schools and voter registration projects. But the most important and most successful project involved the farmers of Madison County. 60% of the farmland was owned by black farmers, but they had no say in crop allotments or other farming policies through federal programs. When I left the Valley View Project in December of 1964, black farmers had a majority on the governing board.
In the Spring of 1965, the Selma-Montgomery march was having trouble getting over the bridge from Selma to Montgomery. After national attention was focused on Selma, thousands of citizens descended upon Selma and made preparations for the march. The march was carried off, although Viola Liuzo of the Womens Garmet Workers lost her life.
The atmosphere in Selma was far different from my experiences in Mississippi. The Selma police knew they were outnumbered. Chuck Neblett and I crawled up to several police cruisers and placed bumper stickers on them proclaiming support for the civil rights movement. If they saw us, they never said anything.