Sharon Burger (Townsend)


As remembered by Judith Rollins
July 5, 2020

Sharon Burger (Townsend) volunteered for CORE's Louisiana Summer Project of 1964. She travelled from Indiana to the small town of Plaquemine, Louisiana (near Baton Rouge) for three weeks of training in nonviolent direct action and teaching voter registration. While the main goal of the Summer Project was voter registration, other efforts — especially after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of '64, the integration of public facilities — were often undertaken.

After the training in Plaquemine, Sharon was assigned — along with New Yorker, Cathy Cortez — to the town of New Roads in Point Coupee Parish. While daily canvassing for voter registration was the foundation of her activities, she also experienced being chased in her car down country roads, being shot at by locals, and spending three days in the parish jail.

In September, Sharon was assigned to work with Field Secretary, Oretha Castle, to open a CORE office in the northern Louisiana city of Monroe. By then, the '64 Civil Rights Act had been passed and Louisiana CORE had broadened its activities. Occasionally, she also assisted nearby projects, most notably, those in Jonesboro and Alexandria. (Jonesboro became one of the most violent projects in LA; there was shooting into the CORE house by the Klan, a cross burning on its front lawn etc. In response, local men formed the Deacons for Defense and Justice to protect CORE workers and other activists.)

Because of her office skills, in March, CORE's state director, Ronnie Moore, assigned Sharon to assist in the setting up of a new state office of CORE in Baton Rouge. (The former state office in New Orleans had become the Southern Regional Office of CORE, directed by Richard Haley.) The new office's main task was to prepare for and coordinate all projects planned for the summer of '65. Additional volunteers were expected; WATS lines were installed; and car radios were donated by New Yorker, Bob Wechsler. Sharon handled the state finances with thoroughness and care throughout the spring and summer, until most Louisiana CORE projects ended in the early Fall of 1965. At that point, like most Northern workers, Sharon returned to the North.

Note: Fred Powledge interviewed Sharon for the chapter, "The Education of Sharon Burger," in his 1991 book, Free at Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It.

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