Albany Freedom Ride
Religion and Joining SNCC
From Memory to History: The writing of "Shiloh Witness," a chapter in Deep in Our Hearts
Joan C. Browning grew up on a small farm in rural Georgia. She went from picking two hundred pounds of cotton a day to volunteering with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She participated in the Paine College Steering Committee demonstrations in Augusta, Georgia, in April 1961, and with the Atlanta Student Movement sit ins in Atlanta in 1961-63, and was one of nine Albany Freedom Riders on the last Freedom Ride.
The first in her immediate family to attend college, she was asked to leave Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville in 1961 because she had worshipped Wesley Chapel AME Church. Thirty years later she completed her B.A. degree at West Virginia State College, a historically black institution. She worked in human relations and anti-poverty programs through the 1970s, following grants through the Southern Regional Council, National Urban League- Southern Regional Office, American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and anti-poverty agencies, especially Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA). She was an organizer of and second staff person of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
Now a freelance writer and lecturer living in the mountains of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, she follows the advice of one of her important mentors, Ms. Ella Baker, who advised stepping outside one's door and doing the good work awaiting there. She actively supports public schools, public and school libraries and youth through Little League, 4- H Clubs, and other youth programs. For thirteen years she was the development consultant to the Greenbrier Community College Foundation, was a ten year member of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' Fatality Review Committee, which advises the Court on ways to prevent spousal murder in domestic violence incidents, and was an advisor to the Governor's Race Initiative. Appointed to the West Virginia Human Rights Commission and many other ways that awaited just outside her door.
Since publication of her autobiographical chapter, "Shiloh Witness" in Curry, Browning, et. al., Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement (University of Georgia Press, 2000), she accepts every opportunity to, as Ms. Baker said in "Ella's Song,", "pass on to others that which was passed to me" by telling stories of people and events of the freedom movement, making 15-20 presentations a year for the past several decades. In 2020, for example, before grounded by the coronavirus, she spoke 21 times. This included 6 sermons in three state; a MLK Day event; 4 5th grade groups (8 classes total) in two states; 9 college classes/speeches/community groups and a presentation at the Georgia Association of Historians. After the coronavirus closed travel, she preached three times via Facebook (two sermons on First Presbyterian Church in Dunbar web site) and/or Zoom. In the autumn of 2020, via zoom and other technology, her presentations at Mount Holyoke College, West Texas A & M University, the University of South Carolina, and Ohio University South are available somewhere in the ether sphere. She also spoke with six classes and community groups.
Sent: Wednesday, June 05, 2002 6:34 AM
Subject: Re: [SNCC] Fw: Civil Rights Interview Request
Thank you for your interest in the 1960s freedom movement. Please also express my appreciation to your teacher for giving you an assignment to contact a 60's civil rights activist. I am thrilled that so many of your generation want to know more about my times.
In order to use the time I have left most productively, I have written a 50-page autobiography titled "Shiloh Witness" published in a collection, Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. In "Shiloh Witness" I address three questions: what was it in my childhood that prepared me to join the freedom struggle; what did I do in that struggle; and what did I take from the freedom movement into the rest of my life.
I also published an extended commentary on the Albany Freedom Ride in the Fall 1996 Journal of Women s History titled "Invisible Revolutionaries: White Women in Civil Rights Movement Historiography."
David J. Mussatt's doctoral dissertation (2001) in the Temple University Shcool of Religion, Journey for Justice: a Religions Ana lysis of the Ethics of the Albany Freedom Ride" is instructive about the nine persons who were the last "Freedom Riders." It also has some biographical material about me.
Howard Zinn's SNCC: The New Abolitionists covers the Albany Freedom Ride and my SNCC era, the times of the sit-in, freedom ride, and "direct action."
I have appropriately-sized cameo roles in Lynne Olson's Freedom's Daughters and Catherine Fosl's Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South.
Other information about who I was then, and who I am now, is available in scattered sites on the web. My web page is: myweb.wvnet.edu/~oma00013. I have listed below some other internet sites.
After you have read "Shiloh Witness" and some of the other materials, I shall gladly entertain any questions that I did not address in those writings.
I am especially open to questions that deal with what you are doing to advance social justice, or what you think you might do. In my opinion, you are far more important to making the world better than I am.
If you can get the other information you want from those published sources, I'd be happy to deal with your last three questions:
(1) Who did you look to as a role model?
Ella Baker, Ann Braden, Lillian Smith, Casey Hayden.
(2) Do you continue to actively work for Civil Rights?
Yes. I received the state of West Virginia's highest civil rights honor -- the Governor's "Living the Dream" award -- last year. This past Memorial Day, I organized a celebration of black ancestors in Lewisburg, WV, as a counterpoint to the usual celebration of the confederacy under the rubric Civil War Battle of Lewisburg Heritage celebration. I'm the "go to" person here for race matters. I m.c. and help organize the MLKJr. day community celebration. and etc. and etc. I don't listen to the President -- I hope that in his four years, if he ever learns enough language to speak a whole sentence, I will have tuned out before he gets to the end of it. The most I've heard so far is 7 words, and I was driving a stick shift and it took a while to get the radio changed. I went to the 2001 Counter Inaugural. I'm a West Virginia Human Rights Commissioner, charged with enforcing the 1961 Human Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and other civil rights legislative victories.
(3) What would you tell others who seek to change unfair laws and attitudes?
a. Remember: We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
b. Refuse to cooperate with evil.
c. Speak only for yourself. Allow no one to speak for you without your consent.
d. Listen to people speak in their own voice.
e. Recognize how you contribute to oppression.
f. Know that only the injured can forgive.