I became active in the movement in the spring of 1963 persuaded by the gentle prodding of my sister to take an active role in bringing about change. I joined the N.A.A.C.P. a year earlier in 1962 at the insistence of Mr. Delbert Woods who was the President of the Charleston branch of the N.A.A.C.P. I had a great deal of respect for him; as a matter of fact he was one of my hero's and it was an honor to know him and be counted among his friends. After being persuaded by my sister, I became one of many youth soldiers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church under Rev. B.J. Glover who earned my respect by facing down the threats of Charleston's own version of "Bull Conner," his name was Sheriff Kelly.
During that summer I went to jail at least once a week and on occasion, two or more times a day. I remember how I felt about what I was doing and how dangerous it was. I spent a lot of time watching the movement on television. I remember the "foot soldiers" that had the fury of fire hose's and police dogs as well as officers of the law unleashed upon them. It took a lot of courage to pick up a picket sign and join the other brave souls fighting for the basic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of this country. For me it also took anger, I was determined to live like a human being or die trying!
I met Dr. King and many other leaders in the movement during that summer. I participated in several marches with Dr. King. He was truly a great man and I would never try to take anything away from him or any other high visibility people in the movement. But, I would like to go on record lauding and praising the common men, women and children that heard the call to battle and voluntarily marched into the mouth of the lion. They will probably never get the recognition that they deserve, but I for one salute them, for without them we would not be enjoying the freedom that we have today.
I remember a march that was led by Dr. King down the main street of Charleston. I had the honor of being very close to Dr. King on that day. This is when his message of non-violent protest came home to me. I was walking pass a local bar called "The Keg" when a drunk came out and threw a glass of beer in my face, before any possibility of a reaction from me, Dr. King came over to me to make sure I did not react in an unacceptable manner. I did nothing, just keep on walking.
One other defining moment in my life came in July or August of 1963. I volunteered to help manage a night march to protest erroneous reporting by the local newspaper, the News and Courier. When we reached the building, I was busy directing people to keep the driveways clear, and not to block traffic in any way as the authorities had instructions to arrest anyone guilty of any of these minor infractions. This march consisted of mostly adult and young people that held jobs and could not participate on a daily basis as the group of which I belonged to. There was an entire group of young people who were out of school for the summer that participated on a daily basis.
I was very busy trying to keep these enthusiastic people from inadvertently getting arrested when someone grabbed me from behind and threw me into the back of a "Paddy Wagon," I was soon joined by Rev. I.D.Quincy Newman and Rev. James Blake. We were taken to the police dept. and held incommunicado. Eventually we were joined by at least sixty others and held with out charge. We found out the next day what we were charged with. As I remember, Reverend's Newman and Blake and myself were charged with inciting a riot. The bond was set at $100,000 and everybody else was charged with rioting and their bond set at $50,000. There was no way that amount of bond could be raised by our local chapter any time soon.
We were sent to Hines Prison Farm. (Local county jail) I spent 11 days in hell before the bond was finally raised to get us out. After I got out I was told by the Reverend Glover to go home and change into a suit. I had no idea what he had in store for us but I soon found out. He took us to a mass meeting at a Baptist Church Pastored by Rev. James Blake and we were informed that we had to give a speech. I was more petrified by this than anything that happened to me during that summer. I sat there shaking in my shoes not having the faintest idea of what I was going to say. Once called to the pulpit I opened my mouth and I mumbled out these words: "I just spent 11 days in jail for freedom and if necessary, I would go back again." The people burst into spontaneous applause, I felt very relieved that this happened and I was allowed to return to my comfortable state of anonymity.
I was awarded a very great honor after that event; I was given a ticket aboard the "Freedom Train" to the "March on Washington." I will remember that day for the rest of my life.
I feel compelled to tell you what happened after that aforementioned jail sentence was over. The sentence lasted long after the 11 days were over. I felt the pain of that sentence for the next four years of my life. The charge of inciting to riot and rioting is a federal offence and this charge was allowed to hang over us without benefit of trail for that exorbitant length of time. I tried to join the Navy and found out that I couldn't because of that charge.
Mayor Gillard (the Mayor of Charleston at that time) called all of the affected people into his office in early 1967 and informed us that all charges were dropped and our records expunged as all of the things we were arrested for during that turbulent summer were rendered null and void by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. About two days after that meeting I received my draft notice. I went to my Navy Recruiter and he assured me that I would have no problem getting into the Navy. He went to the draft board and explained to them that I had already taken and passed the A.S.V.A.B. (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.) and the physical. They refused to let me go into the Navy. I was inducted into the Army and sent to infantry training. You can draw your own conclusion as to why the government would go to all the expense and trouble to have me given another physical and tested again!
I hope that I have not been to long winded in telling my story but as you know the 28th of this month is the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington and I felt compelled to tell this story. I hope for the sake of us all, young people will take the time to educate themselves about this very important time in our history!
As to what I'm doing today, I am retired and trying to make a difference to young people whenever I can.
In closing, I want to thank you for providing this vehicle to allow this humble "Foot Soldier" to tell his story. Thank you!