Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton
(1943 – 2017, In Memory)

MIA, SCLC, SNCC 1962-72
Montgomery AL

Insurgent Memories
Lowndes County Election Fraud

1962-65 Youth leader for Montgomery Improvement Association and SCLC.
1962-72 Organizer for SNCC
1968-72 Founder of National Association of Black Students.


Dr. Gwen Patton: A Long Time Movement Activist

A relatively small woman with a gentle demeanor and a sledge hammer of a mind, Dr. Gwendolyn M. Patton was born in a small town outside Detroit, Michigan in the Christian community of Inkster. At age 9, Gwendolyn engaged in her first act of resistance to racism. She went to Liggett's drug store in Montgomery, Alabama where she spent summers with her grandparents and other relatives. Once she paid her 3 cents for a cup of water, she took a seat on the counter stool. The soda fountain clerk called her a "pickaninny" and told her to get up. While staring at the clerk, Gwen poured the cup of water on the counter and slowly walked out.

After the passing of her mother, Gwen at the age of 16 moved to Montgomery to live with her grandmother. Upon her arrival, she immediately became a leader in the in the Montgomery Improvement Association. Before long she was teaching in the "citizenship schools," a tutoring program to help prospective voters learn how to fill out the literacy test, the prerequisite barrier before Black people could become registered voters. Citizenship Schools were held in both of her grandparents' homes, one on the West-side and the other on the East-side. Gwen convinced her maternal grandmother to use the second home as a "Freedom House" for such Southern Christian Leadership Conference organizers as Rev. James Orange and Rev. James Bevel. She was a youth founding member of the (Black) Alabama Democratic Conference in 1960, an organization dedicated to getting Black people registered as voters. She also became a youth organizer in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and SCLC.

As a student at Tuskegee University, she served as the first female student government association president. As a SNCC organizer, she was one of the founders of its Women's Commission and served as the first commission chair. She founded the National Anti-War, Anti-Draft Union and the National Association of Black Students. Based on Freedom of Information files, Gwen was under surveillance and classified under active investigation by the FBI and the CIA. (Patton continues to travel throughout the world and is frequently asked to serve as an election observer in South and Central America and Africa.)

Dr. Patton earned her bachelor's degree in English and history for Tuskegee, where she was told by Alabama state officials that she would never get a job in Alabama because of her movement activities. She earned her master's in history and the art of teaching from Antioch College, and her doctorate in political history and higher education administration from Union Graduate School. When asked about her accomplishments, particularly in Alabama where she was told by Blacks and Whites that she would never earn a living in Alabama, Dr. Patton replied, "My accomplishments are really Blessings that can only be granted by God." Gwen is a 4th generation member of Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, where she serves as Sunday School teacher and on the Board of Christian Education.

Her movement activities were interspersed with teaching at several colleges in the East and Southeast. Gwen returned to Montgomery in 1977 and continued her movement activities while teaching at local universities and colleges. When she learned that many of her older comrades had not been celebrated and lifted up the way that they should have been, she immediately had them as her television guests on "Harambee," a PBS program that she hosted. Gwen, also, found out that her elders had been waiting on her to return home. They had kept artifacts from the movement that they only wanted to entrust to her. One lady had loaned an amazing scrapbook to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and then requested for Mrs. King to return the scrapbook for Gwen's care. Mrs. King promptly told her the good news: The scrapbook was on loan to the Smithsonian. The lady asked, "Well, who is he?" The Smithsonian promptly returned the scrapbook.

Dr. Patton now works as an archivist for H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College, which houses special collections of Pioneers of the Voting Rights Movement. She continues to be in great demand, locally, nationally and internationally, as a speaker and lecturer on the civil/voting rights movement. Dr. Patton is Montgomery Coordinator for the National Historic Voting Rights Trail and serves on its National Advisory Council.

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