An Experience with Violence in Lowndes County, Alabama
Interview by Paul Murry for article on Fr. Morrisrow, 2013
I was born in Brooklyn, New York. After almost 5 years in the Air Force, I worked from 1959 to 1961 for the New York State Commission Against Discrimination (SCAD), an agency that conducted complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. A lot of people didn't realize there was such an agency. In 1961 I left New York to go to Tuskegee Institute (now University) in Alabama as a student.
I became involved with the Tuskegee Institute YM-YWCA race relations group. We met frequently with students from Auburn University, a nearby white university located in Auburn, Alabama to discuss the state or race relations in the state. This group also attended regional YM-YWCA conferences to discuss race relations across the South.
One of the most memorable conferences was held at Gatlinberg, Tennessee. A group of people from the conference went to a local restaurant, where one of the employees pulled a shotgun and said that we would not be served and if we insisted, someone would be killed. Of course we didn't challenge him further and immeidatrely left that establishment.
On campus I also worked with the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League (TIAL), a very militant student organization in which Sammy Younge Jr. was active. Then came the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. After the first attempt to march was stopped by police at the Edmund Pettus bridge, TIAL met and voted to go to Montgomery. 1200 students went, who vowed to wait until Dr. Martin Luther King returned to Selma and resumed the march to Montgomery. While waiting, TIAL together with SNCC representatives held demonstrations every day in Montgomery. I was arrested during one of them. We were transferred from the local jail to Kilby State Prison. The march finally took place in March, 1965, while I was still imprisoned. Viola Liuzzo was killed by Klansmen on the night of the march and Jonathan Daniels was killed in August.
Around September, 1966, SNCC started a voter registration project based in Tuskegee Institute.This was the Macon County phrase of SNCC's voter registration work. I was very active in that project along with Sammy Younge and other Tuskegee students. Sammy Young, Jr. was murdered in Tuskegee in January, 1966-the first black student to be killed in the freedom movement. We had been at a meeting together; he left before me and then came a phone call saying Sammy had been shot at a gas station. We went to look for him and found his body nearby. We organized many protest demonstrations in which several thousand Tuskegee students marched to the town square. One night the statue of a Confederate soldier was painted black by protesters.
When I first got out of prison after the Selma-Montgomery March, I had met Stokely Carmichael, Bob Mants, Scott B. Smith and Willie Vaughan. Later I became involved with SNCC's Lowndes County project along with other Tuskegee students including Ruby Sales and Mary Billups. For two years my work with SNCC was organizing and trying to get people registered to vote in Lowndes County, while living at the Freedom House. We ran people on the Lowndes County Black Panther Party slate for offices like sheriff and tax assessor, and also for the agricultural and conservation commission, which told farmers how much of a certain crop they could plant. Although no Black Panther candidates were elected on that ticket, some blacks from the Panthers did get elected to office in Lowndes for the first time since Reconstruction. That was the result of SNCC's work there.
In 1967 I completed my college course work at Tuskegee Institute and moved to the Bay Area in California, where I have lived ever since. For most of the years since then, I have worked for the Alameda County Probation Dept. as a probation officer. My primary responsibility is referring people on probation for drug treatment. I serve on the board of the Alameda County Probation Peace Officers Association, and also active with the State Coalition of Probation Officers. Both organizations are primarily concerned with workers' rights within the corrections field. We are also concerned about prisoners' rights and having fair treatment for people who become involved with the criminal justice system.
I am married, with a 28-year old son and a 3-year old grandaughter (as of 1999).