In 1964, we were invited — long story I will fill in later — to send a group of "civil rights workers" to Fayette County Tennessee, a place where African Americans were in the majority, and where they had been systematically denied the right to register and to vote. When local leaders organized a campaign for voting rights, those who registered were evicted and blacklisted.
The Fayette County Civic and Welfare League, led by John and Viola McFerren, Harpman and Minnie Jameson, Square Mormon, and others, were convinced that with the support (and publicity) from a dozen or so northern civil rights workers, they could register enough voters, and turn out enough voters on election day, to actually elect a sympathetic white farmer as sheriff and an African American minister as country Tax Assessor.
In the end, 40 of us went south, mostly graduate and undergraduate students from Cornell. We helped register hundreds more voters that summer, and despite a large turnout on election day, the incumbent candidates were declared the winners. We documented dozens of irregularities and illegalities but the federal government declined to intervene.
We left Fayette discouraged. Yet on a recent visit to Fayette County I learned that in 1966, two years later, two African Americans were elected to the county board of supervisors, and African Americans have served in county offices (including sheriff) ever since.
I am writing a memoir and have a long chapter in it about my participation in the Fayette County project.
Last summer Molly and I were interviewed by the American Repertory Theater about our experiences as civil rights workers during 1963 and 1964. This was part of the A.R.T.'s community outreach for the play, "All The Way," about Lyndon Johnson's first year as president.
These short interviews are now posted on YouTube as:
"My Story - Dan Lynn Watt" www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTN-HoXCj8U about my experiences in Fayette County Tennessee in 1964.
"My Story - Molly Lynn Watt" www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IrfnZJN2o0 about Molly's experiences while working For Highlander in 1963.