Building Democracy at Highlander Center
Interview DigitalCommons@URI (Univ. Rhode Island)
We co-directed the North-South Smoky Mountain Work Camp in Blount County, Tennessee for Highlander Education and Research Center (HREC) in 1963. Our purpose was to bring an interracial group of volunteers to build a residential facility to be used for voter registration trainings of interracial groups of volunteers expected to pour South the following summer to participate in Bob Moses's Freedom Summer in nearby Mississippi. I had stars in my eyes.
This was a contribution I could make with two babes in tow and help build the road to democracy after a harrowing three week trip in April studying the TVA with The Putney Graduate School. We traveled as an interracial group of graduate students and learned more about injustice than the TVA, becoming an unofficial freedom ride as we watched restaurants serving us be firebombed, service refused at gas stations and there was no where we could spend the night except to find southern hospitality in homes, of we learned, very courageous residents.
The Work Camp volunteers were half Birmingham Freedom fighters well versed in what a movement was and the other half young white idealists primarily privileged and from the north. In those days, co-habitation of inter-racial groups was illegal and contrary to local custom. Therefore a chargeable offense. One night we were taken at gun point without a warrant for arrest, our cabin and tents searched without a search warrant, to the local jail by men without badges and wearing overalls. I understand that the black men were made to ride in the trunk of the cars, etc. Luckily, no violence, we were taken to jail, "for our protection", even my one and three year old daughters, no phone calls allowed. The camp facilities were burned a few days later. Sheriff Trotter may still have the research for my my thesis.
Later, after the legal clouds over our heads drifted back, I returned to the north and worked on fair housing, freedom schools, school integration. I led Work Camps in Roxbury for the AFSC, taught Headstart in Roxbury, my daughters integrated preschools in Roxbury, I worked for Freedom House in Roxbury.
Later when I moved to New Hampshire after I remarried to Daniel Watt, I was a member of the Martin Luther King Speaker Bureau in New Hampshire going in to schools and being interviewed by newspapers and press to share why the Civil Rights Movement belonged to all Americans.
Now as a retired educator, I am leading a study group on the Civil Rights Movement at Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement with my husband, Dan Lynn Watt. I recently wrote my first song, "Dr. King Looked Out to the tune "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" and have been singing it for groups. It has been selected by Sing Out for its Folk Process Column.
Last summer Dan 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 Dan's experiences in Fayette County Tennessee in 1964.
"My Story - Molly Lynn Watt" www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IrfnZJN2o0 about my experiences while working For Highlander in 1963.
Interview about my book "On Wings of Song: a Journey into the Civil Rights Era:" https://youtu.be/a5pqW19NmOo.