Archive for the 'Civil Rights' Category

Inspirational author Shelley Stewart receives honors from Vulcan Park and Regions Bank

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Mattie C.'s Boy: The Shelley Stewart StoryShelley Stewart, author of the inspiring memoir Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story, as told to Don Keith, will be honored at the inaugural Vulcan Awards presented by the Vulcan Park and Musuem at a ceremony on Oct. 2 at The Club in Birmingham. According to, Dr. Stewart will receive the Hero Award, given in recognition of his many contributions to the civil rights movement, including helping to organize and promote via radio key events such as the Children’s March of 1963.

Dr. Stewart was also the recipient of the 2014 History in Motion Award, given by Regions Bank, for the work done by his advertising firm 02ideas. Regions profiled Dr. Stewart in the video “Dr. Shelley Stewart: Something Within.” In the video Stewart recounts stories from his boyhood following the tragic murder of his mother by his father and the hardships he endured, as well as the encouragement he received from others who made a difference in his young life. He also discusses his entry into radio, his work in the civil rights movement, and the establishment of The Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, named in his mother’s honor, the mission of which is to encourage children to stay in school. The video concludes with a salute to Stewart’s optimistic spirit.

Shelley Stewart, speaking at the National Book Club Conference, August 2014
Dr. Stewart was a featured guest at National Book Club Conference, held in Atlanta August 7-9, where he spoke about Mattie C.’s Boy to an appreciative audience (pictured).

Mattie C.’s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

PBS debuts new American Experience documentary, Freedom Summer

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014 by Blair Johnson

Freedom Summer documentary from American Experience/PBS

“I don’t think people understand how violent Mississippi was.”

PBS’s new documentary, Freedom Summer, which debuted June 24, begins with this foreboding statement that proves itself true by the end of the film. And what is perhaps most shocking about that violence is that it happened in the not so distant past. Written, produced, and directed by Stanley Nelson, Freedom Summer chronicles the titular 10-weeks of 1964 during which college students from across the country traveled to Mississippi to battle the existing racism that was preventing African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The documentary covers the summer from the first days of the college student volunteers to the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that went to challenge the all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention, and to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that actually began during Freedom Summer.

Volunteers and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staff from that summer share life-changing experiences in the film, some for the very first time. Linda Wetmore Halpern recalls being assaulted by a group of white men in a car while she was walking down a road. She recalled, “They started calling me ‘Hey, nigger lover! We got you. We finally got you. We ain’t killed ourselves a white girl yet. You’re going to be the first.’” The men then put a noose around her neck as they drove off in the car holding the other end, making her walk faster and faster until they finally dropped the other end of the rope. “And I just stood there. Because we had to wear skirts. We weren’t allowed to wear pants in those days, so we all had our little shifts on and everything. I peed all over myself. Just stood and just peed,” Halpern said.

While women involved with Freedom Summer were not always treated fairly, Stanley Nelson highlights two important women in his film: Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and Rita Schwerner, who was key in driving the search for three missing civil rights workers, including her husband. The press would hound Schwerner, hoping “that they would catch her at the moment of her widowhood [and see her cry], but she wouldn’t play.” The film highlights Hamer’s powerful testimony at the Democratic National Convention of 1964: “Is this America? The land of the free and the home of the brave? Where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hook. Because our lives be threatened daily. Because we want to live as decent human beings in America.”

Civil rights leader Bob Moses, featured in the film, reflects on Hamer’s influence on Freedom Summer and at the Democratic National Convention: “She had Mississippi in her bones. Martin Luther King, or the SNCC field secretaries, they couldn’t do what Fannie Lou Hamer did. They couldn’t be a sharecropper and express what it meant, right, and that’s what Fannie Lou Hamer did.”

The Freedom Summer documentary can be viewed on PBS or at the PBS website. NewSouth Books has published the following titles on Freedom Summer for those interested in learning more:

The Freedom Rides and Alabama: A Guide to Key Events and Places, Context, and Impact — Author Noelle Matteson recounts the events of the 1961 group of interracial riders and their experiences in Alabama from their arrival in Montgomery to the firebombing of their bus in Anniston.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement — The biography of Bob Zellner, the first white field secretary of SNCC, chronicling his experiences as a white Alabamian rejecting the Southern “way of life” he was raised on in pursuit of social change.

The Children Bob Moses Led — William Heath brings history to life in his fictionalized account of the Freedom Summer through the voices of real-life, legendary leader Bob Moses and a white volunteer college student.

Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs — Two classic collections of freedom songs (We Shall Overcome [1963] and Freedom is a Constant Struggle [1968]) are reprinted in a single edition to guide the reader through the history and experience of the Civil Rights Movement with sheet music for the songs, important documentary photos, and firsthand accounts by participants in the movement.

All of these titles are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: NewSouth authors one thread in the tapestry of his life

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by Savannah Szabo
Guy and Candie Carawan, authors of Sing for Freedom. (Courtesy Patheos)

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is tireless in his efforts to promote peace and community in his native North Carolina and elsewhere throughout the South. His biography is a colorful tapestry of both Civil Rights and faith-based threads. It tells of a celebrated speaker at churches and conferences covering all denominations and backgrounds; a spiritual writer in the New Monasticism movement; the founder of the Rutba House, where the formerly homeless can regain a sense of community; and the director of the non-profit School of Conversion, where he is “making surprising friendships possible.” The list goes on and on. So it was with great delight that we read his back-to-back blog postings about authors published by NewSouth Books who’ve been an inspiration to him.

In one posting, “A Conspiracy of Silence? Listen to Our Grassroots Leaders,” Hartgrove both praises Bob Zellner, author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, and criticizes our national civil rights leaders in their failure to support grassroots organizing. In an apt and amusing analysis, Hartgrove likens Zellner’s life to Forrest Gump’s in its “unplanned quest of self-discovery.” “For over 50 years, Bob Zellner has walked alongside some of America’s most important voices for justice,” Hartgrove observes. “Which is why his question is so important: why have civil rights organizations themselves fallen silent about the most effective grassroots organizing in the country?” Hartgrove’s posting discusses the NAACP Convention’s embarrassing attempt to silence civil rights activists, and other disappointments for the modern Civil Rights movement in North Carolina and the South, and also the shining beacon of hope that is Rev. William J. Barber.

His conversation with Candie Carawan, co-author of Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, can be found in a separate post that commemorates the passing of Pete Seeger, influential folk singer of the Freedom Movement. Candie Carawan and her husband Guy (pictured, above) were fellow singers and close companions of Seeger’s, and lifted their resonant voices with him during the national struggle for justice.

Of their collective contributions Hartgrove says, “Those who sang with Pete felt hope, and it inspired them to press on together. No song from his repertoire is better know than ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which became the anthem of the Freedom Movement around the world. (I’ll never forget listening to little kids on the streets of Baghdad singing it while American bombs fell in 2003.) Though Pete learned the song from tobacco workers at Highlander Folk School, it was his friend at Highlander, Guy Carawan, who taught the song to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), just after they had started the sit-in movement in 1960. Candie, one of those students from Fisk University, ended up marrying Guy and singing with him for the next half a century.” Carawan and Hargrove agree on the central role folk music played in building a sense of community and achieving social change, and Carawan acknowledges Guy’s debt to Seeger: “Pete was a model for Guy of how you could use your artistry and your love of folk music to support peoples’ struggles for justice.”

Read “A Conspiracy of Silence? Listen to Our Grassroots Leaders,” and “Remembering Pete Seeger & the Power of Song with Candie Carawan”, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, at the Patheos website.

Sing for Freedom and The Wrong Side of Murder Creek are available from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore.

Eugene Bullard featured in Washington Post “Flashbacks” comic strip

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Eugene Bullard: World's First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry GreenlyThe Washington Post “Flashbacks” comic strip, created by Patrick Reynolds, recently featured in a series on World War I aviation hero Eugene Bullard. Strip artist Reynolds cites a new biography published by NewSouth Books — Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly — as inspiration for his series. The strip tells the story of the boy who ran away from his home in the segregated South and made his way to Europe. Bullard’s varied career, from prize fighter in England through entertainer in France to Legionnaire and then pioneering fighter pilot, is compellingly recounted.

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot is the first biography of the war hero written for young adult readers. Booklist praises the title in a starred review, saying “Greenly crafts a moving, novelistic biography that portrays Bullard’s undying fortitude throughout his life.” Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a worthwhile introduction to a decorated hero of two world wars who overcame obstacles in difficult times.”

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

The original artwork and signed prints from the comic strip are available for sale at Red Rose Studio.

Child welfare advocate Denny Abbott tours with new book

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

They Had No Voice by Denny AbbottNationally recognized child welfare advocate Denny Abbott brought his story of creating positive change in the juvenile detention system to the campuses of Troy University recently in a series of lectures sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Abbott spoke in Troy, Montgomery, and Dothan about his work on behalf of exploited children, and signed copies of his book They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children.

They Had No Voice chronicles Abbott’s journey from chief probation officer of the Montgomery, Alabama County Family Court to leading advocate for children. As a court official, Abbott witnessed brutal conditions. When he could not change things from within, he sued the state and with the help of the U.S. Justice Department won a resounding victory that brought change. His talks at Troy focused on how others can continue to advocate for improvements.

According to the Dothan Eagle, Abbott focused part of his presentation on the continuing need to monitor workers who are in contact with children, saying:

“The more serious issues are those that have been festering for a long time and nobody’s really taken it on or done anything about it, either for political reasons or for personal reasons or business reasons,” he said.

He recognized the ongoing issues in Alabama, and although “hundreds of people knew about it, nobody did anything about it.”

He said employees at facilities need to be held accountable if they don’t do their job of protecting and taking care of children. “We see many, many cases where they are the offenders,” he said.

WSFA News in Montgomery spoke with a a former Juvenile Detention Center resident, who told them:

“I could barely lay down. I couldn’t eat because they wouldn’t feed ya once they beat ya. They punish you, you don’t eat either. It was horrible. It was horrible. Mr. Denny thank you, thank you.”

Through his presentations, Denny Abbott continues to educate citizens about how they can create positive change in their communities to help mistreated children.

Denny Abbott’s They Had No Voice: My Fight for Alabama’s Forgotten Children is available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

On MLK’s Holiday, a Few Words About the Poor

Monday, January 20th, 2014 by Randall Williams

Today is the MLK holiday, although in Alabama the adoption of the holiday passed the legislature only by designating it as also being in honor of the birth of Robert E. Lee, who coincidentally shares the same birth week as King, so that white state workers taking the day off didn’t have to do so in tribute to civil rights.

Setting aside that head-in-the-sand Alabama political posturing, it is MLK Day, which means it’s a good day to remember that though MLK is rightly celebrated as a leader of the movement which broke the back of legalized segregation, toward the end of his life he was mostly campaigning to end economic injustice and war (at the time, in Vietnam). And while the civil rights movement was relatively straightforward — Jim Crow laws were an obvious evil — and gained the support of government, business, and, for the most part, the public, the same support was not forthcoming for anti-poverty and anti-war efforts.

For one thing, poverty and war have complex causes that are not easy to identify, much less target. For another, while changes in the U.S. economy and infrastructure had largely eliminated the economic benefits to white Southerners of first slavery and then segregation, there remained/remain powerful interests who profited from poverty and war.

The poverty part of that profit equation is hard for some to swallow, though I believe the case can be made. Consider the hugely profitable low-end loan, check cashing, rent-to-own furniture, etc., businesses that prey on the poor. Consider the prison-industrial complex that has expanded alongside the increased incarceration rates of the poor. Consider the increased numbers of well-paid and well-pensioned judges, prosecutors, police, and support personnel, and all the suppliers and manufacturers of their furnishings and consumables needed to keep a lid clamped on the “criminal” poor.

The military part of the profit equation is more obvious; even President Dwight D. Eisenhower, our last five-star commander in chief, famously warned of this danger, but we just keep spending and spending.

But back to the poor, and the impetus for my taking up your time today …

The NYT has recently been running a good series, “The Great Divide,” about the country’s return to Gilded Age levels of income inequality. Reading the NYT this morning, I was struck by today’s entry about the results of a study by an epidemiologist examining linkage between poverty and mental health. Her conclusions seem to indicate that — surprise — giving poor people money improves their lives and saves the taxpayers money. I suppose this is the academic equivalent of the folk wisdom that money can’t buy happiness, but the absence of money does buy misery. And the societal costs of misery are high.

As Congress dithers on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, and is likely to pass a Farm Bill that will further cut food stamps even while subsidies continue to agribusiness, it seems a good time to think about policies that might actually help the poor and the country.

Bob Zellner talks to Bill Moyers about North Carolina Moral Mondays

Monday, January 6th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob ZellnerA recent episode of Moyers & Company, hosted by political commentator Bill Moyers, featured the current “state of conflict” in North Carolina. The state has a Republican-controlled legislature that is “steering North Carolina to the right”; liberal groups, lead by the NAACP’s Reverend William Barber, have organized a series of “Moral Mondays” protests against the Republican’s new laws.

Participating in the “Moral Mondays” movement is civil rights activist Bob Zellner, whose memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek explores how he left behind a prejudiced upbringing to become the first white Southern field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Many of the “Moral Mondays” protesters have been arrested during the protests, including Zellner, 74.

Legislative changes that the group is protesting against include, according to the Moyers & Company website, “slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, providing vouchers to private schools, cutting unemployment benefits, refusing to expand Medicaid and rolling back electoral reforms, including voting rights.”

“Our purpose in life is to work for those who are powerless,” Zellner told Moyers & Company. “What’s happening now in the Moral Monday movement is on the same moral plane as what happened in the civil rights movement.”

Watch “State of Conflict: North Carolina” below or on the Moyers & Company website.

Bob Zellner’s memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Fred Gray talks Rosa Parks, new memoir, with John Seigenthaler, CSPAN2

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by Brian Seidman

Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred GrayA new video and a podcast interview with attorney Fred Gray complement the release of the newly revised edition of Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System. During the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement, Gray served as the lawyer for Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks; he also argued in cases involving school desegregations, and helped bring about a presidential apology for victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

A video of Gray’s September presentation at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is available online from C-SPAN2; an interview with Gray on John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words program can be downloaded as an MP3.

At the Carter Library, Gray described his book to the audience as “a history of the Civil Rights Movement as it begun in Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 1955, spreading throughout the state, throughout the country.” He continued, “The effects [of the Civil Rights Movement] went around the world. Almost every civil rights event that has occurred since 1955 — to some degree — you can trace a great deal of it back to Montgomery, Alabama.” Gray’s memoir details these integral events in Montgomery, including the arrests of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Gray’s speech aired on C-SPAN2′s Book TV and is available for viewing online.

On John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words, originally aired on October 27 on Nashville Public Radio, Seigenthaler and Gray look at the revised edition of Bus Ride to Justice‘s new revelations about Rosa Parks’s arrest and the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the book, Gray reveals that he and Parks, a secretary for the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, spent many weeks discussing how to use an arrest as a way to push for change in Montgomery.

“We really couldn’t completely pre-plan it,” Gray tells Seigenthaler, since they couldn’t predict when buses would be full and when Parks might be asked to give up her seat, “but what we did know and what Ms. Parks understood was that she would be an ideal person if the opportunity [for protest] presented itself.” Gray goes on to say that “Ms. Parks was the key person and she wanted to take her place in history and she did, not by accident. … The whole thing to a degree was planned in the sense that we were prepared.”

John Seigenthaler’s C-SPAN2; an interview with Gray on John Seigenthaler’s Words on Words interview with Fred Gray, including a discussion of the photographs included in the book, is available as an audio podcast.

The revised edition of Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred Gray, is available as a hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

TIME Magazine “One Dream” project spotlights Bob Zellner, civil rights activist

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by Brian Seidman

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob ZellnerTIME Magazine has included author and civil rights activist Bob Zellner as part of their “One Dream” multimedia project, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The son and grandson of Klansmen, Zellner turned away from his heritage while at Huntington College in Alabama, joining the civil rights movement and later becoming the first white secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Zellner chronicled his growing social awareness and his experiences in the movement, including numerous marches and sit-ins, as well as his encounter with many key figures of the Civil Rights era, in his memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, available in hardcover and ebook.

In a video on the TIME website, Zellner relates the violence he witnessed during his time with SNCC, including violence directed against himself. “In the first thirty-six months of my work with SNCC,” Zellner said, “five of my colleagues were lynched … by racists. I was beaten so severely … that I have suffered some brain damage and also post-traumatic stress.”

On one particular occasion, Zellner marched with some high school students protesting the murder of Herbert Lee, who was killed after helping African Americans register to vote. A mob formed around the group. Zellner recalled, “The violence was so awful. They had hangmans ropes and they stopped us at the city hall … A small group of klansmen surrounded me and began to hit me.” As the mob grew, Zellner had to cling to a railing so as not to be pulled into the crowd and lynched, while one of his attackers tried to gouge out his eye.

“A white southerner was not supposed to step out of line,” Zeller told TIME, “because we were supposed to accept segregation and accept it happily. But if you didn’t, you could lose your sight, you could lose your life.”

Watch Bob Zellner’s “One Dream” video, or visit the TIME Magazine “One Dream” website.

The Wrong Side of Murder Creek by Bob Zellner is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

The Order Katzenbach Was Enforcing . . .

Friday, May 11th, 2012 by Randall Williams

Nicholas Katzenbach, former Attorney General of the United States, died on May 8 at age 90 and was widely memorialized as an important figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His most famous moment came in 1963 at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa when as a deputy attorney general he was selected to enforce the law at what became known as Alabama Governor George C. Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door,” a grandstanding futile effort to prevent black students Vivian Malone and James Hood from desegregating the school.

George Wallace blocking University of Alabama integration; Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach pictured

George Wallace is confronted by Nicholas Katzenbach while blocking the integration of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963. (Library of Congress)

Of course, Wallace’s ploy might not have been futile without the determined actions of federal officials like Katzenbach, notes civil rights lawyer Fred Gray, author of Bus Ride to Justice. Gray had more than a passing interest in the events in Tuscaloosa on June 11, 1963, because Katzenbach was there to enforce a court order obtained by Gray and fellow civil rights attorney Arthur Shores of Birmingham.

“The nation has lost a faithful and forceful advocate for civil and constitutional rights with the passing of Nicholas Katzenbach,” Gray said this week. “It was his and other Justice Department officials’ responsibility to enforce the federal laws, not only those enacted by Congress but also the orders of federal courts across the nation. In the Malone/Hood case, Katzenbach had the courage to face the governor and ask him to step aside so the court’s order could be enforced. He was one of many such federal officials who were so important to bring about equality under our Constitution, because those court orders were of no value if they could not be enforced. If Wallace had been able to thwart the federal judges who were applying Constitutional rule, then we would not have gotten anywhere.”

After making a bombastic speech, Wallace finally did step aside, and the federal court order obtained by Fred Gray and his colleagues was enforced, and Malone and Hood did enroll and segregation thus ended at the University of Alabama. Katzenbach went on to become Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson. Wallace was paralyzed in an assassination attempt in 1972 but was elected governor a record four times and eventually apologized for his segregationist past and crowned a black homecoming queen at the University of Alabama.

And Fred Gray and Arthur Shores (now deceased) kept on filing civil rights lawsuits and obtaining federal court orders which the Justice Department enforced. Gradually, Gray’s famous pledge to “destroy everything segregated I could find,” as revealed in Bus Ride to Justice, was realized with scores of successful civil rights cases. Gray is now 80 years old, but he still gives speeches around the country explaining how the civil rights movement succeeded, in part because of the roles played by civil rights lawyers like himself, federal judges, and federal officials like Nick Katzenbach, who were all determined that the words of the U.S. Constitution would mean in practice what they said on paper.

Bus Ride to Justice has remained in print since it was first published in 1995. It is being reissued this summer in a revised edition to include the more recent events and developments in Gray’s life and in civil rights.