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Voices of Civil Rights

YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS STORIES

Candace Giddens

Ponchatoula, La.

My family lived in Birmingham during the civil rights movement, and my parents worked hard to support the movement. I remember the stories of my mother sitting at length at lunch counters in order to be a white person who did not get up and leave when an African American came to sit and attempt to be served. A cross was burned on our yard, and a bullet broke our windshield while my mother was driving the car with me in the passenger seat. My mother said it was a rock that was thrown up into the windshield, and it was only years later that she told me the truth. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized the danger that African Americans faced in their everyday lives.

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Maxine Walker Giddings

Trinity, Fla.

During the 1960s, I was a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Having been born in Nashville, I had grown sadly accustomed to segregation. In fact, my mom had long ago counseled me not to speak to white people before they spoke to me upon meeting them someplace. She told me that they might hurt my feelings by not speaking back. So when a Fisk classmate, Angeline Butler, who emerged as an organizer of the Fisk sit-ins, told me there was to be a meeting, I hurried to the campus chapel to participate. There, we were given the set up and intent. We would have to abandon our studies for a while to march and otherwise demonstrate to demand our equal rights. (As a chemistry major, that would really be tough on my plans, but I knew my priorities.) So eventually, after many meetings on Gandhian nonviolent methods from the Rev. Jim Lawson, the rules of conduct while protesting at lunch counters and more, we were deemed ready to begin.

We went on several forays which were rather uneventful. But on Feb. 27, 1960, I was sitting in at McClellan's next to my friend, a white Fisk transfer student from Indiana, Paul LaPrad, and many other students. Soon a bunch of shoppers and some “white toughs” began to hover behind us. They began yelling slurs at us. They stood right behind Paul and me. They began hitting Paul and pulled him off of his stool to the ground. They began pummeling him viciously. I could do nothing. Thus, this incident instigated (according to Congressman John Lewis who marched and was arrested with us) the first of the Nashville sit-in arrests. Many sit-ins were to follow. I personally was arrested and jailed twice. 

Since I was the daughter of a prominent black physician in Nashville, Matthew Walker Sr., M.D., who was professor and chairman of the department of surgery at the George W. Hubbard Hospital of Meharry Medical College, attorney Z. Alexander Looby chose me to represent the jailed sit-in students in court. He presented me under a writ of habeas corpus, hoping that the judges would note whose daughter I was, and it would make a difference. He also hoped that I and all of the others would be released from detention due to the lack of sufficient cause or evidence. But this effort failed. We students refused bail, however.

Later I learned that my mother, Alice Walker, had been helping our efforts by driving student protesters to necessary locations. My dad participated also by meeting with other adults in the Nashville area, asking them to help monetarily and any other way. For example, Mr. Flem Otey, a prominent black Nashville store owner, sent loads of foods to us while we were in jail the second time. Much later, we were acquitted, and later, Nashville became the first city of the South to become legally desegregated. 

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Civil Rights Voices: Share Your Story

VOices Of Civil Rights

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On Aug. 3, 2004, AARP set out on a 70-day bus tour, through 22 states, to gather the extraordinary stories of ordinary people who played a role, both big and small, in the civil rights movement. The effort resulted in a collection of thousands of personal stories, oral histories and photographs. Through the collaborative effort of AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Library of Congress, the collection was donated to the Library of Congress to create the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Housed at the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress, the exhibit documents key moments in the civil rights movement.

 

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Medgar Evers (6/12/63), the March on Washington (8/28/63) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (7/2/64), AARP revisited the vast collection of amazing civil rights stories housed within the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Of the thousands of eye-opening stories, we selected six poignant recollections to share with the public in a nationwide campaign.