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Voices of Civil Rights


Don Sanders

Forestville, Md.

My father was the first African American person to register and vote in Haywood County, Tenn., since Reconstruction. There were three attempts on his life by the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. During one of the assassination attempts, he was seriously injured. His injury was the result of a Klan member attempting to run him off the road. My father's vehicle was struck from behind, and he was thrown from the vehicle and left for dead in a cotton field. The ambulance driver discovered he was not dead during the transport and brought him to our home and dumped him on the front porch. The local hospital refused treatment and my father had to be taken by my mother to Jackson, which was 25 miles from where we lived.

During another assassination attempt a bomb was placed under our home, which blew three rooms away. My parents received minor injuries, as well as one of my brothers. During the third assassination attempt, the Klan discovered my father often slept overnight at his place of business to prevent damage to his property. My father on occasion would sleep in the garage behind his place of business, rather than on the premises. He would dress a cot on the premises of his business with pillows and blankets to give the impression he was sleeping there overnight. On one occasion my mother received a late night phone call informing her that her "nigger husband" had been killed and she needed to come and get the body. When I arrived at my father's place of business with my mother and two of my brothers, we approached a bullet-riddled cot, and assumed my father was dead. When one of my brothers removed the blanket, we broke down in tears. My father appeared several minutes later

During the course of my father’s involvement in the civil rights movement during the ’60s, I witnessed Klansmen burning crosses in our yard on several occasions. We received death threats, and lived in constant fear of the Klan appearing during the middle of the night and taking my father to an isolated area and lynching him. The courage, perseverance and wisdom that my father demonstrated were unbelievable. I never saw anxiety or fear in his demeanor.

On one occasion the Rev. Martin Luther King appeared at our home for a meeting. As a 10-year-old child I was unaware of the significance of his presence, and what he would mean to the future of the civil rights movement in this country.

Even though my father dropped out of school in the third grade. He became a member of the county board of education, became local president of the NAACP chapter, and ran unsuccessfully for sheriff. My father inspired me to stand up for injustice and become a servant of the people. As a clinical social worker I have used the ideals and philosophy of my father's commitment to civil rights to address the needs of individual in our society that are less fortunate.

Jet magazine did an article on my father in the spring of 1966, to highlight his involvement in the civil rights movement in West Tennessee.


Katherine van Wormer

Cedar Falls, Iowa

The year was 1963 when a prominent member of Martin Luther King's Christian Southern Leadership Conference spoke at the Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill to us young people. "Why aren't you white people out there marching?" he asked. My sister and I hadn't even thought of joining in but then realized we would be welcome and could take a stand. I was a student at UNC. From then on it was singing, rallies, sit-ins and lie-ins. A rough class of whites called us "nigger lovers," but liberal whites stood in crowds each Saturday and cheered us on. Local businesses signed petitions for total integration of the town. We picketed a segregated bar, and it went out of business. The police made their arrests but protected us from violence. I have never felt so empowered. TV cameras were everywhere. The songs stay with me today: "We shall not be moved" "Which side are you on, boy."

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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.