A SAMPLING OF PHOTOS FROM --
THE HISTORIC NORTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA BLACK-BELT CONFERENCE, MARCH 6 1965 AT INDIAN WOODS BAPTIST CHURCH, RURAL BERTIE COUNTY
ABOUT 1,050 PEOPLE FROM FOURTEEN BLACK BELT COUNTIES
LASTED ALL DAY AND FAR INTO THE NIGHT
SPONSORED BY THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE EDUCATIONAL FUND
This Conference -- the first of its sort ever held in Eastern North Carolina -- was a critical step in our successfully spreading the Movement across the entire Black-Belt. Things moved very fast and very well. We finished up our involvement in the early summer of 1967 -- having, in the latter stages, successfully helped grassroots Black Belt people's programs secure substantial anti-poverty grants. Our whole project was a tremendous success.
John R. Salter, Jr. (HG), SCEF Field Organizer, opens the conference.
Willa Johnson (Willa Cofield), a principal leader of the Halifax County Movement. A courageous public school teacher at Enfield, she was fired by the all-White school board for her civil rights activism and that of her husband and other family members. We carried her case, (Johnson v. Branch), using attorneys Phillip J. Hirschkop, William M. Kunstler, and Arthur Kinoy, through the Federal courts, winning at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. With backing from virtually every other Southern state, North Carolina then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear their case. Thus Willa Johnson won -- and won for the right of every other Black school teacher to engage in civil rights activities. Willa, who went on to secure her PhD in Urban Planning at Rutgers, now lives in New Jersey. We keep in contact and she has visited us here in Idaho.
The Reverend W.M. Steele (left), chairman of the Bertie County Movement, confers with Brian Paddock, Georgetown University Law Center. A month after this conference, on April 5 1965, Rev. Steele and I led 500 poverty-stricken Black sharecroppers through the small Bertie County seat, Windsor, to the courthouse -- which was surrounded by two dozen heavily armed lawmen. It was the first civil rights demonstration in Bertie -- one of the ten most economically poor counties in the United States. Our goal was to secure from the County Commissioners their promise to bring in surplus Federal commodities and make application for the Food Stamp Plan -- each of these bitterly resisted by the County's plantation owner-dominated power structure. (The plantation owners opposed these because they would considerably lessen 'cropper dependency on the plantation company stores and the plantation system generally.) After an hour of our marching and singing outside the Courthouse, the Commissioners agreed to meet with us. Rev. Steele and I and six sharecroppers negotiated with the Commissioners for two more hours -- and we secured their commitment for commodities and the Food Stamp Plan. They honored their agreement.