Forest, A Freedom Summer SNCC Volunteer

Forest, a Freedom Summer SNCC voter registration volunteer, 1965

I have many wonderful stories to share about people I met on my recent Walk to Freedom, as I meandered across the flat and rolling early spring landscape of Central Alabama, Northern Mississippi, and Western Tennessee for the preservation of Civil Rights. During the walk, I frequently asked myself what is it about my walk that so deeply moved people to open their hearts to a stranger?

The love and generosity shown to me at times moved me to tears, and I am forever grateful that my mission or “ministry,” as the Rev. Don Williams called it, inspired so many.

Here’s the first of some of the stories I hope to share. It’s simply called: Forest.

Of the many people who supported me during my Walk to Freedom campaign for Civil Rights there was one Western Massachusetts woman named Forest, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time two weeks ago to discuss her memories of traveling to Mississippi during the sweltering, tension-filled, summer of 1965 to help with voter registration in the disenfranchised Black communities there.

Forest and I initially were introduced to each other the night before I departed for Selma over the phone by my friend Arden Pierce. Forest promised she would send me random quotes during unexpected moments…”as you walk onward with dignity and strength.”

Walk to Freedom resonated with Forest because in 1965, when she was just 18 years old growing up in outer Long Island, Forest skipped her high school graduation so she could take one of the second Freedom Summer buses departing New York City to travel to Newton, Mississippi, about 64 miles east of Jackson, to help the rural Black community there register to vote.

“Talking to Ken the night before his departure was an unexpected pleasure. His openness to the unknown journey ahead was palpable in his voice.  The idea of texting him meaningful quotes, occurred to me as another way I could support him on his historic walk for freedom, while at the same time, it would let me feel like I was walking along too.

When I first heard of Ken’s walk from Arden, it rekindled memories of my journey in 1965, when just graduating high school, I traveled to Mississippi to work on voter registration. I raised money for my trip from donations from local churches and my high school teachers. Donating to Ken felt like an opportunity to pay forward, fifty years later, the generosity and support that I had received.

Newtown, Mississippi resident holding voting registration leaflet, 1965

1965 was the second “Freedom Summer” when hundreds of primarily white northern college students joined SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) to go to Mississippi and work on voter registration. The previous year I had joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) as a volunteer doing voter registration in black communities in outer Long Island, where I grew up. The death of Viola Liuzzo, a 39-year-old Detroit mother of five, killed by Ku Klux Klan members for her role in shuttling marchers between Selma and Montgomery, touched me deeply. It was then, that I resolved to go South and volunteer there.”

 

Forest’s Inspirational Quotes

Like many people Forest saves special quotes and attaches them to her kitchen refrigerator for inspiration. I found them all thought provoking and they lifted my spirit on some lonely days on the trail. Here are the messages I received.

 

February 25 – On my first day of travel the following quote flashed across my phone: “Welcome to the first day of your

Southern adventure. However it is unfolding, may your openness to new possibilities bring deepening trust, inner peace and love in unexpected ways. Blessings on your journey.”

February 27 – “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank

March 1– When I posted a picture of a road named after Fredrick Douglas, I received this quote by Douglas. “I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

March 8– “And suddenly you know; it’s time to start something new and trusting the magic of beginnings.” Meister Eckhart, a 12th century mystic, philosopher.

March 11– “Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.” Joan Chittister

March 14– “Each tiny choice is a tiny source of Power.” Paul Krafel

March 19– “It is not an error

that you have been born

a sensitive human being,

with a tender nervous system

and a heart that is sometimes broken.

Your vulnerability is not a mistake,

but a portal into aliveness.” Matt Licata

March 24– “unfolding into ever greater spaciousness and possibility”

Forest & Ken, May 2018

March 30– “May the peace of inner self bring us joy.”

“Prosperity is within us.” Tea bag quotes that Forest likes.

April 2– “The wounds of your heart have contained your healing.

They have taken you on a journey that could

not have happened otherwise.”

And her last refrigerator quote to me:

“The real voyage of discovery is ~ not in seeking new landscapes, it is in having new eyes.”

Our exchange of messages concluded with a quote I shared with Forest.

“To realize your true nature, you must wait for the right moment and the right conditions. When the time comes, you are awakened as if from a dream. You understand that what you have found is your own and doesn’t come from anywhere outside.” Buddist Sutra from Loving What Is, by Byron Katie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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