Next on We'll Meet Again | Freedom Summer
Featuring dramatic reunions of people thrown together during the civil rights movement.
About This Episode
Join Ann Curry for dramatic reunions between people who changed each other’s lives during the Civil Rights Movement.
While the US Constitution vows all men are created equal, African-Americans have been fighting for centuries to be included in that promise. But when two women from very different worlds journeyed south to join the struggle for Civil Rights in the 1960s, little did they know that the very people they were fighting for would change their lives forever.
Fatima want to thank Thelma for her courage in the face of racism, and Sherie searches for the friend who inspired her commitment to social justice.
Fatima was born in 1945, the only child of a wealthy mixed-race family. Her mother’s work with the New York City Commission on Human Rights meant that Fatima was taken to many Civil Rights meetings in her youth, including the famous “March on Washington” of August 1963.
Soon Fatima discovered her own interest in Civil Rights. When C.O.R.E. (the Congress of Racial Equality) and similar organisations sent out calls for volunteers in 1964 to boost African-American voter registration in the South, Fatima signed up immediately. She was sent to Lettsworth, Louisiana and stayed with the Caulfields, a respected local family.
Their 17-year-old daughter Thelma made a big impression on Fatima, not only because of her self-possession, but also her courage in standing up to racism. In the same month that Civil Rights workers in neighboring Mississippi had been killed by the Ku Klux Klan, Fatima watched as Thelma used a rifle to defend her family home, dressed only in a nightgown.
Fatima suffered racist abuse too, but she always knew she could return to her liberal New York home at any time unlike the people she was trying to help in the South. Her regret is that she never properly thanked Thelma or her family for helping her through this life-changing experience. Now she wants to meet her old friend again and put that right.
In 1965, Sherie Labedis was an 18 year-old student at the University of California, Berkeley. She watched TV coverage of Alabama’s police department breaking up the Selma to Montgomery march, an event so shocking that it became known as “Bloody Sunday”.
As a result, Sherie signed up to a summer community project, organised by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was sent to Pineville, South Carolina. African-Americans here still feared retribution from white people if they registered to vote, so the SCLC volunteers struggled to engage them. A 20 year-old activist, Louis “Lefty” Bryant, was drafted in as the new leader, to build trust with the community.
The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 had made segregation illegal, and Lefty was an advocate of non-violent direct action outside businesses that flouted the new law. He encouraged Sherie and her fellow volunteers to join him in trying to desegregate a local restaurant, but they were chased out of town by an angry mob.
When Lefty was beaten unconscious, it was a bitter reminder to the whole group of what they were fighting for. Sherie lost touch with Lefty nearly fifty years ago, but she has never forgotten his bravery and commitment. She believes he should be recognized for his actions and she wants to find him again, to thank him for the big difference he made to her life and to the lives of African-Americans in South Carolina.