February 23, 2013
Oh, the stories Miss Marie could tell. I have learned to value not only the educational rights of each individual, no matter their race, creed, or beliefs, but also each citizen’s civil rights, due to experiences this fine woman shared with me.
During the volatile 1950s in the South, several members of the black population of Bienville Parish, Louisiana were disenfranchised. Their voting rights were taken away. As a teacher of history and civics, Miss Marie was not going to stand for this. She went to the courthouse and very politely (every inch of her five foot, Southern belle frame) asked to register to vote. She was told she had to fill out a questionnaire on the Louisiana constitution. Confident in her answers (civics was one of the subjects she taught in the Bienville Parish school system), she was shocked when she was told she had not passed the test.
The next week, she went back to repeat the process. This time she wrote the entire Louisiana constitution (by heart) on the paper. Again, she was told she had not passed. Getting ready to go again the next week, a still, small voice spoke in her heart, "Marie, if you go down there again, you will be killed." Knowing this was God’s protection, she did not go that week.
Soon after this experience, after church services one Sunday afternoon, Miss Marie and her husband were met at their home by some young men who called themselves Freedom Riders. They were there to help the disenfranchised people of Bienville Parish get their voting rights reinstated. They had heard of Miss Marie and others who had stood up for their rights. In addition, a friend and fellow educator had phoned a (white) member of the school board to report the voter rights discrimination. A phone call from that person to the courthouse was helpful in getting their voter rights reinstated. Miss Marie admitted later that having to testify in Federal Court was a bit unnerving, but the outcome proved to be worth all of her efforts.
I am very thankful I was able to call Miss Marie a friend. Never again will I take my voting rights--or any other American citizen’s rights--for granted! I am even more thankful that her daughter continues to remain a close friend. And even more, I am thankful this family cherishes Miss Marie’s memories enough to record them for future generations. During one of Miss Marie’s hospital stays, her granddaughter came in with a notebook. She looked at me and said, "I know, Charlotte. I’m ready today. I’m writing down everything she tells me now!" Miss Marie’s grandchildren are putting the pressure on their mother to get these stories collected into book form. This will be a labor of love, as we all work together to record the amazing 96 years of Miss Marie.
What better way to honor your loved ones’ memories than by recording them for future generations. Here at the Midwest Genealogy Center, we have several ways to help you on your quest. Check our website for our Tell Me Story: MGC Oral and Written History Projects resources. We also have writing groups you may join. And don’t forget to browse our catalog for the books on writing your family history.
Midwest Genealogy Center