From Too Proud to Bend: Journey of a Civil Rights Foot Soldier

Long-time civil rights advocate, Consultation member, and former deputy of the Diocese of New York Nell Braxton Gibson has recently written a powerful memoir of her experiences as a young black woman in the south during the Civil Rights movement. This year in ISSUES, we are pleased to share excerpts from her book which are all the more pertinent in light of today’s violence and rising awareness of racism.

First in a series of ten excerpts from Nell Braxton Gibson’s memoir

At the time of this excerpt the author is thirteen years old

In August, when Girl Scout camp ends, we return home. In the last lazy days before school starts, (my sister) Rosemary and I stretch out under the famous Tougaloo oak with our friend Charlette Randall…. Charlette has always been more precocious than everyone else in our group, and on this day she begins to relate a story she has read in the newspaper. As she talks, an icy chill runs down my spine. She tells us she has read about the murder of a Negro boy who either spoke to or whistled at a white woman. She says his name is Emmett Till. Rosemary and I leave her under the tree and immediately go home to read the article for ourselves. The information is still sketchy, but it confirms everything Charlette has said.

As I put the paper down, I am gripped by a fear I cannot shake. For the first time in my life, I realize Negro children are not safe. Before this day, I thought we were innocent victims in an adult dispute; I thought adults would go after one another, but they wouldn’t hurt children. In all the time we’ve been growing up, I have never thought of myself as living in danger, but now the unthinkable has happened—to a fourteen-year-old boy close to where we live—and now I know that in Mississippi, anything is possible.

Emmett Till had come from Chicago, Illinois, to Money, Mississippi, for a visit with relatives. On August 28, 1955, he and his cousins had driven to a country store to buy candy. Before entering the store, he reportedly accepted a dare from one of his relatives that led him to utter, “Bye-bye, baby,” to the white woman inside the store. The kids left without any further thought about the incident. Four days went by. Then at midnight on the fourth day, a carload of white men drove to the unpainted cabin of Till’s uncle, Mose Wright.

Note: The good folks at would be happy to help you read more from Nell’s book.


Popular Posts