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

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

The author is nineteen years old and a sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.

On Monday, February 12, over a hundred Negro students from the five universities that make up the Atlanta University Center complex get into formation to begin a march to the state capitol building; many are still revved up from the mock burial of Jim Crow at Spelman on the previous Sunday. I move down the middle of the street between Anna Jo (a white exchange student) and Joycelyn McKissick in a group of eight abreast singing songs of freedom…. Walkin’ and talkin’ with my mind stayed on freedom…. Someone in front begins a new song, “Keep Your Hand on the Plow, Hold On,” followed by “Oh Freedom!” …. Our voices grow stronger with every verse, and so do we. We feel unstoppable…. Suddenly a white woman in the mob (lining the street) spots Anna Jo and yells, “Look at that nigger-lover!” People behind her take the cue and begin to chant, “Nigger-lover! Nigger-lover! Nigger-lover!”

Immediately a host of accusations fly at us from every direction. “We don’t need no northun’ agitators down here!” “Goddamn niggers! Why don’t you go back to Africa?” What in the world am I doing here? The air is charged with hatred, the mob is yelling obscenities, cops seem ready to let the dogs go, debris is starting to fly (and) students are marching and singing freedom songs…

So it’s come down to this—come down to putting my life on the line if that’s what this turns out to be. I think about the freedom I’ve experienced in New York and the oppression I’ve felt each year returning to Mississippi. I think of all the children—some right outside my English class at Spelman—who will never know that kind of freedom if someone doesn’t take a stand. Negro children in the South have to experience what I’ve felt at Camp Woodland (in the Catskill Mountains), and I know the only way for them to do that is for me to cross the street. One day my children have to have that freedom, too, if I live long enough to have children; if I don’t, somebody’s children have to experience it. My grandparents have done their part to advance the cause for freedom. My parents are doing theirs. Now it’s my turn.
Note: The good folks at would be happy to help you read more from Nell’s book.    


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