From Too Proud to Bend

Sixth 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.
The next day is Tuesday, February 13, 1962. Julian (Bond) drives his car to the capitol loaded with one group of students, and Smitty borrows Andrew Young’s car to take the rest of us. James Forman comes along so he can let Charles Black, who is waiting back at the office, know what happens once we’re inside the capitol building. Jim Forman’s wife, Mildred, is with him. There isn’t a soul outside the capitol when we arrive. We get out of the cars, enter the building, and head down a hallway that we think will lead us to the legislative session already in progress, but halfway down the hall it becomes apparent that we are walking away from the session. The hallway is too quiet. We don’t hear gavels banging or the murmur of voices in session. So we start down a second hall. Not having been here before, we’re confused about where the legislature is meeting. Then we see members of the custodial crew and say, “We’re looking for the legislative session. Which way is it?” They look somewhat confused to see us inside but point us in the right direction. We thank them and walk toward the gallery, determined to desegregate it…. several policemen show up out of nowhere and surround us. One says, “Get the hell outta here, or you’ll be arrested.” “We’re going to listen to the proceedings,” several of us respond.

“If you enter those chambers, you’ll be charged with trespassing.”

“We’re on public property,” Ruby Doris says. “We’re citizens. We’re not trespassing.” trespassing.” “You’re on state property, and that means you are trespassing.” We refuse to move. “You’re all under arrest,” they say and begin to lead us toward an exit door…. James Forman moves away from the group as soon as the police show up, so he can contact Charles back at the office and let him know what has happened.

I follow my fellow students into the sunlight and into the back of a waiting paddy wagon. Hard benches line both sides of the vehicle. I’m nervous but struggle not to show it. I want to be as strong as everyone else, but my feelings are all over the place as horror stories I’ve heard about other Negro students come to mind. I’ve heard about some girls who got arrested, who were stripped and forced to walk naked in front of white male prisoners; others were raped by white prison guards. I know of Negro male students who had cattle prods placed on their genitals. One boy who was abused that way was left sterile and crippled. Other males were beaten. What will our fate be?
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