The Hanging of Tom Brown

A Civil Rights Odyssey

An Untold Story from the Civil Rights Movement

Jim Gregory, just out of collegeI am a white Southerner, raised in the part of Tennessee that gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan. I saw segregation around me and thought, "That's just the way things are. I guess everyone is happy with it."

Then, the summer I finished high school, a chance encounter with a black preacher, Reverend Anderson, opened my eyes to the injustice of segregation. Within a year or two, I knew I had to do something to help.

But what could I do? I had learned from Reverend Anderson how inferior the schools were for black children. I believed that education was the key to furthering progress, so I decided to take books to black schools and help teach black children to read. I talked a few of my friends into joining me in a converted school bus.

Crisscrossing the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, we picked up a couple more "literacy riders," one of them black.

Then we chanced on the beginnings of a movement, now called the "Civil Rights Movement." We decided to join Freedom Summer by going where the problem was the largest: the deep south of Mississippi and Alabama.

Eight of us drove, optimistic but fearful, into Mississippi. We tried to stay under the radar, starting "Freedom Schools" in black churches, teaching children to read - but also adults, so they could pass the voting literacy tests.

Jim Gregory, storytellerWe didn't know it, but challenging white supremacy at the ballot box would draw the murderous attention of those dedicated to preserving racial injustice. Eventually, some of us joined the historic Selma-Montgomery march (the photo at the top of this page was taken there).

Later, in Tennessee and Florida, I tried to become a teacher and continue the work of helping black children get a first-class education, only to discover that forces greater than I understood were opposing me. understood having a price on my head by the Klan. But the very federal government that had stood behind us at Selma seemed to have other intentions, now.

As it happened, the two-year journey of eight idealistic young people in a bus was to influence, not always for the better, the next fifty years of my life.

This story is dedicated to the six members of the team who didn't make it past Selma - and the problems of the young man who tried to continue the fight through today.