penny-patch-panola-county-ms-1965-photo-by-tom-wakayama
Penny Patch, Panola County, MS. 1965.
Photo by Tom Wakayama

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Guest Blogger: Penny Patch
Lyndonville, Vermont

“In 1962 I was a young white woman working as an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Southwest Georgia. A brilliant young man named Charles Sherrod was our project director, my teacher and mentor. And during those years I also met and worked with many audacious local young people who, with their families, became the backbone of the Albany Movement in Southwest Georgia.

Two of these young women were Patricia Ann Gaines and Margaret Sanders, at the time age 15 and 16 respectively. Their families sheltered me and other civil rights workers at great risk to themselves. Their entire families participated in the Movement, including two year old Peaches Gaines who went to jail with her mother and sisters Pat, Shirley, and Marian. I remember Marian Gaines at age 11 leading a march into the police lines singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” Mr. Gaines, their Dad, was known on occasion to sit outside the mass meeting with other men, shotguns across their laps, protecting the mass meeting. And Margaret’s sisters Mary, Jean, and Sharon Sanders accompanied her on her path to becoming a student leader in the Albany Movement.

I am naming names because these young women —whose names are not as well known as they should be—were citizens of Albany. One thing to know about each and every one is that they took risks, all the time. So one day Margaret and Pat strolled into the Dougherty County Courthouse, walked over to the two water fountains in the main hall, and took down the “colored” sign which hung over the small water fountain positioned next to the much larger water fountain which was labelled as “white.” These are the same water fountains, with signs in place, that you see in Danny Lyon’s iconic photo posted here.

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Photo by Danny Lyon, from his book: Memories if the Southern Civil Rights Movementwww.dektol.wordpress.com

Pat and Margaret lifted the sign, walked out of the building and escaped back into the black community before anybody noticed it was gone. How did they do this? I have no idea. And Pat, whenever I ask her, says her memory is kind of vague about the whole episode. (We agree that this is probably due to stress related memory loss). Some time later, as I was leaving Albany to work in Mississippi, Pat and Margaret presented me with the sign and the story of their exploit. I took that sign with me on many occasions for many years whenever I talked to students about the Black Freedom Movement. But then the Albany Civil Rights Institute opened and it was time to place it where it belonged, in that museum in its home town. You all can visit this wonderful small museum and see the sign on display, with Pat and Margaret’s inscription on the back of it.

Pat Gaines with Charels Sherrod, 2011 Albany, GA

Pat Gaines with Charels Sherrod, 2011 Albany, GA

 

Note from Anita: I met Penny in May 2011 when I traveled back home to Albany, GA for the 5oth Anniversary of the SNCC movement. She has been following the blog since the early days and graciously providing insight and details for my novel. In an email recently she recounted the story above then agreed to share with my readers.

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Me with Penny and granddaughter in Hyper Gym, Albany State University, May 2011

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L-R: Annette Jones, Penny, Charles Neblett. Hyper Gym, ASU. May 2011

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