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A Part of History: Goodwin House Residents Recall Their Time As Activists During the Civil Rights Movement

ALEXANDRIA, VA-Each February, the nation marks Black History Month. It is a time to celebrate past triumphs toward equality and recognize the individuals and groups who took part in those achievements. It is also a time to recognize the work still to be done. George Floyd’s tragic death last summer is just one example of how racism remains a part of modern society.

A mural of George Floyd in Mauerpark in Berlin. Public domain photo.

Floyd’s murder sparked an awakening. Americans of all races demanded that change must occur – in the ways people relate to one another and how minorities are treated. Countless voices called for an honest examination of the history of race in the United States.

The following profiles focus on three Goodwin House residents whose lives intersected with the Civil Rights Movement, moving them to activism. Their very different experiences all share the idea that the fight for equality begins not with laws and politicians but with ordinary men and women who raise their voices in an effort to make right what is wrong.

Marietta Tanner

Marietta Tanner has been involved in activism for most of her life. A resident at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC), she took part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration at GHBC after Floyd’s death.

Marietta Tanner at Goodwin House’s Black Lives Matter demonstration last summer. (Photo courtesy Goodwin House)

Tanner’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement began in the 1950s. As a young woman, she believed Brown v. the Board of Education would, as she put it, “change everything” for her and other Blacks, opening doors previously closed.   When that didn’t happen, she was inspired to write a book, “Driving in Second,” about three women who travel from New York to Mexico, when they discover that the age of equality is not as near as they’d hoped.

Interestingly, the book is based on some of Tanner’s life experiences.

“I thought people ought to know how racism continued to shape my experience throughout the
country,” she told The Zebra Press.

Today, Tanner is a member of GHBC’s Silver Panther Huddle, a resident-led activist group.  She works with the group to educate others on the importance of voting.

Wayne Kelley

An Atlanta-based journalist in the mid-’60s, Wayne Kelley covered the implementation of the Civil Rights Act for The Atlanta Journal (presently the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). He also wrote about voter registration for five years. That job required traveling to segregated neighborhoods to talk with Black residents about the issue.

Wayne Kelley (center), a former Atlanta newspaper reporter who covered voter registration issues in segregated neighborhoods, reconnected with his friend from Morehouse College (left) decades later (Photo courtesy Wayne Kelley)

During his initial assignments, he met a Morehouse College student who helped him navigate and learn about these neighborhoods. With this assistance, he was able to speak with community members who had a deep understanding of voter disenfranchisement, thereby making his stories more effective.

The relationship with his guide was crucial to Kelley’s success. Reporting on voter registration in general requires knowledge of how both historical and current contexts shape communities. In the Segregated South, Kelley’s life experiences and ability to conduct his work were determined by a deep racial divide. Without help, it would have been impossible for him to do his job.

Of this individual, who later became a friend after the pair were reunited by chance, Kelley said, “We understood each other. He knew I needed to see what was happening in these poverty-stricken areas to understand voter disenfranchisement. Being able to talk to key figures in the community gave a richness to my reporting. Even though we were only reconnected for several years, he was very influential throughout my career.”

Dr. Drue Shropshire Guy

As a college student, Dr. Drue Shropshire Guy was immediately inspired when she heard the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They drove her to take part in campus sit-ins while studying at Ohio St. University. These demonstrations were meant to shed light on segregation in the local community.

To honor King, years later, Guy met with Ohio legislators in an effort to have Martin Luther King Jr. Day recognized as a holiday in the state. She was met with opposition

“Back then, the lawmakers didn’t even want to change segregation laws,” said Guy. “At the time, this was to be expected, but political leaders now are much better at understanding that inclusivity is an important part of governance.”

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