Civil rights football

Penn Center Frogmore S.C. November 4, 1966 Photo Bob Fitch

The story behind the picture.

I had the privilege of working for Dr. King for 3 years. It changed my life. 

I sat with Mrs. King and Dr. King in their kitchen and shared meals.

I followed him with a microphone and recorded his speeches.

I walked from Selma to Montgomery.

I have so many memories of those heady, youthful times.

Once a year we would have a staff retreat.

The Field staff from all over the deep South would come.

We would have worship services and sing Freedom songs.

We would ask ourselves –

Where do we go from here?

Where does our Movement go?

There were lots of meetings.

Dr. King would talk about his plans for the next year.

Everyone, from the janitor to the senior staff, 

would make suggestions

and bring in their own ideas.

The meetings were completely open.

What Dr. King talked about

at the retreat in 1966

has always stuck in my mind.  

He could have said today.

He said there was a new turning point in the Movement.

Although Segregation in the South was ended

and Voting Rights were secured,

the lives of Afro-Americans,

especially in the slums of large Northern cities                         

had not improved.

Their economic situation was getting worse.

He said, the riots up North were cries of their pain.

Dr. King was visionary. 

In 1966, he talked about automation

and how it would make much manual labor


In 1966, he said that massive work projects

would not cure poverty;

that a Guaranteed Annual Income

was the best solution.

He understood

that Racism, Poverty and War

were interrelated.

He realized

that the next stages of the Civil Rights Movement

would have to confront this reality.

He began to speak out against the war in Vietnam

and started the Poor People’s Campaign. 

He did all this

at a time

when many leaders were convinced

that Non -Violence would not  work!

at a time,

they were talking using violence if necessary

and chanting “Burn Baby Burn”.

At the meeting, Dr. King said,

In every social revolution there is a period of progression,

there is a period of recession.

What we see now is the counter revolution.

He finished with a simple analogy I have never forgotten.

I doubt if anyone there fully grasped its meaning

until after his assassination.

He said,

“We brought ‘ the Football of Civil Rights’

through gains in public accommodations,

and the right to vote

 to about the 50 yard line.

Now, we are moving

 into the opposition’s territory.

 There are die-hards on that team

 determined to keep us

from getting across the goal. 

We have got to get together

 and see that we have some good quarterbacks

 calling sound signals. 

Sometimes we may even fumble the ball,

but  for God’s sake recover it.

Then –  we will move on down the field!

I believe that with kind of moral power,

with this kind of determination,

with this kind of willingness to suffer,

we’ll get across that Goal Line.

And people everywhere will rise up and sing,

there lives a people,

a Black people with marvelous White allies,

allies who injected new meaning

 into the veins of Western Civilization.”

After the Retreat was over

and all the meetings were ended,

we would walk in the woods

or go swimming in the ocean

where the beach was lined with palm trees. 

The words of Dr. King would be with us.

We didn’t know in those youthful times,

they would always be with us –

Dr. King’s voice guiding our days.

Photo credit: Penn Center Frogmore  S.C. November 4, 1966  Photo Bob Fitch

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